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Odd Jobs

Insatiable curiosity often leads researchers, or their unsuspecting graduate students, into situations you almost have to see to believe. With ten new projects partially powered by a dozen graduate research assistants, there are multiple opportunities to witness Minnesota Sea Grant researchers in action. Minnesota Sea Grant allocated $588,000 to support the new research assistants over the next two years; here is a glimpse at what three of them are doing.


Wendy Heib holding a gull chick.

Wendy Heib with a ring-billed gull chick on Interstate Island. "People might think this is a bit crazy, but field work is like that sometimes. It can be cold, messy, and
smelly, but the project is worthwhile and the opportunities I'm getting are amazing."

Chasing Chicks

Who: Wendy Heib, graduate student of Randy Hicks, associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). Heib joined the University's graduate program in Water Resources Science after working on groundwater policy (a very clean job) for two years in Washington, D.C.

What: Wearing rubber gloves and a hard hat, she helped her colleagues Brendon Keough and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources veteran Fred Strand collect fresh guano (a very dirty job) from common tern and ring-billed gull chicks.

Why: To analyze strains of bacteria living in the birds' intestines and compare them to bacteria in water samples from Lake Superior watersheds and the Duluth-Superior Harbor. The goal is to help wastewater treatment plants and governing agencies quantify how land use relates to sources of fecal pollution.

Where: Interstate Island in the St. Louis River Estuary of Lake Superior: the nesting site of approximately 13,000 pairs of French fry-eating gulls and 200 pairs of aggressive terns.

How: Hand-catch flightless birds. Gently swab the cloaca (the excretory cavity) of gull chicks; hold the posterior end of tern chicks over a plastic bag and hope they "contribute." Store samples for later analysis back in a microbiology laboratory.


Wansuk Senanan, Amir Gonzalez, and Anne Cooper carry specimens

Wansuk Senanan, Amir Gonzalez, and Anne Cooper carry specimens and raise eyebrows. "Working with fish is so much more interesting than soybeans. There are more opportunities to be innovative and escape the confines of the laboratory. Plus, people don't seem to fall asleep when I talk about fish."

Seeing Rainbows on a Cloudless Day

Who: Anne Cooper, graduate student of Anne Kapuscinski, professor of fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Cooper, a native of White Bear Lake, MN, has a history that includes studying soybean genes and a future that includes genetic analyses on hatchery and naturalized wild stocks of coaster brook trout. On this day, she was seeing rainbows (as in trout).

What: Cooper joined other University researchers and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources French River Station personnel to collect data and tissue samples from Kamloops, steelhead, and Kamloops-steelhead hybrid rainbow trout.

Why: To assess how stocked Kamloops rainbow trout may compromise naturalized steelhead populations through hybridization.

Where: Amity Creek (which flows into the Lester River), about three miles inland from Minnesota's North Shore of Lake Superior.

How: Always walk against the current. Stun, scoop, measure, and sample each rainbow trout. Anesthetize fish in pungent clove oil, store tissue samples in ethanol until genetic tests can begin back in the lab.


Darin Albrecht carefully works with a core of sediment from the bottom of Lake Superior

Darin Albrecht carefully works with a core of sediment from the bottom of Lake Superior. "I hope to get a job in the water industry after graduation, and this project is giving me some good background on how large lakes work.

Mucking Around in Lake Superior

Who: Darin Albrecht, graduate student of Eric Brown, associate professor, Large Lakes Observatory and geological sciences at UMD. Albrecht joined the University's graduate program in Water Resources Science after earning his bachelor's degree from UMD in geology. He considered going to New Mexico for graduate school, but was swayed to attend UMD after being offered this plum job to plumb the depths of Lake Superior.

What: Albrecht and fellow research assistants travel aboard the R.V. Blue Heron and drop a sediment sampling device overboard. They also use computer equipment for multibeam, sidescan, and seismic surveys.

Why: To examine how the Nemadji River delivers sediments to Lake Superior and the relative roles of currents, waves, and other physical forces in dispersing these sediments. This study will help scientists, engineers, and port authorities understand how land use, harbor dredging, variations in lake levels, and climate-driven changes in lake circulation influence sediment deposition.

Where: The western part of Lake Superior.

How: By slicing mud! Take a sediment core tube and remove the water by pushing up on the bottom plunger, much like how one would handle a large "push pop." Once the mud is to the top of the tube, carefully scrape off a thin layer and deposit it into a small plastic bag. Repeat process about a hundred times until the whole core is "sliced." Put the bags in the freezer for later analysis.


By Sharon Moen
December 2001

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