Doing science — schooner style

Sailing around the Gulf of Maine was not just for the joy of sailing, it was for sampling. Samples can provide insight on what is occurring in a water column. Our studies on the Bagheera were focused on how various chemicals and oceanographic factors could alter the water’s properties.

By using a YSI sonde (that is, a device with several probes on it that we lower into the water), we were able to compile how temperature, salinity, pH, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen differ with depth.  The turbidity of the water was also recorded by using a Secchi disk.  By the time we were done, we had ten sample sites from Casco Bay to Muscongus Bay.ESS 14 sampling sites

What is causing this chemical characteristic to change with depth? What types of patterns are we seeing between sites? What outside factors, like seasonality and amount of land protection, could cause this level of chemicals/characteristics? These were just some of the questions that arose while recording data.

These types of questions and data can contribute to research questions on topics from climate change to the amount of detritus getting into Maine’s water systems. Tracing changes and comparing them to other sites can help map out Earth’s past and future.

- Erin Wright-Little

Adventures on Bagheera

As I step foot onto Bagheera, immediately the theme song of Pirates of the Caribbean starts to play in my head.  It is hard for the song not to because being on a schooner is such a grand adventure.  As we travel through the water, I feel the wind against my face.  As the ship is heeling between 10° and 20°, moving across the ship is always an invigorating challenge. I am so lucky to have been a part of this wonderful adventure.  Please enjoy a short video that shows how spectacular traveling on Bagheera was for ESS.

-Robert Michaud

 

Sailing in October

There are advantages and disadvantages to using a sailboat as a research vessel and floating classroom.  If there’s any wind, then sailboats tend to be more stable than motorboats with less rolling and yawing, and that makes for less nausea.  Sailboats provide a lot more to do when moving between sampling sites, what with all of the tacking, jibing, and sail adjustments.  From the academic perspective, sailboats certainly increase awareness of wind direction and intensity, which everyone quickly connects to wave conditions.

On the downside, sailboats usually take much longer to get from point A to point B, especially when point B is to windward of point A.  And with uncanny frequency, even if you decided to go from B to A, rather than A to B, the wind would shift to make sure you have to sail upwind!  In addition, sailboats heel when sailing toward the wind, commonly from 10 to 25 degrees, and that’s a challenge for most people new to the sea.

Our particular boat is the 52′ schooner Bagheera, built in 1924 here in Maine and operated by Portland Schooner Company.  That’s the clincher.  It’s hard to get more exciting than an gaff-rigged, locally built, 90-year-old schooner that’s sailed to Europe and back, raced (and won) in the Great Lakes, and spent years working on the West Coast.

IMG_7689

Good weather and downwind sailing make everyone happy; even academic work seems to come naturally.

ESS schooner classroom

Big swells with wind is exciting and hard on productivity, but there’s lots to observe in terms of wave dynamics (plus nice scenery).  However, big swells without wind is the worst combination because we don’t make good progress and queaziness sets in (except for the skipper, of course!).  We hope for blue skies and fair seas!

It’s going to be a great two weeks!

- Johan E

 

Suzie the Duckboat

At the end of our Marine Ecology segment with Dr. Teegarden at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve (where we taught the president of SJC about salt marshes and zonation), we made our way by Suzie to the great city of Portland.  We made sure that Suzie got a prime spot in line for the ferry to Peaks Island.  (She got second in line!)

image

(Suzie on the ferry with our 52″ black schooner, Bagheera, in the background.)

When we got onto the ferry after lunch, we were all excited about Suzie finally being able to achieve her dream of becoming a duckboat.  Some of us sat in Suzie, as she made her way by ferry to Peaks.  It felt so weird to sit inside of a vehicle, and yet see water passing by you as you move.  To see the steering wheel and the dashboard with water beyond it was so crazy!  We took a lot of photos to commemorate the wicked cool moment!image                                                        image

(Andrew and Bobby pretending to drive Suzie while on the ferry ride.)

When the ferry pulled up to Peaks, Suzie was allowed to get off first.  We think it was because she was more beastly than the small BMW parked beside us on the ferry.  I mean, Suzie was carrying all of our gear on top  and behind her on a hitch.  We drove off of the ferry and drove right into the heart of wonderful Peaks Island, ready for our next set of adventures.

image                                        image

-Nhu Vo and Courtney Couture

                             

   

Mr. Pres

When you first hear that you, the student, will be teaching the President of Saint Joseph’s College about salt marshes a lot goes through your mind:
1.      Holy crap, it’s the President.
2.      Holy crap, it’s the President.
3.      Do we really have to?
4.      Why the heck does he want to learn about salt marshes anyway?
5.      What if I mess up?
6.      What if he knows more than me?
7.      Why would Dr. Teegarden do this to us?
8.      Will he like me?
I mean, it was really quite a nail biter. It’s just so nerve racking – Nobody wants to let down the President of the College or their professor. However, when you get down to thinking, salt marshes are not really that scary, and neither is President Dlugos. He is actually a really down to earth, fun loving guy who is very interested in the Environmental Science Semester. What could really go wrong? Well, for starters, falling in would ruin the day quite quickly… It’s a good thing that did not happen.
With tensions high and students eager to impress, the day started off with an introduction of the group to President Dlugos at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm. From there, we headed over to a dock to meet our captain for the tour of the Laudholm salt marsh and estuary.  They showed us Wells Beach and the adjacent salt marsh, and they explained the complications that they are facing now and will be in the future. When the insightful boat tour had come to an end, we reconvened at the Research Center for a lunch of cold cut sandwiches and salad. By the end of lunch nerves were setting in once again. It was almost time for us to lead the President into the salt marsh and show what we know. On the walk there the names of species, zonation patterns, and processes were running through our heads. A few minutes later the time had come. We were out on the salt marsh with an eager President and professor waiting to hear us teach. Dr. Teegarden prompted us into a discussion which we quickly picked up. Without skipping a beat the group of eight chimed in with answers and ideas. It was like no one was watching and we were having a class discussion. There were laughs and information shared. Before we knew it, the class was over – We did it! With a sigh of relief half of us went to count green crabs while the other half split off to write a lab report. Just another wicked cool day on the ESS.
Stay golden!
Mike and Alana

The science of intertidal zones

Ingrained in our memory by Dr. Teegarden is the answer to some important questions about intertidal zones along ocean beaches.

First Question: Where does Marine Ecology start? Answer: Observing patterns of abundance and distribution.

Second Question: How do you figure out the cause for the pattern of abundance and distribution? Answer: By identifying processes, then forming a hypothesis about how the physical and biological forces caused the pattern to occur.

Third Question: What is the main pattern found in the intertidal zone? Answer: The main pattern found in the intertidal zone is zoned layering of different organisms.IMG_3337

Fourth Question: What causes the zonation in the intertidal zone? Answer: Some of the major factors include: competition, ability to survive despite certain stresses, and predation.

This may sound like absolute craziness to someone who had not spent 3 weeks learning about Marine Ecology during the ESS. Though next time you go to a rocky beach or salt marsh at low tide I would like to challenge you to look for something we have now learned to see. There will be layers of different types of organisms (plants for salt marshes,seaweed and barnacles at the rocky coast). Some will be closer to the water, some will live farther away from the water, and scientists have spent countless hours figuring out the reasons.

In the rocky intertidal zone organisms prefer to spend more time in the water and avoid desiccation. The organisms closer to the water at low tide spend more time under the water and are better competitors meaning they are able to beat out other organisms that would want to live there. Why don’t those organisms control the entire zone? This is because they are not able to survive the exposure (a stress) out of water that the organisms above them can. So in summary, what causes this “zonation?” First: competition for more time spent in the water. Second: ability to deal with exposure out of the water.

DCIM100GOPROWith salt marshes this pattern of competition and stress is in the opposite order. Organisms that live further away from the water are the stronger competitors. The salt is in this case the stress and is harmful to the plants, some of which have adapted ways such as pulling the salt from their roots up through their stem and out the leaves.

But this is for only 2 places out of the many of places we have visited and because of that there are countless structures. For our friends and family out there you may understand why we can never look at these areas the same way again. For that new-found understanding we thank the boundless knowledge banks both Dr. Teegarden and Dr. Erikson have shared with us.

Matt Pfannenstiel

What An Unbelievable Family!

The Erikson Family

The ESS group has been on the go and away from familiar places for 47 days. No one has made us feel more comfortable than the Erikson family. We arrived on Peaks Island on Friday tired and stressed. We were unsure, once again, of what our next adventure would be. We reached the Erikson’s home and piled out of the van and were greeted by their dog, Pirate. The boys were prompted to bring their belongings inside and the girls repacked the van. After a tour of their lovely house, everyone got settled. Shortly after, Patricia (Dr. Erikson’s wife) returned home from work to eight new people in her house. She graciously welcomed us all and began preparing dinner. She made us feel right at home – the closest thing to home we have had in awhile. With a buffet of steamed mussels, herring, salad, chicken, and bread we all gathered for a family dinner.

I speak for all of us when I say that the last few days have been well needed. Dr. Erikson has taken us on a tour of the island. His daughter, Annika, has accepted her eight new brothers and sisters and played many hours of badminton with us. Patricia has cooked and cleaned for us – a welcomed and much appreciated break. Pirate has helped us all relax with lots of puppy love. The Erikson family has been more than cordial letting us into their home and we all greatly appreciate them putting up with our ridiculousness. How they have done this is hard to imagine. They are truly an amazing, loving, and welcoming family.

We cannot thank them enough but I will try – THANK YOU Johan, Patricia, Annika, and Pirate! We admire and applaud everything you have done for us!

Authors: Alana and MIke

The Magnificent Struggles of the Mudflat

Matt

Matt after a few hours on the mudflat

We arrived at Lowe’s Cove just as the tide was beginning to flush away the mudflat. We left the Darling Marine Center a few minutes ago and all of the students had begun to feel the stresses of research.

Matt asked Dr. Greg Teegarden, “What should we bring to the cove?”

“This is a learning exercise and I want everyone to follow their proposals and bring what they think they need. If I tell you what to bring and what to do, this becomes a cookbook experiment, which has less value than struggling to figure it out,” replied Dr. Teegarden.

By the looks on all of the students’ faces I could tell they were not impressed, because sometimes it is easier to be given information than to figure it out yourself. Nonetheless here we were just about to step onto the mudflat. Greg had just delivered suggestions about the rambunctious technique required to travel efficiently on a mudflat. At this moment everyone made haste and took their first steps on to the deceivingly stable, stinking, gait-hindering mudflat.

At this time I was scurrying around the upper rocks trying to find the perfect placement for cameras to capture all of the activities. It all happened so quickly. I watched carefully as everyone took his or her first few steps onto the mudflat. I watched Dr. Teegarden race onto the mudflat with grace and proficiency, while Matt slumbered onto the mud, finding it nearly impossible to move. When I compared the techniques of the inexperienced students to the experienced waddle of Dr. Teegarden I was fascinated.

 

I wonder how long it will take before someone falls?

The thought had just passed my mind when I looked out and saw Erin screeching as her center of gravity went back, but her feet stayed deep within the grasp of the malicious mud. I watched as Erin’s automatic balance correction mechanism attempted to correct the fatal misalignment of her body. We often take for granted the amazing mechanisms that are involved in keeping humans upright. From my vantage point I could clearly see Erin’s body struggling to stay standing. As she realized her feet could not shuffle to keep herself from falling her arms flailed out and began to create concentric circles in the air, as though she were attempting to fly like an eagle in the sky. Unfortunately, the end was the same for many of the ESS students, a butt covered in mudflat mud.

Just as this scene ended another began, this time it was Nhu. Nhu always has a fantastic reaction to new situations. This day was no exception. As Nhu took her first steps onto the mudflat you could hear her squealing at the new experience. As she attempted to adjust her gait and take the advice of Dr. Teegarden, I could see her mind begin to wonder if Dr.

Nhu experiencing the mudflat

Nhu experiencing the mudflat

Teegarden was giving true advice, or if he was simply bring everyone onto the mudflat for his own mischievous experiment. As Nhu scrambled across the mud, I watched almost as in slow motion. She took a step and went to lift her back right foot, but the mud grasped it like a mother holding her child’s hand while they crossed the road. Nhu attempted a correction, but the laws of nature had already made the decision, she was going to fall into the mud. As her knees made contact into the mud, I later found out that her expression was one of disgust, anxiety, and amusement.

I could continue with the many accounts of the struggles of the mudflat, but I want to keep some stories for people to share when they return. I will leave you with some advice for when you go onto the mudflat. Some of this advice is from Dr. Teegarden, and some of the advice is from my own accounts and experience from this day.

  1. When you walk on a mudflat, keep your center of gravity low and walk with pep in your step.
  2. When you are walking on a mudflat, know your destination and don’t stop, otherwise you will feel the hands of mud come upon you.
  3. If you do stop, do not forget you are on a mudflat when you get ready to start moving again, otherwise you could fall flat on your face. Instead when your foot is stuck, simply twist your heel out and up. This will help break the grasp of the mud.
  4. Never travel alone. If there was one revelation I noticed with the group traveling on the mud was how everyone relied on the help of friends to pull each other out of the mud (see video of Erin for an example)
  5. Do not forget to have fun. The mudflat is a place to study and gather information, but from my brief experience yesterday, it is also a place to have fun.

-Robert Michaud

Visiting a Maine Icon

When Dr. Johan Erikson and I (mostly Johan) planned out the Environmental Science Semester, one of our goals was to incorporate what I’ve been calling “collateral learning”. One form would be experiences that did not seem to have a direct academic content purpose, but nevertheless created an impression, or formed a memory, that both enriched the student experience and perhaps looped back to things they have learned or will learn.  With this in mind we made a side journey to the iconic Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.

The simple, elegant lighthouse and keeper's house.

The simple, elegant lighthouse and keeper’s house.

True confession time – this is the region where the summers of my youth were whiled away in blissful exploration, long before mobile phones and e-mail accounts or social media intruded upon one’s ability to leave the world behind and drink in the experience. It was perhaps naive of me to imagine that our group would be struck with that sense of child-like wonder by a simple hour-long visit. Yet, the enthusiasm with which the students sprang onto the rocks and fanned out to explore, marvel at rock formations, look for critters, or get lost in the sunset gave me  hope that a little bit of wonder would cut through the whirlwind of modern life and settle in our minds.

IMG_2577      IMG_2585

When I told the students that this was one of the most famous, most photographed or depicted lighthouses in the nation, there was some healthy skepticism. After all, it looks so simple and plain, no red stripes, no grandiose house attached. We later confirmed that this is the lighthouse depicted on the Maine state quarter, from the currency series of state quarters. Some were interested in the history, and in the fate of lighthouses in the modern era. No one could fail to take interest in the fantastic rocky point on which the lighthouse is set. When I asked, “What would Johan say if he were here?” there was a great combination of eye rolls and friendly groans, but also smiles and chuckles – one part “Really? Academics again?” and another part appreciation of the life we academics lead, viewing the world with one eye on the wonder and beauty, and the other through the lens of our training and discipline. I think in the end, the students managed to keep their eyes on the wonder and beauty, and that’s just fine for this episode of collateral learning.

IMG_2603

Half way. Location Ocean Point Boothbay, and New Harbor, Maine; Date is September 19th.

Rocky intertidal, Does that sound fun to you? Maybe, maybe not, but to a marine or environmental scientist whoa is that exhilarating. For all the non-scientists out there I’ll first explain what the heck a rocky intertidal zone is; it is the area that is above water at low tide and under water at high tide. Abundant with life this place was stirring, waves crashing and creatures crawling. We arrived at ebb tide to race and get our data collected before the tide came back in. We took distance and inclination for a profile of the zone, and analyzed the flora and fauna, counting each and recording everything we could see.

 

After furiously typing away at our keyboards for the third paper in three days we were in for a real treat. Low tide was at 2:30pm. With our brains exhausted, our professor Dr. Teegarden decided to take us for an electrifying escapade. A scientist’s playground, a quarter acre tidal pool flourishing with life! This was the Rachel Carson Salt Pond preserve in New Harbor. After spending all day on our computers, getting out and just playing with what we’ve been learning about was great. Then for an extra special treat we were treated to a feast of lobster, clams, and steak galore. The best cure for our paper writing frustration. All in all, I’d say today has been a pretty great day.

 

Abundant with life this place was really stirring,

We arrived at neap tide this place was wild,

Waves a-crashin, creatures a-stirrin,

Bare feet be warned, barnacles might bite,

But we weren’t there for just fun the professor said work!

Work we did sir, but not without fun,

A day on the beach can’t be not fun.
Stay golden,

“Till next time”

-Michael Gallagher