That’s science…

So, I went in the field, I collected water, then I brought it all back. All 133 liters of it. Of course, this did not happen as perfectly as we planned it, but that’s science, and some of the more interesting findings often come instances of improvisation. For instance, we took two pieces of water collection equipment into the field this month, and one of them performed beautifully (our ISCO, which collects 1 liter of water every 2.5 hours), and the other one failed to even start for the first sampling. This was our monsoon pump, which is able to pump 40 liters of water in less than 5 minutes. We usually use this to collect our “tide samples” which we analyze for various biomarkers (compounds that can tell us about the source and degradation of the water). Because of this, I was unable to get the first low tide of the sampling period. Bummer. I was able to get the pump for the next 3.5 samplings, but she died again during the last one, and we had to sample in a less than ideal way (I won’t detail them here, but for reference, the water in Taskinas in March is pretty cold). Fortunately, we were able to get two high tides and two low tides by taking a sample later in the sampling time frame, and my biomarker analyses were saved.


Inside of the ISCO after we collected all of our samples, and right before I put lids on them and brought them back to lab.


Once we collected all of this water, I dragged my sleep-deprived self and all 133 liters of water to back to lab to start filtering. Because our lab is sparsely populated currently, I split the filtering into two days. The first day (the same day sampling ended) was spent filtering the large biomarker samples, because I felt that they were more fragile, and the second day was devoted to the ISCO samples. The large biomarker samples are poured into large stainless steel carboys, and with the help of a little nitrogen gas, get pushed through some fairly large filters. This usually takes about 5-8 hours, but fortunately only took me 5-6 hours for the March sampling. The second day was spent taking each ISCO jar and filtering its yummy contents so that I could analyze for chlorophyll-a, total suspended solids, particulate organic carbon, dissolved organic carbon, and stable isotopes. Although the ISCO only gives me 11 liters of water, it takes almost as long to filter that water as it does the large biomarker samples because we are looking at more parameters.

All of those samples are happily in freezers awaiting the day that I will pull them out and say, “Today little filter/bottle of water, you will get turned into data.” Now it’s time to get ready to do this all over again… but wait! We’re not doing an April sampling, which means I can get caught up on lab work, and play with our new toy! Hooray! (Our new toy will be the topic of a future blog post, but for those interested, it’s a brand new YSI EXO2, the new water quality measuring sensor, and a couple of new probes to attach to it).

That’s all for now folks, until next time!

Sampling Week: Preparation

Things have been really busy around lab the last couple of months, and I have (regrettably) been lazy on the social media front. I’ve been in the lab more than usual the last month as our wonderful lab technician decided to move to Seattle with her husband, and I needed to get as much information out of her as I possibly could before she left! Now that she’s gone, I feel like I have about 20 more things to do each day. Now more than ever I realize how much we needed her in lab! (But I wish her the very best, especially with the new job!) With spring coming and exciting developments in the project, I think it’s time to get back on social media!

preparationThis year my advisor and I have decided to skip a few months worth of sampling (February and April) in order for me to spend more time in lab and to see what direction sampling needs to go in the coming months (i.e., I need to start actually looking at all the data I’ve been collecting!). This week is field week and I’ve been getting prepared for that so that the fieldwork Thursday and Friday goes off without a hitch. In order to be ready for the field, a long list of supplies needs to get cleaned, organized, and labeled. For each sampling, we deploy (along with the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve) an ISCO automatic sampler that collects water at programmed intervals. Our ISCO is set up with 51 feet of tubing that needs to be acid washed and 12 glass jars that need to be muffled (heated at 450° C for 4-5 hours). We also collect 30-40 liters of water at high and low tides during the sampling period, so those containers (or carboys) need to get acid rinsed and labeled. The pump that we use has tubing that needs to get acid rinsed, filters we use to filter the sampled water need to be muffled and labeled, etc. There is quite a bit of prep work that needs to be done before we can actually go to the sampling site. This week has been devoted to that and data analysis (which hopefully I’ll be able to display on here soon!).

After all of this prep work, we (myself and one lucky volunteer) will go to the site, deploy the ISCO and monitor it to make sure it has no errors (no instrument is perfect) and collect water samples at the first two high and low tides. We generally sample over a 25-hour period, starting at a low tide around noon and ending at on a low tide the next day. These we collect into large water cooler jugs (the ones you see on top of water coolers in offices and such), wrap in black trash bags (these samples are light sensitive), and try to keep cool with some ice, so that they can be filtered back in the lab once we are done with sampling. If the weather is nice, sampling days are generally a great time of exploring the sampling site’s many hiking trails, possibly kayaking Taskinas Creek, and getting to know my volunteers, which are usually fellow graduate students, over movies and junk food.

After fieldwork, I’ll get to work writing about what happens when we get back from the field, but until then, check out the twitter (@Taskinas_Carbon) for live updates on sampling prep, fieldwork, and field sample processing!

An Introduction to Certified Organic Carbon

Carbon is everywhere, in almost everything. It comes in different forms and phases and provides the key backbone element to all things living. Yet, in many cases, we haven’t put all the pieces together to understand how it moves through an environment, even one as close to home as the coastal ocean. How does this essential element move from the coastal ocean inland? (You may think I’m just referring to the sandy beaches along our coastline, but the coastal environment is so much more than that… beaches and marshes and estuaries, oh my!) And how does this carbon, existing in various forms and groups, move in and out of specific environments, like from a marshy wetland to a large estuary? We don’t really know… well, not yet.


Taskinas Creek in York River State Park.

That’s what my graduate research focuses on, the flux (or movement, if you will) of various carbon pools in and out of a small marsh into a larger estuary. I look at all types of carbon pools, from organic (from organisms, such as fish, marsh plants, humans) to inorganic (from the atmosphere, soils, etc.), and from particulate to dissolved. Understanding this movement of carbon in such an environment will help us to understand how these coastal environments affect the carbon budget, carbon cycling, and even carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. While that information is valuable, I’m also looking at where this carbon came from. My lab uses tools called “biomarkers” which are basically molecules and compounds that are from a specific source. There are a lot of biomarkers available, so we can determine if the water I sample is from a forested area, a marsh, an estuary, the coastal ocean, a human impacted region, etc. Biomarkers are amazing (and I’ll talk about them in more detail in a later post). So, in my project, we will not only measure these fluxes, but we’ll also describe them in great detail.

So why am I doing all this? Why do I spend 25 hours a month in the field to collect ~175 liters of water? Because coastal ecosystems are immensely important to the ocean. Estuaries are vital to coastal systems because they serve as a filter to remove toxins and particulates from the water, they act as buffer zones and protect the surrounding land from large storms, and so much more. And with all this importance, we still don’t understand these systems fully. We don’t know what any type of climate change will do to the amount of carbon produced in these systems, we don’t understand how storm events may change the carbon cycle there, and so much more. Marshes and estuaries are key to the survival of coastal ecosystems, and the more we understand about them, the better we can utilize and protect them.

The purpose of this blog will be to explain what my research is all about, with exciting updates from the field and the lab, with additional posts explaining key concepts from my work (estuaries, biomarkers, carbon cycle, etc.) It is my goal to show the importance and beauty of estuaries and marshes and to show what the life of a marine science graduate student looks like. So follow along, I’ll try to post at least 1-2 times a month and keep everyone updated with the exciting life here in the lab and field!