Before the actual chemistry started, Dr. Emily Lesher showed the ESS group how to properly use the pH and conductivity probe out in the field. After one long day of sediment and water sample collection on Ore Mountain near Katahdin Iron Works east of Greenville and Moosehead Lake, we were all able to determine the concentration of iron in the water samples, and the pH and conductivity for both. It’s called Ore Mountain because of the different metals found within it, such as iron, cobalt, nickel, copper, and silver; it was mined from 1843 to 1890. Now, this mountain is the largest cobalt reserve in the country. Cobalt is known for its beautiful blue color, but it’s also a toxic metal used in cancer treatment and batteries.
Through a series of chemical steps, we were able to analyze the iron concentration of the water samples that the toxic metals had flowed into. A large part of the mountain’s rocks are iron sulfides with trace amounts of cobalt. Once the iron sulfide reacts with water and oxygen, it produces sulfuric acid, which together with the cobalt, iron, nickel, copper, and silver flows into the streams as something called acid mine drainage. Testing the samples, the pH samples varied from 2.6 (which is nearly the pH of vinegar) to 6.56 (nearly at a neutral pH of 7). It seems that the whole mountain was tainted with iron and vegetation was dead from the many years of mining and exposure to the acid and metals.
Being at Katahdin Iron Works for three days, not every day is full of experiments and extensive thinking, we also have downtime for swimming, canoeing, ping pong, playing card games or just napping! Staying up until midnight by a campfire, laughing and talking. Staying at the dinner table, talking about our day and making jokes.
After our departure from the Whites in New Hampshire, we headed back to Maine and checked into the Alheim Commons Dormitory at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserveon Saturday evening. First thing on Sunday, we headed to Wells Beach (learning can be so rough sometimes)! Upon arrival, we took some time to reflect and observe the area which is often something that we forget to do in our fast paced lives.
We noticed the sounds, smells, what we saw (whether it be man-made structures or how high the tide was), and how the sand felt between our toes or which way the wind might have been blowing. These observations helped us make conclusions as we went to three different beaches.
We talked about the significant longterm effects of man-made structures (jetties and seawalls) and how they can affect the energy or power of the waves on shoreline sediment transport, which then ultimately affects the coarseness and build up of the beach sediment. We estimated the longshore current velocity by calculating the movement of a tennis ball in the water. We concluded that the longshore current was twice as fast in the open beach at Wells and Drake’s Island compared to Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth. This is due to Crescent Beach having more protective barriers such as its swooping shape, reefs, and offshore sand bars which absorb some of the energy of the waves. Sand grains were finest at Crescent because the there isn’t enough wave power to bring in heavier sediments.
The beach is officially not just a place to get sunkissed skin and salty hair. There is A LOT going on from the moment your toes hit the sand to the point they hit the water (but of course we got some down time to get our tan on too).
This past week allowed many of us to step out of our comfort zone and test our limits in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Mount Washington is the highest peak in northeastern North America and known as the “Home of the World’s Worse Weather.” After riding in a van to the summit, we were given the opportunity to descend from the Alpine Garden to Lakes of the Clouds. Standing right on the ridge, we witnessed the “orographic effect” first hand. It occurs when cold air rises over the top of the ridge, forming a cloud. Then, as the air descends the other side of the ridge, the air warms and the cloud vaporizes. Although it was foggy, the experience was still exhilarating!
Tuckerman’s Ravine is a glacial cirque. This means the glacier carved out the side of the mountain. Imagine a scoop carving out a giant mound of ice cream, slowly, over thousands of years. In this moment it was amazing to see that all of our hard work really paid off. Although it was a long, intense journey down, the views of the cirque and alpine environment were absolutely gorgeous. It was something many of us have never been given the chance to experience. So far, this opportunity has allowed us to explore the world from a much different perspective!
On Sunday, August 12th, we met in Portland to depart on our ten week trip to learn new content, explore new places, and experience new things. We headed for the AMC Highland Center at Crawford Notch, part of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. We stopped along the Saco River along the way to learn about grain size, the energy of the current, and river depth. When we got to the Highland Center it was cloudy but the views were still amazing!
The first class being covered is Glacial Geology and Climate Change. We’ve been learning about glacier formation, movement, and erosion features. To see real life examples of the concepts, we hiked Mount Willard on our third day. Mount Willard overlooks Route 302 and Crawford Notch with 4,000 foot mountains on either side, a textbook example of a U-shaped valley created by a glacier that carved its way through during the Pleistocene glaciation.
When we aren’t in the field learning, we are in class learning about what we will be seeing in the field. For the last four days, class time has been broken up throughout the day by intense games of cornhole, cribbage, spoons, ping pong, quick hikes, food breaks, and wildlife sightings. On the fourth day of our stay, Dr. Erikson informed us of a bear cub and mom that he had just seen near the Mount Washington Resort. We quickly piled into the van and, sure enough, came upon a crowd of people taking pictures. A first bear sighting for most of us! After watching for a while, we drove back toward the Highland Center and came up on more cars pulled over. Another bear? No, this time a moose! Another first for some of us. Thanks to Jarrett’s moose call we were able to get a good picture with the young bull. What a great first four days with a great group of people!
People have heard of experiential education. This is the educational practice in which learning is enhanced and made meaningful by engaging with and working with the subject matter, as opposed to just reading or hearing about a topic. The Environmental Science Semester takes experiential education to a new level and requires a different name. We’re calling it immersion education–students are immersed off campus and in the field only in the study of environmental and marine science topics for ten weeks.
Students will live and breathe glacial geology, climate science, marine ecology, and oceanography day in and day out. It will seep into their pores.
The immersion educational experience has led previous ESS participants to report that they not only remember and understand so much more of what they’ve learned on the ESS compared to normal classes, but they can also remember when and where they learned most of it.
When I return in October, I won’t return with the same students I left with. They won’t be the same people – they will be transformed into confident students and practicing scientists who have shared an experience that bonds them to each other and to our team of faculty for a lifetime.
We’re off on another ESS! And I couldn’t be happier!