Ocean 492 B | Autumn 2020

Marine Sedimentary Processes Research Apprenticeship 2020

Credits: 15

Instructor(s): Dr. Andrea Ogston , Dr. Ian Miller


Dam removals, and other restoration projects, are becoming an increasingly popular way to restore the habitats of depleted fisheries and river ecosystems. But we do not completely understand the long-term effects our “restoration” will have. Our goal in this research apprenticeship is to use the Elwha River restoration project as a case study to understand:

  • how marine sedimentary processes operate near the mouths of rivers;
  • how the absence of river sediments has impacted the marine systems; and
  • the response of nearshore habitats to the restoration.

Students will be familiarized with the range of local sediment dispersal systems, evaluating the nearshore processes that have contributed to their development, and examining the human impact on these systems. Emphasis here will be placed on the Elwha River dispersal system, discussing the oceanography of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the geological development of the Elwha delta, and the construction and deconstruction of the dams. The connection between the seabed and benthic biology will be addressed by inviting speakers who are experts in this field.  This will provide the students with the necessary background to plan and perform a short research cruise on the Elwha delta. Teams of students will select different research projects relating to habitat impacts resulting from sediment dispersal of the Elwha River (e.g., projects could focus on effects of light attenuation due to plume dispersal of sediment, nearbed scour as a function of bottom-boundary layer transport, time scales of seabed deposition and benthic habitat creation/destruction, relationships between habitat and benthos in the seabed), and collect the necessary data to perform these projects.

Student teams will conduct their research projects with time allotted for laboratory and data analyses. In-class time will be spent on specific transport processes, environments, interdisciplinary aspects and analysis techniques that will aid the students in their projects. By the end of the quarter, students will have written a research paper that describes the existing processes and discusses implications for the future.

Throughout the apprenticeship, a number of field trips are taken to experience, up close and personal, the sedimentary environments that will be discussed throughout the quarter. The Friday Harbor Laboratories is uniquely situated to be within a couple hours drive from a range of river mouth and shallow coastal environments with varying degrees of human impact.

Enrollment limited to 12 apprentices. UW students earn “W” credits in this writing-intensive course. No textbook is required for this course.

UW undergraduate students taking this course may be eligible for partial funding from the Mary Gates Endowment (MGE).