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 the water quality of each lake in RI is monitored by an army of volunteers. The effort is coordinated by the URI Watershed Watch Program. One lake, Cunliffe Pond, is monitored by a team Brown University students led by fellow graduate student Marc Mayes and myself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Livingstone coring requires a few steps:
1) Locate the coring location. Auger a hole in the ice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
As the saying goes: Any pizza is a personal pizza, if you believe in yourself.
If you live in New England, you probably have vivid memories of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Irene a year earlier. If you were around in 1991, you certainly remember Bob. If you are really a geezer, you may recall storms in 1954, 1904, 1804, and several more.
I assume you weren’t around for those old storms, but they were fierce. How do we know? Beyond what the old-timers wrote down, we have to consider the geologic record. When hurricanes hit the coast, the seas have enough energy to pick up sand from the seafloor and dump it onto the coast (think of all the sand on the streets of New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.) Some of the material gets dumped onto coastal salt marshes where peaty soil typically accumulates. Geologists can examine the layers of sand within the peat profiles to determine when ancient hurricanes occurred and, to some extent, how powerful they were.
The classic locality for this research in New England is the Succotash Salt Marsh in beautiful Rhode Island. I recently had the good fortune to visit this marsh with a Brown geology class. Our goal was to use muscles and sledgehammers to retrieve sediment cores from the marsh in order to identify when the big storms hit. Remarkably, Hurricane Sandy was not powerful enough in Rhode Island to leave a trace of sand on top of Succotash Marsh. Follow the pictures below to see the step-by-step process of salt marsh coring.
This weekend I joined my fellow geomicrobiology classmates to explore the diversity and ecology of bacteria in the Little Sippewissett Salt Marsh (the little brother of the Great Sippewissett Salt Marsh) on Cape Cod. We hunted for Beggiatoa and purple sulfur bacteria, and, with molecular techniques, methanogens and sulfate reducers. Bacteria rule the world.
Earlier this summer, I drove with Carrie to move her in to her new home in Austin, Texas. We drove from the smallest state to one of the biggest.
The stats: 2498 miles. 2 Saturn V rockets. 1 Great Dane. 3 cups Billy’s Special Sauce. 5000 Pez dispensers. 2 terrible books on tape. Five days over 100 degrees.
I just returned from Alaskahhhhh. What a place. It makes me a little sentimental now to think about how great it is. This was my fourth time going to Toolik Lake, in AK’s north slope, but there were many firsts.
It was the first time I drove the Dalton Highway alone. I was pretty nervous beforehand about the road, the need for two spare tires and a cb radio, and the lack of gas stations and mcdonalds, but the trip was perfect. The only real danger was being too distracted by the awesome scenery of the Brooks Range. The first view of the marble Succotash Mountain (informal name?) and the view from the top of Atigun Pass rival each other for their breathtakingness.
It was also the first time I saw a wolverine. While hiking to sample a lake, we (Jason Dobkowski, Dan White and I) came upon a large, wounded caribou and noticed a smaller creature harassing/attacking it. After dropping our packs and grabbing the bear spray, we moved a bit closer for a view and realized what the attacker was. The caribou was doing its best with antlers to keep the wolverine away but it was evidently in much pain. We can’t be sure if the wolverine inflicted the initial wound to the caribou or if it was just taking advantage of an old or otherwise injured animal. The wolverine was mostly blond-haired, with a reddish rump and a distinct black face. Once it noticed us, it did a half-circle around us, sniffing the downwind air, deciding what we were and if it wanted to fight. Luckily it did not. While I stupidly didn’t have my camera, Dobkowski got great photos shown below.
Another first this summer was that I sampled plants and soils. Typically I try to stay all wet, re: lake sampling. But, collecting leaves, roots, etc. is pleasant enough and I see the appeal. Maybe. Or maybe its because I really just wanted to get at the water components within each of these terrestrial compartments. I want to give a shout out to Alice Carter, LTER summer nutrient RA, who gave me a big help with this work, as well as getting sediment cores from several lakes.
And of course we spent some time playing in thermokarst slumps (see previous blog posts for a full description of a thermokarst.) Jason Dobkowski, in his sixth summer at Toolik, is tackling all kinds of awesome projects on behalf of the LTER and Dr. George Kling’s research group. One of these projects is characterizing a new thermokarst failure and the impact it has on the adjacent lake. I was able to join Jason on a trip to the site and we collected sediment cores from within the thermokarst fan and at distances away from the colluvium.
All in all, it was a great 2.5 weeks spent at the Toolik Lake camp. I even managed to squeeze in some canoeing and sailing. My labmate, Caitlin and I sailed the Wallace out to “no Gerlz islnd”, where we became stranded when the wind died. Of course this was just after we teased some canoeists about having to paddle into the wind so I felt like a dope. Luckily we had a paddle with us and we made it back just an hour or so after the canoes. But man, being stranded in the middle of Toolik Lake, with a view of Gates mountain and the Three Sisters is not so bad on a warm night.