Monthly Archives: October 2014


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.

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