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

Welcome to Canada

O Canada! On a foggy Sunday morning we again packed the van to head to Fundy National Park, in Alma, New Brunswick. We were just as foggy as the air, as we all went in and out of sleep the whole trip. A few rough roads and the climbing of steeps hills in an extremely heavy van jolted us awake every once in a while, but nothing could completely deter us from sleeping. After we smoothly crossed the border we quickly noticed some differences in our northern neighboring country. We passed multiple maximum speed 110 signs (km/h of course!), saw various things written in French and got to hold some plastic Canadian money that smells like maple syrup! We enjoyed a long dinner in a quiet St. John then kept trekking on towards Fundy. Our expected 6 hour drive had become an 8 hour trip. When we finally arrived at our destination past dark we got to see our home for a few days, a couple of “O Tentiks.” These small tent-like structures provide us with a warm shelter including beds and tables and are powered by small solar panels.  After exploring our tents for a few minutes it was time to unpack. Once the van was unpacked we wound down the night while playing games (Liars’ Dice) by the light of a lantern and prepared ourselves for another early day of the ESS.

We will be in various parts of Atlantic Canada until August 30th learning about glacial geology, climate change, field methods and oceanography. Our first full day here was rainy and gloomy, but we got to catch a glimpse of the extreme tidal range of Fundy; up to 50 feet in some parts! We can’t imagine a better place to learn about these topics than here in beautiful Canada.


-Jessica Selva 2017 and Emma Mills 2019




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.


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.


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


The Adventure Begins…

On Sunday August 14, all nine of us environmental and marine science majors met in Portland to embark on our ESS (Environmental Science Semester). We lined up our bags waiting for the van to arrive and everyone around was wondering how we were going to pull it off. We had a volume challenge of putting all of our luggage and seating eleven of us, in an eleven-seated van.  It was an overcast morning and we encountered showers here and there but nothing could stop us now. Dr. Erikson was eager to get going and jumped right on the roof to fill the storage bins on the roof as we passed him our dry bags. We were able to fit everyone somewhat comfortably and all of our luggage in the van. We were then ready to leave and begin our four-hour journey.

Our first stop was Schoodic Peninsula up near Winter Harbor, Maine. Ben and Olive were our navigators and plotted a route to our destination. Good thing it wasn’t me because I had never gone that far north.  I’d only made the usual trips from Saint Joe’s to and from New York, which is long enough. As we got closer to our destination the water views started popping through the trees and  I was very exited. We arrived around 2:30 pm at the Schoodic Education and Research Institute (SERC) in Acadia National Park where we will be staying for the next week in a nice condo (way better than a dorm room). We got started right away using our compass to find dips, strikes, trends, and plunges. It felt weird thinking that summer had ended and school had started again.

After our bite to eat at a local seafood restaurant (which was fantastic) we got to see why this place is so special. The local flora and fauna is protected by SERC, the national park and all of the locals here. We then proceeded to go see the sunset at Schoodic Point and that was a sight to see!

– Joe O’Reilly

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12 nights of mystery and 13 days on a schooner and we are finally on our way back, or at least in that general direction.  The night before we knew it was going to be a long day with the goal to be as close to Peaks Island as possible by nightfall. But with the wind against us, we did not know it would be so difficult.  At 7 a.m. the usual wake-up alarm goes off (Dr. Erikson), then it was time to pack bags and get ready to be on our way.  A nice breakfast of cinnamon buns was made by Bobby on the Coleman stoves then came an unexpected visit by the captain, Alden, saying that he was concerned about timing and urged us to get on our way very soon. After packing our gear on the boat and getting ready to leave our island in Muscongus Bay, we headed out on a long journey on a sunny day. But what lay ahead was a bit more than we had anticipated.

Passing by Monhegan Island, which we had visited the day before, we realized how rough the seas were.  Also we learned very quickly that Dramamine, a sea sickness medication, is not very effective when taken once you are feeling sick. The boat was tilted (heeled, in nautical language) at what felt like nearly 90o but was only about 25-30o. That doesn’t mean that the waves weren’t crashing over the side of the boat any less. Often times the seas soaked those of us bracing ourselves with our feet on the edge of boat (gunwale). There was a nice moment as a school of Atlantic white-sided dolphins swam alongside and under us amongst the crashing waves.

schooner wave at gunwale

Unfortunately we weren’t making very good time toward out destination, despite traveling at a respectable 6 knots, because the wind was coming from the southwest, which is exactly where we wanted to go. According to the GPS we were not going to be able to get to a spot to camp in Casco Bay until 9 p.m. or later.

With the weather only seeming to be less favorable as the day went on Dr. Erikson and Captain Alden made the call to head towards Boothbay Harbor.  Despite the change in direction, the 4-6 foot swells weren’t any nicer; a few waves came crashing over the port side of the boat soaking many of us who had managed to stay dry up to that point.  Even our dinghy sometimes disappeared because of the height of the waves.  Around 7 p.m. we were finally able to dock in Boothbay where our fearless leaders took a minute to discuss plans as we waited on board. The decision was to unpack necessary gear for the next couple of days into Suzie (which we had left in Boothbay a few days ago).  After a quick dinner Suzie took us back to Portland where we took the ferry to Dr. Erikson’s house for the night.  Now we’re in the home stretch and it’s time to work on 2 large lab reports, a presentation and study for the final during the remaining 5 days of the ESS.

–       Matt Pfannenstiel

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.


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!)


(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.

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-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