Jessica Torossian, Northeastern University
Jessica Torossian (PhD Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, Northeastern University 2020) is an Operations Research Analyst at the US Department of Transportation Volpe Center in Cambridge Massachusetts. She has contributed research in the fields of eco-physiology, ecological forecasting, and coastal ecology. Dr. Torossian has engaged in extensive data collection and study development in the rocky intertidal, tidal mudflats and coastal marshes around tide gate infrastructure.
Brian Helmuth, Northeastern University;
Brian Helmuth (PhD Zoology, University of Washington, 1997) is a Professor at the Marine Science Center at Northeastern University with appointments in the Dept. of Marine & Environmental Sciences and the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs. Helmuth’s research and teaching focus on forecasting the likely ecological impacts of climate change on coastal ecosystems. He has authored over 100 peer reviewed publications in the areas of climate change, marine ecology and stakeholder engagement.
Mark Patterson, Northeastern University
Mark Patterson (PhD Biology, Harvard University, 1985) has contributed to developing best practices for tides gate operations adjacent to transportation infrastructure, coastal surveying and water quality management using autonomous underwater vehicles and methods for sensing microplastics pollution including inputs from roadways. His research is focused on sensing technologies (autonomous robotics), coastal ecology (kelp beds, coral reefs, and salt marshes), and decision support tools.
The Rumney Marsh Area of Critical Environmental Concern spans over 2,800 acres and has been characterized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as ""one of the most biologically significant estuaries in Massachusetts north of Boston." Numerous tidal restrictions and transportation corridors exist in Rumney, fragmenting the marsh and disrupting water flow that is essential for ecosystem function. Part of the Rumney includes the Oak Island Marsh in Revere, which was flagged in 2003 for restoration by NOAA to help restore its connection to the larger marsh system, hampered by urban development. Oak Island Marsh is bordered by Route 1A to the east, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Association commuter rail lines to the west, and residential development on the north and south sides. To restore flow to Oak Island, an existing culvert under the MBTA train tracks was replaced with an electronically operated sluice gate. In an effort to help improve monitoring and operation of tide gate infrastructure, Northeastern University (in coordination with the town of Revere) began a program of biotic sampling and water quality monitoring upstream and downstream of the tide gate and installed a comprehensive weather station on site. During monitoring, the tide gate has failed in the open position causing flood damage to homes. It has also been broken in the closed position several times for several months. When the gate fails and is left in the closed position, the effects are manifold, impacting both water quality (pH, salinity, dissolved oxygen and nitrate and nitrite) and species assemblages in the nekton, plankton and vegetation. The temporarily inoperative gate also increases the flooding risk on the MBTA line from the downstream (closest to the ocean) side. Further, freshening of the water on the upstream side allows continued intrusion of the invasive grass Phragmites australis that impedes restoration efforts and increases the risk of fires, an additional hazard for homes adjacent to the Rumney Marsh. As climate change continues to alter regional weather patterns, proper operation of the tide gate will be essential to managing the marsh ecosystem as well as fire and flood risk in the face of heat waves and coastal storms. This virtual field trip will visit the Oak Island Tide Gate during low and high tide to showcase the impact and importance of tide gate function on both the ecosystem itself, as well as adjacent transportation infrastructure and landowners. You may even get to feel the virtual rush of the commuter rail as it passes by!
Topic Area: Aquatic species/ecosystem and wetland interactions
Keywords: tidal restriction, transit, salt marsh