Friday, July 25, 2014

2014 Kelsey - Where's My Debris At?

After two weeks of sampling, Gabby and I have found some interesting data, but we've still got a long way to go.

Recently, I was able to present on my summer projects at a luncheon for the UNHCE and NH Sea Grant interns. Since most of my time has been spent transecting and sampling for Gabby's micro-debris pilot study, my presentation centered on the purpose, progress, and the inevitable glitches and frustrations of this research. I received some great feedback from the UNHCE and Sea Grant faculty, and I'm looking forward to learning more in the coming weeks.

Here are the transects that Gabby and I are sampling. Each point indicates the starting point for each 5m section of beach. The transects themselves include 5m-wide tracks of sand extending from the wall of each beach to transition from dry to wet sand.

The only thing that I wasn't able to do at my presentation was show some of the data Gabby and I have collected. As you know, the main purpose of my project this summer is to test a new sampling protocol for micro-plastics on NH beaches. Our data will be used primarily to determine any apparent differences between sampling methods. For example, is the method of sampling solely at the wrack line an acceptable process to maintain, or is there a lot of micro-debris being missed above and below this line? Do we find a greater variety of debris using the new protocol? Hopefully, we can begin to answer these questions as our summer of sampling comes to a close.

As the project has unfolded--and as research projects tend to go--Gabby and I have come up with more questions to answer. One of these questions asks whether or not the debris is self-sorting--whether heavier debris like plastics have a stronger signal lower on the beach than debris like foams or plastic films. This follows a physics principle that heavier items fall out sooner or more rapidly through water than light objects. As waves hit the sand of the beach, the water is able to carry Styrofoam further up the beach than they are with plastics. While Gabby and I don't currently have enough data to answer this question, here are a few maps that show the distribution of debris along the beach.

Based off of these data, there aren't any strong conclusions to be made. However, it's interesting to see the relatively large number of plastic fragments closer to the water.  Foams, which we would expect to find higher up on the beach due to their relative lightness, have a heavier distribution closer to the water in this sample. Other types of debris can be seen (or not seen) anywhere on the beach.

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