The day I had been eagerly awaiting for weeks finally came this past Sunday: my first day of fieldwork. And there was certainly no shortage of work leading up to this day as instruments needed calibration, lab equipment required restocking, and bottles needing washing. Lots of bottles. Around 60 bottles needed to be washed, bathed in acid, rinsed several times with de-ionized water, and laid out to dry. It’s a very lengthy process but it’s necessary to ensure that we have the cleanest container possible to collect our samples.
Myself, Songjie, and Emily (two other graduate students studying under Dr. Xu) departed at 6:30am Sunday with the goal of sampling my 7 sites spanned across southern Louisiana. My seven sites include: 4 on the Atchafalaya River, 2 on the Mississippi River, and 1 on the Red River. The trip is around 350 miles of driving.
At each site I collect six samples in plastic bottles and one in a glass vial. These samples are then sent to laboratories to identify the concentrations of various chemicals and elements, like phosphorus, nitrogen, carbon, and metals. I also use four different instruments at each site to measure various ambient parameters, such as temperature, turbidity (how dirty the water looks), and dissolved oxygen . In total, I’ll be collecting over 20 parameters at each site, however, my research will likely focus on various forms of carbon, as well as concentrations of trace metals.
It was a long day consisting of unload, sample, packup, drive for about an hour along the levee’s built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, repeat, but it is precisely the kind of field experience I wanted to get from conducting research in grad school. Our first site took around two hours as Emily and Songjie took their time in showing me the ropes. But by the end of the day, the last site took around 30 minutes. It’s a good thing I’m catching on quick because Emily is only going to join me for one more trip, then it will be just me and my new undergraduate student helper that starts next month. I’m just happy to have someone else to wash those bottles from hear on out.