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Vietnam adventure for Waikato marine scientists

1 January 2015

Mangroves phdUniversity of Waikato Senior lecturer Dr Julia Mullarney and PhD student Benjamin Norris carried out tests in the mangrove forests of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

Mangrove forests up to 20 metres high, snakes, wasps and a whole lot of mud have been the making of an intrepid journey for three University of Waikato scientists conducting research in Vietnam.

Senior lecturer Dr Julia Mullarney, Technical Officer Dean Sandwell and PhD student Benjamin Norris have just returned from living on a river boat in the Mekong Delta where they were studying currents in the mangrove forests as part of an international collaborative research project.

The bigger picture

"We're studying currents around the roots of mangrove trees with the aim of determining how the obstacles affect waves and currents. The work we're doing has implications for sediment transport which in turn controls the expansion or shrinking of the delta as a whole," says Dr Mullarney.

For the three travellers, a typical day of research started at 4.30am and involved taking an inflatable boat loaded with equipment through the waves and into the mangrove forests at the seaward end of Cu Lao Dung Island. The team then deployed oceanographic instruments in a variety of configurations and completed photogrammetry surveying of the area.

Facing unique challenges

Mr Sandwell says the project was a unique challenge. "Navigating our small inflatable research vessel through a surfzone inside the trees was quite unusual. Additionally, several of our instruments are primarily designed for the laboratory so we had to be creative in our methods of deployment. We used Vietnamese fishing boats, kayaks and tree huts as platforms to power and run instruments, which allowed us to monitor currents in real-time at high frequencies (greater than 50 times a second)."

Mangroves web 2

University of Waikato Senior lecturer Dr Julia Mullarney and Technical Officer Dean Sandwell conducted experiments in the mangrove forests of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

Already seeing progress

Last month's trip was the team's second trip to the region and it has already become apparent that things have changed since their last visit. "The forest appears to be expanding on one side of the island and shrinking on the other.  In a region highly threatened by climate change and sea level rise, discovering what causes these differences is crucial," says Dr Mullarney.

Part of a global project

The work is part of a USA office of Naval Research funded project. The principal investigators are University of Waikato staff Dr Julia Mullarney and Associate Professor Karin Bryan. The project also involves investigators from Vietnam, the USA and the Netherlands.

Since their return to New Zealand, the team has started to examine the data collected and will work with Dr Bryan to develop a numerical model of the movements of the mangrove forest and water and sediment movement.

Their adventures can be followed on the photo blog: http://schoolofsciencetheuniversityofwaikato.pixieset.com/vietnammangroveresearch/