Project Title:  Aquatic Biogeochemistry: Tracking Pollution in Fluvial Systems

(download project flyer)

StreamSynopsis:  This project is designed for Sophomore students from groups underrepresented in the Earth Sciences who might be considering majoring in Geology or Environmental Science.

Project Director:  Dr. Anouk Verheyden-Gillikin, Union College, N.Y.

Eligibility:  Applicant must be a first-year students who will be a sophomore in summer 2014 and self-identify as a member of an underrepresented group in the Earth Sciences which includes Black or African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans (American Indians and Alaskan Natives), Native Pacific Islanders (Polynesians or Micronesians), and persons with disabilities. Students must be U.S. citizens or have permanent residency.  Participating students will have completed at least one college course in the Earth Sciences.

Application Dates:  Completed applications and faculty letter of recommendation must be received at the Keck Geology Consortium Office by February 14, 2014.

Application Process:  Application to the Keck Sophomore project requires a letter of support from the professor of you current Earth Science-related course and completion of the ONLINE APPLICATION.

Project Dates:  Tentative dates for the project are mid-July to mid-August (dates tentative and pending NSF funding)

Project Location & Logistics:  Project is based at Union College in Schenectady, New York.  Students will live on the Union College campus.  Research will be conducted in nearby sites in the Catskill and Schoharie regions.  Students will also conduct laboratory work at Union College.  Students must be physically able to participate in moderately strenuous hikes to field stations which will include wading in  shallow waterways.

Expenses:  There should be no out-of-pocket expenses for students.  All travel, living and research expenses will be covered by the Keck Geology Consortium.

Stipend:  Each participating student will receive a $1,500 stipend.

Project Description:   Eutrophication is causing major damages to freshwater, estuarine and marine systems. Monitoring water quality and nutrient loading is an important first step in determining the sources of pollution, drafting management plans to reduce pollution of the waterways and, in the long term, evaluate the success of the actions taken. Nitrogen and carbon isotopic composition of primary producers and consumers have been used as an indicator of nutrient loading and as a way to evaluate the effectiveness of sewage upgrades.

During this four week project, students will research the distribution of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of fluvial (river) systems in the Catskill and Schoharie regions of New York and pinpoint polluted areas.  In the field, various types of benthic macroinvertebrates, different species of algae and water samples for dissolved inorganic carbon will be collected from various sites along different streams. Samples will be cleaned and prepared for analysis on an isotope ratio mass spectrometer. In addition, water samples will be collected and temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen (in situ) and alkalinity (in the lab) will be determined. Students will do all analyses themselves. The results will be used to develop a distribution map of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of several streams in the Catskills. The isotope map or ‘isoscape’ will be used to pinpoint areas of increased waste water discharge.

Students will gain a thorough understanding of the nitrogen and carbon biogeochemical cycles and the processes that lead to isotopic fractionation. Both concepts are of major importance in many geological and environmental sciences applications. In addition, students will learn to work with a complex, state of the art, piece of equipment. They will gain insight into the importance of measuring standards and using calibration equations to correct the results due to the hands-on nature of the project (Union college has all the instrumentation in house to analyze these samples).  Students will be exposed to a challenging topic with wide application potential (isotopes), collecting samples in the field (Catskills) and working with state of the art equipment in the lab (stable isotope ratio mass spectrometer).  Fieldwork will be performed by driving to streams and wading through streams to collect samples.

Contact Us:  For more information contact:

Dr. Anouk Verheyden-Gillikin (Union College), [email protected]>

Robert J. Varga, Director Keck Geology Consortium, [email protected]