by Estelle Baldwin
While the circumstances are not exactly as expected, I am still overjoyed to be a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) intern this summer. I am an incoming senior at Colby College, and I am lucky that I am able to have this experience this summer. While I was supposed to be doing hands-on bench and field research, I would say that this new online experience has been the best that it possibly could be.
I am working with my mentor, Dr. Patricia Matrai, on a project completely different from what the original plan was, but things have surprisingly been running very smoothly. It is unfortunate that we cannot have our meetings in person, but somehow these Zoom meetings have brought down the intimidating barrier by being in our homes and the occasional dog interruptions that come along with that.
For my project, I am using field data that was previously collected on a Bigelow cruise to study respiration in the coastal Gulf of Maine waters. Aquatic respiration is the degradation of organic matter for energy, which consumes oxygen in the oceans and releases carbon dioxide. I am particularly interested in climate studies related to ocean-atmosphere interactions, so I have absolutely loved looking into this topic. The CO2 concentration in the ocean reservoir directly influences the CO2 in the atmosphere, so aquatic respiration of the carbon cycle is essential to understand when studying the changing climate.
I have been working with Dr. Matrai to understand the lengthy methods that went into collecting all of the data that I am now analyzing, and it was all much more time consuming and requires far more planning than I would have expected. I am hoping to visit Bigelow in the future to get hands-on experience with the instruments that were used to collect this data, but I have been surprised by how well I am able to follow the protocols and methods of these instruments simply by the explanation from my mentor. While I could have just taken the data and begun my analysis, I am glad that instead I have been given the resources and explanations necessary to understand the how and why of data collection.
Before I was given my data, I had some literature research to catch up on first. This gave me an introduction to the sciences within this area of research, as well as showed me where there were some gaps in the data. I think that the research I am doing this summer is unique from previous studies in that I am focusing on respiration rather than primary production. Respiration is commonly seen as the secondary component to primary production, but by analyzing their similarities and differences in temporal, spatial, and environmental responses I believe that there is a lot more work to be done to examine the influential factors on respiration that do not necessarily correspond to those of primary production.
Estelle Baldwin is a Colby College student in Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. This intensive experience provides an immersion in ocean research with an emphasis on state-of-the-art methods and technologies.