Thursday, October 27, 2011


One of today's lectures was on larval ecology and development and featured the following video, filmed by Bruno Vellutini (2010) as part of his Master's thesis work on the sea biscuit Clypeaster subdepressus:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Polychaetes, sipunculans and clams, oh my!

Today we took a field trip to the mud flats of Nahant for some invertebrate hunting! The flats are full of worms and clams, and seeing as we just took an exam on Annelids/Arthropods and are starting Molluscs, this trip was quite appropriate. And also gave us an excuse to play in mud.
A very large clam.
Some cone worms (Class Polychaeta), sans their cone homes.
Small holes are a tell-tale sign that creatures are lurking about.
Catch of the day! A longggg ribbon worm!

Friday, October 21, 2011

An old, new world

We're about a month and a half into our first semester of Three Seas and so far it has been a lot of hard work but so much fun. The other day I was talking with some of my peers about how they were feeling about open water diving compared to their previous experience in aquariums and I thought I should share. Everyone seemed to have different aquarium experiences whether it was a hookah system (hookah diving systems have a compressor at the surface that delivers air to divers below through long hoses and a demand regulator similar to the kind used in scuba), to the animals they fed, the crazy incidents in front of guests, aquarium romances, and so on. One thing that was the same for all of us though was that we thought we would be rock stars in our Research Diving Methods class because we had 50-500 + dives. We have all been humbled at some point now. Going from a controlled environment with "domesticated" animals that swim right up to you to the open ocean really opened my eyes again to what being a good diver means.

This doesn't mean that we aren't enjoying it; on the contrary, we're having a great time. We are re-learning old skills and some new ones during this semester like CPR, filling scuba tanks, attaining neutral buoyancy, how to be a good scientific diver, etc. We've been tagging kelp for growth labs and surveying benthic mobile invertebrates for density analyses with transects and "T" bars and collecting algae for botany projects. It's similar to terrestrial surveys except that you have to be mindful of many other factors like your dive buddy, your air, your buoyancy, your equipment for your scientific purpose, etc. This is no easy task on top of currents and other oceanographic processes but so far everyone is doing a great job and having a good time. I love underwater photography and try to take my camera on dives for when I see something that I don't know about so I can identify it later. We also spend a day working with underwater photography and video. When we hit our 12th dive (next week), we will all be AAUS Scientific Divers! I look forward to more diving adventures and being able to say, "I am a scientific diver." (Which also means we can legally play with the sea critters).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

To nom, or not to nom? That is the snail's question

Thursdays are days when we Three Seas students get an opportunity to learn about marine ecology with the eco-potent Matt Bracken! Today, just like every other day at the MSC was another fun-filled day of learning.

The first part of the morning was spent learning about positive interactions and the species that facilitate other species. Next on the agenda, we discussed the importance of foundation species and how they are fundamentally different from keystone species.

After a short lunch break we helped Matt with his research concerning the grazing preferences of the chubby little littorine so appropriately named Littorina obtusata. We'll monitor their feeding on 6 different algae species over the next four days and hopefully be able to answer this puzzling pregunta: To nom, or not to nom?

The best part of this day was the amount of potential positivity to be discussed. There's something really nice sounding about that term "positive interaction".

Imagine having all of your relationships be beneficial. No negativity, no harm. Everyone is jive and happy as a clam, or a sponge, or even a clown fish (think Nemo and his dad Merlin in their sea anemone). Positive interactions can happen in any environment where two or more species are interacting and where one or more of the species is benefitting from their relationship. One example is the relationship between the ribbed mussel, Geukensia demissa, and the well grounded salt marsh grass Spartina alterniflora. Mussels deposit nitrogen rich excrement onto the basal portion of the plant.

To really understand this concept I needed to put myself into the roots of a young S. alterniflora. I knew of a young sea grass that went by the name Spartina, Tina for short, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

(Note to self: once you get a marsh plant talking, you can hardly get them to stop. Apparently this is caused by their lack of human interaction since humans tend to gravitate towards refined sandy beaches, neglecting the beauty and power of the salt marsh!)

Here's what Tina had to say about her experience with positive interactions:

I was at first very skeptical about the idea of an invertebrate, a mollusk no less, excreting its nitrogenous waste on my feet. Then, after sitting in my rocky substrate and contemplating life for a while I felt a burst of energy and growth potential. I knew that I was too quick to judge this bearded, filter-feeding, bivalve named G. I realized he wasn't such a bad guy, and that he was actually helping me out. Once I came to this conclusion I figured I'd let him stay and enjoy my beautiful view of the salt marsh. He told me that it wasn't easy living on the Cape. The cobble substratum is no place for a young wandering larva. He told me about how once after a storm, he lost 3,000 members of his aggregation. He was one of few responsible for recolonizing...

I figured since G seemed like such a nice bivalve I would let him and a few hundred of his recruits settle in my basal structures. We may not eat the same way but we sure do live in the same water. In a weird way I'm thankful to the storm for providing me with new friends that will feed me for free! Hey, I'm a girl on a budget after all -- living in the marsh can get expensive.

Tina got me thinking about other positive interactions. I started to wonder if there were other organisms that could provide habitat and important stuff to other organisms. If Tina had that much fun with G, I can only imagine what having hundreds of different invertebrates and alga living in your cracks, crevices, humps, and divots would be like. There are species that let this happen because they benefit immensely from the animals and plants that live in, around, and on their body.

Which brings us to our next topic of discussion, foundation species.

To be continued...

Lab work

As you may have been able to tell, our time in the Three Seas Program is a bit unique. Even between trips to Maine and diving each week, our class schedule is still anything but normal. On a typical day, we will spend about a third of our time in lecture, a third out in the field, and a third in the lab. We only have one class each day (even though it lasts for about 7 or 8 hours), which allows us to focus our efforts and apply what we learn in lecture immediately in the field and in lab.

This week, in our invertebrates class, we covered Arthropods. In case you're not familiar with them, this group includes popular species, such as crabs and lobsters, and less popular species like spiders and scorpions. After four hours of lecture we headed to the lab to dissect lobsters and identify their internal bits. We froze them ahead of time so that they wouldn't suffer through the process and then started cutting them open. We identified brains, hearts, digestive systems, and a host of other important organs.

We were a bit too queasy to eat them afterwards and we kind of butchered the yummier parts in our dissection anyway, but the crabs in the visitor touch tanks were quite happy to help us dispose of what was left of the each lobster.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A new way to conduct science

Like most scuba divers, I have always gone diving for recreation. However, while I love the sport, I always felt a disconnect between me and the ocean: like I was in a museum in which I could get close to the art but never touch it. However, while my dive partner and I were conducting a kelp growth experiment this past week, I realized that I had crossed that threshold. As we were suspended in the water column measuring and tagging our kelp plot, I felt that I was no longer just looking at the underwater environment but was part of it. Between the classes I have taken and the other scientific dives we have conducted, I am noticing more about our dive sites than I ever have.

What also added to this feeling was the fact that we are actually doing something. Don't get me wrong, I love recreational diving but, like I said above, there is a disconnect. You go in the water, look around, leave and have a good story to tell over the dinner table. Yet, we are actually getting data that could potentially be useful, that is we are conducting science. While I am sure the areas we are working on have been so studied that we are not finding anything new, the fact that we could adds a bit of excitement to every assignment.

Even though each assignment is relatively basic, it is also thrilling. For instance, next week we will go on a simple night dive, yet we will compare the same dive site at night versus in the day and the organisms that are abundant during the different time frames.

As I take a breath from my regulator I actually feel like what I came here to become: a marine scientist.
Chrissie after completing an eelgrass (Zostera marina) survey

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The Three Seas Program offers a number of opportunities to design and execute an experiment of your choosing. In the Experimental Design & Analysis class, we get to run a two month long experiment determining if crab cues have an effect on snail behavior with both low and high resources. The experiment is certainly dirty and tedious, but the results could be well worth it. If our results prove to be mind-blowingly cool, then we can publish them in a scientific journal.

Our set up

Happy crabs!

I really enjoy the hands-on experience we are gaining from the class because it shows how in depth a simple experiment can be: from going out into the field and collecting animals, to maintaining and altering the experiment, as well as analyzing and presenting all the data collected. We all are truly learning how messy, but fun marine biology can be. The class also really prepares you as a scientist to be ready to take on and complete an experiment by yourself.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Teach in the Three Seas Program!

Faculty Positions in Climate Change and Urban Coastal Ecosystems

As part of a strategic initiative in the area of Urban Coastal Sustainability, the Marine Science Center and the Earth and Environmental Science Department at Northeastern University invite applications for multiple tenure track positions to start as early as September 2012.

While we encourage applications at the Assistant Professor level, exceptionally qualified candidates at all levels will be considered. Qualifications include a Ph.D. in a relevant discipline, at least one year of research experience at the postdoctoral or equivalent level, and evidence of outstanding research and academic potential.

Candidates are expected to have or to develop an independently funded research program of national caliber and participate effectively in undergraduate and graduate teaching. We are searching broadly and welcome applications utilizing interdisciplinary approaches to better understand the environmental and societal implications of climate change. Areas of interest within the department and center are focused on coastal ecosystems, with growing attention to those adjacent to major urban centers; physical and chemical processes at the boundaries of land, sea and atmosphere; etc. Experience in experimental, organismal, and genomic approaches to address the environmental impacts of climate change and related impacts (e.g., ocean acidification) would complement the Marine Science Center’s strategic focus on the sustainability of coastal ecosystems. The primary research laboratories of successful candidates are expected to be based at the Marine Science Center in Nahant.

To apply, visit “Careers at Northeastern”

Click on “Faculty Positions” and search for the current position under the College of Science.

Applications can also be submitted by visiting the College of Science website and clicking on the Faculty Positions button.

A complete application should include a Curriculum Vitae; a statement of research interests and plans; and a statement describing the applicant’s teaching experience, interests, and philosophy. For questions about the search, call the Search Committee Chair, Dr. Geoffrey C. Trussell, at 781-581-7370 (ext. 300). Should letters of reference be requested after initial application review, applicants should send them directly to the Chair at

Review of applications will begin December 1, 2010 and will continue until the position is filled. Northeastern is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Title IX University. Women and minority candidates are especially encouraged to apply.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tidal rapids

To follow up on Tyler's earlier post on tidal amplitudes in Downeast Maine, here are a video and an image showing the amazing tidal currents around Lubec. The video shows the ebbing tide cascading over a breakwater at the town boat launch. The image shows the same breakwater, an hour later, after the tide had fallen below it.

Lubec breakwater

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The tides are a turning

This past week, the EW XXVIII class went up to Lubec, Maine on a research field trip. Lubec is located at the southern tip of the Bay of Fundy, and the trip provided a unique opportunity for us to compare the intertidal zones between there and Nahant. For those who do not know about the bay, it is primarily in Canada with the southern part in Maine and has some of the highest tides in the world (about a 20 ft range!). While we were there, we used every possible minute to learn about the local ecosystems and spent most days in the field conducting various surveys.

What struck me the most, besides the actual tide range, was the difference in the marine life. While Nahant and Lubec are relatively close (on a global level) what lives there actually varies greatly. In conducting surveys we found the organisms that we have become familiar with back in Nahant, but also saw creatures I had never seen before. For instance, I have never seen a nudibranch in Nahant but they were relatively common up in Maine. Also, when we went diving, I saw soft bodied corals at only 20 feet which can only be found at 60 feet or deeper in Massachusetts. It will be interesting to compare the data we collected in Maine to the data we will be collecting in Nahant this week.
View at high tide

View at low tide