Developing a Soils Research Plan for the Lower Raritan Watershed

Article by Dorothy Lee, Rutgers University Sophomore and LRWP Summer Soils Intern

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LRWP intern Dorothy Lee, presenting at Rutgers (photo by Heather Fenyk)

This summer I had the opportunity to intern for the LRWP doing soils and civic science research. My job was to conduct initial research into how the LRWP could develop a civic science soil monitoring program to better understand soils functions for an urban watershed level. Urban areas can benefit from soil mapping exercises because urban soils are a concern for food supply, drinking water, stormwater control as well as aesthetics and recreation. Particular issues of urban soils are related to impervious surfaces, erosion, land filling and land leveling, surface removal, contamination, sedimentation and severe compaction. The benefits of working with civic scientists to aid in research means that data can be collected efficiently and in a timely manner while simultaneously connecting the community to their environment.

The LRWP’s specific interests as they relate to soil include soil enrichment for stormwater retention and for bionutrient food availability. After researching these issues, I worked with LRWP President Heather Fenyk and Professor Stephanie Murphy, Director of the Rutgers Soil Testing Lab, to identify ways that the LRWP could begin to engage the Lower Raritan Watershed community in soils research. A few of the actions we thought could orient conversation for future soil-health-oriented civic science studies include: having area civic scientists work to identify “new” bacterial phyla, linking soil health improvement goals to impervious cover remediation actions planned at the municipal level, and evaluating rain gardens as a management strategy to increase soil C, optimize soil N cycling processes, and reduce leaching and gaseous emission losses of nitrogen.

The LRWP is also beginning to develop a plan to communicate the benefits of composting for soil enrichment. This relates directly to my work at Rutgers with a new club, RU Compost. Compost is an efficient way to reduce our food waste, cycle nutrients back into our soils, and create more awareness and education opportunities to the public. At Rutgers our club is working to implement composting in our dining halls and students centers, and we are also working on building a compost demonstration for the Spring semester in the Lower Raritan Watershed. Look for us in the spring!

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