Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2018CT314B

Quantifying road salt impacts on forested wetland structure and function in Eastern Connecticut

Institute: Connecticut
Year Established: 2018 Start Date: 2018-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $25,791 Total Non-Federal Funds: $51,582

Principal Investigators: Beth Lawrence, Gary A. Robbins

Abstract: Road salt is an emerging driver of environmental change in aquatic communities of the temperate north, where upwards of 35 tons per mile of road surface are applied annually to mitigate dangerous winter driving conditions. While elevated salinity associated with road salt application alters aquatic food webs, reduces amphibian habitat, promotes the spread of invasive plants, and through ion exchange reactions displaces plant-essential base cations (Ca+2) from the soil and increases metal bioavailability, little is known about how road salts alter the structure and function of forested wetlands. Forested wetlands abound in road-dense Connecticut and provide critical functions including flood abatement, water quality treatment, biodiversity support, and carbon storage. Leveraging an ongoing project examining the vegetation and soil chemistry of eastern Connecticut's forested wetlands, we will couple field observations of wetland hydrology with controlled greenhouse experiments, and laboratory assays. We will quantify hydroperiods, ground water inflows and water quality, test how hydroperiod and salinity effect seedling emergence, and assess how elevated soil salinity alters methane production. Together, this work will quantify key aspects of forested wetland hydrology in eastern Connecticut, which will improve our understanding of how road salt alters the structure (i.e., vegetation composition and abundance) and function (i.e., water quality, carbon cycling) of these important ecosystems.