Post by Charlie Filipovich (Colgate '23).
Stepping on board the R/V Acadiana is when it finally hit me: “wow, we are actually doing this!” After months of planning and preparation, we were finally here, dressed like extras from Jurassic Park, ready to take on the dense, clay mud of the continental shelf. Much like most of my teammates, the only fieldwork experience I had prior to this moment was from various laboratory courses at Colgate. With the Age of Grad School Applications quickly approaching, this exciting opportunity would allow me to become more confident in what areas I would like to further pursue and better understand what it is like to be truly immersed in the field of paleobiology. And oh was I immersed… in mud… lots of mud. And I loved every minute of it.
Our first day offshore began bright and early at 07:00 on our third full day in Louisiana (we had to adapt our plans slightly due to “uncomfortable” weather conditions). We embarked on a somewhat bouncy hour and a half tour to our first location (LA 23) where we learned about the different stations of sample collection: boxcoring, sieving, sorting, and labeling. The sample is initially collected by the boxcore, a device which scoops up the top layer of the sediment (and shells!) on the seafloor. Sieving was the next step, as it is essentially power washing the silt and clay off of the specimens so we could examine them. Sorting was taking said specimens and separating the live clams from the dead shells (and gently throwing the other live critters we don’t study overboard!). Labeling was making separate specimen bags / vials for live samples and the death assemblage. And of course we had to photo document everything!
Our offshore days in LA tended to follow the same routine, but each site had its own unique attributes. Some had dense clay which made sieving a bit more laborious, and one in particular had a considerable amount of oyster shell fragments, which we think are relics of the last glacial maximum. Something of interest to me was seeing the differences in live clam types between each location, especially compared to the ones we found in Alabama (more to come on that!). Everyday was a new adventure, and I am looking forward to learning more in the lab about what we found!
Post by Luke Calderaro (Colgate '22).
Prior to this trip to the Gulf of Mexico with the PaleoLab, I had little to no field experience. The laboratory activities and demonstrations I completed during my undergraduate career could only prepare me so much for work outside of the classroom. As someone who only recently accepted his intentions to pursue an advanced degree in the Earth sciences, my lack of experience often left me wondering if I was ready to launch into a PhD project that required fieldwork. I felt nothing but excitement when imaging days in the field, but a question kept nagging at my mind: Am I cut out for data collection outside of the lab?
After completing the Louisiana and Alabama legs of our Gulf of Mexico excursion, I have gained new confidence in my graduate school preparedness. One of my favorite aspects of the scientific method is the unpredictability of one’s results. Yes, a review of previous related research is required, and yes, hypotheses naturally flow from this reading, but the results of a novel project are never realized until the work is complete. Flexibility is vital for this journey to completion. I learned this during my senior thesis, and found the same need for this skill in our field research. Every day on the water brought new environmental conditions, new surprises, and new challenges that had to be dealt with in order to complete our goals. For example, rough seas often kept us onshore, and at one point, a rare equipment malfunction forced us to return to land for a couple hours to repair gear. In all of these instances, we were forced to adapt, whether that meant shuffling our work schedule to beat poor weather forecasts or sampling multiple sites in a single day. Whatever roadblock got in our way, we were able to shift our plans in order to meet our goals.
Embracing flexibility could be a source of conflict for some individuals because, in a way, coming to terms with the need for flexibility relinquishes control of a given action plan. When thousands of dollars of funding are on the line, who would want to take their hands off the steering wheel or, in our case, the helm? From what I have gathered from this experience, though, this is just the nature of fieldwork, and research more broadly. When I move on to other projects in the field (some of which I hope to lead), I will remember this lesson in flexibility, stay on my toes, and counter any barriers to success that come my way.
Post by Juan José Gómez (Colgate '24).
Joining Colgate’s Paleobiology Lab was exciting, not only because it was my first time on the R/V Acadiana at LUMCON, but it was also my first time ever being on a boat! Aboard the research vessel, we traveled hours out into the Gulf of Mexico to gather examples of invertebrate marine life that reside there and also saw dolphins, sea turtles, and surf. Waking up early to leave the dock at 7 am was difficult for me, but what followed during the rest of the day was always something to look forward to. On the days the seas were in our favor, the Paleo Lab team would pass the time collecting sediment samples through a box core, sieving through our samples, and sorting through the living and the dead. The environment of the boat was a lot less intimidating than I had expected. With our Spotify playlist we all helped curate, the time on the boat seemed to fly by as we tried to sieve through the large amounts of silt, clay, and sand. The boat captains and lab staff that helped us were all very welcoming. Everyone made sure that we were content with accommodations everywhere we went, which I appreciated. The people we met at LUMCON and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab provided so much information; we were always learning more and more at each lab we visited.
Working alongside Paul was uncomplicated, and most of the time, fun. His constant “woohoo’s” and “We’re doing it, studes!” eased my mind, making it less stressful to do our work offshore. Though the intense sun and three- to four-foot waves were against us some days, we persisted as much as we could, collecting samples while also being easy on ourselves physically. Some days felt long, but every time I stepped off the boat after coming back to shore, I felt very accomplished and pleased with the work we had done that day.
Even after we had returned to shore, the friendly environment carried through as we spent the evenings putting together puzzles, cooking together, and relaxing after working efficiently on the boat. Having this research opportunity out in the field helped give an experience that was close and personal in many ways, both in the communities in Louisiana and Alabama, and in our very own lab group. Never would I have thought I would be having so much fun playing UNO covered in silt and clay in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.
Post by Adam Limoges (Colgate '24).
The difference in the diversity of living organisms between our Louisiana and Alabama sampling sites in the Gulf of Mexico was quite stark. In Louisiana, after sieving through mounds and mounds of silt and clay, you finally got your assemblage of live and dead organisms but found only a few common species of living bivalves. In Alabama however, the sandy seafloor sediment passed through the sieve in a flash, and the samples yielded a much wider variety of bivalves, with the species found in Louisiana present, but no longer dominant.
Looking at the other living organisms that surfaced with the box cores, you can again see this difference in diversity. In Louisiana, we would pull up mainly polychaete worms and maybe an occasional brittle star or sea cucumber. In Alabama, we were pulling up all sorts of crabs and sea stars, as well as polychaete worms, brachiopods, and more. The array of sea creatures we saw offshore Dauphin Island was exciting and provided welcome breaks to check out something cool.
Along with the living creatures we found in our samples, we were visited by many other organisms on land and at sea. In Louisiana, we saw many dolphins jumping and playing around the boat in Terrebonne Bay. We were also tailed by many terns and a few other birds. There were also many birds, like rails, around LUMCON and plenty of little crabs scuttling around the lab. In Alabama, there were many of the same birds as in Louisiana and we also saw dolphins out in the Gulf, but we also got to see sea turtles, many different fishes, and even a small shark caught on the beach.
After visiting these two locales along the northern Gulf of Mexico, the differences in the diversity of living creatures–whether bivalves, other sea life, or birds–stuck out to me. Seeing the abundance of different organisms and species in Alabama following the more limited number seen in Louisiana was fascinating and fun while we worked our way through the day's samples. In Florida, we expect the trend of increasing diversity to continue in the living bivalves as well as in the other living sea creatures we find. As we move further from the Mississippi River delta the sediment is likely to remain sandy, similar to Alabama.
Post by Victor Unnone (Colgate '23).
Being able to do fieldwork is something that I always look forward to, as I get to travel to new places, be outside constantly, and refine and expand my hands-on skills. Our fieldwork consisted of traveling to Cocodrie, Louisiana and Dauphin Island, Alabama in order to sample sediments offshore on research vessels. We spent multiple days on the R/V Acadiana and the R/V E.O Wilson collecting sediment, rinsing it through sieves, and sorting through the live and dead bivalves to eventually ship these back to the lab at Colgate. On our days off, we were able to explore the areas where we stayed. Although these coastal towns were only a few hours apart, there are stark differences between them.
When we arrived in Cocodrie, one of the first things I noticed was the abundance of damaged infrastructure. Roads, buildings, and residential homes were in various states of disrepair, which was mainly due to Hurricane Ida. Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana in late August of 2021; 150 mph winds buffeted the coastline, tearing the roofs off of houses while the ocean flooded much of the area. Nearly a year later, many areas were still being repaired. Additionally, sea level rise has created a consistent problem with inundated roads in certain areas; at LUMCON, the parking lots would be covered with inches of water when the tide came in.
The swampy marshes of Louisiana were left behind when we traveled to Dauphin Island, Alabama’s white-sanded beach town. The island is small enough that you can see the water from both ends at our house. It absolutely blew my expectations of an Alabama beach, and staying at a waterfront property allowed us to observe the wildlife that inhabited the area. One of the few similarities to Cocodrie were the beach houses on stilts to protect against hurricanes and flooding. There was almost no sign of destruction, and things seemed much more relaxed. And yet, Dauphin Island has not escaped unscathed. The island has been hit by over a dozen hurricanes and tropical storms in the last few decades. For example, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab had its roof torn off by Hurricane Sally in September of 2020. Insurance companies refuse to insure many of the beachfront homes, making property ownership a gamble. Comparing the two made me think about the vulnerability of many of these populations along the coast, and our group talked about Elizabeth Rush’s book Rising, which addresses many of the problems of sea level rise, including the personal experiences of those directly exposed to it.
Are you a graduating senior (or recent grad) interested in how marine animals are responding to anthropogenic environmental change? Apply to work in the Paleobiology Lab at Colgate University and put the dead to work to better understand the effects of eutrophication and other environmental processes on the life histories of marine mollusks.
Applications are now being accepted for a paid 9-month research associate position. Position will start mid-May 2022, and is expected to involve offshore fieldwork in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, and data collection and analysis at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.
Review of applications will begin February 28, 2022 and will continue until the position is filled.
For more information & to apply: https://careers.colgate.edu/postings/3861
Contact Prof. Paul Harnik (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions.
Come learn more about our research! Luke Calderaro, Celia Meyer, and Jeri Stoller will be presenting posters on our research in the "Recent Advances in Paleontology" poster session on the morning of October 11. Paul will be giving a talk Tuesday in the "Paleoecology and Environmental Change" session. Details below.
Monday - Oct. 11 - "Recent Advances in Paleontology" poster session (9am-1pm, presenters at posters from 11am-1pm)
Poster 93-6 - Luke Calderaro - NUCULANA BODY SIZE CORRELATES WITH SPATIOTEMPORAL CHANGES IN PRIMARY PRODUCTIVITY IN THE NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO
Poster 93-7 - Celia Meyer - SPATIOTEMPORAL VARIATION IN NUCULA LIFE HISTORY IN THE NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO
Poster 93-4 - Jeri Stoller - GEOGRAPHIC VARIATION IN SHELL PRESERVATION ACROSS THE NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO
Tuesday - Oct. 12 - "Paleoecology and Environmental Change" oral session
2:50-3:05pm - Paul Harnik - FLUVIAL INFLUENCE ON TIME AVERAGING AND NUTRIENT LOADS ON THE CONTINENTAL SHELF, NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO
Celia, Jeri, Luke, and Ryan will be starting research in the Paleo Lab this week! Introductions in alphabetical order (by first name):
My name is Celia Meyer. I am an incoming senior Environmental Geology major at Colgate University. In my free time, I like to hike and canoe in the Adirondacks. I also enjoy completing New York Times crosswords with my family in Philadelphia.
My name is Jeri Stoller. I am double-majoring in Environmental Geology and English with a Creative Writing Emphasis and will graduate in 2022. In addition, I am a figure skater and a staff member for Colgate Outdoor Education.
My name is Luke Calderaro and I will be graduating with the class of 2022. I am pursuing degrees in both geology and molecular biology. When I am not studying or reading for pleasure, I am performing live concerts that nobody ever seems to ask for.
My name is Ryan Ewanow. I am a Biology major in the class of 2023. In my free time I enjoy staying active primarily through recreational sports, and at Colgate I am a member of the men's ultimate frisbee team.