Category Archives: Logistics of ESS

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




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

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

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

Glacial crunch time

ESS at Tuckerman

It’s not all sunshine and awesome natural laboratories, but there certainly are a lot of each!

The first course of the semester, Climate Change and Glacial Geology, is wrapping up right now.  Students just turned in their research papers, which had to be on a climatological or glacial process for which they had seen evidence at some time during the past 3+ weeks.  They are writing on topics as varied as carbon sequestration (as seen in 300 million year old coal deposits) and glacial abrasion (seen in lots of places where glaciers have left their mark on the land).  Now they have to study for the tomorrow’s final exam.

We’ve had some great venues in the past week:  Fundy National Park in New Brunswick for some of the world’s biggest tides, Katahdin Iron Works in northern Maine for acid rock drainage with Dr. Emily Lesher (and some nice canoeing), and most recently the top of Mount Washington for both climate and glacial features.  After tomorrow’s exam, we’ll go to Popham Beach (Maine), where Dr. Teegarden will lead them in Marine Ecology.

– Johan Erikson

A mother of eight

The toll of many long days and long nights and early mornings.
The students of ESS are all fast asleep in the van during one of our many early morning car trips.

I open my eyes; it is 5:10 in the morning and it is time to start the day of travel. I think to myself, I hope everyone didn’t stay up too late last night because today is going to be a tough day. As I slumber out of my top bunk in the hostel in Halifax, my mind begins to race. I want to make sure to get started early so we can efficiently move out of Halifax to our next destination.

As I stagger down the stairs, I fully expect to see Johan Erikson any minute. I am sure he isn’t sleeping much at this time because of the long trip ahead of us. As I round the corner away from the stairs, I walk into Courtney. She is struggling up the stairs with her enormous dry bag, one of the foundations for the roof rack. One down, seven to go. I grab her bag and shuffle it to the van, which is parked less than two meters from the hostel’s entrance. There it stands, tall, blue, and with the faces that so many people gawk at when we drive.   This reminds me of the hundreds of questions we get when we drive: “Where is Saint Joseph’s College?” “What are you guys doing in Canada?” “Whose faces are on the van?” “Do you know the people on the van?” “How come your face isn’t on the van?” The list can go on and on.

As I am unpacking the mountain of bags that had collected inside the van from the night before, I am remind how much stuff is crammed into this tiny space. I begin to have quite the collection of bags outside the van when Dr. Erikson makes his way outside. It is 5:30; we need to leave in 30 minutes and there are still seven unaccounted for students! I continue to work with Dr. Erikson for another 15 minutes and I still have not seen any more students. It is time to see the progress being made by my lovely children.

I make it back inside and to the lower floor of the hostel to check on the ladies. One part of me thinks they will be up and glowing and excited to see me as they walk right past me to the van. The other part of my brain, the left and rational part of my brain, cackles at this thought, knowing full well that when the door opens, I will see three wonderful faces crushed into soft pillows. I grasp the door handle and turn it, the anticipation KILLING ME! The door opens and… everyone is sleeping. Bummer, that would have been nice. I wake everyone and tell them they need to be out by the van in five minutes. The faces of panic erupt.

Back at the van after waking the crew, faces of sad, tired students grumble their way through the door.

“Hi mom,” groaned Alana

“Morning mom,” said Erin in a rough voice.

Being called mother as a male 23 year-old recent Saint Joseph’s College graduate is an interesting experience, but one that I feel happy to hold. As everyone makes their way to the sidewalk, I can sense the rushing feeling begin to flow in as I realize 6:00 is approaching quickly and we still need the big bags on the roof. Finally I see them… It’s a car! It’s a plane! It’s the big bags coming! Dr. Erikson is up and on the roof before I can get the courage and focus to lift the bags. I heave and strain and lift the first dry bag to the roof and Mike helps me lift it and hold it until Dr. Erikson can pull the monstrosity up. We continue to lift the bags up until all of the bags are on the roof and safely tied down and secured for the long trip.

Now in the drivers seat, I look back and see everyone piled into the van in a conglomeration of bags and sleepy faces. With my navigator to my right and the snoring beginning to echo through the van we pull away from the hostel and off to the many adventures ahead of us. Another successful packing, only eighteen minutes late, not a bad start.

The trials and tribulations of caring for eight full grown college students is not an easy task, but when you see them come together and accomplish simple tasks like packing a van, you are reminded that the learning process and growth is great, is necessary. I was in their shoes only a few years ago and that process is hard, but the reward is rich.

– Robert Michaud

First Day in Canada

Saturday morning, we got up and our objective was to clean out most of our food supplies, because we could not carry most things across the border. We left our “home” at 7:40 and when we had to cross the border into Canada, thankfully they did not have to search the van. However, we did have to wait around for 40 minutes getting our passports checked. We entered Canada at 11 and because of the hour ahead time difference, dinner was at a late hour that night. We had lunch at Saint John, in New Brunswick. We all ate a variety of foods from the public market and a few of us even ate in the park. As we were walking around, we came across people from all over the world that were carving stones and making sculptures out of them. If you ask me, I thought it was pretty neat! Nevertheless, we got back in the van and drove for another 3 hours till we reached out destination in the campground of Kouchibouguac. On our adventures driving there, we almost squashed a Prius, came very close… Once we got to the campground, we had to put up tents, and that was a struggle for those of us who were new to camping. So, yeah that was our day of fun.


-Courtney Couture