December 6th, 2017
This is the first of a series of guest posts from Research Technician, Alex Wick. Enjoy!
When your alarm goes off at 5 am, it can mean one of two things: one, your lab mate is playing a terrible joke on you and set your alarm while you were at lunch or two, it’s a field day! The term “field day” may be unfamiliar to you,, but for me, it’s the kid in a candy shop day. The allure of the field day drew me into the sciences and is what keeps me around. This is an inside look at what a field day means to me.
The truck downshifts to compensate for the weight of the research boat in tow as Anna and I go over our field day checklist. Anna glances over her shoulder into the back seat and bed of the truck as we rifle down the long list of gear: water quality sondes-check, grab sample bottles-check, life jackets-check this list drains on. With all gear accounted for, driving the truck and trailer down windy Paradise Drive seems less of a burden. A week of planning and preparation leading up to this and we are on our way to Rush Ranch to visit our two water quality monitoring stations, with no going back for forgotten sunscreen or coffee mugs. We visit the monitoring stations each month to exchange the instruments, called sondes, that monitor the salinity, temperature, pH, and other measures of water quality, and to collect water samples so we can test the levels of nutrients in the water. As we pull into Suisun we cut the chatter, turn the 90’s grunge music down, and get to business. We have a certain window of time to take water samples to measure nutrient levels in relation to the low tide, and on this particular day it’s early, and we are cutting it close. Our plan of attack is finalized while launching the boat – nutrient samples at Second Mallard, then First Mallard, followed by the sonde swaps. Getting underway, we find ourselves pleasantly surprised at the sunshine and lack of wind while the boat effortlessly glides over the water. With the marsh grass flowing past amidst the sound of the 60 horsepower four-stroke engine, we both quickly forget the early rise and remember why we love our jobs.
The Second Mallard monitoring station looks dapper as ever. There is something about the blue shine of the solar panel and the glint from the stainless steel antenna that solidifies my attraction to the field day. The process of taking nutrient samples is fairly simple, once you’ve done it a couple times. We use a sampling container called a Niskin. This is basically a water bottle that you can close underwater, allowing a scientist to collect water from a known depth (instead of just filling a bucket with water from the surface). Anna throws the Niskin into the water near our station and lowers it down to the predetermined sampling depth while I ready the sample bottles. Then, using clean sampling protocols, we get the water into the bottles without contamination, making quick work of it. 45 minutes left in our window for collecting water samples, a 10 minute boat ride to the next station and we are looking good. The boat starts right up and off we go, again the marsh racing by, the sunshine on our shoulders and a smile on our faces.
The two water quality monitoring stations at Rush Ranch are pretty much identical, and permanent, but there is always a feeling of relief when we come around the corner and there it is, still standing. With 30 minutes to spare, we complete the nutrient samples and move onto the next task, the sonde exchange.
To be continued. . .