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Blog OSCAR

Microplastics: In my backyard, and probably yours, too

Written by Grace Loonam

I took this picture while visiting Eld Inlet in Puget Sound. Despite the lack of visible plastic pollution, microplastics have been documented in this urban estuary.

Initially, when considering the possibility of toxic plastic pollution, images of ominous floating garbage patches in the ocean may come to mind, as it is easy to picture how this waste could disrupt and harm aquatic life. This summer, I am working on a remote group project concerning the ecotoxicology of a less visible, but no less significant threat: microplastics. Microplastics, defined as pieces of plastic less than five millimeters in length, have become a subject of increasing interest and study, and numerous investigations targeted towards mapping their concentration and distribution in the aquatic environment have been conducted. Although my fellow researchers and I were initially planning on characterizing this issue in the Potomac River ecosystem, the need to work remotely has led us to instead analyze previous research that contains microplastic concentration data of distinct regions around the United States. We also collected pollutant data in the same regions, and I specifically looked in San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, and the Mohawk River for this information.

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Blog Education

Water Quality Data Mapping

Every year, we conduct research that helps us create a water quality “data map” of the Potomac. Here’s a video depicting what that research is like.

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Blog In the News

Hunting Creek Research

Alexandria Renew Enterprises featured our Hunting Creek research in a recent video.


RiverRenew on Vimeo.

Categories
Blog Education OSCAR

First Generation Student Turned Researcher

As a kid, Tom Hutchinson never thought he’d get to be a scientist. Hear him talk about the thrill of DNA extraction and research, all conducted while he is an undergraduate, through the Office of Student Scholarship. Tom was the very first student researcher in Dr. Jen Salerno’s lab. He continued working with her, through the Undergraduate Research Scholar Program, with Dr. Salerno as his mentor.

With the support of George Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship the PEREC team is able to provide students with unique and life-changing research experiences.

Want to know more about Tom’s research? Here’s his video from the 2020 GMU Research Symposium.

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Blog Education OSCAR

Katie Russels Wins Student Excellence Award

Undergraduate Katie Russell conducted research on river herring with Dr. de Mutsert. She presented at the GMU Spring 2020 Symposium, where she was also award the OSCAR Student Excellence Award.

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Blog OSCAR

Ben Rhoades Wins Student Excellence Award

Advised by Dr. Amy Fowler and Dr. Dann Sklarew, ESP undergraduate Ben Rhoades won the 2020 OSCAR Student Excellence Award for his research on microplastics in the Potomac.

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Blog

Graduate Student Awarded Boren Fellowship

Dr. Kim de Mutsert’s Graduate student, Sara Marriott, has been awarded a Boren fellowship, which will allow her to include fieldwork in the Philippines as part of her dissertation research.

From Sara:


“Boren Awards are made up of three parts, Language, Culture and Service. Through this fellowship, I will have the opportunity to travel to the Philippines for six months to study Tagalog and conduct research. My Ph.D. research is on social-ecological systems in small-scale fishery management in the Philippines, in which part of my research will be interviewing fishers and community members to better understand how community-based management practices work. Small-scale fisheries make up a large portion of unreported or under-regulated fishing and researching ways to make this sector more sustainable is important for both ecosystems and livelihoods of fishers. Finally, upon graduation, Boren Fellows are required to spend a year of service in the federal government, bringing their experiences and knowledge gained from the fellowship into US policy. This fellowship excites me because I hold stakeholder engagement as a core tenant. It is easy to just look at the numbers of fish biomass to determine impact, but in doing that I believe that you miss a large portion of the story of how and why different management/governance structures are or are not working. Having the opportunity to live in my study area working directly with fishers for six months is a dream come true in addition to enhancing my research outcomes.”

Congratulations Sara, we can’t wait to see where this takes you!

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Blog In the News

35-Year Study of Gunston Cove Published

For 35 years, Dr. Chris Jones has sampled Gunston Cove, a tributary to the Potomac. He has recently published a long-term study, tracking the ecosystem’s recovery. The results of his research indicate that submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) have returned (previously, there was none) as a result of increased water clarity. SAV provide important habitats for fish and invertebrates in the Potomac River. While there is still a long-way to go, this study demonstrates that it is possible to recover ecosystems that have been damaged by pollution. You can read Recovery of a Tidal Freshwater Embayment from Eutrophication: a Multidecadal Study here.

Abstract: 

Effective management of eutrophication in tidal ecosystems requires a thorough understanding of the dynamics of their responses to decreases in nutrient loading. We analyze a 34-year dataset on a shallow embayment of the tidal freshwater Potomac River, Gunston Cove, for long-term responses of ambient nutrient levels, light transparency measures, phytoplankton biomass, and coverage of submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) to decreased nutrient loading. Point source loading of phosphorus, the nutrient most limiting primary production in this system, was greatly curtailed coincident with the study onset (1983/84) exhibiting a sharp decrease of 95% from peak loading levels. However, water column total phosphorus decreased much more slowly and gradually. Phytoplankton chlorophyll a did not show a distinctive decrease until 2000 and SAV responded strongly beginning in 2004. The habitat suitability model for SAV developed by Chesapeake Bay researchers was able to explain the recovery of SAV coverage based on data on light transparency and basin morphometry collected in this study. The study results were consistent with the alternative stable state theory with a sharp transition from a phytoplankton-dominated “turbid water” state to an SAV-dominated “clear water” state in a 2-year period from 2003 to 2005. The system eventually responded to nutrient load reductions, but the nonlinear and incomplete nature of this recovery and the two-decade delay illustrate the complexities of managing these systems.

Categories
Blog Education

What Kind of Research Can GMU Students Do?

What kind of research opportunities are open to George Mason undergraduates? Hear from Keith, a student encouraged to apply for a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) by Dr. Cindy Smith. Hear him talk about what it was like to research fisheries with the Gulf of Maine Institute (https://www.gmri.org).

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Blog In the News

Student Accomplishments

Congratulations to the students of Dr. Kim De Mutsert on the following accolades:

Students and Dr. De Mutsert at the ecopath conference
L-R: Casey Pehrson, Dr. Kristy Lewis (University of Central Florida), Dr. Kim de Mutsert, Sara Marriott, and Sammie Alexander.

Sara Marriott was awarded a prestigious SESYNC Graduate Pursuit Fellowship, which is an an 18-month fellowship in which she is part of an interdisciplinary team that will be researching “A socio-environmental approach to improve offshore aquaculture and policy: Gulf of Mexico case study.” It supports travel and meetings to conduct research, provides access to SESYNC workshops and resources, as well as a stipend/honorarium of $2,000.

Sammie Alexander received a $5,000 program development award from Virginia Sea Grant for her project: “Assessment of fish passage use and success in facilitating movement of regionally vulnerable and invasive fish species in northern Virginia portion of the Potomac River.” This is the second award she has received from VA Sea Grant.

Kate Russel with her winning poster

Casey Pehrson was awarded the Robert D. Ross Graduate Scholarship in fisheries and related aquatic sciences from the Virginia Chapter of the American Fisheries Society. She received the second place award, which comes with a $250 check.

Katie Russell won the best undergraduate poster award at the Virginia Chapter of the Wildlife Society Conference that was held this week.