Axolotl Day!

February 19 marked the first annual Brown Science Center Axolotl Day. I know what your thinking. Axolotl Day is a ridiculous concept. Well, you’re right. But, it is also pretty awesome and I was happy to be the guest speaker at the event.

Important Axolotl Facts: 1) axolotls are neotenic salamanders native to ponds just south of Mexico City, 2) they have a broad range of color phenotypes because of breeding for laboratory and pet purposes, 3) they are critically endangered or possibly extinct in the wild.

Enjoy pictures from the 2015 axolotl day.

 

Axolotl cake!

Axolotl cake!

Axie art competition - the adapted Brown Logo with axolotl sun won the prize.

Axie art competition – the adapted Brown Logo with axolotl sun won the prize.

Educating young minds on amphibian biology and ecology

Educating young minds (~60 Brown undergrads) on amphibian biology and ecology

Half geologist-half axolotl.

Half geologist-half axolotl.

Axolotl for a day.

Axolotl for a day.

 

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Wuhddah Winter

Hi, I wanted to share the awesome winter sport of snow mini-golf with everyone. This is a sport introduced to me by my uncle over X-mas break. If you’ve been trying to make the best of this snow-filled New England winter, consider adding this to your list of activities.

The basic tenents of the game are thus:

1) Miniature golf style holes are shoveled and built on a frozen lake. Make sure there is enough ice to be safe! Everyone needs to design one or two holes. We tried to be thematic and also used sleds/shovels/etc as props.

Hole #3

Hole #3

Hole #6

Hole #6

Hole #2

Hole #2

Hole #10 - The spiral of doom.

Hole #10 – The spiral of doom.

2) Use an ice-auger to drill the holes

3) Play golf. We used tennis balls and whatever golf clubs/hockey sticks/broomball brooms/skis were available as clubs.

Fore!

Fore!

JD chooses an x-country ski to chip up the hill. Interesting choice, but highly effective.

JD chooses an x-country ski to chip up the hill. Interesting choice, but highly effective.

Ky putts down the only land-based hole.

Ky putts down the only land-based hole.

The crowd gathers and the tension grows.

The crowd gathers and the tension grows.

Matching Christmas shirts. Gross or cute?

Matching Christmas shirts. Gross or cute? Either way, warm during a game of snow mini-golf.

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Orienteering Meet – May 31 – Lincoln Woods

Keep May 31 open on your calendars! On that day I will be directing an orienteering meet on behalf of the New England Orienteering Club.  If you’ve never orienteered and are interested, this will be a beautiful venue for a first time. Details below:

Location:  Lincoln Woods State Park outside of Providence.

Date and Time: May 31, 10-12 am

What to bring: Sturdy shoes, $5 or $10 depending on the course you do. Also, if it’s a nice day, bring a swim suit for the beach.

More details at: http://www.newenglandorienteering.org/events-schedule/eventdetail/473/-/lincoln-woods

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.17.07 AM

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Providence Canoe Explorers – Look for the Website coming soon.

Keep your eyes open for the Providence Canoe Explorers website, coming soon.

perfect

This Canoe club is dedicated to the premise that if your canoe is more fragile than your adventurous spirit, then you need a different canoe. Canoes should not be treated like a glass figurine. They should be happily used to take us across any waterbody we so choose regardless of the bushes, logs, ice, or cliffs that are in the way.

The goal of the club is to provide an online forum to meet other canoe explorers, for discussing awesome and terrible spots to canoe in RI, MA, and CT, for organizing group paddles, and to share stories and pictures. Membership into the club is free, but we ask that if you join in group paddles to enroll in membership. The main perks of membership are a free bumpersticker (not yet designed – if you have awesome ideas, please let me know) and email notifications of upcoming paddle events.

For early membership enrollment, email providencecanoeexplorers@gmail.com

For a taste of recent Explorations –

A friend recently bought a new Mohawk Nova canoe. On it’s inaugural trip, we did laps around Cass Pond in Cumberland at midnight. We could not see how shallow the pond was, but we certainly felt and smelt the mud that we disturbed with every stroke. Don’t paddle there.

On the Nova’s second trip, we (Samantha, Chelsea and I) explored the Bungay River in Attleboro. We expected to find a small stream through classic New England bogs which would eventually open up to a sizeable river. Our put in point was at the end of Mary Kennedy Dr., with a short walk down the water treament driveway to the river. The put in point was fairly difficult to find, which probably should have been a sign to turn back before even putting in. We eventually found a ditch that went into the woods and we went for it. The stream was beautiful, we saw turtles, fish, and all kinds of wildflowers. But, the stream was only about 4 feet wide at the maximum and we encountered all kinds of problems with shallow spots, logs blocking our path, and turns too sharp for our 16 ft canoe. After about an hour of hauling the canoe across the logs, we had made it about 100 ft and decided we would never make it home by dark. We turned back.

All in all, the Bungay River has great potential, but only during high-water stages. I think dry conditions prevented this from being the perfect ride, and we may have been the first dopes to try and paddle down it. But, it was a fun and lovely adventure.

Bova's Nova on the way to the Bungay River.

Bova’s Nova on the way to the Bungay River.

Our entry point was the small tributary at the end of mary Kennedy Rd. Requires a small walk down a gravel driveway.

Our entry point was the small tributary at the end of mary Kennedy Rd. Requires a small walk down a gravel driveway.

The launching point was a little dicey, but we managed to make it onto the river without tracking too much mud into the boat.

The launching point was a little dicey, but we managed to make it onto the river without tracking too much mud into the boat.

A happy paddler in her new canoe.

A happy paddler in her new canoe.

Logs were abundant across the little stream, which made paddling difficult.

Logs were abundant across the little stream, which made paddling difficult.

We had no choice but to strip down and explore the river on foot. Yikes. Won't be paddling the Bungay again.

We had no choice but to strip down and explore the river on foot. Yikes. Won’t be paddling the Bungay again.

happy

 

 

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RI Lakes

A recent scientific report determined that there are more than 117 million lakes in the world (Verpooter et al. 2014). Over 200 of these lakes are in beautiful Rhode Island. Rhode Islanders love their lakes, and to ensure that each lake has water safe to drink and nice to swim in, the water quality of each lake in RI is regularly monitored by an army of volunteers. The effort is coordinated by the URI Watershed Watch Program, and one lake, Cunliffe Pond, is monitored by a team Brown University students led by fellow graduate student Marc Mayes and myself. For a full overview of the Watershed Watch program, visit this site. Scroll down to see pictures from Cunliffe Pond.

Cunliffe Pond is located in Roger Williams Park, just south of Providence.

Cunliffe Pond is located in Roger Williams Park, just south of Providence.

Putting together the  foldable boat. This boat has seen a lot of field work over the years and is awesome because it fits under the seats of the department van.

Putting together the foldable boat. This boat has seen a lot of field work over the years and is awesome because it fits under the seats of the department van.

Meyrolin and Joe launch the boat on a beautiful morning.

Meyrolin and Joe launch the boat on a beautiful morning.

Our launching point is the 'Temple to Music'.

Our launching point is the ‘Temple to Music’.

We take water samples for temperature, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll from 1 meter depth using this sampling device.

We take water samples for temperature, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll from 1 meter depth using this sampling device.

Meyrolin capping the D.O. bottle to get a Bubble-Free sample.

Meyrolin capping the D.O. bottle to get a Bubble-Free sample.

Joe, a remote sensing technician, uses tubing to collect a phytoplankton sample to test for the presence of nuisence blue-green algae.

Joe, a remote sensing technician, uses tubing to collect a phytoplankton sample to test for the presence of nuisence blue-green algae.

Here I take another phytoplankton sample from closer to shore. The samples are sent each week to URI watershed extension for analysis.

Here I take another phytoplankton sample from closer to shore. The samples are sent each week to URI watershed extension for analysis.

Meyrolin, an undergrad at Brown, filters water for chlorophyll and phytoplankton measurements.

Meyrolin, an undergrad at Brown, filters water for chlorophyll and phytoplankton measurements.

Joe using a field-D.O. kit. Dissolved oxygen is a critical indicator of pond health, because fish and other fauna are sensitive to low-oxygen events.

Joe using a field-D.O. kit. Dissolved oxygen is a critical indicator of pond health, because fish and other fauna are sensitive to low-oxygen events.

A view of the Temple.

A view of the Temple.

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SPARK 2014 – A week of extreme weather events

Spark: a small fiery particle thrown off from a fire, alight in ashes, or produced by striking together two hard surfaces such as stone or metal.

SPARK: A residential science program for curious middle schoolers at Brown University.

This week is middle school science camp. I am helping Brown Geology Professor Tom Webb teach a course on Extreme Weather. The goal of the class is to track the week’s weather to give students a sense of weather dynamics and the physical drivers behind them. It’s been an active week, both in terms of the meteorology – thunderstorms rolling through mid-week and a typhoon in the western Pacific Ocean – and in terms of the class activities.

The class did a lot of in-class experiments, demonstrations, and weather map analyses. But, the highlights of the class were the two field trips. The first was to the Blue Hills Weather Observatory. This site is home to the longest continuous weather observations anywhere in the Americas. We saw the first mercury barometer in North America, original weather ledgers from 1880’s, and solar orbs used to measure sunlight.

BH1

 

Students fill out their worksheets and observe the Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder, which is basically a glass Orb magnifying glass that burns through a recording sheet when the sun shines.

Students fill out their worksheets and observe the Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder, which is basically a glass Orb magnifying glass that burns through a recording sheet when the sun shines.

Blue Hills meteorlogist showing the view from the tower.

Blue Hills meteorlogist showing the view from the tower.

Checking out the meteorology ledger from 1889.

Checking out the meteorology ledger from 1889.

The early researchers kept track of temperature, air pressure, humidity, cloud cover and type, wind, and precipitation. The same measurements, often with the same instruments, have been recorded every day since 1885 to today.

The early researchers kept track of temperature, air pressure, humidity, cloud cover and type, wind, and precipitation. The same measurements, often with the same instruments, have been recorded every day since 1885 to today.

Kite construction.

Kite construction.

BH9

 

Kite flying from the summit of Great Blue Hill just like in the 1800's.

Kite flying from the summit of Great Blue Hill just like in the 1800’s.

The view from GBH to Boston is about 10 miles. Visibility on Tuesday was 10 miles, but barely.

The view from GBH to Boston is about 10 miles. Visibility on Tuesday was 10 miles, but barely.

The second field trip was to the Succotash Salt Marsh, where we looked for evidence of past hurricanes in the geologic record. This type of study is called paleotempestology, and more details are in an earlier blog post. Basically, we found five layers of sand representing five big hurricanes since year 1400. The latest was Hurricane Carol in 1954.

Prepping the vibracore for sediment recovery.

Prepping the vibracore for sediment recovery.

Evidence of ancient hurricanes!

Evidence of ancient hurricanes!

The crew faced some adversity - broken sediment core pipe. It took some serious muscle to get the core out of the ground.

The crew faced some adversity – broken sediment core pipe. It took some serious muscle to get the core out of the ground.

So much fun :)

So much fun :)

Tom Webb and post-doc Sarah Ivory check out the extruded sediment core.

Tom Webb and post-doc Sarah Ivory check out the extruded sediment core.

Checking out some salt marsh life.

Checking out some salt marsh life.

The field trips punctuated a week of classroom activities and other types of scientific inquiries. We made daily weather observations, experimented with air pressure and tornados, and poured over daily weather maps. The students also had a chance on Monday and Wednesday for elective engineering-type activities, such as hot air balloon construction and catapualt launching.

Lab prep.

Lab prep.

Mr. Webb demonstrates how to use a sling psychrometer to measure humidity.

Dr. Webb demonstrates how to use a sling psychrometer to measure humidity.

Swinging the sling psychrometer.

Swinging the sling psychrometer to measure wet bulb and dry bulb temperature. Together, these measurements tell us abou the dewpoint and relative humidity.

Downloading weather maps.

Downloading weather maps.

Catapult launching

Catapult launching

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Axolotl medley

As many people know, Carrie and I have two axolotls. Allow me to introduce Thing One (aka Axie), and L’il Guy (aka dragonbreath). Thing one was born in a laboratory at Brown University in 2012. L’il Guy’s background is less well known, but we do know that he is a GFP axolotl (contains DNA for green fluorescent protein) and so he glows in the dark. Enjoy the pictures.

Thing 1 poses for the camera.

Thing 1 poses for the camera.

L'il Guy showing off his glow in the dark powers.

L’il Guy showing off his glow in the dark powers.

Double-headed caudata

Double-headed caudata

Straight chillin'

Straight chillin’

DSCN0863

L’il guy is pretty active, but sometimes needs to nap in the tube.

Both critters are on a gold-fish diet. L'il guy just recently caught his very first fish. Sometimes we give them help because we spoil them.

Both critters are on a gold-fish diet. L’il guy just recently caught his very first fish. Sometimes we give them help because we spoil them.

We measure their length every few months. They grow up so fast, about a centimeter per month.

We measure their length every few months. They grow up so fast, about a centimeter per month. (photo: Carolynn Harris)

 

 

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A story of ice and mud

It’s Friday in Providence. Our crate just came in and I’m very excited. Inside are 45 two-inch diameter pipes, one meter long. Each pipe contains sediment from the bottom of an Alaskan lake and clues to the climatic and ecologic history of northern Alaska.

Sponsored by the National Geographic Society, Will Longo, myself, and our Brown University advisors, Yongsong Huang and Jim Russell spent about two weeks this spring doing Livingstone coring, through lake ice, to retrieve these sediment cores. The idea behind livingstone coring is to collect the full sediment record by incrementally collecting 1 meter of mud from the same hole. The idea of doing this when there is still ice on the lake is that we have a stable platform to work from (as opposed to a conglomoration of rafts, canoes, and anchor systems).

The team crossing the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway.

The team crossing the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway.

A herd of ~200 caribou on the move. These caribou ar in a formation of two lines. They migrate toward the Arctic Ocean coast each spring.

A herd of ~200 caribou on the move. These caribou are in a formation of two lines. They migrate toward the Arctic Ocean coast each spring.

Livingstone coring requires a few steps:

1) Locate the coring location. Auger a hole in the ice.

Yongsong on a frozen lake.

Yongsong on a frozen lake.

We snowmachined to some sites, snow permitting.

We snowmachined to some sites, snow permitting.

And walked to other sites, pulling our gear in sleds.

And walked to other sites, pulling our gear in sleds.

Jim muscling gear through a blizzard.

Jim muscling gear through a blizzard.

Yongsong floating through whiteout conditions.

Yongsong floating through whiteout conditions.

Will and Will

Will and Will (photo: WML)

auger-1

Longo and Jim use an auger in Upper Capsule Lake, with the Brooks Range Mountains and Yongsong in the background.

The ice was about 4 feet thick, the same length as the auger. (photo: Y.H.

The ice was about 4 feet thick, the same length as the auger. (photo: YH)

Punching holes is a team effort. With this much ice, it is important that we drill straight down so that the coring gear goes straight down into the mud. (photo WML)

Punching holes is a team effort. With this much ice, it is important that we drill straight down so that the coring gear goes straight down into the mud. (photo WML)

Longo marks the coordinates of the site with a GPS.

Longo marks the coordinates of the site with a GPS.

2) Insert the casing. We used 4″-diameter PVC with threaded couplers. Casing helps keep core rods from bending when we push into the mud and also ensures we core into the same hole for each 1-meter section.

casing-1

Yongsong and Longo preparing to lower the next section of PVC casing.

casing-yh

photo: YH

jim-2

Jim pulls up (?) or lowers (?) PVC. photo: WML

3) Prepare core tube, pistons, piston cable. The start of each core drive needs to be carefully measured so we know how deep in the mud each section is. The livingstone device uses a special square rod to keep the piston at the front nose of the core barrel while we push the device through slop in the hole.

Myself measuring out lengths on the piston cable. (photo: WML)

Measuring out lengths on the piston cable. (photo: WML)

4) Push it into the mud. Strong threaded rods, each ~6 feet in length, are added to the device to reach the appropriate depth. When the mud is stiff, it takes some serious muscle to push the corer down, and even more serious muscle to pull it back up.

Will Longo and Yongsong Huang lower the core barrel to the sediment by attaching a series of 2 m rods.

Will Longo and Yongsong Huang lower the core barrel to the sediment by attaching a series of 2 m rods.

Coring makes Jim very happy, as you can see. Here we've pushed the livingstone barrel into the next 1 meter section of sediment and prepare to pull it back up.

Coring makes Jim very happy, as you can see. Here, we’ve pushed the livingstone barrel into the next 1 meter section of sediment and prepare to pull it back up.

5) Pull it up. Extrude the mud. We used a metal core barrel, so each 1 meter section needed to be pushed out into a pvc sleeve for storage and transportation.

Jim and Will check out sediment collected with a clear polycarbonate tube. We collected a core with an intact sediment-water interface from each lake.

Jim and Will check out sediment collected with a clear polycarbonate tube. We collected a core with an intact sediment-water interface from each lake. (photo WML)

Booya. (photo: WML)

Booya. (photo: WML)

Pushing the mud out of the metal livinstone barrel took some muscle and grunting. Here Will, Jim, and Will extrude a core into a plastic sleeve.

Pushing the mud out of the metal livinstone barrel took some muscle and grunting. Here Yongsong, Jim, and Longo extrude a core into a plastic sleeve.

More core extrusion, but on a nicer day. (photo: YH)

More core extrusion, but on a nicer day. (photo: YH)

Longo wraps up a core section for storage.

Longo wraps up a core section for storage.

6) Clean and repeat for the next 1 meter section. Do this until you can’t push anymore. In some cases, we stopped when we hit the ‘junk layer’ at the bottom of the sediment column, and in others, we may have been stopped by permafrost.

Final result: A nice sediment record from each lake.

Final result: A nice sediment record from each lake. (photo: WML)

We have a lot of work to do now that the cores are here. The next steps are to create an age-depth model for each core and to measure a suite of organic biomarkers and other traditional paleolimnologic proxies that are indicative of past climate and ecosystems.

More pictures for viewing pleasure:

wolf tracks on Toolik Lake.

wolf tracks on Toolik Lake.

Mosquitos, even in winter (photo: YH)

Mosquitos, even in winter (photo: YH)

Lake ice (photo: WML)

Lake ice (photo: WML)

Album cover (photo: WML)

Album cover (photo: WML)

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Hold the anchovies

 As the saying goes: Any pizza is a personal pizza, if you believe in yourself.

pizza2-no-words

photo(shop) credit: Gwen Daniels

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I core 4 Fun

Whoooooooolverine Lake Thermokarst

Whoooooooolverine Lake Thermokarst                           (photo credit: Jason Dobkowksi)

 

 

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