Wrapping up 10 weeks of science, streams, saltwater, and summer

After nine weeks of working, learning, and getting to know Newport, my time here is almost over. A lot has happened in past few weeks since my last blog posts, including many first and lasts for the summer.

I started these past 3 weeks with my last field day in the Trask River in Tillamook. We did a second run-through of the experiment quantifying in-stream processing so that we could have a second set of data and include a dark treatment. Once we got back to the lab, I sorted the containers and set aside the rocks for later so that I can measure the volume of the rocks and use this to better quantify photosynthesis and respiration rates – one of the projects I have for my last week.

Storing containers with river rocks from my last field day. The volume of these rocks will be measured this week to account for volume in my photosynthesis and respiration rates.

Running my last set of samples on the Burkolator

Once I was all finished with field work and running samples, it was time for data analysis! I had 3 days after gathering all my data to process them and create a final poster and presentation. Here’s the final poster that I created:

A screenshot of my final poster

But most of the time, processing data actually looked more like this:

A screenshot of one of many sheets on one of many excel workbooks as I try to piece together the data.

I have never processed large data sets before, and I learned that this process is very messy but fun. Compiling and making sense of the data brings up just as many questions as it answers. For example, when I look at the changes in dissolved oxygen as compared to total carbon dioxide in a container, preliminary graphs show me that there is a fairly linear relationship between the two. But that brings into question: is it best to use the concentration of oxygen or the percent saturation in this comparison? How can I compare changes in the containers to changes in the stream when the containers are staying in place but open the water is moving through many different areas? How can I find a way to visually present the connections that I am making in my head? What do I do about the four ugly data points that seem to be off?

And then of course: How do I present this all in just 5 minutes?

Trying to find a way to present my findings turned out to be a great way to learn more about the subject. In order to be able to explain the observed changes to others, I had to solidify my understanding of the processes underlying the changes we were seeing in water conditions as well as making the calculations and the graphs. This process was challenging and fun, and the symposium on August 17 was a great way to conclude this part of my project and see what everyone else has been working on.

So what now?

I may have presented my findings last Friday, but the project is not over yet! Over the next week, I have plenty to keep me busy: measuring the volume of the rocks collected to normalize for volume, cleaning up the many excel documents used to compile and graph data, improving the meta data on the documents I have produced, finding a way to account for loss of dissolved oxygen from air exchange, and making sure all the files I have created over the course of the summer are accessible to others once I leave.

After this week, I will keep working on this project remotely. We intend to continue processing data, and I intend to write a manuscript for my WWU Honors Program Senior Project requirements as well as the possibility of publishing this work alongside my mentors in a journal.

I also intend to go to all of my favorite places at least one last time: Ollala Lake, Bier One, South Beach State Park, and the “hammock tree,” to name just a few.

Newport, you have been good to me.

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About Abigail Ernest-Beck

As a 2018 Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar, Abigail is working with the United States Environmental Protection Agency in Newport, OR on quantifying the impact of anthropogenic inputs on water quality in Tillamook Estuary. Abigail just finished her junior year at Western Washington University, where she is studying Environmental Science with an emphasis in Marine Science and a minor in Music. She spent fall of 2017 studying marine biology at the Catholic University of the North in Coquimbo, Chile. Abigail is interested in studying the effects of humans on the marine environment, especially pollution. She is also interested in environmental justice and the incorporation of this in conservation efforts.

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