LSU students plunge into studies

LSU students plunge into studies

By Elizabeth Miller
April 18, 2009; thenewsstar.com, Monroe, LA

ABOARD THE PELICAN IN THE GULF — While some university student lab jobs entail hours of scooping rat droppings or entering statistics into databases, other research assignments have students jumping off the deep end.
 
Graduate student researchers at Louisiana State University weave their way through the coastal wetlands of Louisiana into the northern Gulf of Mexico on monthly research trips aboard "The Pelican," a 116-foot research vessel, to collect water and sediment samples.
 
They use the samples to study everything from temperature and salinity to pollutant toxins in shellfish.
The Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, an organization composed of the 20 colleges and universities that provides research and educational facilities on the Gulf Coast, organizes the two- to three-day trips with university scientists.
 
Students begin their journeys with late-night departures at the consortium’s research labs in Cocodrie.
The Pelican’s six-person crew steers the boat to the first research station, about seven hours offshore, while students and researchers catch a few hours of sleep in the ship’s dormitory-style rooms below. The boats follow a line of stations within 50 miles of the coast.
 
At each station, researchers use methods varying from throwing a bucket overboard to collect water samples to employing an onboard crane to gently lift and pull specialized machinery in and out of the Gulf waters.
 
Even with strict safety standards, including a no-tolerance alcohol or drug policy to wearing hard hats and life jackets on deck, students say time on the boat is a nice break from long days inside labs.
 
 
 
 
A wave crashes along the back of the ship as Barry Lasseigne, left, holds the instrument used for box coring in place while Melissa Baustian, right, an LSU Ph.D. student in oceanography and coastal sciences, and Danielle Richardi, center, a Nicholls masters student in marine and environmental biology, scoop out samples of mud obtained from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. (Crystal LoGiudice)
 
 
 
 
Ana Christina Garcia, 24, second year master’s student in oceanography, said she enjoys trips on the boat because she is able to interact with other researchers on the water. The Atlanta native is studying pollutant toxins in shellfish.
 
Jennifer Lasseigne, 28, an LSU Ph.D student from Ricohoc, is hoping to study a historical timeline of one of the fastest growing threats to Louisiana’s gulf coast — hypoxia.
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Hypoxia, commonly known as the dead zone, forms each summer in some layers of the Gulf when oxygen levels drop too low to support most life. It occurs because algae growth stimulated by Mississippi River pollutants released upstream flow into the Gulf. The decomposition of the algae consumes oxygen faster than it can be replenished from the surface, thus decreasing levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, crucial to the habitats of fish, shrimp and other marine wildlife.


Lasseigne uses a box core, a metal machine that drops to the bottom of the sea, which pushes itself into the mud and uses a trap door to collect samples off the ocean floor. She collects foramphonifera, a microscopic animal that leaves a shell behind as a fossil. The fossils are analyzed to indicate oxygen conditions or past environmental conditions.
"We use it to see what species are alive right now in the Gulf and hopefully use that to reconstruct some historical timelines of the species," Lasseigne said.
The Pelican costs about $8,000 a day to operate, but according to LUMCON’s director, Nancy Rabalais, the marine operation is funded by grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. Rabalais says the boat is but "a small part compared to the technical staff that I have to put on board, and the post laboratory work and data management."
However, because of the specialized research done on Louisiana’s coast, the consistent results and the research experience gained by students, she calls the results "priceless."
 
 
Hypoxia, commonly known as the dead zone, forms each summer in some layers of the Gulf when oxygen levels drop too low to support most life. It occurs because algae growth stimulated by Mississippi River pollutants released upstream flow into the Gulf. The decomposition of the algae consumes oxygen faster than it can be replenished from the surface, thus decreasing levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, crucial to the habitats of fish, shrimp and other marine wildlife.
 
Lasseigne uses a box core, a metal machine that drops to the bottom of the sea, which pushes itself into the mud and uses a trap door to collect samples off the ocean floor. She collects foraminifera, a microscopic animal that leaves a shell behind as a fossil. The fossils are analyzed to indicate oxygen conditions or past environmental conditions.
 
"We use it to see what species are alive right now in the Gulf and hopefully use that to reconstruct some historical timelines of the species," Lasseigne said.
 
The Pelican costs about $8,000 a day to operate, but according to LUMCON’s director, Nancy Rabalais, the marine operation is funded by grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. Rabalais says the boat is but "a small part compared to the technical staff that I have to put on board, and the post laboratory work and data management."
However, because of the specialized research done on Louisiana’s coast, the consistent results and the research experience gained by students, she calls the results "priceless."
2017-01-17T09:22:20+00:00April 20th, 2009|News|Comments Off on LSU students plunge into studies