Saturday, July 10, 2010

Oh Sun, how I hate you sometimes

The heat this week was a bugger. On Tuesday, the high was at 100 and the heat index was between 105-110 degrees. To top if off, Buffy the human slayer (or sweat inducer) decided to stop her AC from working, so we’ve been sweating bullets every time we use the government vehicle.
Daisy, holding up one of the many sponges we caught on our trawling day.

Since we had Monday off on account of the holiday, we started our beachwater survey the following morning, on Tuesday. On a related note, I have this theory that when you hear cicadas, it’s probably unbearably hot – or will be soon. As I was getting ready for work at 5:15 AM in the bathroom that morning, the cicadas were at a deafening roar. Needless to say, as I walked from the house to the office that morning, I was already drenched in a sheen of sweat and not looking forward to being in an un-air-conditioned car all day.
There you have it! An Assateague sunrise! This was taken at 5:30 in the morning the day we did our marsh work.

However, Kathy and I prevailed in the unforgiving heat. Once back at the lab, I went out with Allison, the horse biologist here, and learned the ropes of mosquito monitoring. Starting next week (Monday), I will be driving to three different marshes on the Bay side of Assateague Island and setting traps for mosquitoes (and any other dumb insects that manage to get caught). The cool (literally!) side of this trapping technique is that I get to work with dry ice – so I can pretend I am a crazed laboratory inventor as tendrils of ice-cold air ooze and swirl from coolers I have placed on trees surrounding the traps. Once I set the traps in the afternoon, I return to them the following morning to retrieve the unsuspecting bugs. I then take the traps, encased with hundreds of buzzing and creepy crawlies, and drive back to the lab. Back at the office, I throw the traps into the freezer like the heartless insect murderer I am, and then wait an hour until the bugs buzz no more.
Eric pulling up the trawl net.

During this time, I gather forceps, a light/magnifying lens contraption (so much for the scientific language), a trash can, and revolutionized plastic solo cups to place the sorted mosquitoes. I then take the traps out of the freezer, throw away any poor innocents (aka horse and deer flies [which I don’t mind killing], spiders, beetles, flies, and other bugs that aren’t mosquitoes) and then start identifying the mosquitoes down to the species. The objective of this study is to monitor for mosquitoes that might be carrying West Nile Virus or Eastern Equine Encephalitis – both a concern for the wild herd of Assateague horses and people. The three main species of concern are: Ochlerotatus sollicitans, O. taeniorhynchus and Culex sp. Any other mosquitoes that do not fall under these species are just lumped into an “others” category. Once sorted, I weigh the entire sample, jot down the total numbers from each species, and then conduct calculations to estimate the total number of each species in a particular marsh. After this process is done from each marsh (so three cups in total), I throw the mosquitoes into labeled solo cups, cover them up, and place them into the fridge until I replace them the following week, when I conduct the surveying all over again. Yay!
Just another day in the lab: calibrating sondes. Whoohoo!

Loads and LOADS of crabs, captured from our trawling day.

When not doing mosquito stuff this week, Kathy and I calibrated several sondes (the data loggers we use for water quality monitoring) and then deployed a few sondes in Sinepuxent Bay. On Thursday, Kathy and I went out with Eric (the boss man) and two interp girls and went trawling for sea creatures. In other words, I was paid to act like a kid again and have fun setting nets and then pulling them back up to see what we found. While trawling, we captured hundreds of Maryland blue crabs, lady crabs, sea robins (cool fish that have modified fins that allow them to literally crawl on the bottom of the sea floor), a couple skates, spot fish, sea bass, a mantis shrimp, a flounder, tunicates, and sponges. It was quite a good find. The interp girls picked several fish of their choosing and placed them into buckets for them to use in their touch tank in the visitor’s center.
A huge ass Blue crab I wanted to take home and fry up (but couldn't).
Sorting through all the creatures we picked up on one of our trawls.

On Friday, Kathy and I worked – an unusual thing since we normally work 4-10s (10 hour days, 4 days a week) each week. However, since we had Monday off on account of the fourth, we decided to take advantage of this opportunity and work – since we were hoping to get off a Thursday coming up in two weeks. In two weeks, I’ll be leaving Assateague for the weekend with Kathy to go to her house in Virginia 7 ½ hours away.
Gotta love the bug suit.
Or not.

Since we really didn’t want to be driving into the night on a Thursday after we got off at work at 5, we decided to see if it would be possible to work another day in a week to get that Thursday off. Fortunately, Eric is awesome and was cool with us taking that option. So, on yesterday morning, we got up before the crack of dawn and started work at 4:30 AM to go do marsh work all day. Although any normal person would wonder why in the hell we would start so early – you would sympathize when learning that the high for the day was 98 degrees. We started our work so early so that we could get a good chunk of the work done before the hottest part of the day. So we finished up with Valentine’s Marsh by 10:30, enjoyed an early lunch on the beach, and then finished surveying Tingles marsh by about 2:00. We then headed back to the office, cleaned the vehicle, and were outta there by 3, just on schedule. I’ll definitely be looking forward to that three-day week soon!

Just your average lunch break: sitting on the beach, catching some rays.

1 comment:

Tessa Rose said...

Are your hands exposed in the bug suits?!? Got one of your books in today. I'll pray for some cooler weather for you New England folk. Have a good relaxing weekend!