My name is Sara Duncan and I say ‘Aloha’ because I am currently a senior at Hawaii Pacific University studying Environmental Science. For Summer 2011, I am partaking in the Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars Program where I will be working for the EPA to study nutrient removal of the Yaquina Estuary in Newport, Oregon. Essentially this means as dirty water comes into the wetland, clean water comes out and we are trying to figure out the amount of nutrient that is removed by the whole system as well as how this is accomplished. As part of my internship, I have been instructed to answer three questions in this blog once a week. The questions are:
1.) What did you do the previous week?
2.) What did you learn? What was new? and what were the challenges you faced?
3.) What are you going to do this week?
I will use this blog to more or less reflect solely on my internship itself, but I have also set up a personal blog at sarasoregonadventure.blogspot.com to keep you updated on my fun and adventure as I spend this summer in the great state of Oregon.
Sunday night, I arrived at the Oregon State University Campus in Corvallis, Oregon. The next morning, my fellow summer scholars and I met up for orientation where we ate breakfast and conversed about expectations for the summer. It was great to meet everyone and I’m excited to spend the summer with a good group of people. After our meeting, we went out to lunch and headed to Newport – my home for the next two months. The biggest shocker to me was how cold it is here even in the summer, but that is something that I will have to get used to.
My first day on the job was Tuesday. I met my mentor, Ted DeWitt, and he briefed me on the project that we will be doing over the summer. So basically, what I’m going to be doing is setting up these chambers made out of 6 inch diameter PVC pipe attached to a cubitainer, which you can probably guess is a plastic container in the shape of a cube. The cubitainer is filled with water with a known nutrient concentration and attached to the PVC pipe with a hose and is placed below the chamber in the estuary. As the tide rises over the cubitainer, the pressure forces the water out and into the chamber and when the tide falls, the water drains into the cubitainer again. After a tidal cycle, we can analyze the nutrients in the cubitainer to see if there were any changes. As you may know, wetlands are extremely good at removing nutrients to clean the water, so we are trying to find out what is removing it and how much it is removing. Unfortunately nature is not cut and dry, so this is way easier said than done.
This afternoon, I got to experience my first day of field work. I went out with the chemical technician here, Jody Stecher, to set up the bases for the chambers. Dealing with tides is never something that I had to do before, so that was a new experience for me. In Hawaii the difference between high tide and low tide is about one and a half feet while here it’s usually eight feet or more. So timing is everything when it comes to the tides. In order to get to the spot where we set up the chambers we had to cross a small stream. By the time we got done, the small stream was turning into a large creek. I’m afraid that I won’t pay attention to the tides enough and get stuck somewhere! So, what we were doing today was preparing for Monday when we are going to be out on the estuary all day to deploy the chambers and run the experiment. My coworker Caitlin explained to me all we do is, “Prepare for field work, do field work, and recover from field work.” I found that to be funny.
As you know, the organization that I was paired with was the famous (or infamous, depending on how you view it) Environmental Protection Agency. As a scientist, there are three main job markets that I can go into: government, industry, or academia. Being a student, I have a lot of background in academia while this internship lets me dally in the government sector of the work force. I’ve heard many different stories about what it’s like to work for the government, so I’m excited to take a stab at it myself for the summer. The first thing that I noticed when I walked into the door was a picture of Obama and Biden in the entry way. I was also surprised to find out that our mail is x-rayed before we get it and that our computer network is under constant attack from intruders that would love to get a hold of the information here. I never realized how many people are trying to take the EPA down. Working for EPA involves a lot of protocol that we have to go through on a daily basis. If something goes wrong with my computer, I can’t just run down the hall to grab the tech guy, I must call the helpdesk which is somewhere in the U.S. and then they walk me through the problem remotely or they contact the tech guy to help me. Thankfully I haven’t had any problems yet. Since I will be involved with field and lab work, I had to take an online safety training course that is supposed to last 24 hours from start to finish. Thankfully, I got it done in less than a day but most of it was regarding things that I will never have to do here. So far I haven’t had much of a problem with anything. As I have learned, working for the EPA involves extreme organization. Everything must be planned and recorded which I think is overall a good thing.
So far my week has been exciting and I have learned a lot. I am asking as many questions as I can from as many people as I can. I can’t wait for Monday when I get to be out in the field all day. I’m not a fan of sitting at a desk staring at a computer, so I’m so glad to have gotten this opportunity. I hope that this experience is overall a positive one. Stay tuned to learn about what I am doing every week. I will keep you as updated as I can!