Field Work

In the world of working scientists, it is very common to conduct experiments or surveys to support your hypothesis.  This is the aspect of science that many tend to overlook.  Many natural scientists (such as but not limited to: biologist, ecologists, and geologists) call these experiments “Field Work.”  This type of work involves very long days that include traveling, working long hours (12+ hour work days), and being able to adapt to equipment failures, uncooperative weather, and many other unplanned events.  Also, you must be willing to work hard and keep a positive attitude because field work is not for the weary.  While this is not a very educational blog, it is important to understand the complexities of collecting data to support or disprove your hypothesis (both supporting or disproving your ideas are equally important!!!).  I just wanted to shine some light on this subject to get a better understanding of what kind of work is involved in the world of scientific research.

Nuclear Power Plant on Hold

A story reported by Lindsey Smith of Michigan Radio on the Palisades Nuclear plant  south-west of Grand Rapids was shut down after leaking radioactive water again.   This blog will soon be followed up with a short explanation of how radioactive decay works so that we can better understand the risk associated with radioactive materials.

Sources:

http://michiganradio.org/post/palisades-shutdown-comes-after-assumed-unplanned-release-radioactive-water-lake-michigan

Water Quality Constituents

From the blog yesterday, I posted the following water quality report from the Saginaw Waste Water Treatment Plant:

Test NPDES Permit Limit Actual Discharge 2012
Suspended Solids 30 mg/L 5.3 mg/L
BOD 30 mg/L 7.2 mg/L
Dissolved Oxygen 3.0 mg/L 6.5 mg/L
Fecal Coliform 200/100 ml 45/100 ml
Phosphorus 0.75 mg/L 0.39 mg/L
pH 6.5 to 9.0 7.1
Ammonia Nitrogen 5.0 mg/L 0.4 mg/L

After noting that each test was passed by the treatment plant, I now want to explain what each of these components are and the importance they hold.

Suspended Solids:  Suspended solids are particles in water that cannot be dissolved and are measured as milligrams per Liter.  This is primarily a measurement of sediment in the water but can also be irregular particles such as trash or undissolved organic material (scraps of leaves, grass, sticks, etc).  This is important because large fluxes of sediment into the water column can suffocate fish, block sunlight from reaching the bottom of the water column and reduce the ability for vegetation to grow.

BOD, Biological Oxygen Demand:  BOD is the amount of oxygen required to support aquatic life and is measured as milligrams per Liter.  While fish and plants need oxygen to live , it is the algae and molecular lifeforms in water that have the greatest impact on oxygen demand.  Large growth events of molecular life forms a spike in BOD and quickly use all the available oxygen in the water and can cause massive fish kills.

Dissolved Oxygen:  DO is the counter part to BOD and is measured as milligrams per Liter.  DO is the measure of the amount of oxygen available in water.  That is also why the test limit of 3 is actually a minimum and not a maximum amount.

Fecal Coliform:  This is a test that detects the presence of fecal bacteria and is measured as the number of bacterial colonies per 100 milliliters of water.  The main purpose of this test is to determine if bacteria levels are high enough to cause illness to wildlife or impact human health.  The most common bacteria that causes illness is E. Coli.

Phosphorus:  Phosphorus is a primary nutrient for plants and molecular lifeforms (such as algae) and is measured in milligram per liter of water.  The importance to measure phosphorus is to reduce the chance of having algal blooms in the waterways. Algal blooms are sudden and intense growths of algal communities which cause a spike in BOD which can then result in dangerously low oxygen levels (called hypoxia or anoxic water conditions).  Some algal blooms can even contain toxins that can kill fish, birds, dogs, and sometimes humans; these blooms are know as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).

pH: pH is the measure of hydrogen atoms available for transfer.  The “p” in pH means -log (meaning the negative logarithm of Hydrogen ion concentration).  liquids with a low pH have a large supply of Hydrogen ions available for transfer and are commonly known as acids.  Liquids with a high pH have a low supply of Hydrogen ions and are commonly known as bases.  A neutral substance has a pH of 7 on a scale ranging from 1 to 14.

Ammonia Nitrogen: Ammonia Nitrogen in another primary nutrient to plant and algal growth and are measured as milligrams per liter of water.  Like Phosphorus, a surplus of Ammonia Nitrogen can cause algal blooms resulting in a spike in BOD resulting in hypoxic conditions and possibly fish kills.

Now we know why these constituents are important to measure as waste water is treated and released back into rivers and lakes.

For more information, here is a link to a water quality page from the EPA that explains these concepts to greater detail, if you are interested: http://water.epa.gov/type/rsl/monitoring/vms50.cfm

Saginaw Waste Water Treatment Plant Handles the Flood

The rains that brought flooding to many local communities in the past few weeks have slowly started to let up in the Great Lakes Region.  During these flood events your local waste water treatment plant is responsible for taking in this excess water (primarily from storm drains), processing and treating the water, and finally releasing the clarified water back into the natural waterways (rivers).  An article written by Mark Tower of the mlive.com group, highlighted the work accomplished by the Saginaw Waste Water Treatment Plant.  This sewage plant needed to processes over 4 times the regular amount of water during peak rain/flow times.  A measure of how effectively a plant cleans the water is to sample the effluent (the water coming out of the plant, and thus going back into the river) and measure certain water characteristics.  Here is a list of measurements made during one of the high flow times in the past week

Test NPDES Permit Limit Actual Discharge 2012
Suspended Solids 30 mg/L 5.3 mg/L
BOD 30 mg/L 7.2 mg/L
Dissolved Oxygen 3.0 mg/L 6.5 mg/L
Fecal Coliform 200/100 ml 45/100 ml
Phosphorus 0.75 mg/L 0.39 mg/L
pH 6.5 to 9.0 7.1
Ammonia Nitrogen 5.0 mg/L 0.4 mg/L

The first column shows which water characteristic was tested, the second column displays the maximum level of contamination deemed to be safe and the third shows the actual contaminant levels coming out of the treatment plant.    Notice every characteristic passed.  (Dissolved Oxygen was higher, bu this is OK because the 3.0 mg/L (milligrams per liter of water) is a minimum not a maximum level).

Tomorrow, I will break down the importance of each of these water characteristic measurements and explain what each measurement is designed for and what it means to us.

Way to go Saginaw Waste Water!

Source:

http://www.mlive.com/news/saginaw/index.ssf/2013/04/what_is_floating_down_the_sagi.html

Sediment Plumes Identified in Lake Michigan

To follow through with the graphic I shared a couple of days ago, The Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) has also identified the extent of the sediment plumes in Lake Michigan.  The plumes from the Grand, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, Paw Paw, and Macatawa Rivers covered nearly 5,000 sq. kilometers (That’s Huge)!

2013Flood_Lake_Michigan_Plume_Map_w_Cities

Until the MODIS (Aqua) or VIIRS (Suomi NPP) satellite sensors can get another cloud-free look at Lake Michgan, this will be the extent of MTRI’s work on this flood event.

You can learn more about MTRI at http://www.mtri.org and some of the projects I have worked on be visiting http://www.glosaocmapping.org     and

http://geodjango.mtri.org/static/sav/

Thanks for reading,

Nate Jessee

Floods Release Sediment in Lake Michigan

Many people in the Great Lakes region have seen a lot of rain lately.  As a result many rivers have entered their flood stage.  The Grand, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, and Paw Paw Rivers have released large plumes of sediment into Lake Michigan as a result.  Check out the graphic generated by the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) ImageMore information about MTRI can be found at http://www.mtri.org and some of the remote sensing work they do can be found here http://www.glosaocmapping.org   Lastly, you can follow the Great Lakes Remote Sensing work at MTRI through their twitter feed. MTRI Great Lakes@MTRI_GLOS_AOCs