All I can say now is that this was a great experience for an undergrad, since younger students are not usually included in new research or allowed to touch expensive instruments.
It was a whirlwind trip, starting Day 1 with a 2am wakeup, and a shuttle ride to the airport (leaving my house at 2:40am). Then, we picked up the rest of the team: Bryan James (University of Toronto undergrad) and Dr. Christoph Aeppli (post doc). Since our plan was to travel west from Florida to Louisiana, we started in Pensacola, where the first order of business was finding a Walmart. We needed supplies and some additional snacks for the road.
The first samples I collected during our trip were sand patties, which can be found both in the surf and up on the beach. In Perdido State Park, a majority of the patties were floating in the surf, so wading out and catching them made for an interesting task. But, this exercise was gladly accepted in the unfamiliar humid heat. After filling a satisfactory number of jars with sand patties in Perdido, we continued on to Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan, Alabama. All three locations contained enough samples to fill approximately 30 small jars and vials, combined. While on the road, I learned even more about oil spills and oil degradation, since I was traveling with two well-versed researchers. This aided both my field and lab work because it helped me to further understand previous oil research.
On Thursday morning (Day 2), the sampling team began the day with a hearty breakfast at a local favorite: Waffle House. After consuming the recommended daily value of saturated fat and cholesterol, our team boarded the ferry to Dauphin Island. On the short trip across the bay we passed countless offshore oil platforms. Having never travelled to the Gulf Shore, the sheer number and size of oil platforms was astounding. Upon arrival on Dauphin Island, we drove to a nearby jetty and began collecting rock scrapings. The samples were scarce, but our team managed to collect enough to fill a few tablespoon-sized vials.
Following some more authentic Southern cuisine (Krispy Kreme doughnuts), we drove to New Orleans for our last night of the trip, and I was able to experience nighttime on Bourbon Street, accompanied by Bryan and Christoph. Early the next morning, we drove to Grand Isle, Louisiana, and hiked through the sand dunes in search of oil clinging to the long grasses. Having no luck in the sand dunes, we began walking along the beach, and started spotting small sand patties that ranged from dime to quarter-sized. We also found a couple of darker sand patties that did not have the red coloring of Macondo well oil, so we collected those as well. After accumulating multiple jars worth of sand patties, we headed back to New Orleans to make our flight and connection to Boston. The day came to an end, when we arrived back in Woods Hole around 1:30am.
|Bryan James and me (Ben Freiberg) standing on a tree
on Dauphin Island (Photo credit: Christoph Aeppli)
Ben Freiberg, Visiting StudentWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution