For my fourth co-op, I worked at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center as a part of their Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. As part of an REU program, you work with a mentor on a research project which you present on at the end of the program, as well as participate in many lectures and field trips. The focus of this REU program was “the Arctic as a System.” All of the lectures had a focus on arctic science, and the field trips were to geological features unique to this region, like the Toolik Lake Ecological Research Station and Gulkana Glacier. One of the most valuable aspects of this REU program were the weekly lectures. At first, the idea of lectures seemed out of place in what I thought was to be a very serious research position and I felt that they would take an unnecessarily large amount of time away from my project, but I am pleased to say I was wrong about that. The lectures taught me about many aspects of the arctic environment, like glaciers and permafrost, but more importantly, they taught me about science communication, and how to work with people outside the scientific communities, like politicians and stakeholders, to get my research to the people who need it.
I worked under Dr. Eugénie Euskirchen on terrestrial ecosystem research. She introduced me to and facilitated my work with the Apex field crew, Danielle, Catherine, Amelia, and Devin. Our research question was, “how does climate change affect ecosystem respiration (i.e. carbon dioxide and methane uptake and emission) in boreal wetlands?” We conducted research at two sites within the Bonanza Creek peatland ecosystem: Alpha, a rich fen, and Beta, a collapse scar bog. We did the majority of our research at Beta, the collapse scar bog. A collapse scar bog is a bog created by thawing permafrost saturating the ground with water, and thus creating a bog. We studied this site in particular as it had actively thawing permafrost. We wanted to know, “how does nitrogen release from permafrost thaw affect carbon dioxide and methane fluxes from the peatland?” To investigate this question, we had multiple plots within the bog; some placed specifically at the active thaw margin, the area within the bog where the permafrost was currently thawing. Half of the plots were treated with nitrogen and the other half were left untreated as a control. We ran gas flux experiments and took porewater samples to see how those measurements change between plots as an indirect way of measuring microbial response to increased nutrients.
I also helped with a mesocosm experiment being run by the field crew. Mesocosm refers to any experiment that examines the natural environment under controlled conditions. Our mesocosm consisted of large jars with filled with peat and one plant commonly found in peatlands. Six jars had sedges, six jars had horsetail, six jars had grasses, six jars had a shrubs, and six jars had nothing, to act as control, as pictured below. Our research question was, “how do individual plant species affect the character of porewater carbon and thus CO2 and methane fluxes?” Species composition is expected to change with our changing climate, and by examining the impact of individual plant species on respiration, we can better predict how ecosystem respiration will be altered. With the mesocosms, we ran the same experiments as we did at the bog, but on a smaller scale.This image below shows me processing one of the porewater samples from the mesocosm. We would shake the bottle of porewater and then sample the gases released to measure the concentrations of methane and carbon.
When I was not in the field with the field crew, I worked with Dr. Euskirchen on analyzing sap flow data from black spruce trees as my. We were trying to understand how black spruce trees react to their environment by looking at how sap flow, which is a proxy for water usage, changes as other environmental variables, like temperature or precipitation, are altered. While I did present this work at the end of the internship, it is not complete yet. I plan o n continuing to work with the datasets and eventually publish a paper with Dr. Euskirchen. My experience with this REU program has been very valuable not only for my professional development, but my personal development as well. I have made memories and friends for life.
Hi I’m currently in Fairbanks, AK working at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as a part of their REU program. I’ve been here for about a month now, and things are going very well. I have been working a lot with the Apex field crew on carbon fluxes in peatlands as well as working with my advisor, Eugenie Euskirchen, on some sap flow data as my final project for this internship. As far as contributing to environmental justice, there are a lot of opportunities here to get involved in projects with native communities and understanding how they’re being impacted by climate change as well as working with the general population of Alaska.
For my third co-op I chose to work at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in the Ocean Acidification department. Mote was founded in 1955 by Dr. Eugenie Clark as an independent, nonprofit marine research organization. What started as a one-room lab in Placida to study sharks is now a laboratory of 31 buildings and field stations spread across five locations with 25 different research programs.
As an Ocean Acidification intern, I wear a few different hats and find myself working in other departments whenever time allows. The first hat I wear is that of a scientist. One of my main jobs is to run tests on the water and sea cucumbers from our experimental setup. We asses the water quality in each of the sea cucumbers’ tanks every morning and every afternoon using a YSI (It reminds me of Yellow Springs every time I use it). With this probe, we can measure the salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. We also use a spectrometer to measure Calcium Carbonate concentration in the water, and graduated cylinders and stopwatches to measure the flow rate of each tank.
As scientists, we also have to clean our equipment properly, which means I can often be found hunched over the sink acid-washing our glassware and the chambers. Acid-washing sounds scary, but it’s just rinsing the glassware with 10% HCl (very dilute Hydrochloric acid), and then rinsing it three times with distilled water.
Another hat I wear is the animal caretaker hat. When we first got the sea cucumbers, they had to be acclimated to the new water temperature and chemistry very slowly. After, many days were spent scraping very smelly algae from the walls of the tanks in a never-ending battle that most recently resulted in me acid-washing all the tanks, powerheads, and heaters, to keep the sea cucumbers’ water free of algae infestation. We also sometimes have to retrieve the sea cucumbers from other tanks or the raceway that the tanks sit in, as for some reason the sea cucumbers like to crawl up and out or their little tanks. Recently, a good portion of the sea cucumbers have been dying, presumably due to some sort of bacterial infection, so we have been monitoring them for signs of stress and disease.
Here are a few of our sea cucumbers Holothuria floridana
I also wear the hat of researcher. When we have downtime, Emily, my boss, often has certain subjects for use to research. I wrote a mini-review of sea cucumber care before we got our sea cucumbers, and I have been off-and-on looking for papers about the connection between sea cucumbers and ocean acidification. When we first noticed the sea cucumbers dying, I took it upon myself to investigate, and it was my research that led me to believe that they have some sort of bacterial infection. Hopefully my hypothesis will be confirmed soon when the Mote veterinarian is done running her tests.
When I wasn’t busy in the OA Department — more often than you’d think — I was working with other departments. One of the first departments I worked with was Phytoplankton Ecology; one day when there wasn’t much to do, Emily had me meet with Jennifer to learn about what they study and how they do it. Phytoplankton Ecology focuses primarily on red tide, a phenomenon in which Karenia brevis blooms and produces large amounts of potent neurotoxins. These toxins can kill fish, birds, sometimes marine mammals. If you go to the beach during red tide, you can not only smell it from all the dead fish, but you will also feel it in your throat as it can cause respiratory irritation in humans. We will be helping with another study on Karenia brevis, but that isn’t finished being set up yet.
Moving forward, I am hoping to take what I learned here at Mote and apply it to my work in the classroom and hopefully, my final co-op and beyond.
Mahadevan, Kumar. “Mote Marine Laboratory Exploring the Secrets of the Sea Since 1955 .” Gulf of Mexico Science, mote.org/media/uploads/files/MoteMarineLaboratory-history.pdf.
“Mote Marine Laboratory &Amp; Aquarium.” Mote, mote.org/.
“What Is Ocean Acidification?” What Is Ocean Acidification?, www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3F.