Category Archives: Field Sites

Highlights of the first third

It’s time for me to write a post, since the students are immersed in writing a paper and preparing for a final in Climate Change and Glacial Geology. Yes, it is very early September and they are faced with a paper and a final.  We’ve been on the road for over 3.5 weeks, which puts us 1/3rd of the way through the ESS.  Quite soon, we will finish here (Crawford Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire) and head to Popham Beach, where Prof. Greg Teegarden will start leading the students though Marine Ecology.  But before we wrap up here, let me point out some highlights.

Blueberry fields near Cherryfield, Maine grow on deltas that accumulated in a frigid sea when relative sea level was briefly 60 m higher than today about 15,000 years ago as glaciers receded. Joe O’Reilly joined me and Andrew atop an enormous boulder carried to this site by icebergs.

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West Quoddy Head lighthouse is the easternmost point in the US. Everyone seemed amused thinking that there were 320 million Americans to the west of us, and zero to the east!

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It’s hard to appreciate just how fast the tide can come in. At Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, we studied the 1 km long Point Wolfe inlet.  We were in the flat, middle part of the section when the tide caught up with us.  The water was creeping over the land nearly at walking speed.  Stand still to take a measurement, and the water would rise above our ankles.  Crossing the “little” intertidal stream on the incoming tide got Emma Mills ’19 in water up to her chest.

At Joggins Fossil Cliffs in Nova Scotia (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), we walked along beach cliffs (at low tide!) for about 5 km and through about 5 million years of ancient, really ancient history. These rocks have yielded the oldest reptile fossil in the world at about 310 million years (forgive me if my memory is off by a few million). We were there to look at how climatic and environmental conditions can be reconstructed; these rocks accumulated in a tropical swamp with nearby mountains generating a rich supply of river sediment.  Danielle Martin ’19 found a block with fossilized mud cracks and the toe/claw imprints of a crocodile-sized amphibian; this block was so special the guides added it to the permanent collection in the site’s museum.

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In Halifax, the city’s signature historical feature, the Citadel, is built atop a drumlin. The drumlin was formed by glacial ice moving and molding sand and gravel debris into an oval mound.  Several of us enjoyed a nice hour of Frisbee tossing on this late Ice Age feature.

The moonless night sky in the northwoods east of Greenville was absolutely beautiful. Sorry, no nighttime photos, but I’ll include a morning photo.  And nighttime photos wouldn’t do it justice anyways.  The sky (as viewed from boats on the still lake) had so many stars that it felt four-dimensional – I felt the immensity of it as we looked deeper into space to more distant and fainter stars.  Some students saw the Milky Way for the first time in their lives.  Defintely a highlight.

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Prof. Emily Lesher led us through an investigation of the chemistry and landscape associated with acid mine drainage. Strictly speaking, this material was part of the Field Methods course, but by now the students are used to switching back and forth between different course content.  Personally, I really enjoyed seeing students engage with new material and another professor.  Many of them will be in Prof. Lesher’s Environmental Chemistry class in the spring, when this real-world example will surely come up.

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We drove up Mount Washington yesterday in order to get a view of several cirques created by alpine glaciers, most notably Tuckerman’s Ravine, Huntington’s Ravine, and the Great Gulf. A short walk to the lip of Huntington’s headwall led to more than one reassessment of what “steep” looks like.  While there in the Alpine Garden, we enjoyed a late summer snack of wild blueberries and mountain cranberries.  Some of us, including Jess Selva ’17 and Tyler Allen ’18, hiked over 4000 vertical feet from Mount Washington’s summit down over the headwall of Tuckerman’s Ravine and out to Pinkham Notch; legs were a bit stiff today!

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We’ve endured just over 2000 miles of driving so far. It’s a really long way from Portland to Halifax.  Fortunately, the longest distance to be covered in the remaining 6 weeks will be done on a schooner!

– Prof. Johan Erikson

Northwoods Acid Runoff and Stars

For the past 3 days, we have been at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Gorman Chairback Lodge in Greenville, ME. After a long drive from Halifax finishing with dirt roads, we finally arrived at this cute little lodge. After moving our things into our bunkhouse, we were allowed some down time until dinner. Gorman Chairback is right on Long Pond and it’s about a mile and a half from one end to the other. In no time at all we were out on kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. It was a beautiful, calm day and the water was just the right temperature as we explored the full length of the lake.

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Dr. Emily Lesher and her family joined us for a few days to teach us about the nearby Katahdin Iron Works and the iron oxide deposits that fed it. First we visited the original smelting furnace and the one remaining charcoal kiln that have been there since the 1890’s. Prof. Lesher told us about how pig iron was made from limestone, charcoal, and ore.  As the workers removed the surface layer of iron oxide ore from the nearby surface deposits, fresh iron sulfide was exposed. From more than a century of exposure to rain and air, the acidic runoff is getting into nearby streams and rivers at lower elevations and iron oxide is coating the soil. We took soil samples from different kill zones, tested pH levels, and tested acidity levels to see how the acidic drainage was affecting the waterways. Since this past season has been so dry though, the water levels have decreased and the amount of runoff into the waterways has also decreased, leaving the pH levels high (nearly neutral) and the acidity levels low.

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That night we went back out onto the lake just as it was getting dark so we would be able to star gaze on a clear night. Most of us were in kayaks and we ended up staying out for almost two hours. We could see the Big Dipper, the North Star, Mars, the Milky Way Galaxy, satellites, and shooting stars. Never have we seen such a clear sky at night – the Milky Way was bright all the way down to the horizon. Yay for no light pollution!  Soon it began to get cold and even darker so thankfully we all had our headlamps to get back to shore.

– Olivia Marable ’18 and Danielle Martin ’19

Halifax Hills

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0376.It’s now late August, and most students are moving into their dorms on campus but not us. We are in Halifax and have just completed our first mid-term exam with a final exam for ES210 Climate Change and Glacial Geology approaching a mere 10 days away. After the mid-term we were able to get a breath of fresh air and visit the Citadel, a British/Canadian military fort from the 1800’s built on top of a drumlin (a 500 m long oval mound of unconsolidated sediment deposited under the outermost 100 km periphery of a warm-based continental glacier). Soldiers serving here probably never knew they had their elevation advantage due to a glacial deposit.

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We started the following day driving 40 minutes east through Dartmouth (home of Netflix’s Trailer Park Boys) to Lawrencetown and its well exposed drumlin. We chose this spot because the ocean has eroded away some of the drumlin’s side, exposing about 25 of unsorted sediment. On this steep slope there were two distinct layers that are thought to be approximately 70,000 and 11,000 years old. There was 6.8 meters of grey, massive sand, silt and cobbles and approximately 20 meters of a similar red sediment. Glacial shear causes the long axis of the rocks to point in the direction of flow. Our objective was to measure the orientation (trend and plunge) of elongated pebble- to cobble-size rocks to see if the direction they pointed was different in the grey and red layers. We braved what felt like Mount Everest (a whole 15 meters) with the open ocean directly behind us in order to find elongated rocks. We hypothesized a second (red) drumlin was deposited on top of an older (grey) one, creating the two separate layers. Some of the cobbles we had to dig out……..with the same shovel we previously lost and then found in Fundy. After we took our data we all fell asleep on the ride home, no one moved for the entire 40 minutes. We were incredibly tired from braving treacherous hills, but we had breakfast for dinner to look forward to! After a long day it was time to wind down and type up our lab reports for the day, as a science course without a lab report would not be a real science course.

Joe O’Reilly ’18  & Tyler Allen ’18

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The Great Race of Fundy

IMG_9883IMG_9906For today’s adventure we went to Wolfe Point in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. This area is home to one of the most extreme tidal zones in the world, with tides reaching up to 51 feet. We began the day with a lecture from Dr. Erikson about the significance of the tidal zone at Fundy and the processes which formed the distinctive coast. After the lesson we jumped right into the field work. The goal was to measure a transect of the intertidal zone starting at the low tide line. Our basic process was to measure a distance of 30 meters and the change in elevation between the two points with a clinometer and a stadia rod. This seemingly straightforward exercise was complicated after lunch as the tide was rushing in. The huge tidal range leads to an extremely fast moving shoreline on this low angled beach!IMG_9907

This is when the great race of Fundy began. We had already done 360 m of the intertidal zone when we were caught by the rushing tide. It appeared to start slowly, but soon rushed in and some of us (Joe) were left stranded on mini islands, while others were stuck directly in the tidal action (Dr. Erikson and Emma) gathering data for our calculations. There was a point in time when the water was waist deep on Emma, and within a couple of minutes the water increased in depth to her shoulders. This is when we started to pick up our pace to get back to keep ahead of the tide. After picking up our pace and gathering all our data for our profile of Wolfe Point, we had measured up to 1 km of beach profile.IMG_9908

Overall the day was really fun, we did have many nerve wracking moments, especially with the rushing tide coming in on us but that did not dampen our resolve, in fact it was quite a rush. We learned a lot from this experience, especially about the coastal geomorphological systems that drive the tides and result in areas like Wolfe Point.

P.S. Ben lost the shovel, even though we didn’t use it

-Ben Poisson ’18 and Avery Liotta-Henderson ’19

Glacial Geology on MDI

On Tuesday we went to Mount Desert Island (MDI) to look at erosional glacial features. At our first stop, we learned how to determine which way the glacier flowed through this area over a “roche moutonnee”. Then we headed to Somes Sounds which is the only fjord on the east coast of the US. We had lunch, enjoying the view gouged out by a two kilometer thick sheet of ice. Many tourists who also stopped would ask if we were in class or what we were doing because they noticed our SJC van. We would explain the ESS trip and many of them would respond, “Oh, this is a really cool hands on experience.” Next on our agenda was Jordan Pond (formed by a push moraine) which gave us a great view of The Bubbles, which we would soon hike to the top of.

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As you would expect, North Bubble and South Bubble have a bubble-like shape. We geared up for this small but slightly steep hike up about 700 feet on the South Bubble. Once we reached the top, the view was spectacular and Dr. Erikson said, “Take out your yellow notebooks! This is where we are going to have class today!” We had an exercise to draw a topographical map of the mountains and landscape around us. We could see Jordan Pond and the ocean in the far distance with mountains surrounding us on three sides. On our way down we had to conveniently stop at Bubble Rock. Bubble Rock is another touristy attraction on top of the South Bubble. It was placed high up on the edge of South Bubble by a glacier near the end of the most recent Ice Age (about 20,000 years ago). After everyone got pictures of Bubble Rock we headed down and decided to do a tourist thing and stop at Thunder Hole.

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Thunder Hole is a natural rock inlet where waves will hit it and it will sound like thunder. When the waves are really large it could splash up to 40 feet with a roar of thunder. When we were there the waves were small causing no thunder noise. After anxiously waiting to hear thunder with no luck we headed out for a delicious dinner in Bar Harbor.

– Leia Berube

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 Magnificent Struggles of the Mudflat

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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.

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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.

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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

Down to the Estuary

We have made it to our 8th destination of this journey! We are currently at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine. Here we have been thrown into the deep waters of Advance Marine Ecology course at full throttle. Our first objective was to learn about estuaries and to find what sort of patterns we could find. Rather than picking up a textbook and just assuming the material given to us was true, we went out and gathered data ourselves.

The Darling Marine Center is right along the Damariscotta River, which is one of many estuaries along the coast of Maine. As soon as we filled our bellies with fruit and omelets, we took the quick walk down to the dock where Captain Robbie was waiting for us. Once informed of the safety protocols and what to do in various emergency situations, we took off to the head of the estuary.

To understand just a small piece of an estuary ecosystem, we used a Sea-Bird conductivity temperature depth (CTD) profiler. With this instrument we collected temperature, fluorescence, dissolved oxygen levels, salinity, and much more from just this one ring of machine. Along with the CTD profiler, we used two different nets to catch phytoplankton and zooplankton. These samples were taken from six spots along the Damariscotta River from the head to the mouth of the estuary. By using all of this data we created profiles for the Damariscotta River the fall season. From these profiles we can discern patterns in the forces that shape the distribution and abundance of the organisms.

On this trip we saw porpoises, seals, Bonaparte’s gulls, common loons, and many more! Back at the lab we got to see our strange and intricate shaped phytoplankton and zooplankton. We also got to find some Acartia tonsa which is Dr. Teegarden’s favorite little zooplankton with their beautiful blue “bowties.” Speaking of ties, we all learned how to tie a bowline knot!

I can definitely say we got lucky with another great professor from Saint Joseph’s College of Maine. Not only have we been thrown out to explore natural landscapes, but also to learn how to be effective and efficient workers. As Albert Einstein himself would say, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.”

– Erin Wright-Little

phytoplankton Erin & CTD photo CTD data  photo 2