One morning in August 2017 I woke up feeling sick. I was looking forward to the last week of my first-ever research internship in the Boston University Antarctic Research Group, where I was first introduced to paleoclimatology and was anticipating an opportunity for Antarctic fieldwork in a year or two. I was supposed to join a friend in Connecticut that weekend, but I thought I had food poisoning, so I canceled my plans and spent the weekend eating crackers in bed instead.
That “stomach bug” turned into five days of discomfort. Student Health and my doctor back home gave me some quick fixes—reduced stress and caffeine, antibiotics for a potential infection—but nothing helped. The weeks stretched into months and I completed the fall semester sick and miserable.
I wouldn’t receive a diagnosis until February: I had gastroparesis, or partial paralysis of the stomach muscles causing severe nausea. I began treating it with medication, which would eventually bring my symptoms down to a manageable level.
Because I got sick at the beginning of my career in geoscience, no part of my research experience can be separated from my chronic illness. I remember very little of my early Earth science classes; I was distracted by hunger when I couldn’t eat and nausea when I could, as well as headaches, dizziness, brain fog, shortness of breath, and fatigue. While my friends in the program were talking about exciting fieldwork opportunities and fun nearby hikes, I was so malnourished my hair was falling out.
My hopes of going to Antarctica—or of participating in any fieldwork at all—were dashed. Before I got sick I had been going to the gym five days a week to better my chances of being picked for the field team; now I could barely walk to class.
I had to turn down an offer to work in another lab at BU because I was still too ill to stand at a lab bench. Later, the medications I took to treat my stomach made me severely anemic, making data analysis a slow and frustrating slog.
While my health has improved dramatically over the past five years, I still deal with symptoms of my illness every day. I might be going about a normal week, eating well and even feeling good enough to hit the gym a few times, then suddenly be unable to leave the house due to nausea and painful stomach cramps. These episodes might last hours, days, or even weeks. I have to eat on a regular schedule and avoid certain foods to minimize my chances of a flare-up. All these things can make classes, lab work, and especially fieldwork challenging.
I was lucky to have the opportunity to complete an undergraduate thesis on biogeochemical cycling in marshes with samples that had already been collected. The lab work and data analysis were within my abilities at the time, so I was able to complete the project without major issue.
My PhD project here in CEOAS also works with existing samples—one of the benefits of ice core science. Polar fieldwork may have a high barrier to access, but we have a long and varied archive of well-studied cores from both poles.
Although I still dream of doing fieldwork in Greenland or Antarctica, I have had the opportunity for lots of fun scientific experiences as part of my Ph.D. This spring I got to travel to Denmark to collect ice samples from the archive at the University of Copenhagen. Later in the spring, I helped an undergrad in our lab drill cave ice samples from Lava Beds National Monument.
This summer, I spent five weeks at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla learning some lab techniques for my project. This fall I attended the International Partnerships in Ice Core Science (IPICS) meeting in Crans Montana, Switzerland, with several members of my lab. While fun and educational, all these trips have presented their own challenges for my health.
I’m used to living with my illness. I try not to let it get me down, and in general it doesn’t. I love the work I get to do in the ice core lab and my health rarely gets in the way these days. However, positive thinking can’t get you out of chronic illness. I can’t ignore the realities of my health out of a desire to do the same things as my colleagues.
Someone who has always been healthy and able to rely on their body to complete the tasks they ask of it can have a difficult time understanding the unpredictable rollercoaster of chronic illness. If you can hike three miles carrying field equipment one week, you can probably rely on being able to do it again the next week. A chronically ill person may find that hike easy one week and completely impossible the next due to changes in their health and energy. Both weeks may even look the same to an outside observer.
The next time you plan field work, a conference, or a lab celebration, consider that there may be members of your lab with invisible hurdles to participating in the same activities as you. Creating an environment where students and colleagues feel comfortable voicing their needs without judgment can go a long way. Reading up on things like spoon theory, which chronically ill people (or “spoonies”) use to describe their available energy, can also offer some insight.
As we all strive to improve equity and access in geoscience, it’s impossible to anticipate every possible need that will arise. What we all can do is interrogate our picture of what a geoscientist is and does and make room in the field for people with a wider array of experiences and abilities.
by M. Kelsey Lane, Ph.D. student in Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Our eight-person team woke early to the clear blue skies of Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, California. The beautiful island is a popular vacation destination, but we had other priorities as we jumped into another busy day of fieldwork. Someone hustled down to the laboratory before 7:00 AM to turn on the UV lights that mimicked the sun, suspended over the rows and rows of jars holding microscopic plankton called foraminifera, or forams, that we were growing. Three of us headed to the dock to take a boat offshore and tow the depths for more plankton. Everyone worked in the lab taking care of the forams in their tiny seawater jars. The tasks would keep us busy into the evening as we worked to farm forams for our climate research.
Forams are storytellers of a forgotten time. Their shells record the conditions that they live in, making them “proxies” or analogs for measuring climate change. Foram shell chemistry changes with changing temperatures, salinities, ocean pH, and many other parameters, including some we’re still exploring. The forams we study live as plankton drifting in the open ocean and grow shells out of calcium carbonate. They have intricate, beautiful chambered shells, many with spines to help catch food. When forams die, their dense shells sink to the sea floor and are often preserved as fossils, providing scientists with a unique opportunity to investigate the past by studying the foram fossil record going back millions of years. So, we can look at a 50-million-year-old foram fossil and say something about the ocean conditions at the time and place it grew.
The best way to establish these relationships is to grow foraminifera in controlled conditions and see how it changes their shell geochemistry. It’s a lot of effort to grow these small organisms, each about the size of a grain of sand and kept in their own individual jar, but they’re well worth the effort. Our multi-institution team came to the University of Southern California Wrigley Marine Science Center to help develop and improve climate proxies from modern foraminifera. It took a big team to capture, process and keep the hundreds of forams alive. The group from Columbia University and Vassar College explored how ocean acidification and warming temperatures are recorded in foraminifera shells. Our team from Oregon State University looked at how forams might incorporate trace metals to tell us more about ocean productivity, and I explored how the microbes living inside forams might be altering their shell geochemistry.
It felt strange to be so invested in the life cycle of a tiny, single-celled organism. We spent hours feeding each foram tiny brine shrimp, food that was often larger than the foram itself, and we all cheered when the hungry foram fed. We carefully watched as they grew chambers and spines, writing it all down in detailed logs. Some forams would die in culture or get pale and unhappy. If things we went well, the foram would reach its full size after a couple of weeks, then start to die and go ‘gam’ or gametogenic, the final stage of its life cycle. Although it was sad to watch them die, it was also exciting, because that was one more successful foram that had grown in our laboratory. We delicately extricated the foram and put the shell in a tiny slide, a precious data point that might help us understand more about the ocean’s past.
The month-long field season went quickly. Around the long hours in the lab or out on the water, we built a great community. We ended each workday swimming off the dock, exploring the island, kayaking nearby bays, or watching The New Girl and working through a massive puzzle (we got through about one a week!) Farming forams can be a busy job, but we had fun, too. Now we will spend the next few months at our home institutions processing all that data…
by Laura Vary, Master’s student, Marine Resource Management
Take a moment to consider the factors that allow you to read this article as an adult today. You (hopefully) have sufficient food and water to power your cells, which work tirelessly to flood your brain with enough glucose to retain an understanding of sentences. You have enough time and attention to focus on these words. In one way or another, you obtained a device with which to view this article, and viable internet connection to load materials. To be in the position of reading this article, many moments had to happen in precisely the right way.
Now, imagine you’re a tiny larval fish, smaller than ball bearing, in the middle of an ocean thousands of miles wide. The fate of your population rests on your poorly developed spine and you are experiencing your environment for the very first time. You lack developed eyes but can recognize light, you can swim (barely), but have no chance of fighting against the strong currents that push you across space. Yet, somehow, you must find food and a comfortable area where you can grow. Somewhere warm enough, as your growth will stop if the water is too cold. Somewhere calm enough, where you can have a chance of not only finding prey but capturing it.
The number of factors that must go right in order for these nearly microscopic creatures to mature into adults is almost incomprehensible. They do, though, and mature adults support a sector of the United States’ economy worth nearly $5.5 billion1.
In the United States, fisheries are extremely important to coastal communities’ cultures and our national economy. If you’ve eaten U.S. seafood recently, chances are that it came from Alaskan waters: 60% of all U.S. fish landings occur in Alaska, primarily in the Bering Sea1. Over $500 million is contributed to the U.S. economy from Alaska alone, and 1.2 million jobs stem from Alaska fisheries2.
Alaska fisheries are booming, but the environment is changing rapidly. The Bering Sea is experiencing a swift onset of climate change with notable decreases to the sea ice that is vital for a functioning ecosystem3. It is very possible that those little larvae we imagined earlier will have a harder time finding adequate areas to grow up, areas with proper food and comfortable thermal conditions. If larvae are unable to find these preferred areas, the population that supports valuable fisheries is likely to drop in numbers4. Poor larval survival has been observed to cause fishery closures and population declines globally, which cost coastal communities and the U.S. economy millions of dollars5. To improve the health of larvae and secure the health of our fisheries upon which the national economy depends, we must continue supporting fishery sustainability into the future.
Media coverage of the oceans frequently adopts a “doom and gloom” lens, with typical news articles focusing on rapid glacial melt, population crashes, hurricanes, plastic pollution, and a myriad of other threats facing our oceans and coastal communities6,7. While these articles are addressing very real problems, successes in the marine world are often glossed over. Fishery sustainability, for example, is an area in which the U.S. and specifically Alaska have performed quite well.
Historically, fisheries management has been narrow in scope, establishing policies for the uses and protection of single species or even age groups within a species. Fisheries managers tended to imagine the ecosystem as a set of isolated ecological islands rather than dynamic and interwoven facets of the same community8. Alaska, alternatively, has maintained sustainable fisheries through a different approach: ecosystem-based management, or ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBM/EBFM). EBFM acknowledges the interconnected nature of ecosystems and elucidates connections among ecosystem components to promote long-term sustainability of natural resources. EBFM is a management framework in which all components of a healthy ecosystem, including humans and the use of natural resources by humans, are considered8–10. Simply put, EBFM is a way of managing human interactions with natural resources that emphasizes connections within the ecosystem and society and is adaptive across time and space9. In places where it has been implemented, like in Alaska, long-term sustainability of fisheries has been observed which is a testament to the importance of holistic management11,12.
EBFM can be thought of as treating the source of an illness rather than its symptoms. A patient complaining of chronic nausea, for example, will likely have a better health outcome if a doctor considers their diet, environment, stress levels, and exercise routine rather than simply prescribing anti-nausea medications. In Alaska, fisheries have been managed following this holistic EBFM framework for decades11,12. Researchers and managers work tirelessly to understand the internal connections among organisms, the drivers of change, and the most important threats, much like a doctor trained in comprehensive medicine. Nationally, the U.S. has made strides in implementing EBM principles in fisheries management and scientists recommend the integration of EBM principles to other marine industries, like the development of renewable energy10,13. Now, perhaps you’re wondering why we should still be concerned about the fate of those larvae, and ultimately our fisheries, if EBFM is making such improvements nationwide. This question harkens back to a key concept of EBFM: it is adaptive and iterative in nature, requiring updates and modifications as the environment and human society change over time9. Further, status evaluations across vulnerable life stages of important fisheries (e.g., larvae) are required to improve EBFM implementation5.
To better inform EBFM, it is extremely important to understand what may happen to fish larvae if the Bering Sea warms dramatically or experiences more storms, or demands on fisheries increase to support a growing human population. I spend a lot of my time thinking about larval fishes in the pursuit of a better understanding of the factors that drive survival and successful maturation into juvenile fishes and eventual adults. Specifically, I investigate how the reproductive behavior of larval fishes in the Bering Sea may change in the future, and how anticipated changes could impact the survival of larvae. Through my research, I found that walleye pollock exhibit flexibility in where they spawn. This suggests that in warm years, aggregations of walleye pollock spawning adults may occur in regions different from historic population tendencies (note: these results are unpublished and thus have not been peer-reviewed yet).
To promote adaptive management, many possible ecosystem states, relating to differing climate states, should be considered10. In the case of pollock, managers need to know that spawning aggregations may shift geographically in warm conditions for many reasons. Pollock eggs (roe) are harvested and so the lucrative roe fishery may need to move locations in the future. A movement of spawning adults could cause larvae to hatch in unfavorable areas, increasing larval mortality and leading to closures of the adult fisheries. Adult pollock could also move outside of U.S. fishing jurisdictions as the region warms, potentially warranting new international fishing agreements or modifications to established fishing areas14. My research therefore supports EBFM approaches by elucidating drivers of change which managers can then integrate within adaptive management strategies. At the end of the day, a failure to acknowledge different survival rates and environmental pressures across life stages in fisheries management could seriously impact the U.S. economy.
Any U.S. community member is connected to the marine environment through the impact that fisheries and marine industries have on our economy. This economic connection between societies and their ecosystems is a fundamental driver of EBM, and underscores why even individuals living in landlocked states hundreds of miles from a large water body rely on a functioning marine ecosystem. The need for EBM, though, extends beyond fisheries management. Currently, global powers are developing “blue economy” initiatives which seek to improve the financial gains nations can receive from marine and coastal activities15. The blue economy includes any industry that occurs in marine or coastal areas, including power generation, fishing, tourism, and shipping16. The EBM framework should be integrated at every level of blue economy initiatives to prevent follies we’ve experienced in the past (e.g., overfishing, uncontrollable oil spills, plastic pollution, etc.)15. The EBM framework can also promote the development of even more jobs, as collaboration and a diverse team structure are central components of the EBM approach15. Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a Blue Economy Strategic Plan that works to enhance emergent marine industries and protect their sustainability into the future16.
Yesterday, you may not have ever thought of larval fishes. After reading this article, I hope you understand the importance of their survival to the success of the U.S. economy. Millions of livelihoods and hundreds of coastal communities directly rely upon the commercial harvest of fisheries, but all U.S. citizens indirectly benefit from these marine ventures. At the heart of this industry are the tiny, frequently forgotten young fishes that must fight battles worthy of a Homeric epic: They avoid relatively monstrous predators and capture microscopic prey, all while being swept along by powerful currents. The sustainability of marine fisheries in the U.S. hinges on the implementation of EBFM in management and EBM in emergent blue economy ventures. More specifically, though, it hinges on the ability of scientists and managers to elucidate the drivers of mortality in the most vulnerable life stages of these organisms.
1. Cody, R. Fisheries of the United States, 2019. 167 (2021).
2. Fisheries, N. The Economic Importance of Seafood | NOAA Fisheries. NOAA https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/economic-importance-seafood (2020).
3. Stabeno, P. J. & Bell, S. W. Extreme Conditions in the Bering Sea (2017–2018): Record-Breaking Low Sea-Ice Extent. Geophysical Research Letters46, 8952–8959 (2019).
4. Hjort, J. Fluctuations in the great fisheries of northern Europe, viewed in the light of biological research. (1914).
5. Laurel, B. J. et al. Regional warming exacerbates match/mismatch vulnerability for cod larvae in Alaska. Progress in Oceanography193, 102555 (2021).
8. Lester, S. E. et al. Science in support of ecosystem-based management for the US West Coast and beyond. Biological Conservation143, 576–587 (2010).
9. McLeod, K. & Leslie, H. Why Ecosystem-Based Management? in Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans 10 (Island Press, 2009).
10. Leslie, H. M. & McLeod, K. L. Confronting the challenges of implementing marine ecosystem-based management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment5, 540–548 (2007).
11. Holsman, K. K. et al. Ecosystem-based fisheries management forestalls climate-driven collapse. Nature Communications11, 4579 (2020).
12. Fisheries, N. Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management Strengthens Resilience to Climate Change | NOAA Fisheries. NOAA https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/ecosystem-based-fisheries-management-strengthens-resilience-climate-change (2020).
13. Copping, A. E. et al. Enabling Renewable Energy While Protecting Wildlife: An Ecological Risk-Based Approach to Wind Energy Development Using Ecosystem-Based Management Values. Sustainability12, 9352 (2020).
14. Baker, M. R. Contrast of warm and cold phases in the Bering Sea to understand spatial distributions of Arctic and sub-Arctic gadids. Polar Biol44, 1083–1105 (2021).
15. Wenhai, L. et al. Successful Blue Economy Examples With an Emphasis on International Perspectives. Frontiers in Marine Science6, (2019).
16. NOAA Finalizes Strategy to Enhance Growth of American Blue Economy. U.S. Department of Commerce https://www.commerce.gov/news/blog/2021/01/noaa-finalizes-strategy-enhance-growth-american-blue-economy (2021).
by Deepa Dwyer, Ph.D. Student, Marine Geology and Geophysics
A Ph.D. can mean many things, each valued differently by those who strive for it. As a woman of color from an underrepresented community, born and raised in India, for me, a Ph.D. has come to be a way to help inspire the next generation of community members and world leaders.
I have long been dedicated to science outreach and education. Exploring the mysteries of science became a passion at a very young age, a passion introduced by my mother, but pursuing scientific research didn’t become a focus until my undergraduate research advisor took a risk on me. After earning my undergraduate and master’s degrees, I was a manager of STEM programs at Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, where I collaborated with teachers and educators to develop an inquiry-based, hands-on learning experience for K-12 students. Through this position, I was able to offer students an opportunity to question and explore the mechanisms that make their world tick.
My commitment to inspiring the next generation of scientists continued when I am reminded of a treasured annual high school summer research project that I managed called Partners in Science. The program’s goal is to pair students with researchers as they forma a collaborative relationship that takes them to a deeper dive through an attainable research goal. Through this program I gained the experience and fertilized the passion to help inspire students and teachers to appreciate scientific endeavors beyond the scope of a middle school or a high school science research project.
This project motivated me to pursue my Ph.D. My current research explores the mysteries hidden in marine sediment cores from the Gulf of Alaska with the aim to solve them by studying imprints of the Earth’s magnetic field on the sediments. I was driven to this project because of my undergraduate and graduate work, inspired by a group of female scientists, when my research focused on sediments from Antarctica and meteorite from Mars. I enjoy my lab time but miss the impact of outreach initiatives from my previous job, and realized that for me, research alone is not enough. In November of 2021, my committee and I met to discuss transforming one of my dissertation chapters into an education and outreach chapter.
Today, effectiveness of research is measured by the questions it attempts to answer and future research it stimulates, but it should also be measured by the educational impact it can make, doors it can open, and people it can inspire. Inspiring others takes effort; it’s a risk and a gamble. That’s how I came to be where I am now: I was inspired by many mentors, from my mother to my graduate advisors. The risks they took on my behalf fueled my passion to introduce the full scope of scientific research to high school students during a course of a summer. And now it will fuel my research efforts for the education and outreach chapter of my thesis.
Moving forward, post Ph.D., I will be focusing my efforts on introducing the rigors and wonders of scientific research to middle school and high school teachers and students. I aim to develop a series of annual programs where students, teachers and researchers actively collaborate in efforts to question and answer the mechanisms that make our world tick.
Blog by Meghan King, PhD student, Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Growing up on the north shore of Long Island, it was inevitable that my life would be shaped by water and sediment. As a child I wandered the rocky beach near my house with my magnifying glass for hours on end, examining everything from sand grains to boulders. In the fourth grade I learned how my little island came to be: a product of repeated glacial advances and retreats that created terminal moraines and outwash plains. At nine years old I became obsessed with understanding Earth’s history through sedimentary deposits, so it’s no surprise that I ended up at Oregon State for a Ph.D. in the field of stratigraphy!
Stratigraphy: it’s all about the layers
Stratigraphy is a branch of geology that studies the order of layered sedimentary rocks (strata) and their relationship to each other and the geologic time scale. Stratigraphy is fascinating because it is essentially an archive of Earth’s history at a specific geographic location. Some more well-known examples are the Grand Canyon and Death Valley, both of which were covered by an ancient shallow sea during the Paleozoic (542-251 Ma). The strata were originally deposited horizontally within that shallow sea and are different from each other in color, composition, grain size, etc.
My love of water, sediment, and large changes in Earth’s climate converge in my Ph.D. research. The strata in shallow marine environments (like those pictured) physically record how sea level fluctuated in response to glacial-interglacial periods. This is because sea level alters the type and characteristics of deposited sediments. Sea-level response to ice sheet change is typically thought of in the form of a “bathtub” model: When ice starts to melt, the water in the ocean will rise uniformly everywhere like a bathtub. However, this isn’t the whole picture of global sea level.
As ice sheets grow during a glacial period, they push down on the crust beneath them and create a raised bulge around the periphery, just like sitting on a mattress. The opposite happens during the intervals between ice ages. This concept is called glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA). GIA causes sea level to vary at different points on the Earth such that sea level doesn’t change at the same rate/magnitude everywhere. A few other processes contribute to this phenomenon as well. For example, ice sheets are large enough that they exert a gravitational pull on the oceans and draw water towards them, causing sea level to be higher near the ice sheets!
modeling, but for the rocks
What I’m most interested in for my Ph.D. is how GIA alters the stratigraphic preservation of glacial-interglacial cycles. Is there a geographic pattern to this alteration? If so, can we disentangle the signal of GIA from the rest of the stratigraphic record? While we have other records of glacial-interglacial cycles, they tend to exist for only a portion of recent Earth history, so for older deposits, stratigraphy offers consistent insight.
How have I approached this problem? Modeling! The rich history of field and lab work in the geosciences tends to get a lot of the attention (a lot of cool examples in previous blog posts though), but recently models have become an equally important tool! Modeling may not be as exciting to some, but it’s really fascinating to think about all the questions we can begin to answer with just a few – or in my case – a lot of lines of code!
Over the past three years I’ve developed some programs in MATLAB which allow me to combine sea level histories and sedimentation histories to build projected stratigraphic records from scratch. The output ends up looking something like the pictures above. I can then correlate, or compare, these records across space to help us understand how GIA is affecting the preservation of glacial-interglacial signals inputted into the models.
I’ve already completed a project using these models on Quaternary (2.6 Ma – present) glacial-interglacial cycles for the West Coast, and now I’m working on expanding the project in a variety of directions. I’ll be incorporating other inputs to make the models more robust. For example, I can vary the model’s ice histories, earth models and tectonic histories, and apply the model to more globally distributed locations in the Pliocene (5.3 – 2.6 Ma).
There is more to understand about sea-level change in the face of our warming climate, so I hope that these models can be altered and applied to a range of other projects as well. Maybe the next generation of inquisitive nine-year-olds hold the key?
Blog by Layla Ghazi, PhD student, Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Biogeochemistry is the study of how matter moves through the biological and physical world. The field focuses especially on the biologically interlinked chemical cycles of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus. During the spring semester of my junior year of college, I stumbled into the field of biogeochemistry, and I have not looked back. My research questions continue to expand, but they relate most directly to the carbon cycle. What is so sweet about the subject is that I can follow the questions that may develop along the way and end up in an entirely different biogeochemical cycle (ask me about my nitrogen cycle to molybdenum cycle rabbit hole).
Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe. It occurs in many natural forms, ranging from gases like methane (CH4), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and carbon dioxide (CO2) to solids like a diamond or the graphite at the tip of a pencil. Carbon is necessary to keep life as we know it on Earth going, but I’ll give credit for maintenance of the universe as a whole to hydrogen and helium.
A range of processes govern the movement (cycling) of carbon, which is heavily intertwined with Earth’s living and non-living worlds, including volcanic activity (which is rad). I’m most interested in a particular part of the carbon cycle that focuses on the oxidation of old organic carbon stored in sedimentary rocks (also known as petrogenic organic carbon, or OCpetro) in a process called geologic respiration or georespiration. Yes, rocks can “breathe.”
Maybe that prefix of “petro” is familiar? Like petroleum? Petro is the Greek prefix for rock, so petrogenic organic carbon is organic carbon that is released from rocks. The precise way the organic carbon is released through the rocks remains unclear, but some preliminary work shows that the main controls on georespiration are the processes of weathering (chemical or physical breakdown of material) and erosion (removal of material from one place to another).
How can you begin to measure how much CO2 is released from a rock that is being exposed to oxygen? The scale of that work would be absurd! Enter the trace element, rhenium (Re), which has become an important player in helping to quantify georespiration in certain rivers around the world. Re is believed to mostly be associated with the petrogenic organic carbon in sedimentary rocks through some sweet, sweet organic carbon-metal bonds. When ample oxygen is present, those bonds break, and two products are created synchronously: CO2 and Re. The CO2 is released once the petrogenic carbon meets oxygen, and Re is released from rock to solution phase as a soluble, negatively charged ion.
If you are wondering how this big question of “how do rocks breathe?” gets answered in real time with real data, the key places to look are in the rivers, in the bedrock, in the soils, in the rainwater, and anything else in between. What that means for me is that for the first time in my life, I get to conduct field work. I study georespiration in the Umpqua River of southwestern Oregon and the Eel River of northwestern California, which means my study sites are located in some of the most sublime scenery in the United States. The amount of material that the Eel and Umpqua each transport from the land to the ocean annually are also typical of small mountainous rivers all over the world, which makes what we learn about georespiration from them likely applicable at a global scale.
Identifying the chemical composition of the bedrock, the soil, the weathered materials, the sediment in the river water, and the petrogenic organic carbon is important to be able to paint a complete picture of the environment we are using to measure georespiration, which means I also work in a wet chemistry lab. As I begin my third year, I’ll be conducting a new (to me) kind of analytical chemistry work to further constrain the chemical and geological identity of the material in the Eel and Umpqua Rivers. These measurements will be combined with previous data of the river water chemistry to evaluate and refine Re as a way to quantify georespiration in the Eel and Umpqua Rivers.
Note: Rachel originally wrote this blog entry while at sea on a research cruise in the Northern California Current system in May and June 2021. It was originally published on the GEMM Lab blog at https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gemmlab.
Hello from the R/V Bell M. Shimada! We are currently sampling at an inshore station on the Heceta Head Line, which begins just south of Newport and heads out 45 nautical miles west into the Pacific Ocean. We’ll spend 10 days total at sea, which have so far been full of great weather, long days of observing, and lots of whales.
Run by NOAA, this Northern California Current (NCC) cruise takes place three times per year. It is fabulously interdisciplinary, with teams concurrently conducting research on phytoplankton, zooplankton, seabirds and more. The GEMM Lab will use the whale survey and the krill and oceanographic data to fuel species distribution models as part of Project OPAL. I’ll be working with this data for my Ph.D. with Dr. Leigh Torres and Dr. Kim Bernard, and it’s great to be getting to know the region, study system and sampling processes.
I’ve been to sea a number of times and always really enjoyed it, but this is my first time as part of a marine mammal survey. The type and timing of this work is so different from the many other types of oceanographic science that take place on a typical research cruise. While everyone else is scurrying around deploying instruments and collecting samples at a “station” (a geographic waypoint in the ocean that is sampled repeatedly over time), we– the marine mammal team– are taking a break because we can only survey when the boat is moving. While everyone else is sleeping or relaxing during a long transit between stations, we’re hard at work up on the flying bridge of the ship, scanning the horizon for animals.
During each “on effort” survey period, Dawn Barlow and I cover separate quadrants of ocean, each manning either the port or starboard side. We continuously scan the horizon for signs of whale blows or bodies, alternating between our eyes and binoculars. During long transits, we work in chunks – forty minutes on effort, and twenty minutes off effort. Staring at the sea all day is surprisingly tiring, and so our breaks often involve “going to the eye spa,” which entails pulling a neck gaiter or hat over your eyes and basking in the darkness.
Dawn has been joining these NCC cruises for the past four years, and her wealth of knowledge has been a great resource as I learn how to survey and identify marine mammals. Beyond learning the telltale signs of separate species, one of the biggest challenges has been learning how to read the sea better, to judge the difference between a frothy whitecap and a whale blow, or a distant dark wavelet and a dorsal fin. Other times, when conditions are amazing and it feels like we’re surrounded by whales, the trick is to try to predict the positions and trajectory of each whale so we don’t double-count them.
Over the last week, all our scanning has been amply rewarded. We’ve seen pods of dolphins play in our wake, and spotted Dall’s porpoises bounding alongside the ship. Here on the Heceta Line, we’ve seen a diversity of pinnipeds, including Northern fur seals, Stellar sea lions, and California sea lions. We’ve been surprised by several groups of fin whales, farther offshore than expected, and traveled alongside a pod of about 12 orcas for several minutes, which is exactly as magical as it sounds.
Notably, we’ve also seen dozens of humpbacks, including along what Dawn termed “the humpback highway” during our transit offshore of southern Oregon. One humpback put on a huge show just 200 meters from the ship, demonstrating fluke slapping behavior for several minutes. We wanted to be sure that everyone onboard could see the spectacle, so we radioed the news to the bridge, where the officers control the ship. They responded with my new favorite radio call ever: “Roger that, we are currently enamored.”
Number of sightings
Total number observed
California Sea Lion
Northern Fur Seal
Northern Right Whale Dolphin
Pacific White-sided Dolphin
Steller Sea Lion
Unidentified Baleen Whale
Even with long days and tired eyes, we are still constantly enamored as well. It has been such a rewarding cruise so far, and it’s hard to think of returning back to “real life” next week. For now, we’re wishing you the same things we’re enjoying – great weather, unlimited coffee, and lots of whales!
by Nicole Coffey, Ph.D. Student in Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences
When I tell people that I study chemistry, often they imagine me standing over bubbling beakers in a lab. However, I study chemistry in the ocean, which means that my approaches need to break from that stereotype. What happens when the work you want to do can’t be done from a land-based lab? What if you have to go out to sea to do get the samples that you need?
Preparing to go to Sea
My advisor (Dr. Rene Boiteau), our collaborators at USC and UCLA, and I are interested in iron transport off the Oregon shelf. Iron is important in the oceans – it plays a role in chemical reactions in the water, and is required for key functions of marine organisms, such as photosynthesis. However, there is not a lot of iron available to critters in the ocean, since iron does not like to be dissolved in seawater and organisms cannot use iron unless it is dissolved. We wanted to investigate how iron moves throughout the ecosystem off the Oregon coast, and how organisms might be using the small amount of iron that is dissolved in the water. We can’t do this work from land – we needed water samples from offshore. So, we set sail on R/V Oceanus at the end of March on a scientific adventure!
Science can be tricky to do on land – and only gets more challenging when you go out to sea. For me, one of the most stressful parts of a research expedition is packing. On land, if you run out of supplies, you may be able to quickly borrow some from a neighboring lab, or buy more and have them delivered within a few days. At sea, if you run out of supplies you can’t get more. Your science has to stop. It’s very important that you pack everything you need (and not a bad idea to bring more than what you think you need, if you have the space to pack it). Packing for this trip involved a lot of spreadsheets and lists developed with my advisor, and triple-checking every box to make sure we had everything we would need out at sea.
We pack far in advance of a cruise to allow us time to figure out if we are missing any supplies. To be as safe as possible for this cruise, everyone going on the ship had to quarantine for two weeks, so we had to be ready to go even earlier. It was a lot of work, but everyone was prepared to board the ship and get set up to do some science at sea the day we reached R/V Oceanus!
Setting up Aboard R/V Oceanus and Science at Sea
Loading a ship with supplies for a successful cruise can be difficult. But we don’t have to carry every piece of equipment up the gangplank by hand. We use a crane to lift all of gear from the dock, assisted by the helpful ship’s crew. Once the gear was onboard, we spent the rest of the day organizing our spaces and setting up our equipment. Having our gear organized, and boxes labelled with their contents, helped this go smoothly! Out on the water, the ship rocks with the waves, meaning anything not held in place may slide around. To avoid an unsafe workspace, all of our gear had to be tied down or screwed into place. I secured the bottles and pump I would use to filter particles from my water samples to a benchtop with bungee cords and ratchet straps while other graduate students built a “bubble” of plastic sheeting to keep their workspace free from dust or potential contaminants. After a hard day’s work, we were all ready to leave port the next morning and get started collecting our samples.
Once we left port and arrived at our first sampling site, we used a piece of equipment called a CTD (which measures conductivity (to help determine salinity), temperature, and depth) to profile the water from the surface to near-bottom. We also measured how much oxygen was in the water. This information helped us to choose what depths we wanted to sample water from. As the CTD returned to the surface, we used a computer to tell bottles attached to the instrument to close, bringing us water from below the surface. Once the CTD was back on board, it was a flurry of action to collect our samples and get to work in the lab! First, we filter our samples to remove particles. Then, we use a technique called solid phase extraction (SPE) to remove salts and concentrate the sample. The samples are analyzed back on land.
In our downtime, we sometimes would go out on deck to take in the sight of water all around us. Sometimes, we had some visitors – over the course of the trip, we saw sea lions, albatross, gray whales, and dolphins! You never know what you’ll see when you’re out on the water (though fantastic sunsets are always a given).
After about a week on board, R/V Oceanus began to have some mechanical problems, and we were forced to return to port. It was disappointing to leave some objectives unfinished, but it was better to be safe rather than risk having worse problems down the line. Though our cruise was cut short, we collected some great samples during our time at sea. We’re all looking forward to analyzing the data to see what we might have found, and for our follow-up trip in July to learn more about iron dynamics on the Oregon shelf.
Follow Nicole on Twitter: @ChemNicoleOcean
See content from this cruise and our upcoming trip with this hashtag on Twitter: #FeTSh2021
by Margaret Conley, PhD student in Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences
I study estuaries, the beautiful, mucky, and sometimes smelly mixing zones where river and ocean meet. Estuaries are exciting because they are always changing. Of course, every place has its seasons. Here in Oregon, we have summer sun and winter rain, spring flowers and fall leaves. But in an estuary, these changes are amplified: On top of seasonal changes, there is the daily drama of the tide, alternately flooding and exposing mud flats and marshes. The tide and the seasons also bring changes we can’t directly see — how warm and salty the water is, for example. These invisible characteristics are critical for the creatures that make estuaries their home, including oysters.
Oysters are used to a certain degree of change. But how will they, and their estuarine home, respond to the larger changes that human-caused climate change will bring? This is what my fellow researchers and I are trying to figure out, and we’re starting by better understanding the dynamics of one of the most basic water characteristics: temperature. We are studying water temperature in the Yaquina Bay estuary in Newport, OR to figure out how it changes with tides, storms, and seasons. Once we better understand the current range of temperature changes, we can start to predict how the estuary might change in the future, and how all this change affects the plants and animals that live in the estuary.
We are measuring the temperature of estuary water at many locations, from far upriver where the water is fresh to the salty water at the estuary mouth. By looking all along the channel, we can witness the battle between ocean and river, pushing each other back and forth as the strength of the tides and the river flow change over time. We’re also measuring the mucky places, like tidal flats where the water comes and goes and side channels called sloughs. All these water sources, plus heat from the sun, combine to determine the temperature of the water in the estuary. By recording the temperature changes from tide to tide and season to season, we hope to identify which factors are most important in determining temperature at each location along the estuary. We also want to figure out how these conditions influence where oysters grow best.
Besides the changing waters, the assortment of plants and animals that live in the Yaquina Bay estuary also changes over time. Baby salmon travel through estuaries on their way to the sea, and birds use the Yaquina as a rest stop during migration or as a summer or winter vacation home. Just like me, these animals are temporary visitors, and they never see the full range of estuary conditions. But there are also those who make this changing place their permanent home. Just like the residents of waterside towns, organisms like oysters set up shop on a particular spot and stay put. To understand why oysters live where they do, we have to become permanent residents too.
That’s where the scientific instruments come in. These little machines let us become residents of the estuary. While we return home to Corvallis after each field trip, the instruments stay behind, quietly recording the changing waters. While we work in our offices, they brave winter storms, floating logs, encroaching mud, and curious creatures. With luck, plus lots of knots and tape, they are still there when we return, and they report back on what they’ve seen. Each time we visit, the instruments look like they’ve been claimed by the estuary, coated in brown goop to match the muddy bank, sprinkled with baby barnacles just like the nearby rocks. Crabs move into our bottom moorings as they slowly sink into the muck. If we didn’t return soon enough, they might just disappear entirely.
Using these measurements, we plan to figure out what the oysters themselves already know: How does the temperature of the water change over time? After several months of measurements, we can already start to put together a story. We see the winter rainstorms that push ocean water down the estuary back towards the sea, changes in the coastal ocean that creep their way up the estuary with the tides, and solar-powered heating. Once we know how temperature in the estuary changes, we can try to predict how it will be impacted by climate change. This temperature change also contributes one piece of the puzzle in understanding how oysters, intrepid inhabitants of this changing place, will respond.
by Giancarlo M. Correa, PhD Student in Ocean Ecology and Biogeochemistry
Have you ever thought about how you got to where you are now academically? In my case, three clear events got me to where I am. I think every outcome is a product of something, and that something might be destiny or it might be perseverance.
Finding an ideal career by chance
When I was in school I loved math, and honestly, I was pretty good at it. I participated in many regional math competitions and I succeeded in some of them. I assumed that studying anything related to engineering after school would be the right path for me, and I left my amazing school life with that thought in mind. In Peru, where I was born and raised, there is a very competitive exam students need to take in order to be admitted into the very few good (and free) public universities, so applicants typically take classes at special centers (popularly called “academies”) after school during some months to be prepared to take that exam. I signed up in a center called Pamer to study for exams allowing me to apply to the industrial engineering program at San Marcos National University, the oldest university in America.
By then, I needed to review math and verbal concepts, but also subjects such as chemistry, biology (which I hated), and physics. So, one sunny Saturday, I made a mistake and I attended a biology class to which I was not assigned. The professor was renowned in Pamer for his way of teaching. And here is when destiny, for the first time, played a role in my academic formation. That Saturday I fell in love with biology in just two hours of class. The way this professor taught biology was extremely engaging and thought-provoking; I never realized how interesting biology was until that moment. I did not need to think twice — I knew at that moment that biology was going to be my future career. A few months later I was admitted to San Marcos National University to study biological sciences, and that was one of the best decisions of my life.
My first opportunity in research
The first months of my undergraduate life were difficult for me, as adapting to university life was not immediate and I needed some time to adjust to working on my own and not having a professor pushing me. I wanted to specialize in molecular biology, which was a popular choice among most students by then, and I was quite good at my molecular biology classes. In the fourth year of study, every student must select a specialization to follow during the last two years, and there were three choices: zoology, botany, and hydrobiology and fisheries. I was unsure which path to take. Most students took zoology or botany since there were more professors and researchers to work with in those disciplines. However, I do not usually follow the herd so I chose hydrobiology and fisheries, beginning my fourth year at the university somewhat unsure about this decision.
A year later, I needed to look for a laboratory or institution in which to get mandatory research experience, and to do an undergraduate thesis. That was a critical moment in my academic life. I asked one of my professors about internship opportunities at the Marine Institute of Peru (IMARPE), and she introduced me to the leader of the Population Dynamics and Stock Assessment Unit, who accepted me to do a research internship for a few months (that was the plan at the beginning, but those months became years). Then came the second crucial moment in my academic life: I started to study the population dynamics of fish populations using statistical and mathematical methods, an amazing field that I am still in love with.
An international jump
I worked for almost five years at IMARPE, gaining invaluable knowledge and experience. During that time, I undertook a master’s program in applied math, I participated in my first research cruise, and I published my first paper. I also participated in international conferences and met great scientists in Peru and abroad, and some of them were the source of inspiration for my next big step: pursuing a doctoral degree abroad.
Applying to American universities is not an easy task for international students; it demands time and money, but I was determined. I researched all the requirements, and soon identified the most important ones: passing the TOELF exam (to prove that I am proficient in English), taking the GRE, finding an academic advisor and getting funding. I passed the TOELF exam with a score that was good enough. Next I took the GRE, and I got an outstanding score in the math section, a not-bad verbal score, and a quite bad score in the written part. However, I struggled to find an academic advisor. I made a list of all the professors that I would have liked to work with, and I emailed them asking for opportunities. Sixty percent did not reply, 20% were not accepting new students at that time, 15% did not have funding sources, and 5% (one professor) invited me for an interview and ended up supporting my application to Oregon State University, although funding was not guaranteed. And here is the third crucial moment in my academic life: I only applied to one university and I was admitted. Was I lucky? Who knows, but this outcome was a consequence of perseverance and I am proud of it. Since fall 2018, I live in a small city in the Pacific Northwest (Corvallis), working with Dr. Lorenzo Ciannelli on projects related to population dynamics of the Pacific cod in the eastern Bering Sea. I have no words to describe how much I have learned during the last years and how beautiful is this area of the world.
What about you?
Have you thought about the crucial moments that brought you to where you are now? Were they products of destiny or perseverance? Identify them and be thankful and proud of them. There is no better or worse place to be, there is only the right one, where you are now. Are you excited about which events will define your academic life? I am, and I have no doubt that I will make the right decision. Enjoy this moment and do not stop persisting to achieve your academic and life goals. Destiny might play an important role at some point, but it will need to be complemented by your perseverance.