Friday- Sediment Core and Zooplankton Processing

Today we processed the samples from the zooplankton tows and the sediment cores from the boat trip that we took on Thursday.  We were in the lab all day because the weather started to turn bad.

To process the sediment core, we first had to thaw the sample. We originally froze the sample so that it would be easier to divide into layers. We were divided into teams of two and each team was given two samples. The goal was to find microscopic pollen grains and diatoms.  In addition, we even found some nematodes, or round worms. We were able to identify pollen grains and diatoms from the deepest part of the sediment which were from hundreds of years ago. We will use the pollen grains to determine species composition in the surrounding area from previous eras.

After lunch we processed the two zooplankton tows from the previous day. We took a plankton tow in fresh water and one in a more estuarine environment to determine the species composition of plankton in each area. To determine the species composition each student scounted the number of species found in 1 mL  sample under a microscope from the two sites.  Copepods and  barnacle nauplius (barnacle  larvae) turned out to be the most abundant mesozooplankton in our samples. These numbers will be used to calculate the relative abundance of species in each area.


Thursday – sediment & diatom studies

 We started our morning at 8 o’clock and left for the Morgan State University Laboratory soon after. Once we got there, we boarded the boat and headed out into deeper water to take a sediment core. Dr. Southgate discussed how the core would be taken and how the equipment operated, and then we lowered the corer for our first sample. The first few attempts were unsuccessful, so we disposed of the sediment and tried again (multiple times). We finally got two acceptable samples to take back to the lab and freeze for “dissection” tomorrow (Friday). We plan to look at the layers of sediment individually and examine them for pollen grains to identify. Who knows how many years’ worth of sediment we will have in front of us!


Meghan and Kimmy collect a sediment core from the Patuxent River

The next part of our cruise entailed two plankton tows. We did this in order to sample the area’s levels of mesozooplankton. First, we took a ride to “upper” St. Leonard Creek for our freshwater tow, which we will compare to the findings of our estuarine tow at the mouth of St. Leonard Creek (where it enters the Patuxent River). Along the way, we noticed that at least three bald eagles were putting on a show for us. We also spotted a great blue heron, numerous seagulls, and even a loon! I had never seen a loon before the diving bird was pointed out to us, and it really intrigued me, so I looked up more information on it (

Will pulls in the plankton net.

After lunch, we went into the lab to find and identify diatoms. Diatoms are a very common type of phytoplankton that is classified as algae; it is a primary producer in the food chain. Their cell walls are composed of silica, which creates a glass frustrule that encases them. The shapes of diatoms are usually classified as either centric (circular or triangular) or pennate (long, skinny, oblong). It is said that there are currently over 200 genera of diatoms living in our world! Today, our plan was to get a quantitative analysis of the benthic diatom population during this time of year. A diatometer was placed in the water roughly four weeks ago, in anticipation of this study. It is a fairly small contraption that is made to hold several glass slides for the “glassy” diatoms to attach to. The diatometer from which we collected the diatoms was attached to the side of the MSU dock, right next to equipment that records necessary information about the water conditions, which will come in handy. We worked on identifying diatoms under the microscope for a while with a partner, then moved into another room where we got the chance to use a microscope camera to capture some really cool images of the diatoms (and other organisms such as blue-green algae) present on our slides.


Diatom photo taken by students.

Tomorrow marks our fifth day off campus, and we will definitely stay busy over the weekend! We have Oceanography lab reports due tomorrow, and then our next big assignment is “the Fed-Ex Project”…

MAC Lab and a little Hiking (Day 3: Trip 3)

The MAC (Maryland Archeological Conservatory) Lab, located at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, curates artifacts from over 90 sites within the Park and stores over 8 million artifacts collected from sites throughout Maryland. In the lab we were able to tour all of the Conservation and Treatment facilities and have an inside look at what artifacts were being preserved to be put on display or used in research.

We learned how cleaning the artifacts and preserving them correctly when they come out of a “dig” (whether it be in the ground or in the water) can affect their condition and long-term stability. The best examples shown to us were two cannons we saw at the beginning of the tour. The first was a cannon from Fells Point at Baltimore Harbor; it was taken out of the water and allowed to dry with no further treatment. After years in saltwater, this cannon had many chlorides within the metal.  Upon drying the chlorides crystallized and loosened the outer surface of the cannon. By the next day any markings that could have provided archeological information about the cannon, such as where the cannon was made or who owned it, had disappeared. We then examined a second, properly preserved cannon.  All its surface markings were intact.  It goes to show you that when it comes to artifacts, you have to be careful how you remove them from a site. Once you do, you must immediately try to conserve them properly, or you’ll loose what is needed for research or identifying the artifact.

Cannon recovered from Baltimore Harbor near Fells Point

Artifacts being preserved can take as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years to conserve. The length of time necessary largely depends on the material the artifact is made of. The conservation process is done in three steps:  The first step in preservation is to desalinate the artifact by soaking it in water or basic solution.  This removes any salts or chlorides from the artifact, which was not done to the first cannon and therefore resulted in a loss of markings. Once the artifact is cleaned, it is put into a vacuum freeze-dryer, if it is an organic material such as wood. The vacuum freeze-dryer at MAC was 12 feet long, and at the moment, we were able to see a piece of palisade timber inside it. We were told that the timber was cleaned off and then placed in the dryer after soaking in PEG (Polyethylene Glycol). As the water from the timber is removed by sublimation, the PEG holds the shape of the timber in place and keeps it from becoming distorted. After the artifact has been cleaned and stabilized, it is pieced together or mended, if required. For example, a Native American pot we saw was being pieced together with an adhesive that is a mixture of B72 and acetone.

This Native American clay pot is being reconstructed at the MAC Lab.

The process of conserving artifacts is so intense and carefully done that I was nervous at times when I was handed the stuff to look at because I was afraid of dropping it. It fascinates me so much though, that we can piece together so much of the past with the advanced technology that we have.

Also today we hiked to Calvert Cliffs while enjoying the site and identifying trees. We identified American Holly, which really reminded me of Christmas time. We laughed when Kimmy put the American Chestnut leaves in her hair; she looked like the Tree Queen. On the way down to the beach, at the end of the hiking trail, Katie found an eastern wormsnake. She at first thought it was a worm, which she hates, but after looking closely she realized it was a baby snake. It was dark colored on top and had a very orange underbelly. When we arrived at the beach, it was slightly unpleasant due to the land breeze that was blowing at us, sending swarming biting flies our way. We didn’t stay there too long . The hiking trail we took was a total of 1.8 miles, uphill and downhill, and it was muddy and slippery at times. Overall, it was a beautiful day and I had a good experience touring the lab and taking a stroll in the park.


Here is our group at Calvert Cliffs State Park.

Day 2 – Boat Trip and Lab Work!

Tuesday October 25th 2011 marked the first “real” day of our trip here at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. Breakfast was my responsibility for the morning in which we set out a multitude of varying types of bagels along with scrambled eggs, a plethora of cereals and coffee. Coffee may be the life savor in liquid form during these early mornings on coastal studies trips. If you don’t have coffee you better find a way to wake yourself up—seriously.
We set out for the Morgan State University Estuarine Research Center where we were scheduled for a boat trip out on the Patuxent River. The weather was phenomenal despite the early morning chill. A sunny day on any of these trips is like hitting a gold mine and therefore we take advantage of it in any way we can. In this case we piled onto a decently sized boat suited up for dredging, measuring water quality, and for taking sediment samples.
The people we meet on these trips are a variety of characters and personalities so it’s always nice to get to spend the day with the few that have a great sense of humor and are excited to teach and generally are enthusiastic just to be there. The same goes for us as pupils—it’s a lot of self discipline but during long days it’s important to remind ourselves that these people are extremely dedicated to their work. Taking advantage of that and soaking up as much knowledge from these experienced individuals will only benefit each and everyone of us.

Collecting water quality data on the Patuxent River.

In this boat trip’s case it was a long but activity filled 5 hours on the water. The sun was warm and the air cool as we rode out into the deepest part of the river. As a side note—hello! We’re riding a boat on a beautiful day versus being in a lecture hall listening to a presentation—what’s not to love? We began taking our water quality measurements, in which my group in particular got to use a spectrometer that cost $20,000! A bit intimidating yes but way cooler than reading about it in a textbook. Then we made our way to an oyster bar where we dredged along the river’s bottom and pulled up a surplus of oysters. What happens when you have a “surplus”? You have extra; which means Prof. Albaugh would treat us to his infamous oyster chowder at dinner that evening. ☺

Sorting oysters for disease analysis.

After an extensive morning to afternoon on the boat we were all starving. Normally we don’t have such a large gap between meals so this was an exception but thankfully the meal group responsible for lunch planned a delicious assortment of tuna and chicken salad sandwiches, sun chips, and Capri suns. You could definitely say the food was devoured and then some as we all had worked hard and needed some serious refueling. Next stop—the lab.

Preparing oysters for Dermo testing.

In the lab we prepared our oysters for a dermo disease experiment and for conditioning. It was a bit chaotic but when is science ever running smoothly without error—not very often. My group began the beginnings of the conditioning experiment where we weighed, shucked, cut, re-weighed, and dried out the shell and meat of the oyster. In the process a few of us were given the lovely opportunity of eating an oyster on the half shell. I let that one pass but it was fun to witness the few brave souls slurp back raw oyster meat.
As the day came to an end a fun “cook-out” style dinner was prepared with hot dogs, curly fries (mmmmmm!), green beans, mac & cheese, and of course Prof. Albaugh’s oyster chowder. For me personally this was my very first oyster and I must say it tasted great. After dinner we had to play catch-up with an hour long lecture for our class based on the Chesapeake Bay and talked about our upcoming plans for the week. As lecture closed up we were left to our own entertainment and that meant movie time! We all popped in Bridesmaids and got to relax after a strenuous but fun-filled day on the water and lab with a few laughs and good company.

October 24, 2011- Trip three, Day 1

Most people wonder what exactly being in Coastal Studies entails, what the logistics of a traveling semester are. There are many opportunities and experiences we get as part of this program that many students can’t even imagine. Thus far this semester we have taken two trips, the first being a five-day trip to Western Maryland where we visited New Germany State Park and explored the beginnings of the watershed the becomes The Chesapeake Bay. The second trip was twice the length, a ten day trip where we traveled the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. This trip we saw the Chesapeake Bay’s end, the mouth that leads to the Ocean, we also explored the area’s history by visiting historic Jamestown and Williamsburg. Each trip has been different; the places we stay, people we meet, things we learn, and places we go are always changing.
This is our third, and final trip of our Coastal Studies Experience, this is an eleven day trip to Southern Maryland. We will be staying at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Calvert County. This morning we met at 9am in Hodson, packed and departed on our journey. In addition to clothing and personal supplies, we load our “Coastal Studies Trailer” with any cooking and eating supplies we may need, all sorts of scientific equipment, books, field guides, binoculars, and many more things so that we can transform any location we stay at into a home/classroom/laboratory. It took over an hour and a half to get everything packed in the trailer, and our two Coastal Studies mini vans loaded with our professors at the wheel, then we were off. The car rides are generally very enjoyable, sometimes it is an opportunity to catch up on sleep, sometimes it becomes a min-theatre where we enjoy movies, a place for bonding and conversations, or a place to cram and study for an upcoming exam or assignment. Each vehicle has 6 students in it, as well as a professor so we have gotten very close over the many hours we spend traveling.  On our way to Calvert County we stopped for a quick lunch at Ledo’s where we devoured three delicious large pizzas, you often don’t think about other people’s food preferences until you are accommodating them. In our group three students are vegetarians and others have countless allergies, so what and where we eat must be chosen carefully to meet everyone’s needs. We are all very considerate of dietary habits and work hard to make sure everyone is happy at every meal. After our lunch we took a short walk to a drainage lake behind the shopping center, we talked about the features of the lake and noticed beaver damage on trees. We were then told this was the original lake an invasive species – the Northern  Snakehead fish – had been identified in Maryland. We loaded back in the vehicles and continued on our trip, not much later we arrived at our temporary home at University of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.
Our sleeping accommodations are dorm style rooms, with basic college style twin beds and generic communal bathrooms. This location has the luxuries of Wi-Fi, cell phone signal, and even cable which are things we haven’t had at all locations. Most places we stay are “no frills” but they are practical and allow us to get done what we need to do. After unloading our personal belongings, we got together in our cooking groups and planned our meals for the next four days. Cooking is a shared task; in groups of four we rotate cooking each meal so everyone cooks for everyone else. After our meals were planned and shopping lists made, we headed to the grocery store where we stacked three huge shopping carts with our supplies. We had a delicious dinner of rotisserie chicken, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, and mixed vegetables. After dinner we had time to explore and work on homework. After a long day we were all ready to crawl in our beds and get some sleep before an early morning boat trip.

Owl banding

Last Friday night (October 21st) we travelled to Lamb’s Knoll atop South Mountain to band owls migrating through the area. The owl we were focused on was the Northern Saw-whet owl. They are about the size of a large hand and easily camouflage themselves in the trees. This trip was voluntary and so we had about eight students, Prof. Albaugh, Hood grad student Mike Selckmann, and Mike’s girl friend.  Steve Huy, a professional bird bander and his fiancée, Katie Glover, a former Coastal Studies alumn, were already there to guide us through the banding process.

We left Hood around 9ish and got to the site a little before 10 PM. We went to check the mist nets about once very hour and a half. The nets were set up so when an owl flies into them they fall into it and are “trapped” until we take them out. There is a constant “ping”, the owl’s territorial call, that is played near the nets to attract the owls. The idea is that when the owl comes near by to investigate it will fly into the net.

The night we went they had not yet caught any Saw-whets because the migration season had just started. We stayed until about 5:30 AM and checked the nets every hour and a half during the entire night. We actually caught the first one of the season, which was our only catch of the night. The owl was then brought back to a banding building to be weighed and measured

Northern Saw-whet Owl

This is the owl we caught, and it is a female. She was very docile and when we tried to let her go she was extremely hesitant. She also made many clicking noises created by snapping her beak in an effort to sound fierce.

Wing span of the owl

Measuring the length of the wing.

The owl's claws.

One interesting thing they have learned over the years is that if you shine a black light on the underside of their wings there is a pattern that glows.

Underside of the wing in black light

Overall the night was a lot of fun. We took several naps in between checking the nets. There is a chance that we will go again a little later in the season.


**Photo credit: Lauren Shaak

What is a Field Experience?

The Coastal Studies Field Experiences are three-week courses that are offered during January and summer semesters. Typically, we will spend one week of preparation on the Hood College campus before traveling to coastal locations to study environmental issues of that locale. Environmental topics will be studied within the framework of the natural, historical, social and cultural milieu. Students will be involved in fieldwork, readings and discussions with local constituencies to develop a holistic view of the development, impacts and possible avenues of resolution for contemporary coastal environmental issues. These courses are offered as part of the Coastal Studies minor at Hood College.

The locations and facilities chosen for the Coastal Studies Field Experiences provide easy access to a wide variety of marine habitats and nearby sites of historical and cultural interest. Each institution is our base of operations for several days during the course. As such, each provides a comfortable dormitory and kitchen where we prepare our meals, a well-equipped laboratory, scientific library and computers with access to the Internet.