Week 9: Baruch Institute of Marine & Costal Science, University of South Carolina

July 15th, 2013

Ni An ’14, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

This was the second-to-last week of my internship here at the Baruch Marine Field Lab, so this will be my last blog entry. The weather has been surprisingly nice this week. Ironically, this is also during a time when I’m not deploying any more tiles into the field, as there isn’t enough time to process the samples. It was not very hot or humid or rainy this last week. The only thing that I couldn’t tolerate was the bug situation. There seemed to be an unprecedented number of mosquitoes and other biting insects that I swear there must have been a giant, invisible bulls-eye painted somewhere on me. They did not hesitate to bite me while I was in motion, at rest, or changing places within the space-time continuum through some other means. As a result of their ferocity, I had an allergic reaction to some of the things that stung me.

I think I look like Quasimodo in the  in the The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

I think I look like Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

As you can see in the photo, my left eyelid was completely swollen. However, to give you a sense of how bad the swelling was, I was actually stung at the far end of my eyebrow, and not right above my eye, as the picture may suggest. During my internship, I had this kind of bad allergic reaction multiple times on different spots of my body, and I totally hated it. This last one (at least I hope it is the last one) was the worst and it made me think it was this coastal place telling me to leave as soon as possible and never come back.

One of the things I'm scared of besides mosquitoes: spider that is as big as my thumb under my bed.

One of the things I’m scared of besides mosquitoes: spider that is as big as my thumb under my bed.

The other parts of this week went well, though. I processed the last of my samples in the order of weighing-powdering-weighing-burning-reweighing, and obtained the organic/inorganic ratio of this one-month data set. In addition to that, I also cleaned more than 250 tubes and cups that I used during sample transporting and processing. For the final part of my learning assessment plan, I spent the majority of this week sitting at the library desk sorting and making graphs with my data. Tracy and I looked over the graphs and had a short discussion about them so that I would be able to show them to my three mentors early next week. Thanks to Erik, I was able to sort the one-month data and obtain the total inundation time for each plot in a more efficient way. After I finish graphing the data, four of us will look at them and I will then make adjustments according to our discussion. John will come pick me up next Friday morning to show me the main USC campus in Columbia and he will then give me a tour in the city next Saturday before I leave on Sunday morning.

Cleaning the tubes.

Cleaning the tubes.

It has been a really great experience for me to be here, meet and work with all the awesome people in the lab and the field, learn the skills to operate different pieces of equipment, and most important, to become a tougher and stronger person. Special thanks to Tracy, one of my mentors whom I worked most frequently with. She made the hard times here bearable and the pleasant times even more memorable. I am especially grateful for the generosity of Dr. John Dean, who made it possible for this experience to happen, and the kindness of my advisor and faculty sponsor, Rhawn Denniston. The visit with his family was refreshing and much needed. Lastly, I’d like to thank Erik, Ani, Dennis, Wendy, Jan, Susan, Michelle, Angie, Kathy, Paul and all the other people treated me like family and who invited me to all sorts of events. While the humidity and the bugs will not be missed, all these wonderful people will.

Michelle baked me an entire tray of S'mores as a goodbye gift. She knows me.

Michelle baked me an entire tray of S’mores as a farewell gift. She knows me.

As I go to say goodbye to the South Carolina sun I know that, despite my ever-nearing absence, the colorful birds will continue singing, the alligators will continue to splash around the ponds as they feast, the turtles will maintain their easygoing pace, the endless number of fiddler crabs in the Spartinas will continue to scuttle along; Oblivious of my existence, the marshes will continue.

Week 8: Baruch Institute of Marine & Costal Science, University of South Carolina

July 7th, 2013

Ni An ’14, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

Time flies. I’ve now finished my 8th week here, which means there are only two weeks left before I leave this place. On the one hand, I’d say I’m happy, as I get to go home for the first time in a year. I’m excited to see my parents and friends. At the same time, I feel melancholy about leaving the friends I’ve made here. While it’s a sad thought, I probably won’t ever come back here, so our goodbyes may be permanent.

Last week was filled with a lot fun events. On Monday, I went to the marshes with Tracy and Susan to collect water samples. Unfortunately, I was stung by some sort of bug right under my left eye and I got an allergic reaction which made the skin under my left eye red and puffy. I rested on Tuesday after taking allergy pills and Advil given to me by Tracy and Karen. The swelling went away late Tuesday evening, but left a humongous bruise instead. To make matters worse, we had the lab’s annual cookout. As you may imagine, there were quite a few people there and I, with my bruised eye, had to talk to many of them. Most of people who participated in the cookout brought homemade food, so we got a whole lot of very yummy dishes. I cooked a huge container of egg noodles with veggies in hot Szechuan sauce and I was really happy that half of it was gone at the end. We had burgers and hot dogs, macaroni & cheese, different kinds of salads, deviled eggs, and chips. For dessert, we had various cakes, cookies, breads, cupcakes, and fruit pie. All the food was super yummy and, of course, my favorite part of the afternoon was to try all the desserts. Despite the fact that I was so tempted to try out every single kind, I didn’t, but only because I was 115% full before I got to the last two cakes. I regret my decision not to eat them, because I have been told that they were marvelous.

Homemade food at the lab's annual cookout.

Homemade food at the lab’s annual cookout.

After the big lunch, Dr. Dennis presented a slide show of beautiful photos of the North Inlet-Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the animals with brief introductions. I’ve seen some of the animals here like alligators, turtles, fiddler crabs and pelicans, but there are so many more creatures who live there. The beauty and biodiversity of that place is astounding. Another big event was the 4th of July. It was actually the first 4th of July I’ve ever spent in the US.

Slide show by Dr. Dennis.

Slide show by Dr. Dennis.

Paul, the Senior Research Resource Specialist, and his wife invited me to watch the parade on Pawley’s Island for celebration of the national day. We went to the beach first and took a very nice walk with bare feet under the nice breeze and then stood on the sidewalk next to the parade’s path. Paul’s friend Mark handed us some fans with the American flag to wave at the parade. At around 10:30, the parade of all sorts of decorated theme cars with funny slogans came with costumed people, throwing candies and greeting everyone with “Happy 4th of July!” as they passed. I was very glad to be able to celebrate this event – quite a fun experience!

Celebrating the 4th of July.

Celebrating the 4th of July.

The next day, I went out with Erik’s other two technicians, Angie and Michelle, who worked on a project located in ponds and swashes, which was quite different from the marshes I’ve been working at. We parked the truck at the bank of a pond, unloaded the small boat, and paddled towards the center of the pond where the YSI equipment was. We took readings of temperature, conductivity, salinity and dissolved oxygen with one piece of equipment, and the photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) with another piece of equipment. Afterwards, we went to an amusement park -The Family Kingdom on Myrtle Beach. Of course, we weren’t there for roller-coasters. We were there for SCIENCE. So what we did was we put on our waders, stepped out into the muddy, silty swashes, moved to the site after a great struggle, and dug out a piece of YSI equipment. As Angie had deployed this piece of equipment a month ago, it was buried under a lot of sand and mud. As such, it took us 30 minutes to dig it out. Although the process was tough, the working atmosphere was lovely because we all laughed at the silly way we moved in the mud while tourists stared at us.

Working in the waders.

Working in the waders.

After we finished this task, we took off our waders and downloaded the data from one monitor and changed its battery. The battery was so heavy that I couldn’t lift it up no matter how hard I tried. Angie and Michelle took turns carrying it and eventually made to the site. We sat on the ground and had a good chat while waiting for data to be downloaded. On the way back, we stopped by a frozen yogurt place and got some ice-cream. It felt so nice having some icy stuff after sweating in the waders and working under the sun. I got violently car-sick on the way back, due to the terrible traffic during the 4th of July week. Thankfully, Angie and Michelle shared funny and scary field experiences to distract me, so I didn’t throw up in the car. Aside from the car-sick part, working in the swashes with Angie and Michelle was another great experience.

My wish for next week remains the same as last week’s wish. I hope that the sun will shine through the clouds and chase away the rain!

Week 7: Baruch Institute of Marine & Costal Science, University of South Carolina

June 29th, 2013

Ni An ’14, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

This week went by fast. I have three sets of samples right now, and I had to process them without mixing up which was which. To that end, I’m keeping clear notes on what I’ve done so far. Two of the three samples were the same as what I’ve been dealing with already. The other one, however, is different in that it has been in the field for a full month. Consequently, the 1-month sample had significantly more sediment than the others, and the test tubes wouldn’t fit it all. We decided to use cups in addition to the tubes to process the excess.  However, since we only had three replicates for each plot, if we used two for finding the organic/inorganic ratio, then there would only be one replicate for grain size distribution, and we need at least two to find a statistically valid result.  Erik, Tracy and I had a long discussion and eventually figured out the solution: We split the sample that were in cups into two parts by mass since they were mostly mud, and the samples in tubes we split by volume.

During the first half of the week, I did normal chores: cleaned tiles, spun samples, the usual. On Thursday and Friday, I went to the Clemson Lab and processed samples using the LS 13 320 Laser Diffraction Particle Size Analyzer (I decided to put its full name here because it sounds kind-of cool) and obtained grain size distribution data.  Additionally, I made good progress on data processing. I finished the inauguration summary sheet for one and half sets of data and part of the grain size distribution sheet.  I also cleaned the cups that the machine uses for processing samples.

Samples in cups and tubes.

Samples in cups and tubes.

In addition to the smooth process of dealing with the samples, Nick – a maintenance worker for the USC Maine Field Lab – cooked hotdogs for us. He is in charge of fundraising for United Way, and brings free hotdogs once a year. I felt lucky to be able to attend this tradition (though mostly because the chili he made was so yummy).

Hot dogs made by Nick.

Hot dogs made by Nick.

Next week I will go out with Tracy and Susan to collect more water samples, process the last part of my data, and maybe deploy more tiles.  Hope the weather will be nice and dry!

Week 6: Baruch Institute of Marine & Costal Science, University of South Carolina

June 25th, 2013

Ni An ’14, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

It’s the end of the sixth week, and there are only four weeks before I say farewell to this place. Something I realized a few days ago was that no matter how much you dislike something about an area (e.g. the weather), you will still develop an emotional attachment if you stay long enough. I think this is true of people, too. I think I’ve bonded with this region in several ways. In the mornings, I notice the humidity level. On the way to the lab, I look at the same spot off the side of the road, because that’s where the turkeys show up.

This week has been an awesome one. On Monday I collected two sets of tiles: one deployed the evening before, and another deployed a month ago. I spent a day and a half cleaning them, transferring them into tubes, and spinning them in the centrifuge – there were so many of them! I actually had to stop and rest every once a while because the muscle in one part of my back hurt because of the repeated scrubbing motion. However, when my advisor Rhawn and his family came, my sore back ceased to hurt. They took me out to dinner, and we talked for quite some time. I was ecstatic to see people who were familiar to me. It made this place feel a little bit more like home. I shared stories of my experiences here, and they told me of their summer trips. It was a warm and relaxing catch up – extra credit for the good seafood and the cooperative weather. The next day, Rhawn came to the lab and I introduced him to some of the technicians who work at the lab. Around 11:00, John and other trustees came to the lab for the Dean’s Environmental Scholars Annual Trustees Meeting. I’m very glad I got to see John and Deb, whom I had met once before when I had stayed at John’s place. I also got to know Jack, who used to be John’s student. I was lucky enough to attend the first half of the meeting, and I was given the opportunity to summarize what I was doing and what I had done so far. I also was given the chance to hear the experiences of former Cornell College Fellows from their mentors. In all my life, I have never attended a meeting with such a clear agenda. There was the Call to order, Call roll of Trustees, Approval of Minutes and Old Business, among other things. I was amazed by the formality of it all. For the rest of the afternoon, I cleaned over 200 dirty tubes (they don’t clean themselves) and sorted part of the tide data from online.

Tubes that I cleaned.

Tubes that I cleaned.

There was a huge sample of data, because one of the samples I collected on Monday was out in the field for a month. This means that there were 31 days of tide data (62 high tides) for me to “play with”. On Thursday I took Rhawn and his family to my fieldwork site to show him what I do, and I deployed another set of tiles while there. The temperature was in the low 80s, and the breeze was refreshing. Rhawn’s two girls were excited by the tiny fiddler crabs that crawl in and out of the mud and the birds that rested on the boardwalk. While Tracy was doing an SET reading at Site A, I fell into the marshes. I was at the furthest plot and, as I stepped on the branching boardwalk, one of the boards detached from the boardwalk, and the side fell into the mud. Thankfully, the majority of my body came out un-muddied. Coincidentally, Tracy fell into the marshes right after I did. She came and helped me get unstuck and she helped reattach the board to the boardwalk. When we were on our way back, Tracy ended up falling into the marshes once more in the same spot that I had fallen. I’ll admit that I laughed, as we had both fallen on the day that my advisor and his family just so happened to be there.

In memory of my very first fall in the marshes.

Bruise right below my knee — in memory of my very first fall in the marshes.

Afterwards, they took me out for a big lunch and I celebrated my initiation into the ranks of those who have fallen – a true coming of age. Friday was memorable: it was the first day that I drove to my field site in the stick-shift truck on my own! I was a little nervous because I am used to have Tracy sitting next to me while I drive. I managed to overcome the upset stomach, and I made it to the site, collected my samples, and drove back to the lab, all without hitting anything! I am now confident enough to say that “I can drive.” I will say, though, that I need more practice before I get on a real road. I felt so cool when I was driving by myself.

Over the weekend, I went to the beautiful Brookegreen Gardens with Rhawn’s family. While there, we went on a historical site tour, spent some time at the beach, visited the wildlife zoo, and had a relaxing picnic.

Picnic with Rhawn's family in the Brookgreen Gardens.

Picnic with Rhawn’s family in the Brookgreen Gardens.

Rhawn’s family left for Charleston on Sunday morning. I really enjoyed the time I had with them and I was so thankful that they made this trip down here to see me and the internship site. On Sunday, Tracy and I went to watch World War Z and then had a great lunch at an Italian restaurant. I’d have to say this week has been the best week I’ve had here, and I’m now prepared for my last four weeks with more heat and bugs. Sort of.

Week 5: Baruch Institute of Marine & Costal Science, University of South Carolina

June 17th, 2013

Ni An ’14, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

This week was good. The sun came out from behind the clouds on most days, the scattered thunderstorms only visited twice, and they didn’t last long enough to ruin the sunshine. On most days, it was about 80 degrees and the humidity was relatively low. Right now as I type, I see the lovely reflection of the milky white clouds drifting along in the baby blue sky, while the evergreens sway gently in the breeze. To appreciate the view, however, one has to be inside so as to avoid the heat and bugs.

Reflection of the view outside.

Reflection of the view outside.

During this week, I eventually caught up with all the data I had collected. I spent hours and hours sorting the data to make the graphs for each plot or collection date. Honestly, I’m not a fan of the tedium of sitting in one spot for an entire day and sorting data. However, as it’s an essential part of all research, I suppose that it’d be better if I learned to love it. The process got more exciting as I started to see some patterns emerge as more of the graphs were put together. However, the first set of tiles that I put into the marshes was rained on, so I couldn’t get the data from those. When I was talking to Erik on Tuesday morning, both of us thought I was lucky because the rain had come during a high tide when the tiles were under water. Unfortunately, as I pulled out the tide data from that time and combined it with the plot elevation data, I found out there were four plots that were above water when the rain came. Despite the fact that they were only rained on for about 25 minutes, I had to abandon all 65 tiles. Due to a high probability of Tuesday evening storms, we decided to collect the abandoned set on Tuesday afternoon and put more tiles in the field on Wednesday. On Wednesday, Tracy came back from North Carolina and gave me a ride to put the tiles out. She was gone from last Friday to visit her dad and I was really happy to see her again since she is the person closest to me in this part of the world. It simply cheered me up when I heard her voice and chatted with her. She brought me a very cute turtle necklace (which I’m currently wearing) and a micaceous rock with a lot of flaky muscovite, some biotite, and some quartz from her dad’s cabin. I was about to collect the samples on Thursday evening, but, due to the 105 degree temperature, we decided to work on Sunday instead of risking having a heat stroke.

The turtle necklace Tracy gave me.

The turtle necklace Tracy gave me.

This week, I also spotted some more pleasant scenes of the wildlife here: a turtle crossing the road; a baby alligator out for a stroll; a mother turkey and her four poults. My favorite of all the wildlife spotting this week, however, were the hundreds of thousands of crabs that scuttled away as I walked on the board path in the marshes.

The BIG turtle was hanging out. Tracy moved it off the road after I took this picture.

The BIG turtle was hanging out. Tracy moved it off the road after I took this picture.

A baby alligator walking on the road.

A baby alligator walking on the road.

Tons of tiny crabs in the marshes.

Tons of tiny crabs in the marshes.

My faculty sponsor and advisor Rhawn is coming here next week with his family. I really look forward to seeing them and showing him what I’ve done so far.

Week 4: Baruch Institute of Marine & Costal Science, University of South Carolina

June 9th, 2013

Ni An ’14, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

It’s been a long week. The rain was ceaseless. Day, night; it made no difference. The few times when it let up were just as bad – the sky was gloomy and the air was thick as tar. Every morning, I awaken tired from a bad night’s sleep. The humidity also makes my face swell, and that’s certainly no fun. Being at the lab is a blessing because the AC is always going at full tilt. I hate that I’m not as energetic as I should be – especially when I have so much work to do – but, unfortunately, I can’t control the weather. I want to stay cheerful, but the gloom that hangs in the air makes that unfeasible. I often think of home, and that only serves to make me sadder. Since it rained the entire week I couldn’t go out into the marshes to put out tiles. The bright side of that is that I had time to catch up on the all the stuff I already had to work on.

Thunderstorm at noon.

Thunderstorm at noon under gloomy sky.

Pouring outside the lab.

Pouring outside the lab.

One characteristic of this internship that I like is that it is easy to set out and collect the tiles with the accumulated sediments. Thankfully, it’s becomes easier than when I first started as I now have more experience and I’m more familiar with the three transects I’ve been working at. However, it takes a long time to process the tiles and obtain the data. To be specific about why it’s hard, here’s the process: after collecting one set of tiles, I clean and transfer the sediments into tubes. This usually takes three hours. After this, three fifths of the samples are put into the centrifuge and are then put into the oven to dry – a three day process. After they are completely dry, I weigh them and burn them in the muffle furnace. The combustion process takes eight hours, and the cooling takes another half a day. After the samples are back to room temperature, I weigh them again so that I can find the organic/inorganic ratio. For the other two fifths of the samples, I process them in the Clemson lab to obtain the grain size distribution. This takes three to four hours – assuming the machine is well behaved. During the sample processing, I start sorting data on Excel. As you can see, getting and analyzing the data is a long process.

Part of containers I use to collect tiles.

Part of containers I use to collect tiles.

My spot in the cooler: samples half-way processed and three new bags of sample.

My spot in the cooler: samples half-way processed and three new bags of sample.

In addition to cleaning tiles and analyzing samples, I went to the field with Tracy and Susan on Tuesday – the only day it didn’t rain- to collect the water samples which were set out months ago to analyze sulfates and nutrients in the water. We deployed new sample collectors after we collected the old ones. It only took two and a half hours, but the repetitive bending down and getting up made my legs sore for the next two days. It was definitely a good workout that tells me I need more exercise. Another noteworthy thing is that after Tracy taught me how to make different, important graphs, Erik – my other mentor – discussed with me about the current and future schedule and the detailed scientific aspects about the project. We talked about things such as whether the accretion of the sediments is caused by biological activity, the wind, or the tides and how to evaluate the impacts of plant density and elevation on sediment accumulation. It was a good meeting. Of course, as with all meetings I’ve had with my college advisor, I am left with more work and more graphs to make. Patterns can only be found through repetitive trials.

Tracy and Susan pre-processing the water samples before bringing them back to the lab

Tracy and Susan pre-processing the water samples before bringing them back to the lab.

Next week, I put out more tiles, so hopefully it’s less rainy and the bugs lay off for a while.

Week 3: Baruch Institute of Marine & Costal Science, University of South Carolina

June 3rd, 2013

Ni An ’14, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

As I lay on my bed gazing out my window I suddenly realized that the third week had already passed me by. The time has passed more quickly than I had expected; more quickly than I had hoped. The humidity continues to wear on my nerves, and the bugs even more so. I continue to ponder why the human race hasn’t made every effort to eliminate mosquitoes from the planet. I’m also less than fond of the sand-gnats that care nothing for whether or not I sprayed on repellent. As it turns out, I have a fairly severe allergy to horseflies. My right arm almost doubled in size due to the swelling (it actually got a lot worse after the photo below was taken).

Swelling after bug bite.

Swelling after bug bite.

I wish, however, to temper my statements with some positivity; aside from environmental factors, everything else is enjoyable here at the coast. I’m kept busy on a daily basis, and the proverbial gatherings ‘round the water-cooler are enjoyable. We work hard during the weekdays, and the weekends have been peaceful. Were I to summarize, I’d say that life here is fulfilling, beneficial, and far from stressful.

At the beginning of this week, Tracy taught me a lot about using Excel; a necessary thing as I started inputting and sorting the data I’ve collected. I’ve used Excel before but never in the depth that I’m having to use it now. When Tracy was showing me some of the complexities of Excel, I had nothing but a deep respect for her. I am truly appreciative of Excel now, as studying the data I’ve collected – and will collect – would otherwise be an incredibly daunting task.

Working on my data.

Working on my data.

I had a very surreal dream about my time here. In the dream, I was copy-pasting data from one spreadsheet to the other and, suddenly, the computer screen began spouting water as if it held the ocean on the other side. It washed me out of my workspace and into the office and, as I frantically grasped for something to hold on to, I heard Tracy say “Annie, let me know if you need any help.” I promptly woke up. My data has, quite literally, become an ocean. The task can seem insurmountable at times. In addition to the work of collecting data, I continue to use the centrifuge to remove the water from the sample and test for the organic/inorganic ratio and the inauguration of the sediments. At the end of the week I spent a day and a half at Clemson University processing 2.5 sets of data. The particle analyzer, as I mentioned in my last blog, threw some of her tantrums again. The obscuration, which should be 0% before loading a sample, gradually increased to 23%. It’s not so bad, though; I only had to run the rinsing program eight times to return the obscuration to 0%.

The computer that runs the particle analyzer.

The computer that runs the particle analyzer with part of my samples aside.

There were two other noteworthy events. The first was that on a day that I felt sick and woozy, Tracy sent me back to the cottage and forced me to stay there and rest. Then, around 5 p.m., she and Karen went out and collected my tiles for me. The other thing worth mentioning is that Jan, the head of residence life here at USC, gave me a bunch of clothes from the lost and found that hadn’t been claimed in over a year. Tracy even washed them for me. The kindness of those around me makes my love for this place grow stronger. I absentmindedly muttered “why are people so nice here?” as Tracy and I were heading to Georgetown for our Saturday lunch. She replied: “Well, this world is full of nasty things. If people aren’t nice to each other, then what are we living for?” I smiled. My wish is for that thought to carry on in the hearts of man. Because she’s right; if we don’t love others, then what is life’s purpose?

The field site I'm working at.

The beautiful field site I’m working at.

Week 2: Baruch Institute of Marine & Costal Science, University of South Carolina

May 27th, 2013

Ni An ’14, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

After my second week, I think I’m getting used to this environment. The air is hot and thick. It sticks to my skin; an unshakeable coat. The swamps turn to mud after the thunderstorms visit in the early evenings, and the air oppresses me further. But when the rain comes it’s not so bad, save for the fact that my samples get ruined. The lightning from the storms is also a potential threat, so the storms make our work significantly more difficult.

View from my window.

View from my window.

As with the first, the second week has been a useful learning process. I learned how to obtain the organic/inorganic ratio of each sample (found by grinding the oven-dried samples into a powder so that they will burn thoroughly during combustion and weighing each crucible when empty, with the sample, and with the ash that remains after combustion. Since the organic matter burns, and the inorganic matter does not, the calculation to find the ration is simple.)

Grinding samples into powder.

Grinding samples into powder.

 

Weighing a crucible.

Weighing a crucible.

 

Pouring sample into a crucible.

Pouring sample into a crucible.

Each sample is processed in the muffle furnace. To start the combustion, I set the temperature acceleration (in degrees Celsius per minute) and a few other adjustments. On start-up, the machine will heat up to 500°C and burn for eight hours.

Using the muffle furnace.

Using the muffle furnace.

During this second week, I also met my third mentor, Ani. He is a professor from Clemson University who currently conducts research in the Hobcaw Barony. Kind and friendly; he patiently led me through the necessary procedures for making use of the particle size analyzer – another very important skill I have already gained in my time here. The particle size analyzer is fickle, to say the least. It jams with only a smattering of stems or grass, it claims that its hatch is open while it is fully closed, and the noises it makes during operation do not sound the way a properly functioning machine should. The lesson to be learned here, of course, is that one must treat highly sophisticated machinery like a baby. They have temper tantrums, and their fragility is unrivaled, but they also have good moments that leave you in awe, mouth agape at the wonder of it all.

Beckman Coulter Particle Analyzer LS13320.

Beckman Coulter Particle Analyzer LS13320.

While the skills I have learned here are certainly beneficial, I have to say that the kindness of those that I work beside is touching. My mentor Tracy has acted the role of my mother – she takes me to buy groceries, worries about me when I work in the field, and has taken me to the beautiful Cypress Garden – a local travel spot. On top of all that, she has invited me to lunch with her friends and movies on the weekend so that I’m not so alone in my cottage. After mentioning that I was in need of a long-sleeved shirt (as I had brought none with me), Susan, another technician, bought me a hoodie the next day. Rachel, my roommate, is a master’s student at USC, and is also very sweet. She invites me to picnics with her friends, and she shares her collection of movies with me. While all the friends I made here are more experienced in the field and the lab than I am, their patience with me is encouraging. While I am not from here, this place has already become my home. As I go forward, I will keep a humble heart, and I will embrace the friendships and experiences that I have gained.

At the Cypress Garden - with Tracy.

At the Cypress Garden – with Tracy.

With new friends.

With new friends.

Week 1: Baruch Institute of Marine & Costal Science, University of South Carolina

May 20th, 2013

Ni An ’14, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

It has been a really nice week since I first landed in the semi-tropical, forested South Carolina. The huge pines on the side of the road, different kinds of birds, and skinny squirrels are all reminders that I’m not in Iowa anymore.  Dr. Dean, who funded my internship, showed me around the town and helped me move into my place, a cottage which is a 7 minute drive to the Baruch Marine Field Lab. The Belle W. Baruch Foundation, a private organization which owns the 17,500 acre wildlife preserve called Hobcaw Barony, maintains and secures the property as well as operates the Hobcaw Barony Discovery Center in cooperation with the North Inlet-Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). The University of South Carolina is mainly operating marine science programs on this property.  The marine lab consists of the “main marine lab” – where all the offices of faculties, classrooms and different kinds of labs are, the North Inlet research field, and the Winyah Bay research field.

The kitchen and the living room of my cottage.

The kitchen and the living room of my cottage.

The lobby of the marine lab building.

The lobby of the marine lab building.

One of the labs.

One of the labs.

Dr. Dennis, the director of the marine lab, showed me around the main marine lab and their facilities.  I also met my mentor Dr. Erik and his technician Tracy, who are both funny and very friendly.  On the first Monday, Tracy took me on a tour of where I will be doing most of my work: the salt marshes in the North Inlet.

First visit to my working site - following Tracy to the marshes.

First visit to my working site – following Tracy to the marshes.

My primary task is to put out tiles during low tides and collect them after the area has been flooded by two high tides – roughly 24 hours after I set them out. The area that I’m working in has two 13 spots from which I can collect data. Unfortunately, good data is hard to collect, because if it rains during a low tide, the data must be abandoned. As such, it’s good practice to pray that it doesn’t rain during a low tide.  After I collect the tiles in labeled containers, I bring them back to the lab and start cleaning them with a squirting bottle and a brush. After that, I transfer the watery sediments into small tubes, which I then process with a centrifuge in order to separate the sediments from the water.  Afterwards, I will put the tubes into the big oven and wait them to dry for further analysis.  This was what I was told I would do. Simple, yes? Unfortunately, reality is often more complicated than what’s in the job description.

Putting out tiles.

Putting out tiles.

 

Processing the samples.

Processing the samples.

Carrying 65 tiles and all of the necessary equipment to the field on my own is difficult for someone as small as me. Three days of sore muscles can attest to that. Additionally, the weather continues to make its way towards Hades-level temperatures. The mosquitoes are hardly friendly, and they’re always able to find that one spot left unprotected by bug spray. Worst of all, however, is that while it’s only a seven minute drive to the field site, I don’t know how to drive. I’ve wanted to learn, but I’ve never gotten the chance to do so.  My mentors were quite surprised when they found out that not only do I not have a driver’s license, I cannot drive, either. Tracy, being the kind woman she is, decided to pull out her manual transmission truck,  and start teaching me how to drive. I could be wrong, but this may end up being what I’m most thankful for this summer. So far, I have gone on two practice trips, and I’d say the learning process has, thus far, gone well.  As for the data part, I put out two sets of tiles and then collected as well as processed both sets (thanks to a clear sky.) Between adapting to the new coastal environment, meeting new people, making friends with my new roommate Rachel, conducting the first-stage field and lab work, learning to handle a big truck, and trying different kinds of DIY dishes,  I’d call this first week a success.

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