Monday, August 12, 2013

Research: The Setting

I figured some of you might actually be interested in what I spend my days doing as a Graduate Research Assistant, so I'm going to write several blog posts talking about just that. HOORAY!

Yes, this map will be in every paper I publish.
First, and foremost, I'm working on my Master's degree. The program is the Marine Estuarine Environmental Science though the University of Maryland. This program is a research program, so I have to do research, generate data and publish papers.

Ok? Ok.

Moving on.

The research that I do takes place in the coastal bays of Maryland and Virginia. These are the inland bays that separate the barrier islands, like Assateague and Ocean City, from the mainland.

As part of my research, I collect plankton (the tiny stuff that floats around in the water, including plants and animals) and sediment (you know, dirt and stuff) from 18 different sites throughout the coastal bays. These sites range from southern Ocean City (Site 1), to the mouth of Chincoteague Bay (Site 13).
Southern Ocean City; where the houses cost more than I would make in...
30 years at my currently pay rate. That's depressing.
It may seem like the numbers are out of order, and they are. These sites are ordered as such because they are part of the National Park Service's Bay Water monitoring program. The National Park Service maintains Assateague National Seashore and Assateague State Park, so keeping an eye on what's going on with the water is important. The program started with monitoring just a few sites and has expanded to the 18 different sites they currently monitor. 

Doing the science. By which I mean, writing
 down what the machine tells me.
When I am talking about monitoring, I am referring to water quality. This includes temperature, salinity (the amount of salt in the water), dissolved oxygen, pH, chlorophyll and turbidity (how cloudy the water is). Luckily, I don't have to drink the water to figure out how salty it is; we have a machine to do it for us.

We use a YSI to measure all of these things. The Park Service uses this information to see how the bays are doing and how they are changing over time. I use the data to compare with my plankton and sediment samples to see if there are correlations. Basically, is there a certain temperature above which we don't see a certain organism or a certain salinity below which we don't see the organism?

All of that work though, is done back in the lab. I'll tell you all about that later.

Damn you kids, get off my lawn!

Once a month, for two whole days, I get to leave the lab and go play on the water.

There are ponies. And pelicans. And moon jellies. And sun.

Often, there is sunburn.

But it's awesome. Because science is awesome.

These things are the size of dinner plates. And they sting.
AND THEY ARE AWESOME. Unless you're swimming.
Then they are less awesome.
And maybe, someday, my name will actually make it in to print because of the things I do here.

In the meantime though, I'll just keep getting paid to play on the water.