SEA Currents: Woods Hole Partnership Education Program
Science in the Field at Woods Hole
Today is the end of my first week of the internship segment here at Woods Hole PEP, and it's been one experience after another. I go to Amherst College, a liberal arts college not too far from Woods Hole. As great as it is, the chance to work in the field doing research hasn't really come my way- until my internship began at the Woods Hole Research Center. You might expect a research internship to consist of working in sterile labs, poured over glass vials and odd instruments, and to a certain degree you may be right. But all the samples held in those glass vials came from somewhere, and my first day in the job was all about collecting them.
The sample sites Lynnette (another PEPster), Dr. Sanderman (my mentor), and I were visiting were salt marshes around Cape Cod. These salt marshes are critical to the ecosystems here; home to different kinds of plants, fish, many other organisms, and also providing energy for organisms like striped bass and birds that travel between them. All of this might be swell, but the salt marshes around Cape Cod suffer from different levels of nitrification- excessive nutrients in the water due to runoff from human activity (mostly fertilizers and septic tanks). By taking soil cores in the several marshes and recovering organic samples my mentor placed weeks earlier, we are trying to see if we can identify the organic compounds that make up the soil there, and if nitrification has had an effect on decomposition rates in the salt marshes.
Collecting samples from salt marshes isn't glamorous work; we were under the unrelenting sun, constantly on alert for ticks, and the areas reeked of sulfur. But being able to work with Lynnette and my mentor showed me that being unafraid to tackle the field in search of samples is a normal part of being a scientist. Fortunately, that lesson was good news- pumping the soil corer and digging up muck looking for the sample bags came with a sense of hard work and honest labor. As we returned to the lab with samples in hand, I thought about how the the cylinders of muck and soiled tea bags, and how these were going to be the contents of the glass vials and strange machines I’d pour over in the lab.