2021 Senior Thesis Interviews

Cruise Group

 

The seniors that spent their quarter at the Friday Harbor Labs had an incredible, in-person, very safe three months. They all lived in the beautiful San Juan Islands studying and completing their senior thesis. These students got to collect their own data in the Puget Sound by hand and analyze it in the labs at the facilities on the campus. Below are the students' stories of this great adventure and how their studies away from Seattle treated them.

--Interviews Winter 2021 by Lauren Bayne, UW Oceanography class of 2022

 

Alexander Islas

Senior thesis title and brief description:

“Changes in Phytoplankton Abundance and Diversity over Different Timescales in the San Juan Archipelago”

I studied the differences over the season in abundance and diversity of phytoplankton at the North and South stations of the Pelagic Ecosystem Functions research apprenticeship in the San Juan Channel. 

I also studied the changes of a tidal cycle using a vertical net and an Imaging Flow CytoBot to see the changes in the population and to see the differences between the two methods.

What research did you do while at Friday Harbor? Did you get to deploy any instruments or run tests in the field?

The main part of the Pelagic Ecosystem Functions research apprenticeship includes weekly voyages around the San Juan Archipelago. During the apprenticeship, the apprentices do a lot of the sampling and data collection. We did deployments of CTD and rosettes, vertical nets, secchi disks, and the like. We also collected samples for dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, and nutrients. Most of the samples that were collected were also analyzed by the apprentices.

During my initial research to find a project, I noticed that there were several studies looking at long term trends and looking at abundances relating to other environmental factors. When we first got to FHL, the researchers gave presentations on their focuses and one that I saw was the Friday Harbor Laboratories Ocean Observatory (FHLOO), this is an array of sensors that lives off the dock at FHL. Among these sensors there is an Imaging Flow CytoBot (IFCB), which just pumps water and takes photos of anything it sees in the water. It can provide thousands of images every sampling cycle, which can be a few times every hour. I found out that the FHLOO had not been used as part of the research apprenticeship and after asking around, the dataset was made available to me.

I decided to look at the variations in the populations present at both the North and South stations. I also looked at the differences in the populations found in the water column and using the IFCB. This mostly involved a lot of looking through a microscope to identify phytoplankton.

Would you recommend doing Friday Harbor Labs in general and or for the senior thesis to future undergraduates?

The Pelagic Ecosystem Functions research apprenticeship was established to investigate the patterns and variation in the pelagic ecosystem through weekly cruises to the north and south ends of the San Juan Channel during the fall quarters of 2004 to present. The 2020 Fall quarter was different in that Covid-19 restrictions limited the number of people that could be together at a time, so we were limited to our “pods” as a group of a 4-6 people. So, there was some limitations in how we could interact with other people in the apprenticeship, like not being able to help and see how other projects were done. There were also limitations on our ability to adventure, but just from the few excursions you can tell that the islands are very beautiful and there is a rich history around them.

What was your favorite experience while living at Friday Harbor?

I really liked the freedom to work when I wanted, apart from the few hours for the apprenticeship meetup and the cruises, most of the time was free to do what we wanted. Because it was fall or so during the project, there was starting to not have a lot of time when the sun was out. Because we could have access to the labs when needed, I liked working a lot more during the evening or night and to enjoy the environment during the day.  

 


Alexander Pasternack

Senior thesis title and brief description:

“Using Stokes’ Law to Identify Sediment Aggregation in a Tidally Dominated Environment, Freshwater Bay, WA, USA”

I investigated whether sediment aggregation, a process that causes sediment to “clump” together and settle more easily, helped form a fine sediment deposit at a site near Port Angeles, Washington. This fine sediment deposit had formed following the 2011 Elwha River dam removals and had persisted despite tidal forces in the Strait of Juan de Fuca that tend to resuspend sediment.  

What research did you do while at Friday Harbor? Did you get to deploy any instruments or run tests in the field?
I took sediment grabs and deployed a specialized device known as a LISST. The LISST helped me determine the size distribution of suspended sediment at the research site. I also got to analyze the data I collected in MATLAB. It was very satisfying to design and execute on a research plan.

Would you recommend doing Friday Harbor Labs in general and or for the senior thesis to future undergraduates?

The Senior Thesis requirement can be completed at Friday Harbor in one quarter. This freed up some time in my Winter and Spring quarter schedule to take other classes that will complement my degree.

What was your favorite experience while living at Friday Harbor?

While in the Strait of Juan de Fuca I could see the Olympic Peninsula to the south and Vancouver Island to the north. As a dual citizen to the US and Canada I felt quite satisfied in that moment.

 


Katherine Johnson (she/her)

Senior thesis title and brief description:

"Analyzing Sediment Samples to Ground Truth a Habitat Map for Pacific Sand Lance (Ammodytes hexapterus) in the San Juan Archipelago"

For my thesis, I analyzed sediment samples collected from areas that we would expect to find Pacific sand lance based on bathymetric maps of the San Juan Archipelago. I categorized these samples based on their grain size and silt percentage to find correlations between sand lance presence and characteristics of the sediment. I found that the presence of sand lance significantly decreased as silt percentages increased.

What research did you do while at Friday Harbor? Did you get to deploy any instruments or run tests in the field?

I researched sediment samples taken throughout the San Juan Archipelago using a van veen. I then separated the sediment based on grain sizes using a rotap machine. With my raw data, I created interpolated graphs on GIS to show how the percentage of silt in the sediment changes over the bathymetry. Most of our tests were done back at the labs, but depending on the research project, some of the other projects allowed for a lot more testing onboard the boat. 

Would you recommend doing Friday Harbor Labs in general and or for the senior thesis to future undergraduates?

Friday Harbor’s Labs provide a unique experience to work and study right in the middle of nature. The specimens that we researched could be found 500 feet from our lab buildings. The work was very independent but rewarding. We got to go out on the research vessel once a week to visit different areas around the island and collect samples. If you’re adventurous and love the outdoors, you’ll definitely love being at Friday Harbor labs. 

What was your favorite experience while living at Friday Harbor?

While at Friday Harbor I was able to see the resident orcas swim right by campus, which was a really cool experience. One of our classmates messaged our group chat to say that he was seeing them from the trail next to campus and we ran out of our cottage to the shore to watch them swim by. I also enjoyed exploring the island because it’s very woodsy with lots of trails and shoreline to explore.

 

 



 

The senior class didn't all go on the Rachel Carson cruise. Many of them took the course and did their thesis all on their own. These students utilized preexisting data or got to collect data in different ways from labs they have worked in or people they have worked with in the past. They went through the whole process and created amazing projects to share.

These are the senior thesis projects of the students that are graduating this winter quarter. They did incredible work these last two quarters and will be our first farewells!

 

 

Kathleen Gonzalez (she/her)

Senior thesis title and brief description:

“Seasonal Patterns of Fin Whale Calls in the Pacific Northeast” 

My thesis focuses on the comparison of call detection and analysis of count trends between two sites along the OOI cabled array network. I hypothesize there to be a greater density of fin whale calls closer to the continental shelf, as compared to a farther pelagic site due to greater coastal production and high bathymetric relief.

What data did you use to support your thesis and where did you get the data from? Were you able to collect any data this year or at a previous time yourself?

The data I used was collected by a low frequency hydrophone and vertical seismometer from the Axial Base and Slope Base sites respectively along the OOI’s cabled array network. My thesis focused on data analysis from this large repository and therefore in person collection of data was not required.

How did your thesis develop during the last two quarters? What was one thing you learned that was helpful and what was the most difficult part you came across?

The difficult part has been ensuring that the threshold of the algorithm I have been using properly detects calls. I have found that transitioning from a strictly quantitative approach to observing patterns has been helpful. Since my original proposal focused on plotting call density my thesis has since developed to an analysis of seasonal trends in fin whale call presence and detection.

Do you have any advice for future undergraduates going into their senior thesis?

Find what you love. If you are not enthusiastic about your project you will have a hard time getting out of the ruts that always come with this type of research. Focusing on something that has value to you personally will be the key to doing your best, and your work will show that.

What has been your favorite memory of your undergraduate experience?

Definitely all the in-field and at sea experience I have had during my stay at Friday Harbor Labs and on the OOI Vision’s cruises. The skills I have gained are invaluable and I will never forget the friends and connections I have made along the way.

 

 


Leland Wood (he/him)

Senior thesis title and brief description:

“Sulfur Metabolites in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre and Transition Zone”

My project was investigating the composition and distribution of small organic compounds that contain sulfur in the North Pacific. Sulfur is needed for many diverse organic compounds that have a specific cellular function or role. In the surface ocean, phytoplankton use inorganic sulfur in the water to produce these compounds. But some organisms, such as heterotrophic bacteria, do are not able make certain sulfur compounds on their own, and thus rely on taking up the organic matter from the phytoplankton. However, what compounds make up this pool is poorly characterized. I used samples of the microorganisms from the north pacific to identify the compounds in this pool and begin to understand their distribution across latitude. I identified a compound called gonyol to be the most abundant of the sulfur compounds. We know very little about this compound and how it is produced or used by microbes. Its high abundance suggests that it is a very important source of sulfur for organisms and likely plays a large role in biogeochemical cycling. We also observed a shift between the southern and northern latitudes, in which we observed sulfoniums to be the major form of sulfur compounds. These sulfoniums are compounds that have a sulfur-carbon bond and three sulfur-oxygen bonds. This was surprising as this group of compounds was only recently discovered to have a role in microbial communities. Their high abundance suggests these compounds are more important in the North Pacific than we previously thought. This project highlights the importance of sulfur in these understudied compounds and provides a foundation for future research on sulfur in the marine environment. 

What data did you use to support your thesis and where did you get the data from? Were you able to collect any data this year or at a previous time yourself?

            I had the pleasure of working with the Dr Ingalls and Dr Heal for this project. They bestowed a data set taken from a recent cruise that was a transect north of Hawaii. I was not able to help collect the data, but I was able to be a part of the extractions. I worked in the Ingalls lab as a Student research assistant, so I was able to help process the samples and run them on instruments (like our mass spectrometer!) once the samples got back to lab. This is where I was given the data – so it was completely raw data! Dr Heal helped me analyze the data and build our story from the data. 

How did your thesis develop during the last two quarters? What was one thing you learned that was helpful and what was the most difficult part you came across?

I think the senior thesis showed what it is like to go through the entire process that is a research project. We learn a lot about the scientific process through our classes and various experiences, but thesis was one of the best experiences where we got to put everything together – from forming a question to writing a proposal to data analysis and finding our conclusions and to finally writing the paper. It was really helpful to go through the entire process and learning what needs to happen from start to finish. I also learned how to plan for all these things and keep myself organized and on track. It was also really exciting to form our own research questions and learning how to make a good question. I think the most difficult part was the data analysis when you have to crunch through data and code does not always work the way you want it to. But it was also really rewarding being able to problem solve for myself have a really exciting data set that you can make “real science” conclusions from.  

Do you have any advice for future undergraduates going into their senior thesis?

Do something you are excited about! The thesis advisors do a really good job helping you develop your project and giving you the freedom to do something you want to do. So, take advantage of their expertise! Think of what you want to do most in science – what excited you in class that you want to do a project on? Research can really fun and rewarding and it will be way more enjoyable if you do something you are excited about and want to pursue! 

What has been your favorite memory of your undergraduate experience?

My favorite experiences have been the field work that I have been able to be a part of! I have loved being able to go out to sea and participate in research. My favorite was when I got to go to Axial Seamount and use the ROV Jason to research the hydrothermal vents around the volcano. I LOVE vents and it was so amazing to be out at sea and help operate the ROV ( I even got to drive it!!! ). I also got to help collect samples from the vent – which was SO COOL to be able to hold water that was collected from a hydrothermal vent, 1600 meters below the surface and had just circulated through the crust and was over 300 ℃! The water also smells way worse than I thought! 

I also got to spend a quarter at Friday Harbor! That was my favorite class experiences. It was so fun to live on the island and be outside all day and in the field! We got to spend most of our class time in the field and learning hands-on. It was the most amazing setting with the most amazing classes and most amazing professors. I can’t talk enough about FHL and how great it is. It definitely reminded me how fun science is and why I got into research. I would 100% recommend going to FHL if you can!



 

 

The senior thesis cruise was slightly different this year. The first leg two students went out to do their research on the Rachel Carson and the second leg departed from UW with six students and stayed for one night in the Whidbey basin. The students deployed instruments and collected data for their projects. They still got to sail around Puget Sound and experience sleeping on a research vessel. These lucky students followed many precautions to be able to go on this trip and because of their sacrifices the cruise went really well. The interviews below are from some of the students and their experiences.

 

Marissa Leatherman (she/her/hers)

Senior thesis title and brief description:

"Modelling anthropogenically released Pb and Cu in Puget Sound using the LiveOcean Regional Oceanographic Modelling System (ROMS)"

I am using the LiveOcean digital PNW model run by Dr. Parker MacCready to see where anthropogenically released copper and lead travel and pool in Puget Sound. I am hoping to help quantify the amount of trace metal contaminants that remain in versus leave the Puget Sound Main basin based on sinking behavior.

What research did you do on the cruise? Did you deploy or use any instruments?

On the cruise, we deployed CTDs and other instruments on a rosette as well as a sediment corer. We also attempted to figure out the water pH using beet juice, which failed but was very fun. 

How did your data collection go? Did you fix any problems or change anything while on the vessel?

I admittedly did not gather any data for my project on the cruise, as my project is centered on modelling. If I had, it would be using an ADCP to look at the topmost sediment layer at the bottom of the Sound.

What was your favorite memory from being on the cruise?

I really got along with the other students on the cruise, so much of it was very enjoyable. When we were heading back through the Ballard locks, we got to sit near the front of the boat. We made fun of all the weird yacht and commercial boat names and I feel like that was a very fun and memorable experience. We also got to go under all of the lift bridges and watching them lift just for us was fantastic.

 


Christine Bronder (she/her)

Senior thesis title and brief description:

"Perturbations in ocean circulation around Axial Seamount in response to the 2015 eruption"

Weeks after the 2015 eruption multiple sites in the caldera south of the lava flows saw an abnormal increase in temperature.  I am investigating whether changes in circulation and mixing can support the previously proposed brine layer hypothesis that could explain the ubiquitous increase in temperature.

What research did you do on the cruise? Did you deploy or use any instruments?

We collected multiple CTD casts around Whidbey Island that will be added to (if I remember correctly) a public database with other CTD data.  We collected water samples using a rosette to measure pH and refine a lab that Prof. Keil is working on.  We also deployed a sediment corer.  One deployment was successful, but we did not keep any of the samples.

How did your data collection go? Did you fix any problems or change anything while on the vessel?

Data collection went smoothly.  No problems to speak of.

What was your favorite memory from being on the cruise?

I enjoyed being out on the water and taking in the scenic views and the fresh air.  It was fun to watch real-time data come in when we did the CTD casts. This brief expedition confirmed how much I love my major and that this is what I want to do as a career.

 


Keely Hall (she/her)

Senior thesis title and brief description:

"Comparison of Microplastics in Puget Sound via the Puyallup River from 2017-2018 using University of Washington (UW) Tacoma Datasets"

I have been researching the hypothesis that microplastic abundance has increased from 2017 to 2018 along Puyallup River stations that are located around wastewater treatment plants. I have been examining nine stations between the two years that span from Commencement Bay inland to both Orting and Enumclaw.

What research did you do on the cruise? Did you deploy or use any instruments?

On the cruise, I learned how microplastic samples are collected and had the opportunity to collect my own samples. I obtained four samples in the Commencement Bay area by deploying a manta net tow that collects the plastic particles. We also took CTD, phytoplankton nets, and Secchi disk measurements at various stations on the way to Tacoma. We conducted chlorophyll analysis from the CTD samples while on board.

How did your data collection go? Did you fix any problems or change anything while on the vessel?

Data collection was very efficient and a lot of fun! The only problem we seemed to have was a faulty oxygen sensor on the CTD for the first sample, which was then quickly swapped for a functional one.

What was your favorite memory from being on the cruise?

My favorite memory from the cruise was getting to collect data relevant to my senior thesis firsthand. The small group of us that were on the ship created a cozy environment where I got to both learn about and learn from my mentor and fellow researchers/technicians during the cruise. Overall, it was a fantastic experience that I am very thankful for.

 


Amanda Gardiner (she/Her)

Senior thesis title and brief description:

"How the Genetic Signature of Nitrate Reductase Can Be Used as a Predictor for Phytoplankton Distribution"

My project is looking at the strength of the correlation between the amino acid sequence for the Nitrate Reductase enzyme in phytoplankton and the nitrate concentration that the phytoplankton species is found in. In addition, my study will be looking at if species with similar Nitrate Reductase sequences are found in similar nitrate concentrations.

What research did you do on the cruise? Did you deploy or use any instruments?

On the cruise we deployed CTDs, phytoplankton nets, secci disks, and manta tows for microplastics on the surface of the water. I deployed and used all of the instruments.

How did your data collection go? Did you fix any problems or change anything while on the vessel?

Data collection went great! We thankfully didn’t have any problems while on the vessel, and the hardest part of data collection overall was the weather. On the first day we were inundated with heavy rain and wind, and it was difficult to deploy the instruments when we couldn’t feel our fingers!

What was your favorite memory from being on the cruise?

My favorite memory from being on the cruise was deploying a CTD in Elliott Bay! On our second day we were heading north and detoured through Elliott Bay to get a CTD, and right as we passed West Seattle the weather cleared, so we were able to collect our data on water that looked like glass. Right as we pulled the CTD up, a ferry passed by and there were some people on the deck who were smiling and waving to us, and in the age of COVID-19 and the pandemic it felt like a pure and genuine moment of human connection.

 


Alana Kraft (she/her)

Senior thesis title and brief description:

"The Effects of Glacial Melting on Precipitation Patterns in Jellyfish Lake, Palau Derived from Hydrogen Isotopes in Algal Lipids"

A catastrophic outburst of glacial meltwater into the Labrador Sea 8,200 years ago disrupted oceanic circulation for more than a century and impacted climate globally. In this project, I analyze hydrogen isotopic data (2H/1H) from sediment cores taken from Jellyfish Lake, Palau that imply a southward shift of the tropical rainbands during this time. 

What research did you do on the cruise? Did you deploy or use any instruments?

On the cruise, I learned how to collect samples with a sediment coring instrument. We also deployed the CTD and collected data at multiple stations in Whidbey Basin. 

How did your data collection go? Did you fix any problems or change anything while on the vessel?

Overall, the data collection went smoothly on the cruise. The first time we deployed the sediment corer, however, it didn’t function properly and filled completely with water. To correct this, we moved to a station where the sediment was predominantly mud. There, we were able to collect pristine core samples. 

What was your favorite memory from being on the cruise?

My favorite memory from the cruise was when we anchored near Port Susan. The water was so calm, and the sunset reflected beautifully on the water. It was the perfect end to our day of CTD casts and data collection!