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!