Off the Coast with the Environmental Protection Agency
By Rose Krakowiak, C ’15 – Mount Chemistry major
This spring, I had the opportunity to join nine U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists on a week-long survey in the Atlantic Ocean aboard the vessel Bold. The goal of the survey was to collect samples of water and sediment in designated EPA ocean disposal sites along the Atlantic coast, and testing to ensure ocean life is thriving while existing near disposal sites.
The scientists and crew aboard Bold collected samples 24/7 and were split up in various shifts each day. I was fortunate enough to have a shift beginning at 8 a.m., with two scientists and we worked until noon. I was back on deck at 8 p.m., and worked until midnight. We continually collected samples and gathered data from the ocean.
First we collected water samples from various depths (bottom, middle and surface levels) using a CTD (Conductivity - Temperature - Depth) instrument. During these collections, I guided the CTD into the water as well as gave hand signals to the Bold crew member controlling the machinery attached to the instrument. The water samples collected are used to test the water’s nutrients, the amount of living bacteria, and the water quality.
What I found most fascinating — and my favorite part of the survey — was collecting sediment samples. First, the samples had to be collected about 20 miles from the coast, then we lowered a dredge off the back of the ship until it landed on the ocean’s floor. Here, the dredge scooped up a giant load of sediment. These samples are analyzed for the benthic life (or the “little critters” living in the sediment on the ocean floor), the grain size, and the percentage of metal present.
My main task when making this collection was to prepare the dredge and back deck for the next sample station, as well as collecting the actual sample. Hosing off the dredge and back-deck of the vessel were all part of the collection process. Because these samples were taken so far from the coast, I was able to really experience being out-to-sea. I enjoyed standing on the back deck and looking out at the beautiful blue Atlantic Ocean.
I am extremely thankful to the EPA science crew, as well as the Bold crew, for providing this opportunity — especially Renee Searfoss, the Chief Scientist of the survey. Spending time on the Bold was an amazing experience and I gained valuable field experience and knowledge. I certainly understand the importance of accuracy in sample collection!