Students travel to Puerto Rico to develop their research skills

Twenty-one students, two professors and a guest traveled to Puerto Rico in January. The students honed their research skills on the island chain.

This semester, 21 graduate earth and environmental science graduates from the Senior Field Research Project (EES 398) course traveled to Puerto Rico to develop their skills in research, data collection, analysis and presentation.

Students collected samples in a bat cave while wading through thumbs of bat guano.

Students collected samples in a bat cave while wading through thumbs of bat guano.

As part of the EES department’s synthesis course sequence, students are required to participate in a series of student-designed research projects. From January 12 to 19, the students conducted independent research in the field.

“The general spirit is to involve students in the whole arc of a research project: from conception to presentation of results,” said Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and earth sciences. environment, associate professor of environmental studies. Royer has co-taught the class three times, this year with Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, faculty director of the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program.

The final experience started last fall when the E&ES seniors focused on designing a project, in particular the field plan for data collection. While in Puerto Rico, the students collected data for the project, and this winter / spring, the students are working on the analysis and interpretation of their data. At the end of the semester, students will present their results both orally and in writing.

E&S students collect fern leaf samples to determine if they can be used to reconstruct paleo-temperatures.

E&ES students collect fern leaf samples to determine if they can be used to reconstruct paleo-temperatures.

During the semester, students divide into groups, each with a different research topic.

This year, a group is testing the idea that the leaf shape of tree ferns can vary with temperature; if this is true, it opens up the possibility that the leaf shape of fossil tree ferns could be used to reconstruct paleo-temperature, Royer explained.

A second group sampled leaves and sediments from a less polluted and more polluted mangrove site. They will analyze the leaves and sediment to see if the productivity is different at their two sites.

The latter two groups examined the potential of seagrass communities to serve as a link for atmospheric CO2, commonly referred to as carbon sequestration in climate change jargon. One group focuses on the meadows themselves and the other on the sediments of these communities. These two groups are also considering a less polluted site and a more polluted site.

Pictured in Puerto Rico, left to right, Tavo True-Alcala '15, Kate Enright '15, Jack Singer '15 and Jamie Hall '15.

Pictured in Puerto Rico, left to right, Tavo True-Alcala ’15, Kate Enright ’15, Jack Singer ’15 and Jamie Hall ’15.

Jamie Hall ’15, who works on collecting seagrass specimens, said he was “challenged against scorpions, that he had walked through five inches of bat guano in caves with boas in the ‘entrance and that he had descended rivers in a kayak to collect mangrove leaves “.

Jack Singer ’15 said that having the opportunity to choose your own research topic and subsequently design your own project and field plan “generated a lot of excitement during the trip,” he said. -he declares. “The ability of the students to be in charge was stimulating. In the Seagrass project, for example, we were given the responsibility of making a critical decision to modify and complete our project as we envisioned it.

Katy Hardt ’15 said working together and bonding with her classmates was one of the most memorable parts of the trip.

“I feel so lucky to be an E&ES major student because I was able to be a part of this trip and it gave me the opportunity to participate in field research. It was also a great way to learn and interact with teachers outside of the traditional classroom, ”she said.

See more photos from their trip to Puerto Rico below:

kayaking

Some of the wildlife the group saw on their trip to Puerto Rico.

A green iguana greets the students.

A boa in the bat cave.  The boas wait near the entrance to capture a bat for its meal.

A boa in the bat cave. The boas wait near the entrance to capture a bat for its meal.

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Paul N. Strickland

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