How do Shallow-Water Habitats Work? Using Smart Drifters to Understand How Flow and Geomorphology Interact to Establish High-Quality Habitats

Start/End: September, 2013 to August, 2015

A UC Berkeley research team has built a fleet of floating robots that can be deployed in estuaries and rivers to track water movements and monitor various aspects of water quality. The drifters, officially called the Floating Sensor Network, are equipped with sensors that measure position (GPS), water turbidity, chlorophyll, salinity, and water temperature. For this project, the fleet of mobile sensors will be deployed in the Liberty Island wetland to better understand processes that affect phytoplankton abundances and the transport of phytoplankton produced in wetlands to open-water (pelagic) food webs. Understanding how tidal flows affect mixing and dispersion of water properties and phytoplankton is also a major focus of the project. The project’s three main objectives are to: 1) quantify effects of shallow-water flows through wetlands on water cloudiness (turbidity), chlorophyll (a measure of phytoplankton abundance), salinity and water temperature; 2) correlate drifter trajectories (i.e., water movements) to phytoplankton abundances, and 3) identify wetland features that encourage the transport of phytoplankton into the San Francisco Bay-Delta’s open waters. Findings should help identify wetland designs that would be most effective at creating habitats to support the pelagic food web.

Research Mentor: Alexandre Bayen, University of California Berkeley

Community mentors: Brian Bergamaschi, Research Chemist, USGS and Tamara Kraus, Soil Scientist, USGS