The second summer

Welcome to Summer Number Two!


This summer we are continuing the work started on Hog Island.  Monthly, we will measure longest leaf, take basal and frontal area pictures of each plant, and measure topographic change at each plant stake. We also installed five groundwater wells with salinity and pressure loggers along a transect extending from the start of the vegetation zone on the beach to the foredune.


After installing wells and making our first round of summer measurements, we are currently working on data entry. Elsemarie and Sara are organizing hundreds of photos and automating the photo-analysis process. While it will take some time to figure out, automating will save us loads of time later on when we need to measure the basal and frontal areas calculated for all our remaining plants!


Our team for this summer looks a little different than last year. While the PIs Laura Moore, John Bruno and Don Young, as well as postdoc Evan Goldstein, remain the same, Elsemarie has assumed the role of graduate student lead (since Theo is graduating this summer!), Sara Hahne has replaced Sarah Margolis as REU, and there are some new helpers! Here are some brief introductions.


Elsemarie deVries



Elsemarie just finished her first year as a Ph.D. student in the Moore Lab (the Coastal Environmental Change Lab) at UNC-CH and is taking care of the dune vegetation experiment this summer. She graduated in May 2014 from Wheaton College, IL, with a B.S. in Environmental Studies.


Sara Hahne



Sara is a REU summer intern working with Elsemarie. She is a junior at Wheaton College (IL) and will graduate in 2017 with a B. S. in Geology.


Margaret Jones



Margaret is a Masters student working in Laura Moore’s Coastal Environmental Change Lab at the University of North Carolina. When she’s not lending a hand to the Hog Island vegetation experiment, she investigates holistic coastline response to climate change and human modifications. Margaret earned her B.A. from Vanderbilt University in 2014 with majors in Earth and Environmental Science and English Literature.


Amber Oliver

amber (2)


Amber is working with postdoc, Evan Goldstein, to make high-resolution elevation maps of our field site with photos taken from a kite. She will graduate in May 2016 from Duke University with a B.A. in Earth and Ocean Sciences and Media Studies.





Meticulous Maintenance

Outdoor experiments can be difficult because there are many factors that we can not control. Because our plants are vital to the outcome of our project, the first few weeks were dedicated to the health and upkeep of our key players.

The Reserve Garden


After the initial planting, extras of the 3 species were planted off to the side in a reserve garden. In the beginning stages of the project, this nursery provided replacement plants for any dead or extremely stressed plants in our transects.

Continuous Clipping

To minimize competition from neighboring plants, we clipped preexisting vegetation within a 1-meter radius of each transplant. some of the plants were immersed in what appeared to be a small jungle and the clipping seemed endless…

BEFORE clipping


…snip snip….

AFTER clipping




In the first few weeks, the plants were carefully watered. The sand around the plant can get washed away quite easily, so we had to pour the water in a delicate fashion.

A Mixture of Measurements

We are collecting different measurements in the field that we will analyze and interpret later on. Here is a look at some of the data we are collecting:

Sand Accretion

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To measure sand accretion, we use surveying equipment, which includes a total station and prism pole. The total station uses a laser to calculate the distance to and elevation of a point.  One person holds the prism pole (above right) at each plant site and holds it level while the operator of the total station (above left) collects the measurement.

Plant Height & Area

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To quantify how our plants are growing, we are measuring their height and total leaf area. This is useful in figuring out how much sand the plant can trap. We measure height simply by using a meter stick to measure the length of the longest leaf.  To measure leaf area we collect photographs of each plant and then use an image processing program to calculate the area of the image (shown above in red) that is represented by leaves.

Parameters in the Soil


As the roots are responsible for the growth and health of each plant, analyzing the soil around the plants may help us to explain observed differences in growth rate. We are collecting sand samples near each plant site to measure water content, pH and total chlorides for comparison with the measures of plant growth.


The Plant Players

BACKGROUND: Due to the environment in which they live, dune grasses are highly specialized. They must be able to survive the challenges of high salinity, sand burial, and intense wind and sunlight. Their survival is key to the formation of dunes, as their presence slows the wind and therefore traps sand.

We are observing 3 dune grasses in our experiment: Ammophila breviligulata, Uniola paniculata and Spartina patens. As they mature, each species grows differently, thereby producing different dune shapes and sizes. One of the main goals of our project is to learn how these plants grow as a function of how close to the shoreline and high above the water line they are located. This will allow us to better represent each species in a computer model that simulates the growth of dunes.

Here are the players:

 Ammophila breviligulata


Ammophila grows on the eastern U.S., and has been introduced to the coasts of Washington and Oregon. This plant grows both vertically and horizontally, producing a tall, continuous dune.

Uniola paniculata


Uniola grows in Mexico, Texas, and on the eastern coast of the U.S. as far north as Virginia, however its range appears to be expanding more northward. Uniola paniculata grows more vertically than horizontally and usually produces a discontinuous dune composed of tall mounds.

Spartina patens


Spartina has grows along the eastern coast of the U.S. southward to Mexico and the Caribbean. It is primarily a high marsh grass but it does colonize low dunes as well.  As is grows, it spreads horizontally and therefore creates more continous dunes.


About the Team

 Dr. Laura J. Moore

Laura Moore

Dr. Moore is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geological Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received her B.A. in Geology at Colgate University (1993) and a Ph.D. from the University of California Santa Cruz (1998) in Earth Sciences.

Research Interests: Large-scale coastal behavior, coastal change, impacts of climate change on coastal systems, ecomorphodynamic (involving ecological and geomorphic processes) interactions in coastal environments.

Don Young


Dr. Young is currently the chair of the Department of Biology at Virginia Commonwealth University. He received his B.S. in Biology from Clarion University of Pennsylvania (1975), and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Botany from University of Wyoming (1979, 1982).

Research Interests: Coastal Plant Ecology, Physiological Ecology

John Bruno


Dr. Bruno is a Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received his Ph.D. from Brown University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University in disease ecology.

Research Interests: Marine biodiversity and macroecology, coral reef ecology and conservation, and the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems.

Evan Goldstein


Evan Goldstein is a newly graduated Ph.D. from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment in A. Brad Murray’s group in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences. He is a broadly trained Earth Scientist working to understand Earth Surface Processes by using mathematical models and (large) data sets. He is interested in the (two-way) coupling between models and data: where models inform data collection and data informs model refinement. He currently focuses on Coastal Foredunes, Bedforms (Sorted bedforms, Ripples, etc.), Sediment transport, and Data Driven Science (Machine Learning, Induction).

Theo Jass

Theo Jass

Theo is a Master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is working in Dr. Laura Moore’s Coastal Environmental Change Laboratory, and is expected to receive his degree in the spring of 2015. Theo completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Evansville (2010) and received a B.A. in Spanish with minors in Biology and Chemistry.

Sarah Margolis

Sarah Margolis

Sarah is the REU summer intern for this project. She is an senior at Boston University and will graduate in May 2015 with a B.S. in Marine science and a minor in Biology.

Laura Rogers 


Laura is a Masters student at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill studying coastal geomorphology with Laura Moore. Specifically, she investigates coastal overwash impacts as a function of the density and style of human development. Laura graduated from the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor in 2004 with a B.S.E. in Mechanical Engineering.

The Recipe for Dune Formation

 The recipe for a sand dune is simple. The ingredients are as follows:




How these 3 ingredients are prepared together is what gives variety to the form and size of a dune.

In simple terms, the wind picks up the sand moves it until it hits something such as vegetation. Other obstacles that may facilitate deposition of sand include beach debris, rocks, etc.

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This transport and deposition of sand creates the classic shape you think of when picturing a dune.

As more sand is deposited, the shape is maintained and the dune grows.

Welcome to the Hog Blog

The Hog Blog is here to provide updates on an experiment we are conducting on Hog Island (Virginia Coast Reserve)  

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Our Project

This project is a collaboration between Drs. Laura Moore and John Bruno (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and Dr. Don Young (Virginia Commonwealth University) to study interactions between biological and physical processes that build sand dunes. The work is supported by the National Science Foundation (through the LTER and GLD Programs) and the facilities at the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center (ABCRC) in Oyster, Virginia.


Experiments will be carried out on Hog Island which is part of the Virginia Coast Reserve of the Nature Conservancy. The VCR is a Long-Term Ecological Research site (LTER), part of a global network conducting research on ecological issues. 


*The Virginia Coast Reserve is a Biosphere Reserve created by the Nature Conservancy. It includes 14 barrier islands off of the coast of Virginia down the Delmarva Peninsula. For more information about the VCR, click this link: VCR

*For more information on the LTER network, click here: LTER