Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wrap Up and Reflection

Wednesday July 27th, 2011

We woke up on our last day and immediately started bustling around packing up. It actually reminded me a bit of college. We spent all that time working hard with great people, calling those close quarters home, and now it was time to part ways. It seemed we were excited to go home to our families and familiar places, but were also sad to be ending the trip. The packing up process was interesting; there was stuff everywhere! Every time I took a lap around the boat, I found a stray item that was mine. With everyone running in every direction, I was astounded when we all were actually able to meet for our group photo in front of the ship before she left. We said goodbye to the crew and gave them the thank you flag we made for them. I’m sure they were happy to have their ship back after it was commandeered by a bunch of amateurs. :)

We made our way over to the aquarium and settled in with our groups for some last minute fine-tuning of our projects and adjusting to our land legs. That rocking sensation on land was such an odd experience. Looking around the room, I smiled noting how far we all came this week. We went from being nervous strangers to being a close, almost family-like, community. The smiles on my peers’ faces were also paired with exhaustion. We’ve been so busy, the arrival of our research presentations was a universal welcomed event. The Lake Superior NERR group of teachers along with some area scientists also joined us for the presentations. It was fun to see everyone’s presentations. I was familiar with what they were working on, but it was fun to see all the pieces come together. Our final activity was brainstorming how we could use what we experienced this week in our classrooms. With a few final pictures and hugs, we then said goodbye.

The end of a journey… always bitter sweet. I think back to what I initially wondered about the trip. Our mission was to survey a multitude of stations along the South Shore of Lake Superior including the mouths of the St. Louis, Ontonagon, and Bad River. We teamed up with scientists to help them collect data for their extended research projects and conducted our own. We filtered water samples (chlorophyll), used a rosette sampler (water quality dynamics), plankton net, ponar sampler (bottom sample), manta trawl (plastics), and Tucker Trawl (isotopes in larval fish). I lived on a 180x40’ ship with ~30 other people, happily shared a ~6x11’ room with 2 other while 6 of us total shared the bathroom, and had every food I could ever want available to me at every hour of the day and night. I also experienced Lake Superior like I never have before. We glided through her crystal-calm seas, were thrown about in her waves, and were dazzled by her sunsets while we investigated her dynamic waters.

I also met some of the finest people I may ever meet. The caliber of teachers and scientists that I was privileged to work with this week will always stick with me. We started a facebook page so that we could remain a community and I hope to tap into those resources again in the future as well as call them my friends. I am saddened sitting here alone without the rocking waves or hum of the engine. I already miss the community I was so honored to be a part of and the ship we called home.

I need to remember that this is not the end of a journey, but just the beginning. All of our fires have been fueled by the excitement of the Lake Guardian. As an educator at Great Lakes Aquarium, I’d like to take our lake lab class apart and focus on the details of the lake dynamics. What we measure tells us so much about the happenings of the water. I have ideas about sampling plankton, quantifying the water, identifying them at least to their taxa, watching them migrate in class, and what it all means! Focusing on the bigger picture is key and I’m going to use the resources available to me. I have a new appreciation for sampling everything I physically can and I want to share it with children. I’m also looking forward to building an intricate lake-focused connection with area schools like Nettleton Elementary. I want o be a part of bringing the lake to the students and providing them with every resource I can.

I want to thank MN Sea Grant, COSEE, and EPA for inviting me to join this trip. I am so profoundly honored to have participated in this journey. I want to thank Dr. Joel Hoffman, Dr. Greg Boyer, and Dr. Ashley Moerke for mentoring us and taking the time away from your own research to make us feel welcome and competent with your equipment. I want to thank the community of partner scientists that introduced us to your work. Thank you, Lake Guardian staff, for guiding the ship and your patients with us when we were talking too loud and slamming doors. Thank you, Lisa, for your amazing cooking! I was blown away at every meal… and so was the top button of my pants. :) Thank you, Great Lakes Aquarium for sending me on this trip and providing us with meeting space. I know our curriculum will benefit from it. Last, but not least, I want to thank the teachers I worked with. Janet, John, Lori S. D., JoAnn, Paul, Mark, Sara, June, Cindy B., Lynn, Sandy, Lori W., Jim, and Diane, thank you for the laughs we shared, memories we made, and the tremendous teamwork you all contributed to. This trip will always be with me.

Since it was our last day, cameras and computers were packed up and we were all anxious to wrap up so I wasn’t able to nab any new pictures for today's post. Instead, I'll leave you with some of my favorite pictures of the open waters. [Good news: My camera was found in Houghton, MI and is in transit to Duluth as we speak. What a relief!]

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Coming Back Around

Tuesday July 26th, 2011

Today we woke up to find all the coordinators asleep! They all pulled the 3am shift so we could be rested and rarin’ to go for today. Aren't they sweet? :) After breakfast, we milled around finishing projects and working on some concept mapping until about 10am. We also pulled into Duluth. Although I’ve been having a marvelous time and I’ve really enjoying the time I’ve spent with the people I’ve met, it was good to see Duluth appear on the horizon. It was like seeing an old friend after you return from adventure. For one last time, we all piled at the bow of the ship and waved to the pier as we passed under the Aerial Lift Bridge. Bitter sweet.

Our coordinators woke up and met us in the classroom where Joel Hoffman finally presented his research on isotopes. :) [Earlier in the trip, we had a stressful moment of all the scientists trying to explain tracing isotopes to us… we excitedly cheered and hollered when Joel was jokingly introduced] As it turns out, isotopes like 15N can be traced in fish to determine where they have been getting their nutrients – nearshore, tributaries, or offshore. These isotopes are also found in water. Snow, for example shows signs of where the water came from based on the isotopes they contain.

A group of educators studying the St. Louis River Estuary through NERR (National Estuary Research Reserve) joined us for the rest of the day. They had spent the previous day starting their research on the river and wanted to take another look at the harbor. After we got to know each other a little, we all split up into a rotation schedule and those of us in the Shipboard and Shoreline workshop trained the NERR educators in at the stations. We stopped at three locations, one right in front of the Blatnik Bridge, one by the Wisconsin Point entrance, and the other out in the open lake. We took water quality tests with the rosette sampler, a plankton and benthic sample, and secchi disk reading. The samples were analyzed in the lab, but were not taken into the scientist’s projects because the plankton stay in deeper waters during the day as described before.

We also saw many other ships and sites while we were out and about in the harbor today.

After dinner we all got together to discuss the differences in the samples that we took. Joel Hoffman discussed what happens when the river meets the lake. He compared the nutrient contents and the difference in the physical water properties. We're now going out on land to play. Tomorrow, we present our projects at Great Lakes Aquarium!!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Day of Small-Group Research

Monday July 25th, 2011

Our day started excitedly at 7am where we were testing waters at 237 meters deep (777’). One of the reasons we were so excited about this spot was because we all decorated Styrofoam cups, shoved them in pantyhose to secure them to the rosette, and lowered it down the 237m offshore of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The pressure was so great that the cups were compressed to nearly half their size!

We then headed off to the mouth of the Bad River of the Chequamegon Bay without stopping, which took the rest of the day. That was fine with us because we had a lot of work to do on board. We are all presenting our small group research projects on Wednesday and needed the time to wrap things up.

Janet, John, Paul, and Jim have been researching the presence of plastic in Lake Superior. Using a mantatrawl drug to the side and behind the boat to avoid the wake, a sample is taken for one hour at 2 knots. They also have been taking shoreline samples for plastics.

Lori W., Jillian, Lori S.D. and are collecting zooplankton samples and comparing nearshore samples to offshore. They are looking for difference in abundance and biodiversity in relation to possible nutrient and temperature differences.

Mark, Diane, Sara, and JoAnn are collecting phytoplankton samples and comparing nearshore samples to offshore. They are looking for the relationship between phytoplankton and nutrient loading and therefore human population centers.

Sandy, Lynn, Cindy B., and June are researching different chlorophyll levels using the hydrolab (data sond) that we were trained with earlier on our voyage. They are comparing different levels and different locations to find the greatest abundance of chlorophyll in the lake.

We also learned a few lessons with Cindy H. and Rosanne to bring to our own classrooms covering watersheds, fisheries, and aquatic habitats to wrap up our day.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Good and The Bad

The Good and The Bad

Sunday July 24th, 2011

The good: we saw beautiful things today… as usual :)
The bad: the impacts of mining and I lost my camera. :( bummer. From here on out, you will see pictures lent to me from my peers.

We had a very busy day on land. We started the day off hearing from Dr. Joel Hoffman from the EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Lab in Duluth speak about coastal wetlands. He covered different wetland formations, their functions, and the kinds of ways humans have disrupted them. Of course there were many take-away messages from his presentation, but did you know that it is impossible to have estuaries in Duluth? The word estuary comes from the Latin words for boil/surge and it is in reference to the meeting of a freshwater river and an ocean. Again, not that important, but it struck me.

We then packed lunches for ourselves and headed for land to meet with professors from Michigan Tech department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Dr. Marty Auer met with us first and gave us a tour of their new building that will be used for limnology, outreach, and other research.

He also talked to us about the research that Michigan Tech is undergoing with fish restoration, exotic species, sediments, and low impact development. We then got to participate in some of his outreach programming. We checked out plankton under a microscope connected to a large monitor; very cool. I had never seen them in such detail before and am starting to get the knack of identifying them. He had this awesome geology lesson about how rock travels around the shore. He had 6 samples, bedrock, large rock, stones, pebbles, sand, and clay. We were to line them up in order of how we see them on the shore and discuss why this happens. He, unfortunately, didn’t have a lesson plan to outline all the great stuff he told us and I’m not sure if I can remember all the details, but I would certainly like to try that in our Great Lakes Aquarium classroom.

THEN, he had the coolest station of cutting open lake trout stomachs. He was right; it was like Christmas. I found smelt and herring inside the stomachs. I would definitely like to try this at the aquarium. He has local fishermen give him buckets of lake trout guts that they would have otherwise thrown away. Kids then get to slice them open and see what they find. AND sometimes we could slice the smelt open to find a tummy full of zooplankton. Awesome. I’d love to do something like that at the aquarium.

Dr. Charles Kerfoot, a biologist and geologist at Michigan Tech, then took us on a tour to abandoned mining sites to discuss and see their effect on the landscape. I had no idea that copper mining was so expansive in the Keweenaw Peninsula. I also had no idea how destructive it was. First the rock containing copper is mined, it’s then “stamped” into smaller pieces, and smelted (melted) so that the rock layers separate and the copper sinks. When the smelting process happens, arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, and other metals are released into the environment. The piles of stamp sand lies just about everywhere. The landscape may look lush and green, but actually is leaching these hard metals.

Mining equipment was left in many places around the area

(the stamper)

In 1940, 16 million tons of stamp sand were dumped on Torch lake site right on the shore of Lake Superior making it one of the world’s largest superfund site. AND the local city uses the stamp sand for ice in the winter! Absolutely boggles the mind. Arial views of the beach show the sand being washed further down the shore.

Despite the stamp sand, I was struck by the beautiful sandstone that lined the South Shore. It was such a different experience to be standing in Lake Superior picking sandstone instead of igneous rocks.

After dinner, we cruised out of the Keweenaw Canal. Next stop: the deep open waters.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rockin and Rollin

The last 24 hours have definitely had its ups and downs… literally. I woke up this early morning at 3am for sampling only to find the boat rocking and rolling on 4 to 6 foot waves. The captain said there were occasional 8-foot waves. It was pretty cool. I didn’t feel ill, but it was definitely a new sensation. Even as the boat sits quietly now, I feel like we’re sill rocking. The weather conditions were amusing, but halted our sampling. Putting equipment into white caps risks smashing into the boat so we actually lost a lot of sampling time though we will be able to go back and recover a few sites… bummer, but at least the crazy scientists running on 2 hours of sleep (collectively during the trip), were forced to sleep.

This did not mean I was off the hook… so to speak. Dr. Boyer’s water pump was still able to sit at the surface for his chlorophyll samples. It was actually pretty cool to be on the back of a rocking ship in the middle of the night with water breaching the deck and sampling. In the picture below, I’m helping with the pump and working to prepare the samples in the lab from 3am to 5am. After my shift, I fell into a slight coma until 10am when we met as a group. I was even able to sleep through my room’s loose gear rattling inside the cabinets.

We then sought refuge in the Keweenaw Channel for the rest of the morning and day. [I should note that I’m making this sound like we were nearly in a catastrophe. It wasn’t. I’m told the ship can handle 20’ waves, but microscopes and sampling gear can’t so we pulled over.]

Keweenaw Channel

The rest of the day was spent playing with the hydrolab probe, secchi disk techniques, plankton sampling techniques in the channel and we participated in an Edmund Fitzgerald lesson to use in our own classes. Even though I’m very familiar with these sort of sampling tools, I’m still learning different techniques to enhance my classes. We also heard from Dr. Ashley Moerke from Lake Superior State University about watersheds, human uses and impacts, and planning industry more consciously. I’d like to use a few of her ideas in my own classroom.

Right now, we have arrived in Houghton, MI. We’re going to eat dinner, play in the lab, and then go play on land. Shiver me timbers!!!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Settling in, Day 3

Friday July 22nd, 2011.
I’m starting to wrap my head around this trip a little more. Throughout the trip, we are stopping at several waypoints on the South Shore of Lake Superior. At each stop, we take a number of samples and prepare them for the lab. Simple, right? I am finding this not to be the case. #1, research on a vessel is tremendously expensive. Funding appreciates fast and efficient over one’s personal rest and comfort. #2, the life of the lake is the most active during the night. Mysis, who prefer not to be seen and eaten during the day, head up to the shallower water to eat phytoplankton at night. Larval fish who eat mysis, and larger fish who eat larval fish are soon to follow. What does that mean to us? Heavy sampling at all hours of the night with sample prepping during the day.

We also introduced our small group projects today. I will be researching the difference in density and biodiversity of zooplankton in near shore Lake Superior vs. off shore in the deeper water. We’re also sampling in front of 3 river mouths; heavy, moderate, and minimal industry. In simple terms, we think there will be more plankton in the shallow, warmer water that mixes more than the deeper stratified water. We’ll see. There’s a lot of amazing dynamics out there that I haven’t fully taken in yet. Anyway, this extra project will also eat up our daylight.

In conclusion, don’t think for a minute that this is a pleasure cruise. I’m having a great time, but we’re all working hard… and maintaining our flexibility and positive mental attitudes.

Today was a quieter day. Many people were up most of the night sampling, so we didn’t all gather until 12:30. Those of us who were rested, spent the morning helping prep the samples in the lab and watching as the Apostle Islands drifted by.

(Rinsing and condensing the benthic (bottom sediment) sample)

(Apostle Islands 46.95348N, 90.28982W)

After lunch we all gathered to connect with a group of teachers participating in an earth science workshop at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry via distance learning software. Our chief scientist, Joel Hoffman, told them about our studies, a technician explained her background and position running the heavy machinery, and a group of 3 educators (myself included) talked about what we hoped to gain from the program followed by Q & A. It was pretty cool.

We then learned how to use a hydrolab probe that may be loaned out to us after the cruise, played a Great Lakes resources game as an idea for our own classrooms, and broke into small groups to determine our research projects.

We cruised by the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan during dinner.

We heard from Greg Boyer from Syracuse’s Environmental Science and Forestry school in New York about blue green algae. Fascinating and horrifying stuff! If you hear of toxic algal blooms that almost entirely turn water green, that would be your buddy cyanobacteria; not an algae at all! This is Greg’s first sampling of Lake Superior where he wants to discover what exactly about Lake Superior inhibits cyanobacteria’s growth. It is believed to thrive in warmer nutrient-loaded waters, but he wants to determine what other factors might go along with that.
[Very cool guy, I might add. Had I taken a chemistry course with him in college, I may not think that chemistry is the monster I have pictured in my mind.]

Right at this minute… I’m on the top deck at 9pm. The sun just set across from the Porcupine Mountains. Now, I’m off to bed to get in as much sleep as I can before my turn at the 3am water, plankton, and benthic sampling. Some of the scientists on board are running on just a few hours of sleep. I need to keep this in mind when I drag myself out of bed in a few hours. I’m also told we will be hitting some weather that may make our ride a little bumpy. Looking forward to it. And away I go… zzzzzzzzzzz

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Journey Begins, Day 1 & 2

Hello!! The journey has begun and is underway! I’m currently into day two. It’s a little after 10pm and folks are bustling about taking our first set of all-night sampling while others are tying up the day and settling in for the night. Looks like I may be on the night shift tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

Wednesday July 20th
We started off our adventure by getting to know our new homes for the next week. I found my room on the Lake Guardian to be quite cozy. I will be sharing an ~7x12”
room with two fun and energetic women and, yes, I did get a top bunk! Although space is limited, it still feels private by pulling the curtains around the bed; very important since we will all be up during different times of the night. We then found our way to the kitchen… amazing. Every food I could ever want is available to me at any time during the day and night… very dangerous

We then met at Great Lakes Aquarium where we were introduced to the objectives of the trip and got to know the aquarium a little more. I gave several members of the group a behind the scenes tour before our dinner and presentations. We heard from Lek Kadeli, (Assistant administrator in the EPA), Ralph Garono (Great Lakes NERR), Jeff Gunderson (Sea Grant), and Jack Kelly (CSMI). I really connected with Jack’s presentation of removing sediments and protecting in Clough Island in the St. Louis River as I grew up right in the area he was advocating for.

Thursday July 21st
I slept well the first night on the boat. I was pretty excited and anxious about the journey ahead, but I was able to get a decent amount of sleep. After an amazing breakfast, we were trained in on safety protocol and donned emergency gear.

We then listened to Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza’s (UWS – Natural Science/Chemistry) research on plastic’s effect on ecosystems. She noted that plastics never biodegrade. They can become smaller and smaller particles, but they never disappear. Plastics cause entanglement, ingestion, health hazards by releasing chemicals, and are also an eyesore. By sifting through beaches and collecting dragnets, she can quantify how much plastic is in a given area. Today begins her first collection in a freshwater.

Dr. Jay Austin (Large lakes Observatory UMD), who focuses on temperature monitoring of Lake Superior, discussed lake stratification (layering) and mixing with us. Today we got to pick up his Webb Electric Glider from an autonomous mission collecting data like backscatter, temperature, chlorophyll fluorescence, colored dissolved organic matter, and dissolved oxygen of the lake. GPS coordinates of pick up site: 46.907 N by 91.789 W For more information:

It was then time to train in on taking samples at our first station (46.81240 N 92.01823 W). We used the rosette water sampler that takes sample of water at specific depths.

We took plankton samples.

We also took benthic grabs of the sediments to look for invertebrates.

To wrap up the night (for some of us), we discussed tucker trawling. We will trawl for larval fish to identify isotopes they contain that serve as a chemical maker for where they were feeding (either near shore or off shore).

I’m off to bed to recharge for the next day [and night] of sampling!