All posts by Shaylee Davis

Damariscotta Estuary

After an early morning wake up, we set off to experience the main attraction the Darling Marine Center had to offer, the Damariscotta River estuary. Heading down to the boat, it had already started off rough; rainy and cloudy, but it was all worth it in the end.

This estuary is unusual because most estuaries have a lot of freshwater flowing out into the ocean, but this one has much more seawater flowing into the river. Starting at the head of estuary at the town of Damariscotta, we cruised the length of the estuary, stopping at 6 spots, or stations, heading to the ocean. We pulled plankton nets to catch zooplankton and phytoplankton at each station. We also used a 200-pound instrument called a CTD which is used to measure the conductivity or salinity, temperature, and depth of seawater. Being the techie on the crew, I operated the computer of this fancy device.

Learning to control the winch as we swung the heavy CTD into the water took some time, but we got the hang of it after the second station. As we got to the higher energy wave swells towards the mouth of the river, we had to work quickly to avoid anyone danger or damage from the pitching instrument. Through our time on the boat, we saw seals, and even dancing lobstermen on a float. Some experienced seasickness, and we all got a taste of what life on a boat will be like when we get to the schooner.

A few days later, with some convincing, we went to the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine. For some of us it was the first time going, and it was different from the Fryeburg Fair; lots of organic food, people walking around barefoot, flowers and flower crowns. Everyone was smiling at you as you walked by. Being in a whole new setting, and seeing loved ones, caused this day trip to definitely be worth it!

Katahdin Iron Works & Testing for Acid Mine Drainage

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.