Sometimes it’s easy to forget about other parts of your life when you are living in a laboratory and analyzing data 24/7. Thankfully, where we are living also happens to be on a biological preserve full of beautiful animals of all shapes and sizes. In bits of downtime I’ve had over the course of the quarter, I was able to draw some of the little critters that live in the area, carefully maintained in the sea tables in Lab 3.
While the mesocosm bags are still drying, there is no time for us to rest; presentations are in a little under two weeks, and data analysis has begun! To get us all started, Phil gave an incredibly useful and easy to understand lecture about performing statistical tests. There is so much information used to determine which test you’ll be running, and I’m glad to have learned it. Now I know I will be running the right tests on my data.
I am hoping to complete all of my data analysis within the next week. This gives me a week to prepare my results and conclusions slides for my presentation, which is hopefully enough time. Luckily, there will be a practice presentation between now and the final presentation. I am a little nervous, but also happy that we all have the opportunity to share our hard work with others. Yesterday I started looking for correlations between my data and others, and am excited to report that many of the correlations I was expecting are present. I have yet to have a chance to check from statistical difference between treatments though, which will be my next step.
This quarter has gone by so fast that I am baffled as to where my time has gone! It seems like only yesterday I was learning how to process my samples and now I have half of my first draft on my paper done, the experiment is over and mostly cleaned up, and my data analysis has begun. I cannot wait to see what the next week brings.
Data collection may have ended, but that certainly did not mean the end of the work. Our tech, Mike Foy, returned from Seattle and Sunday was spent removing the mesocosm bags and frames from the water after which the bags were rinsed and scrubbed with biodegradable soap. We were covered in algae and biofilm which had formed on the outside of the mesh bags. And while we were happy to have the bags out of the water, the thousands of shrimp which had been using the biomass as a nutrient source were not. As we heaved the bags out of their frames they flew back into the water in droves. Within a few hours we had the bags out of the water, loaded onto a truck and transported back to the lab for the first round of cleaning.
The dock is now quiet. Our tent is gone, the bags are removed and the frames are secured awaiting transport to their winter storage area. It doesn’t seem possible that six weeks have gone by and we are no longer meeting on the dock every morning to sample.
The mesocosm bags, unlike the dock, cannot simply be moved to winter storage. To say this is a process is an understatement! The bags were rinsed on the inside with fresh water at least five times, while scrub brushes were used on the outside. The mesh bags were rinsed with fresh water and laid out to dry.
Monday and Tuesday were spent acid washing the bags and hanging them off the second floor of Fernald to remove any remaining contaminants. The bags were then rinsed twice with RO water and hung upside down to drain overnight. Now, one-by-one, the bags are being dried down the length of Lab 2. Reminiscent of a wind tunnel, the bags are inflated with a large fan for about 12 hours to ensure no moisture remains.
We no longer are spending time in the lab, but every day many of us meet at ‘our table’ in the dining hall to discuss results and our upcoming presentations and final papers. While we are no longer busy with the experiment, we feel the pressure of being able to present our data in a way which makes sense.
Last Saturday Phil, Jen, and I went on a day trip to American Camp. It was nice to get out and enjoy the sunshine instead of working on processing our data and writing our papers. When San Juan Island was occupied by both English and American settlers, they agreed to set up their camps on opposite ends of the island. American Camp offers nice trails, beautiful views, and plenty of birds that kept Jennifer happy. As we walked, it was fun to stop and read the signs that gave a bit of history about how life was for the American military who resided there in the mid 1800’s. Our favorite bit of history was that a war was almost started because an American settler shot a pig that belonged to an Irishman who worked for the Hudson Bay Company.
Jen brought her binoculars and showed us the variety of birds she found. My favorite was the red-winged black bird. The trails here were nice and lovely, and I’m excited to see what British camp looks like on the north end of the island. Until then, we have a lot of work to do. Our presentations are sneaking up on us, we only have about 2 more weeks to finish our data analysis!
This weekend, I visited the Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm on the island. The farm includes about 80 acres of land and a herd of about 70 alpacas. The scenery is beautiful including lush grass, ponds, and lots of wildlife. It is an ideal place to raise alpacas. The alpacas are very cute and gentle creatures; however, as much as I tried, they did not want to be pet. I met one of the owners, Kris Olsen, who actually shows some of the alpacas at competitions. They are judged primarily by the quality of their fur. Their fur is extremely soft and very expensive to buy. At the farm, you can buy many alpaca fur products including hats, sweaters, scarves, and yarn. It is definitely worth visiting the farm to see the adorable alpacas!
While we were all happy to be done sampling, I think we underestimated the amount of work required to properly analyze our data. Most of us have no prior training in statistics (other than Phil, our statistics resource) which makes this process even lengthier and more daunting. We currently have less than three weeks until our presentations. This is a very important time to get work done.
Last night we met as a group to discuss our preliminary results. This is when the work gets exciting as we tread on toward writing our Results section of our papers. It’s been very interesting to see how different data sets correlate between the mesocosm treatments. Slowly but surely, we’ll be able to piece together our stories for our final papers and presentations.
Sampling may have ended, but the work of analyzing data has just begun. After cleaning the equipment loaned from Dr. Morris, I headed to Seattle to use the Guava flow cytometer to determine the bacterial abundance present in our mesocosms. This data was needed to guide me in selecting the days we needed to run TRFLP analysis on the DNA collected by filtering mesocosm seawater. The preliminary flow cytometry graphs reveal two very different experiments occurred. The period after removing the shower caps and lowering the mesh bags show trend lines unique from those prior to increasing the amount of light in the mesocosms. While Dr. Morris and I are still in the process of teasing out the factors which might have participated in these results – the decision was made to run the TRFLP on the first and last days of the experiment and the day when the abundance began to increase exponentially. I completed the steps preparing the DNA to be extracted from the filters yesterday and cannot wait for Monday. At that time I will complete a lengthy protocol to determine the community composition of bacterioplankton within the mesocosms and, hopefully, determine if there are any trends correlating to the change in our flow cytometry trends. While I cannot wait for the DNA to reveal just what was growing in our mesocosms, I still have much work to do researching. The weather provides an opportunity to spend time out-of-doors researching and writing and I am taking full advantage of the sunny days.