HERA XVII – NASA Mission Prep

Well, this is my last full week at the University of Massachusetts before I take a 2 month leave-of-absence to participate in the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) mission at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.  I will be living with 3 others in the HERA habitat for 45 days, during which time we will have very limited contact with the outside world, eat delicious freeze-dried foods, shower in a ‘hygiene module’, and simulate flying a spaceship. Weird? Exciting!

Our Fake Space mission will take us to an asteroid where we will collect some rocks, turn around, then ‘fly’ back home to earth.  The overarching goals of the HERA mission are to better optimize the work flow and quality of life for future astronauts during space travel, and, more generally, to understand how isolation and confinement affect human psychology, physiology, and small group dynamics.

I have always had a strong interest in space exploration.  During my time at Brown University, where I lived and worked with people directly involved in NASA space missions, that interest grew, and now I have the opportunity to participate in the human space program.  I feel very lucky to be selected for the crew, and I couldn’t be more excited. I think it will be a significant personal challenge for me. I’m especially grateful to my PostDoc advisors, Isla Castañeda and Julie Brigham-Grette, for being so supportive of this rare opportunity.

Wish me luck, enjoy some snapshots of the HERA habitat, and please let me know if you have question about the mission!!

Lindavia intermedia

This blogpost is about a complicated little diatom. We just published a short nomenclatural article in the online journal Notulae Algarum that rectifies naming problems that have plagued the centric diatom currently known as Lindavia intermedia. The diatom was originally described from samples taken in Alaska (hence my interest), but has undergone a myriad of genus changes and status changes (ie. changing from a variety to a species). In writing the article, I learned a great deal about the rules of taxonomy and how we name organisms, especially algae. A fun project, and special thanks to Mark Edlund and Phil Novis for helping get this out. For more on this diatom, refer to the article here, or to the Western Diatoms webpage.

Internal view of a Lindavia intermedia valve under SEM

Valve view of Lindavia intermedia under a light microscope

Mashapaug Pond Paleolimnology

Urban ecosystems and green spaces are paramount to the mental well-being of communities. Lakes and ponds in particular provide a critical venue for recreational opportunities from swimming and fishing in the summer, to ice-skating in the winter, and in some cases provided drinking water to local communities. Because of their proximity to residential and industrial developments, urban ponds are also vulnerable to local sources of pollution such as road and lawn runoff and factory effluent. No pond typifies both the importance and vulnerability of urban ponds better than Providence’s Mashapaug Pond.

Mashapaug Pond has received considerable attention from scientists and local activists throughout the years. For an excellent overview of the sociological importance of the pond as well as information on how local industrial development have affected the pond and community, refer to the Urban Pond Procession website and video archives. For his PhD thesis at Brown University, Bernabo reconstructed vegetation communities around the lake using pollen assemblages in a sediment core. Settlement by Europeans and later industrial development activity are both reflected in changes in the pollen spectra. One of the largest polluters, historically, was the Gorham Silver Company, which likely released considerable heavy metal and organochemicals into the pond and along the shoreline in the late 1800’s. While the silver company has long-closed, scientists wonder about the long-lasting legacy of such pollution. Currently, the RI EPA advises strongly against eating fish from the pond as well as swimming in the pond. Efforts are underway to assess the recovery of the pond post-contamination and to establish baseline criteria for managing the pond in the future.

As part of the efforts surrounding Mashapaug Pond, Brown University undergraduate Sophia Rudin (advisors: Dave Murray, Tim Whitfield), is reconstructing the history of heavy metal pollution using two methods. First, she is comparing metal concentrations in plants collected today with plants collected over 100 years ago and stored in Brown’s Herbarium collection. Secondly, and this is where I come in, she is using lake sediment cores to reconstruct the ecological changes and heavy metal changes that have occurred since the mid-1800’s. Preliminary analysis of the sediment core shows a very obvious heavy metal signature of industrialization, and importantly, a gradual return towards baseline conditions (pre-industrialization sediments had essentially no heavy metals), although baseline conditions have not yet been achieved, and may not ever. Along with the heavy metal changes, there are clear changes in diatom assemblages and primary productivity, which are more likely linked to phosphorus and nitrogen pollution over the same period of industrialization. Investigation is ongoing.

Here are photographs from the sediment coring expedition, which occurred in October, 2016. Sophia Rudin, Dave Murray, and I had an excellent day to core this lake.

The coring crew with three overlapping core sections.

Dave and Sophia paddle back towards shore.

Dave and Sophia with the cores.

Sophia labels which way is up – very important when working with sediment cores.

Look at that beautiful sediment/water interface.

Sophia caps the bottom of the core tube so sediment doesn’t slop out the bottom.

Adjusting the piston inside the core tube.

How much mud did we get?

Ready to core

A perfect day for a paddle and some coring. Dave and Sophia navigate to the coring location.

Brown University undergrad Sophia Rudin readying the coring platform.

The coring platform in all its glory – we modified the flotilla party platform with a coring hole in the center. It’s basically two pieces of plywood spanning two canoes and lashed together. Surprisingly solid.

Limnology Field Trip

Well, classes are wrapping up at Brown and my official duties as Limnology TA are done. But my unofficial duties aren’t complete until I get some more awesome limno field trip pictures online. The class does two trips to Pout Pond (Belmont, NH) each year. The first trip is in winter (see previous post), and the second trip, shown here, is in spring.

Yeah, we take limnology seriously

Assembling the floating coin-purse (*coin purse copyright Sarah Ivory). This is a foldable boat, a true marvel of engineering, but about as difficult to paddle as a bathtub.

A view of beautiful Pout Pond (littered with limnologists)

Lovinia and Keven find the deepest hole in the lake with depth sounders.

Not sure what’s going on, but doesn’t it look like a nice day on the water.

Ok, as TA, I have the very important job of keeping everyone safe and overseeing duties. Aka relaxing in a floating lazy-boy.

View from my floating lazy-boy.

Keven checking the secchi depth.

Keven finds out that alkalinity is still low in Pout Pond, even after all these years.

Aly and Sally collect water while Jim looks on with either heartfelt approval or disapproval (hard to tell).

Mission accomplished

Sediment Coring in Rhode Island

Hi. I hope that my abundance of field-work related pictures does not lead you to believe this is all I do. The vast majority of my time is spent in the lab or on the computer analyzing samples and data, and making figures and writing. These are all very exciting things to do. None-the-less, I am sharing more field work pictures because they are prettier.

Two field projects I helped with this spring involved sediment coring in Rhode Island.

The first project was to help Stephanie Spera collect sediment cores from Succotash Salt Marsh. Stephanie is a 5th-year graduate student in my department and she is teaching a Climate Change course at Wheaton College this semester. For this class, Stephanie wanted her students to gain firsthand experience with the idea of paleoclimatology. For a full description of the Succotash sediment cores, see my previous blog posts or “7oo yr sedimentary record of intense hurricane landfalls in southern New England” by Donnelly et al. (2001). In brief, sand layers in the sediment core represent local landfalls of past hurricanes, and so we can reconstruct the history of large storms.

The second project, also seen in pictures, examines the effects of nitrogen remediation in Narragansett Bay. First-year graduate student Sydney Clark is pursuing this project and plans to use nitrogen isotope in sediment cores to qualitatively assess the effectiveness of adding tertiary treatment to East Providence’s wastewater treatment plant. We collected replicate sediment cores from Swan Point in the Seekonk River, immediately across from the treatment plant and Sydney is now busy in the lab with these sediments.

Succotash Salt Marsh – March 20, 2016

Stephanie caps and cleans the salt marsh core. This core contains three discrete sand layers which were deposited when a hurricane made landfall and pushed the beach sand up into the marsh.

Stephanie is teaching her class about past climate change. These salt marsh sediments record the history of hurricane impacts on the area.

Stephanie pounds the core tubing into the marsh sediments.

Chris pounds the core tubing into the marsh.

Chris pounds the core tubing into the marsh.

Swan Point, Seekonk River – March 26, 2016

Sydney gets a sediment core from the canoe.

Brown geology graduate student Sydney Clark holds a sediment core from the Seekonk River. Sydney is investigating Nitrogen pollution in Narragansett Bay, and in particular if the upgrades to the Swan Point wastewater treatment were helpful in reducing nitrogen levels in the bay. Sydney specializes in nitrogen isotopes is studying in the lab of Meredith Hastings.

Two sediment cores collected from Swan Point/Bollard’s Point on the Seekonk River.

Limnology Field Trip

Hello blogosphere! Happy 2016!! We survived winter and the geology field season is ramping back up in the northern hemisphere. To kick off the 2016 fieldwork campaign I went with Brown University’s Limnology class, taught by Jim Russell, on a field trip to New Hampshire. The goal of the class is for students to become familiar with and proficient in all things related to lakes, and this includes field sampling. Six students, Jim, and I went to Pout Pond, near the town of Belmont, NH to take water measurements and samples. Students measured lake temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, alkalinity, and secchi depth, and took water samples to measure salts and nutrients.

Here are some pictures from the beautiful day.

Brown University Limnology class, 2016 (Well, half the class anyway. The other half of the class will sample Pout Pond from a boat later this semester).

Yinsui uses a kemmerer water sampler to collect water from 1 m depth increments. The vertical profiles of water chemistry, temperature, etc. can tell a lot about the state of a lake. For example, in 10 years limnology field trips, Pout Pond has remained permanently stratified, with a salty, dense layer of water at the bottom. Lakes with permanent stratification are called meromictic.

Patrick measuring alkalinity using a colorometric test kit.

Patrick, Nick, and Rebecca collecting water samples.

Alkalinity titrations.

The class samples Pout Pond in Belmont, NH on a beautiful winter day.

Yinsui and Sydney filtering water for anion, cation, and nutrient analyses.

What’s the secchi depth, Jim?

Blood Moon Pictures

I recently moved into a house on Transit St. in Providence. Legend has it that the house was built by the aunt of composer George Cohan (this was a big selling point for me, no doubt). But, that is only kind of cool in comparison to the etymology of the street name itself. Transit Street was so named because in the 18th century, it was considered one of the prime locations in the world to view the Transit of Venus (the passage of Venus between Earth and the sun) and astronomers from New England gathered there to watch the event in 1769.

The pictures below are not the Transit of Venus, but they do represent a planetary transit that I captured earlier this fall. It is the blood moon – a combination supermoon and complete lunar eclipse. I took pictures at 30x optical zoom with my Nikon point-and-shoot camera mounted on a tripod. I was pleased with the outcome from such a small camera. Enjoy.

The start of the lunar eclipse

Just about fully eclipsed

The Blood Moon.