Hughes Center Funds More Saltwater Intrusion Research

The Hughes Center has continued to fund important saltwater intrusion research happening on the Lower Eastern Shore by University of Maryland scientist Dr. Kate Tully. This research, being performed jointly with scientists from George Washington University, aims to develop agriculture ecosystems that are resilient in the face of rising sea levels.

In January, the Center’s Board of Directors voted to fully fund at $94,000 an extension of the multi-million-dollar research Tully is performing on crop fields that have become overwhelmed with salt.

This product of sea-level rise known as saltwater intrusion degrades coastal farmlands across the Mid-Atlantic region. It damages the soil chemistry and makes it harder for farmers to grow the crops they traditionally have planted in these fields.

In 2018, Hughes Center funded for two years at $127,000 went to study ways to relieve stress on fields inundated with saltwater and identified salt-resistant crops, their growth efficiency and potential markets.

New Center funding for 2020 will go toward understanding the impact of saltwater intrusion on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. Scientists will also examine the potential for these salt-stressed fields to store carbon, which is a factor in mitigating the negative effects of climate change.

Overall, Tully’s research will develop agricultural management strategies that promote economic viability and environmental health on coastal farms that are losing fertile land to saltwater intrusion. So far, the team has generated maps of saltwater intrusion to identify areas most at risk, identified salt tolerance limits for standard and alternative crops and investigated carbon storage potential.

Dr. Kate Tully joins WNAV's Donna Cole in the studio for a discussion about the work she's doing with saltwater intrusion on Eastern Shore farms.