A major wetland and stream restoration effort is underway at the VCU Rice Rivers Center. Kimages Creek runs through the heart of the center. After the wetland surrounding the creek was clear cut by Civil War troops, the forest once again began to grow back. That forest again was cut, this time in the 1920s when the construction of an earthen dam and spillway at the mouth of the creek formed Lake Charles. The lake covered 70 acres of what had been tidal and nontidal freshwater wetlands and bottomland hardwood swamp forest dominated by bald cypress and tupelo gum.
In 2010, a section of the dam was removed, reuniting the creek, its wetlands and the tidal waters of the James River. Center researchers collaborated with natural resource agencies and organizations to restore the area to its natural hydrology and ecology. Faculty and student projects now are monitoring the restoration of native plants in the wetland, which is making a significant increase in this critical habitat along the lower James River. Click here to view a timelapse of the dam removal.
Center researchers also are studying the effects of the restoration on wetland plant and microbial ecology, biogeochemistry, nutrient and carbon dynamics, the reestablishment of anadromous fish runs in the stream, conservation of key species of wildlife and the control of invasive species in restored wetlands. Among these projects is the installation of an eddy covariance flux tower in the wetland restoration area. This equipment provides a powerful platform for quantifying carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor fluxes between the wetland and atmosphere at the ecosystem scale. One thing that makes the VCU Rice Rivers Center’s flux tower especially important is its unique location in a restored freshwater tidal wetland, an underrepresented ecosystem in the global network of towers measuring carbon sequestration and methane emissions. In other words, not much is known yet about this ecosystem’s ability to sequester — or perhaps emit — greenhouse gases. That information will be forthcoming as our equipment generates this critical data.