Oysters, fish, pristine beaches, beautiful scenery, manatees, dolphins, and migratory birds make the Apalachicola Bay a valuable resource and attractive recreation destination. But future water reallocation and the potential for modified nutrient loading as a result of changes in land use may threaten its productivity.
Prior to reaching the ocean, the Apalachicola River forms a network of distributaries and flows through an extensive system of low-salinity marshes, with nutrients flowing down the River that fuels life in the estuary. To determine whether these fringing marshes are a source or sink of nutrients, Tom Gihring, doctoral student in Biogeochemical Oceanography, and his major professor, Joel Kostka, are studying nitrogen cycling in marsh sediments of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Biogeochemistry addresses how the biological, geological, and chemical processes on Earth constantly interact and influence one another. Tom, whose research focuses on the cycle of nitrogen, one of life's essential nutrients, was drawn to Florida State's Department of Oceanography because of its "excellent reputation within the marine research community and the diverse group of faculty who provide an interdisciplinary education in biogeochemistry."
His prior work as a scientist for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory provided him with extensive background in performing microbiology and chemistry research. He then extended this knowledge to his fellow student-scientists—as a mentor for the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates.
Conducted with support from the graduate fellowship program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Estuarine Reserves Division, Tom's current "very messy, muddy" fieldwork involves traveling by boat into the Apalachicola marshes, collecting sediment cores and other plant and water samples. Of his primary project, he says, "I am providing fundamental data on nitrogen biogeochemistry in the marshes, and determining the effects of saltwater intrusion and altered nutrient loading on nitrogen removal mechanisms (nitrogen gas production by microorganisms and nitrogen burial in marsh sediments). This information will be essential to the future management of the Bay ecosystem, as well as estuaries world-wide."
"As an avid outdoorsman, canoeist, bicyclist, and fisherman," he says, "I find northern Florida to be an attractive location for quality living." Indeed it is, and that's why we're thankful for his efforts to maintain its quality—for the future of our students' students.[Close Button]