Right into Research!

July 24, 2019

Hello Guardian bloggers!

The morning arrives quickly aboard this ship and some were already up to view the sunset!  Our day begins in port and the engines kicked in at 8:00 AM to begin moving us out. It is sampling and lab day and our crew was fired up and excited to collect, measure, observe, and document what we collected.  Our coordinates were taking us to the Eastern Basin and Western Basin of Lake Erie to sample for Zooplankton, Diatoms, and Micro-Plastics. Each of our three teams had success gathering samples and data today!

Researchers and teachers were busy right out of port working in the labs to analyze samples taken yesterday.  Researcher George Bullerjahn and his team were analyzing water samples taken yesterday with the Rosette Sampler to look at Diatom densities and determine what influence they have on phenomenon known as Hypoxia (dead Zones). 

The Cyano group’s surprise was a toxic, blue-green algae that was noticeable on the surface.   Researcher George Bullerjahn explained the significance of this sighting. “Microcystis is a cyanobacterium that produces toxins, and large bloom events normally occur in the western basin of Lake Erie, fueled by nutrient runoff from agriculture.  However unexpectedly, today we saw Microcytis on the surface of Eastern Basin waters! We sampled these surface waters to determine if we can detect Microcystin toxin and collected Microcystin biomass for DNA profiling.We’ll know more about this bloom in a few weeks after additional lab studies.”

Great news today for the Nurdles group, led by Lorena Rios Mendoza!  Yesterday the group and ship crew were unable to get the Manta Micro-plastic Sampler, which looks like a manta ray, operational and an alternate sampling method was going to be used instead.  Chief engineer Andy stated that safety takes priority over sampling. He told us the Manta was not staying on the desired course and we do not want it to go behind the boat and make contact with the propeller.  A previous manta was lost at sea because the propeller cut it loose. Andy and his team worked out the kinks and managed to get it working! We were back on line!!







The Nurdles filtered water samples and used microscopes to observe sieved sand that was collected yesterday from Barracks Beach in Erie, PA for microplastics.  Natalie Hudak categorized and counted macro-plastics collected from the same area to determine plastic density on the Beach. In the lab the group shared an immature fish eating a small fly species.  

The Cladocerans collected new samples throughout the day with direction from team leaders Ben Alsip and Beth Whitmore.  The group took time to learn the different zooplankton we would be identifying by learning what they look like physically, how they use those physical structures, and what scientists currently know and wonder about the creatures.  Researcher Beth Whitmore shared a wealth of information and her passion for plankton which was engaging and memorable. As she told stories group members drew pictures of the 3 different zooplankton we will ID and count. Calanoida, (notice the “L” in the word) have long antennules.  The Cyclopoida, notice the “Y” have shorter antennules that could make a Y. The Cladocerans have a unique round body shape with a distinctive eyespot. We started identifying and counting collected samples. 










Some of the take aways from the experience so far are the knowledge that we are taking back to our students.  We are excited to share new information from our hands-on experience aboard the ship. It was eye-opening for us to be in the role of students.  Today was a transformative day where we went from “What are we expected to do? I’ve never done this before? We are doing this on a moving ship?” to “Wow, I’m really doing this!”  As a group everyone encourages each other and we are all winning by gaining new information. The willingness of everyone to admit vulnerabilities and lack of knowledge drives us to accomplish new things and celebrate successes as a team.








We are grateful for all the ship’s crew and all they do to make our experience onboard positive.  Derek and Andrew in the kitchen provide us with delicious meals. Lyndsey and Angela have organized an amazing week for us and we are thankful for their planning. 

– Brian Henrickson and Lisa Radock (July 10, 2019)