About Sara Duncan

Aloha everyone! My name is Sara Duncan and I am super excited to be spending this summer in Newport, Oregon with the Oregon Sea Grant Scholars Program. I grew up in central Massachusetts and am currently a senior at Hawaii Pacific University studying Environmental Science. I love being outdoors doing fieldwork. In Hawaii, my main project is to collect preliminary data on an ancient Hawaiian fish pond that is scheduled to be restored in the near future. I love being out there right next to the ocean especially because it’s so warm year round. Luckily, I was able to land this awesome internship with the Oregon Sea Grant for the summer and I am now in Newport working on a project for the EPA studying the nutrient removal of the wetlands in the Yaquina Estuary. I’ll have to admit though, that I am a bit cold here – average temp in the summer is less than 65°F! Stay tuned to learn more about my experiences! Also, check out my personal blogs: sarasoregonadventure.blogspot.com and saraduncan.blogspot.com.

Over Already?

Phew!  This is the first time that I have sat down at my computer for any substantial amount of time all week!  As I begin my final week here as a Sea Grant Scholar at the EPA Newport, OR, Research and Development Branch, I find it hard to believe that these are my final days of my internship.  Early last week was spent wrapping up with field work, lab processing, and data entry.  I was planning on spending the rest of the week prepping for my presentation on at the Final Symposium on Thursday, but was caught off guard when I was thrown into more field work for the week.  So last week was more of the same – making artificial sea water, filling bladders, taking nutrients, deploying chambers, gathering chambers, taking nutrient samples again, measuring volumes, etc. etc.  I did though, demand some time to work on my presentation.  Thursday morning rolled around, so I waiting anxiously for the start of my symposium all the while making adding the final touches to my Power Point.  At lunch time, my mentor, Ted, and I headed to the Hatfield Marine Science Center for lunch before the presentations began.  It was enjoyable to see everyone again, since I haven’t seen some of the other scholars since June when we first met. 

I felt that the presentations went great!  Everyone worked on a vastly different type of project that all pertain to and are important to the marine science field, especially in the northwest.  I found giving my presentation to be a bit complicated.  The details of my project are so in depth that I still have a hard time wrapping my head around them myself, never mind trying to explain them to an audience, many of which do not have a scientific background.  I could have spent my whole 15 minutes explaining how the experiment was run, never mind trying to tell a story with results and a conclusion.  I got some great feedback though and after talking with my mentor, I had a few moments to change a couple of things before my second presentation with the EPA the next day.  I felt that it went much better.  I think that the only way that I would be satisfied with giving a presentation on this project is if I had an hour to do so! 

Adding the final touches to one of our deployments. Here I am taping a nalgene bottle to the side of one of the chambers that will fill with water as the tide comes in. We will use this water to take a nutrient sample of the high tide water to compare to our artificial sea water.

At the beginning of this week, we immersed ourselves into another experiment.  This experiment involved a total of 32 chambers in 3 days.  That’s 32 bladders of water plus one more for the control!  My feet hurt from standing all day, but I’m glad that I was able to venture out in the field for part of it.  These past few days have been beautiful on the coast!  We have been running into another issue with this project – I know, surprise, surprise.  The day after we ordered 12 new bladders, they started tearing around the nozzle!  We’ve had four tear already!  This is problematic because we are already pressed for time, so taking the time to refill another bladder puts pressure on us to get everything deployed before the tide comes in.  I’m afraid that one of them will break after it’s been out in the field and our artificial sea water will be contaminated! 

Anyway, field work will be over tonight – this is my last day in the field!  The next two days will be spent completing lab processing and data entry.  I’ll have to take time to write my final paper so that it gets in on time on Friday.  I’ll probably post some if not all of my reflection paper to this blog so you all can read about my final thoughts of this internship.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions! 

As always, my weekends are filled with fun Oregon adventures.  Check out what I’ve been up to here: sarasoregonadventure.blogspot.com

Rounding the Bend

Last week we executed an experiment to begin to answer our new question: what is the relationship between nutrient concentration and uptake rate?  As I explained in my last blog, we filled bladders with four different nutrient concentrations and deployed them at mid-estuary and lower-estuary marshes.  My main task for the week was to be in charge of lab prep.  Artificial sea water needed to be made, bladders needed to be filled, field supplies needed to be organized, nutrient samples needed to be taken, and so on.  Besides being rather mundane and times, I enjoy being in the lab.  As I have expressed before, field work tends to stress me out because there are so many variables.  In the lab I have much more control over things.  I also have lots of time to think and brainstorm about my life outside of EPA including grad school and other post undergrad opportunities.  Often times I have to pause what I’m doing to write things down so I don’t forget! 

One of the main difficulties of working on this project is that it involves a lot of man power as well as several different people taking charge of various aspects of the experiment.  This can lead to problems because every part of the project needs to come together perfectly which sometimes does not happen due to lack of communication.  Unfortunately, this was a rather large problem with our deployment last week.  The tides were rather high, so we decided to deploy our chambers on low marsh benches.   We do know at what tide elevation that a particular marsh floods, but we do not know elevations of all of the low marsh benches in the marsh itself.  So, we decided to estimate, and our estimate happened to be rather off.  On Monday, the chambers were deployed at Winant Marsh in mid-estuary.  Using our calculations, we decided to add 10L of water to the bladders which will flood the chambers about two-thirds of the way.  Upon Caitlin’s, return from deploying the chambers, she realized that she forgot to leave out the high tide sample bottle, so she and Stephanie went out to the marsh during high tide to collect a sample.  When they got there, they were shocked to see that the tide was almost over topping the chambers – way higher than we thought it would go.  This can cause problems because it can result in a pressure difference inside and outside the chambers which may lead to leakage.  Leakage, especially from natural sea water infiltrating with our artificial sea water, can render our results useless. 

Where did the marsh go? The tide almost completely flooded our chambers.

That day, there was discussion and disagreement over how much water to add to the bladders for the subsequent day’s deployment.  This is where several people thinking different things about the same project can lead to issues.  Caitlin and I knew (or thought) that the low marsh bench at Hatfield flooded higher than it did at Winant.  So we thought that our bladders for that deployment deserved little or no extra water.  Ted on the other hand wanted to add 5L just to be safe.  The problem with adding too much water is that it can greatly dilute the water that enters the chambers making it difficult to extrapolate out what the exact uptake rate actually is.  I’m getting carried away… haha.  Anyway in the end, we only added an extra 2L to each bladder because we realized that we didn’t have enough artificial sea water to add 5L and Jody found extra low sites to deploy the

I did get to go out in the field for a bit on Wednesday. I was enjoying being out in the sun!

chambers at (lower than our calculations were for).  Again the tide came up really high and we didn’t have enough water as was needed leading to possible infiltration.  The next day we made sure to add extra water and we found higher elevation sites, so we ended up having too much water!  Ugh!  It’s so difficult to get it just perfect. 

After taking our salinity measurements and finding the final volumes, we compared our results to our initial measurements to see if they matched up (they should be the same if no water was gained or lost during the deployment).  We found that a couple bladders may have had external leakage, but it is not as bad as it could have been.  Hopefully we will have some usable data from UC Santa Barbara in a few weeks.   

This week will be spent preparing for my presentations on Thursday and Friday as well as analyzing data.  I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that this internship is almost over.  I just hope that I can find a place to live before I move back to Hawaii!

Please feel free to read and enjoy my personal blog to learn about my summer outside of the EPA here: sarasoregonadventure.blogspot.com

Finally some data!

Sampling sea grass in Winant Marsh

Phew!  Last week was a well deserved break from all of the field work that I did the week before.  Oddly enough, I was excited for a few days of data entry and acid washing.  So Monday was spent doing just that.  Since I was finished with data entry on Monday, Tuesday I went back to Winant Marsh to help a coworker with sea grass biomass collection to follow up on the flume experiment.  Fortunately that didn’t take too long, so I was able to go back to the office and lab for the rest of the day.  Unfortunately, the processing part of the biomass collection was a bit of a pain.  Wednesday was spent counting and measuring shoots, and scraping blades of sea grass for epiphytes that are living on the plant.  This took all day long and was rather boring, so I was happy to be done with it.

The next day I learned that we received our data from UC Santa Barbara.  We found that we had some rather interesting data.  For a little background, back in April, we ran an experiment to see if changing the nutrient concentration in our artificial sea water affected the ability of the marsh plants to uptake these nutrients.  According to our ISUS data, which we now know is not reliable, this didn’t matter that much.   The UCSB data on the other hand, showed a vastly different uptake rate depending on the amount of nutrients that were given to the plant. This was not good news because from our ISUS data, we relied on the premise that the marsh plants could only take up a certain amount of nutrients at one time regardless of the concentration made available to them.  Alas, this is not the case, we now know that if you give the marsh more nutrient rich water it will compensate for that and increase the rate that it takes up the nutrients.  If this doesn’t through a curve ball in our experiment, I don’t know what does.  Analyzing in this data resulted in us revamping our whole experiment.  Now our new question is to determine what the maximum amount of nutrients that a marsh habitat can absorb as well as what the rate of uptake is depending on the concentration.

After this redirection, we designed an experiment to try to answer this question.  Our new experiment for this week is to deploy three sets of chambers at two locations along the marsh at three different low marsh sites.  We will have four chambers at each site with four different concentrations.  We are hoping that once we get our data back from UCSB, we will be able to roughly estimate an equation for the nutrient uptake rate dependent on concentration.  So, the end of last week was spent preparing for this experiment, while this week will be spent out in the field and in the lab making sure everything runs smoothly.  I feel like now that I’ve finally gotten the hang of things, I now have less than three weeks left.  Nevertheless, it has been a great experience so far and I have learned a lot!

Check out my personal blog to learn about my life outside of EPA here: sarasoregonadventure.blogspot.com


Tired and covered in mud, I was ready for the weekend on Friday afternoon.  Last week, since we didn’t have any work to do for our chamber project, I was recruited to help with a sea grass experiment out at Winant Marsh which is a few miles up the Yaquina Estuary.  The purpose of this experiment was to quantify the amount of nutrients that a particular sea grass takes up from marsh water.  As I have explained in previous posts, marshes work wonders in cleaning water particularly by removing excess nutrients.

Collecting instruments from marsh

My role in conducting this experiment was to take a water sample approximately every ten minutes during two low tides at a certain location along the marsh.  There were two other people taking samples as well at two other locations.  After our samples are analyzed, we will be able to compare nutrient uptake of a sea grass bed versus a bare stretch of the main channel.

This experiment involved extensive preparation which meant we were out in the field Monday and Tuesday deploying instruments and taking measurements.  Luckily, I did not have to partake in a night shift, but I did have to get up extremely early on Wednesday and Thursday to begin sampling.  We were there both days from about 6am to 1pm.  Thankfully the work wasn’t that strenuous, so I was able to read scientific journal articles and study for the GRE in between sampling.  Weirdly, I can say that I enjoy getting up early.  It was a cool feeling to look at my watch at 9:00am and realize that I have already been away for four hours.   Waking up at 4:45am for this experiment was a little extreme, but I like being up with the sun.  I feel like I waste time sleeping, so I am now motivated to get out of bed early and accomplish more!

My field buddies and I

Anyway, on Friday morning we headed out to collect instruments and clean up from our experiment.  This week will be spent completing data entry as well as collecting a few more crucial pieces of data.  I never thought I would say this, but I’m enjoying sitting at my desk all day.  It’s a way deserved break from all of the field work that I have been a part of these past few weeks.  I’m sure by the end of the week, I’ll be sick of it and ready for next week’s crazy field schedule!

Check out my personal blog: Sara Duncan

Reflections to Date

Hello everyone!

Sorry that this is late! I am lucky if I am able to sit in front of a computer for any length of time, so I have been working on it every chance I get.  Since my time here is more than halfway over, I will fill you in on some of my reflections on my internship to date, but first a summary of the previous week.  Monday and Tuesday of last week was spent preparing for our field work.  This was the project that I was in charge of, so I had to make sure that everything ran smoothly.  As you know, this project is to test whether or not there is some sort of microbial processes going on during the night that I are not going on during the day.  We received some interesting results with “dark” (white PVC) chambers versus “light” (clear acrylic) chambers in previous tests, so we incorporated both into our experiment.  The way the experiment was set up, was that we went to two locations where we deployed six chambers at each (three dark and three light) in sets of two at three different sites.  We hypothesized that there would be a clear difference between the dark chambers and light chambers during the day since we have seen this in preliminary experiments in the past (we expect there to be no photosynthesis occurring in the dark chambers to drawdown nutrients, while there would be in the light). As for the night experiment, since we have seen some drawdown at night in the past with light chambers even though there is no photosynthesis occurring at night, we hypothesized that there may be some microbial activity occurring at night that isn’t occurring during the day.

As far as actually deploying the chambers and running the experiment, I would grade myself a B average which is pretty good for my first time.  Everyone was still getting used to deploying the bladders and some miscommunication between Caitlin and I led us to bring one of the wrong chambers which we had to go back to the lab and exchange.  Overall, running the experiment was a success.  We finished our deployment right as the tide came in.  The next day when we deployed our chambers at the other site, it went much better and faster and we beat the tide even though we were running late.

The most exciting part about doing these experiments is running our samples through the ISUS to get some preliminary results on nitrate values.  The daytime results came out as expected with little to no drawdown in the dark chambers while there was significant drawdown in the light chambers.  The night time results were much more peculiar.  We would expect to see no difference between the dark chambers and light chambers at night as no photosynthesis is occurring due to lack of light, but we still had a significant drawdown in the light (clear) chambers while there was no drawdown in the dark chambers.  How could this be?  Our worry was that something was going on with the clear acrylic chambers themselves that was causing nutrient (particularly nitrate) uptake or something was causing the nitrate values to read lower than they should have.  Since the next day we were preparing to go out and run more experiments during the weekend, I wanted to get to the bottom of this before we pushed ahead just in case something was seriously wrong.  So on Friday, Caitlin and I, ran a mini experiment by adding our artificial sea water to a dark chamber and a light chamber and sealed it at both ends to see if there was a change.  After letting the water sit inside the chambers for a few hours, we took samples and waited anxiously in the lab to run them to see if there was a difference.  If there was a difference, then we knew that there was something wrong with the acrylic chambers all along.  We ran the sample from the dark chamber and the results came out normal as we had expected.  Then we crossed our fingers that the sample from the light chamber would be the same.  But, when we ran that sample we discovered that the nitrate concentration was 8-10µm less (which is a lot less) than the dark chamber.  This is not good news because it potentially means that all of the work and all of the data collected up to this point is virtually useless!  Since we got these results, we decided that it would be unwise to move ahead with our field work for the weekend, so one positive was that I got the weekend off.  Because of these results, it looks like I could have came to the midsummer check-in since all of Friday was just spent preparing for more field work, but of course we didn’t find out about this major issue until about 5:00pm- bummer.  On Sunday afternoon, Caitlin and Jody, ran another little experiment by filling an acrylic chamber with ultra pure water to see if the results reflected a nutrient concentration as they should.  Fortunately, after an hour or two of letting the water incubate in the chamber we got a negative concentration.  Given the circumstances, this is good news because it means that the acrylic chamber is not in fact drawing down our nutrients, but is only causing the ISUS to read a lower nutrient concentration than it should.  This is rather unfortunate though because it means that we cannot use the ISUS to get instant results, so we have to wait a month or two for all of the results to come back from the wet lab at UC Santa Barbara – unless of course those results are compromised too.  Eek!

Unluckily, there is little time to think about what to do next because this week I have been plummeted into helping with another project.  For this project, we will be measuring the nutrient uptake of a sea grass flume at Winant marsh.  In order to do this, we must measure the flow of the water in the channel at one location and take water samples at three locations during four consecutive low tides.  As you probably know, there are two low tides during a period of 24 hours so one sampling period will be during the day and one will be at night.  Each of these sampling periods will be about eight hours long.  Thankfully I was assigned two day shifts instead of any night shifts, so I won’t be sampling during the wee hours of the night, but I do have to be at work at 5:30am tomorrow and Wednesday.  I’ll let you know how it goes in my next blog!

Since I was not able to attend the midsummer check-in, I will inform you of my reflections to date:

  1. First, since I am a rather small person, lugging 20L bladders full of water in and out of the marsh is very difficult for me.  I enjoy being outside doing field work, but some of it is pretty intense.  For my graduate studies, I need to make sure that I find a research project that I enjoy but does not involve something so physically demanding.
  2. I do not like marshes.  They are muddy and full of hidden holes and channels.  Working in them is rather difficult.  I think I’d rather study in the woods, on a mountain, at a lake, or at a stream.
  3. Nature is full of unforeseen and uncontrollable variables.  For the experiment that I have been doing so far, there are so many curve balls that nature has thrown at us, that I think a project like this would drive me crazy if I had to do this long term.  I do enjoy the environment, but I think that I need to find something that I can have a little more control over all the unknowns.  This internship has shown me that I am more interested in focusing on the human interactions with the environment versus dealing with nature itself.

I certainly can in no way say that I am not enjoying my internship.  I love getting up and going to work every day and I think that this experience is pointing me in the right direction and is helping me figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life even if it is not exactly this.

Check out my personal blog: Sara Duncan

Getting Back into the Swing of Things

On Wednesday last week, I came to work after four days off for the long holiday weekend.  It felt great to relax for a bit, but since everyone came back on Tuesday and were already in the swing of things, there was no time for me to

Our first bladder test - as you can tell, the bladder is flimsy in the container which makes it difficult for the water for flow in and out.

take it slow.  The day before Jody went out to test the bladders again to see if he could come up with a way that worked.  He decided to pin each bladder down under a piece of mesh.  This eliminated the bulky storage container that wanted to float away with the tide.  So my job on Wednesday was to go out into the field to collect the bladders from the test to make sure that everything ran smoothly.  When we got back to the lab we

Our next test - the bladders are much more stable when pinned down with mesh fabric.

checked the bladders to make sure that there wasn’t a leak and we analyzed our pressure data to confirm that the artificial sea water went into and out of the chambers as it should.  After evaluating our data we discovered that we were successful and that this was the method that we would be using for our main experiment.  It was great knowing that we would be able to move forward with our project on time.

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, there are so many aspects of this project that must come together perfectly.  Just as with the problems with the bladders curve balls are a many and we discovered last week that we may not be receiving our additional bladders in time to run the experiment.  Thankfully they arrived today just in time.  The rest of the short week was spent preparing for the experiment for this week.  We made new nutrient solutions for our artificial sea water, we continued working out logistics and checking to make sure we had all of our supplies, and we trained our new summer help, Stephanie, to help us with our hectic schedule over the next few weeks.

Today is the commencement of twelve grueling days of field work/ prep work/ data collection.  There will be no weekend for me – when the tides are good we go out, weekend or not!  On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I will be working with Stephanie to make artificial sea water, fill bladders, and collect supplies.  I will also be going out with Jody and Caitlin to set up bases for our experiment and make sure that all of the lab equipment is working for when we get back.  Then on Wednesday and Thursday the real work begins when we will be running the experiment that I have been working on for the past couple of weeks.  Friday will be filled with running samples and preparing for the next experiment which will take place on Saturday and Sunday.  There will be even more intense field work the next week including several nights of nighttime sampling.  I will keep you updated as to what I am doing as much as possible, but I know that I have many 10-12+ hour work days ahead of me. Eek!  But I have to say, I am loving every minute of it.  The days go by fast because I am always on the go. I am still absorbing as much new information as I can and I can definitely say that I love being out in the field.  I will let you know if that changes after these next two weeks, but I sure hope not!

Check out my personal blog to see how I spent my holiday weekend: Sara Duncan

Test! Test! Test!

What another interesting week!  This past week was spent preparing for the main experiment that we are going to be conducting this summer.  Our main focus this week was testing the new bladders for our artificial sea water. We had much more faith in these bladders than we should have.  The cubitainers that we have been using have some rigid support to them and can be easily fit into a plastic crate.  The bladders on the other hand have very little support and the water sloshes around as we are trying to carry them in their flimsy storage containers.  The bladders still may be our best option though, when the channel that we are putting them in is not far lower than the chambers were we are conducting the experiment.  As explained in my last blog, there must be a height difference between the reservoir of water and the base of the chamber in order for the water to flow in and out.  There are some places that are rather level where we need a flatter container to make sure that this happens.

So, the majority of the week was spent testing three different bladders that we had in the lab and out in the field.  After our lab experiments we determined that two of the three bladders would work best because they were more stable so we set out the next day to test them in the field.  Once we got to our site which is called Winant Marsh, up the estuary about half way, we realized some additional problems with the bladders.  Because they weren’t stable the nozzle that was connected to a hose that connected the chamber with the bladder kept bending in weird ways under the pressure from the hose that we kept getting an air lock.  After some messy alterations we were somewhat satisfied with the way the experiment was set up so we left to wait out the high tide.

In the afternoon, we came back to take down the equipment and analyze our data back in the lab.  It quickly became apparent that the water pressure from the tide did not sufficiently force the artificial sea water out of the bladder and in to the chamber.  The next day, we also discovered that there was a leak in one of our bladders that caused it to gain a sufficient amount of water from the high tide.  To make things worse, the bladder that worked the best was not being made any more so we’re not able to get as many as we need!

Because of our test, this next week will be interesting.  Jodi has some ideas as to how to make the bladders work better and we can hopefully find out how we got a leak in our bladder.  Currently, I am working on a logistical outline for one of the experiments that is coming up and I will be reviewing that with my mentor early this week.  But man! It is way more complicated than I would think! I usually don’t know what to expect in the coming days, but as time goes by I’m getting more and more used to the way things work around here.  I can’t wait to see what I learn next!

I hope you all had a great holiday weekend!

Check out my personal blog: Sara Duncan


Science is hard work!

Starting Monday of last week, I was officially done with all of the safety training and background reading and began the real work for my internship.  As an undergrad working in the labs at school, the logistics of the experiments that I do are for the most part already figured out for me, with this project at the EPA that is definitely not the case.  Monday was the first test run that I was a part of.  I went into work at about 10:00am and helped Caitlin make the artificial sea water for the chambers by adding nitrate, ammonium, and potassium compounds to five gallon jugs of water.  The concentrations of these compounds are our variables that we expect to change over the course of our experiment, so we must take samples before and after we run the experiment to be analyzed for changes.  Then we added the water solution to five 10-gallon cubitainers to be placed out into the marsh.  After lunch we went out to the marsh right outside the EPA building and began our long day in the field.  We had to add the chambers to the bases that we put out the Friday before and then we attached the cubitainers to the chambers with a long hose.  The way this experiment works is that you place the cubitainers below the chambers in the channel bed and as the tide rises, the pressure of the water forces the water into the chambers though the hose and then back out again as the tide falls.  I find it funny the easiest part of this whole process is running the experiment itself because after we got all of the cubitainers set up, we sat back and relaxed on the marsh for a few hours while only taking samples and dissolved oxygen measurements every 40 minutes.  After the experiment was done at about 8:00pm we had to take everything down and run about 30 samples in the spectrophotometer called the ISUS to test for nitrate content.  I didn’t get home until about 11:00pm.  All in all, the purpose of this experiment was to find out why our the nutrient levels that we were getting from the ISUS were lower than the nutrient levels that we were getting back from the lab at UC Santa Barbara.  We found out that the reason that we were getting a discrepancy was because we weren’t filtering our samples!  Something as simple as that could mess everything up.

This was my first taste of real science!  There are so many statistical, logistical, and experimental problems to work out.  For this experiment some of the issues that can make things difficult are: a lack of high enough tides, difficulties getting to a particular marsh, a lack of channels to put cubitainers in, a lack of marsh sites that have all of the habitats that we are looking for, inaccessibility to desirable sites because of private land ownership, problems running the experiment, slight mistakes in chamber building, inadequate sites to represent the whole estuary system, etc, etc.

Here’s a video of the different zones in the salt marsh: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/5/56/Salt_pannes_and_pools_high_and_low_tide.gif/340px-Salt_pannes_and_pools_high_and_low_tide.gif

The biggest aspect of working on this project is that everything here revolves around the tides.  So, if the high tide is not until late, we are out late, if the high tide is really early, we are out really early.  Because of this, I’ve spent several late nights this past week scouting potential sites up and down the estuary at high tide to make sure that they low marsh that we are trying to sample is flooding at high tide.  A lot of the time, the tides are not high enough to flood the low marsh, so when they are we must act fast to run our experiments on those days.

After running that first test, I realized that I need to start doing pushups to get stronger.  I am not particularly weak, but at only 100lbs lifting 20 gallon water jugs and carrying 10 gallon cubitainers in and out of the marsh requires a lot of energy.  I’m hoping that by the end of the summer I’ll be much more in shape.

Picture of the estuary that I took as we were scouting for sites.

This week, we will continue preparing for our next experiment which will begin around the 13th of July.  We are switching to “bladders” instead of cubitainers so we need to figure out which bladder will work the best.  We have to finalize the sites that we are going to go to for our experiment.  We also need to buy more supplies and continue to figure out the logistics to make this experiment as successful as it can be.  I’m hoping that this week will be slower (relatively) than last week. Three late nights a week are no fun, but I know I have more coming up.  I’m excited though because I get to do science and field work all day which is a lot of fun and is definitely my passion.

Check out my personal blog to see what I’m up to outside of work! Sara Duncan


Aloha everyone!

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.

Nutrient chambers that we will be setting up.

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.

Sitting at my new desk ready to get started.

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!

Sara Duncan