The Great Dismal Swamp

Dear readers,

As you all my already know I am employed by the USGS as a field and lab tech. One activity I participate in at USGS is is the Land Carbon Study project at the Great Dismal Swamp in south eastern Va as well as north eastern N. Carolina.

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, “is the largest intact remnant of a vast habitat that once covered more than one million acres of southeastern VA and northeastern N. Carolina.” Today the refuge currently contains 112,000 acres of land.

In my work at the swamp I assist a grad student at George Mason with testing for carbon dioxide and methane gas that is being released directly from the ground or water sitting on top of the ground (since it’s a swamp things are often flooded). One day we hope this work along with many other facets of the project will be able to enumerate the ways in which carbon is sequestered in the ground at the swamp or not and which habitats in the swamp are sequestering and losing the most carbon.

Our work is also being used to attempt to correlate the moisture measurements of a land-sat satellite with our measurements of soil moisture on the ground. If it is possible to do this then satellites could be used in a wide number of applications for sensing soil moisture from space. Given the abundance of forrest cover shrouding the soil layer it is at best quite a long shot to accurately predict surface soil moisture but an estimation may still be useful.

All the work being done in the swamp today does relate to the sustainability of our earth because at the great dismal swamp our research is contributing to the larger plan of restoring this great and abundant refuge to its true historic habitat. You see ever since the many canals were dug throughout the swamp beginning with George Washington, it has drastically changed the hydrological model of the swamp. this is such a complex topic that I don’t want to go into it in depth but to keep things simple it has created excessive drainage of the swamp which I believe from my own observations within the swamp is causing a decrease in peat formation and a lowering or compaction of its soils due to the increased aeration as the soil moisture drops and increases the metabolic activity towards degrading the carbon content. This as well as the influx of swamp maple a tree that is invasive here has disrupted the habitat and put it under a great deal of stress in some situations.

I hope to see this swamp, one of the last remaining remnants of a great historic habitat in Virginia, restored to its rightful state and to be preserved as a great icon of spices diversity and carbon containing peat. a place where the cypress, cedar and picossin pines thrive, the many birds and eagles sing, and the bear prowl, and the deer browse! It is truly a gem that know one knows about.



  1. rogerwleblanc · February 19, 2016

    Josh, thanks so much for sharing about your work with USGS. This sounds like a really amazing study and I am glad you are gaining really impressive career and research skills.- Roger


  2. dstraqua · February 23, 2016

    What you do, Josh, is the reason why I sent this site to Richard Friesner as a possible field visit for his WYSE students. I can tell that this is going to open many doors for you! I hope the rest of your time there goes well!


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