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Clarkson Students Experience Fresh Water Ecological Research And High Seas On Lake Ontario
[Photographs for newspaper use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/greatlakes1.jpg, http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/greatlakes2.jpg, and http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/greatlakes3.jpg]
Three Clarkson University undergraduates were among seven students who spent eight days this semester working alongside scientists aboard the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 180-foot scientific research boat the R/V Lake Guardian as it cruised around Lake Ontario.
The students were part of the Lake Ontario Great Lakes Science Practicum, an intensive field class that provided participants with a crash course in Great Lakes limnology (fresh water oceanography). The course was developed by Clarkson Biology Professor Michael Twiss, who taught the course along with his colleague Professor Tom Langen and two other scientists.
The students worked alongside eight EPA scientists on an “analysis cruise” of Lake Ontario. The cruise is part of a decade-long U.S. and Canadian joint study of the Great Lakes chain. The scientists are evaluating changes in the lake’s lower food web, and its ability to support fish populations. Their research focuses on how invasive plant and animal species (such as zebra mussels), toxic sediments, industrial air pollution and the decline of shoreline habitats may be adversely affecting the lakes’ eco-systems.
“It was very challenging and also pretty exciting,” said Clarkson junior Edward Stachowiak, a business major minoring in biology and environmental policy, who participated in the field course. “It is a long time to be in a boat living and working in such close quarters. But it was an invaluable experience. We did everything from gathering samples of water, bottom mud and microscopic plants and animals, to testing samples in the ship’s laboratories and processing data.”
The practicum included 72 hours of instruction over the eight-day period. This included two four-hour modules each day and a two-hour seminar each evening. The limnology modules were designed to provide the students with fundamental limnology theory and a sound practical knowledge of research techniques and protocols as carried out on large research vessels.
“The students were introduced to novel advanced research methods, including molecular techniques such as luminescent cyanobacterial bioreporters and fluorescent enzymatic assays that are well suited to application in onboard analytical labs,” explained Twiss.
Also included was an ornithology module that focused on the behavior and ecology of Great Lakes water birds and how they are impacted by anthropogenic environmental changes. In the evenings, the students attended seminars led by the faculty and invited EPA scientists on related topics that included environmental regulations and policy making, marine research methodology and microbial ecology. Students will submit a final report at the end of the semester.
The research was conducted despite the fact that the cruise was affected by particularly heavy seas, including nine- to 12-foot waves, caused by the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel.
“Conducting field research on a ship presents its own set of challenges,” explained Twiss. “Our goal was to introduce the students to the theories and techniques of limnology by giving them a real-life experience. They had to gather samples and then analyze them in the laboratories set up below deck while the ship was rocking back and forth. But these are the working conditions of limnologists and marine scientists.”
Stachowiak and his classmates agreed that the experience taught them a genuine appreciation of the rigors of hands-on fieldwork. “When you are doing fieldwork you have to be flexible. You do the work whenever you can and under whatever conditions are present. You only have a few days to gather as much material and samples as you can.”
The Lake Ontario Great Lakes Science Practicum was funded by the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office and the Clarkson University Center for the Environment.
greatlakes1.jpg: Clarkson University Professor of Biology Michael Twiss (rear, third from left) with crew members aboard the Environmental Protection Agency’s R/V Lake Guardian. Twiss and three Clarkson University students joined EPA scientists and other research professors and students on a field research expedition in Lake Ontario as part of a U.S.-Canadian study that is evaluating changes in the lake’s lower food web.
greatlakes2.jpg: Clarkson University Professor of Biology Michael Twiss (standing) supervises work performed by University of Tennessee-Knoxville Student Matthew Carberry on the EPA’s R/V Lake Guardian. Twiss was an instructor for an eight-day limnology course for students from Clarkson and other universities. The students assisted EPA scientists and researchers on an “analysis cruise” of Lake Ontario as part of an ongoing U.S.-Canadian study that is evaluating changes in the lake’s lower food web.
greatlakes3.jpg: Clarkson University sophomore Sonia Mae Johns (left); York University graduate student Catherine Masson (center) and Clarkson Professor of Biology Tom Langen (right) compare research logs and notes aboard the Environmental Protection Agency’s R/V Lake Guardian. Langen was an instructor for an eight-day limnology course for students from Clarkson and other universities. The students assisted EPA scientists and researchers on an “analysis cruise” of Lake Ontario as part of an ongoing U.S.-Canadian study that is evaluating changes in the lake’s lower food web.