My Summer on the Ohio River

This blog is about my summer internship with the Center for Ohio River Research and Education at the Thomas More College Biology Field Station. My internship consists of conducting a bioassessment of the Ohio River.

Final Week

Last week was the conclusion of my summer internship at the Center for Ohio River Research and Education. The week began with a tour of Dr. McGregor’s mussel research lab. Dr. McGregor’s mussel lab is a unique state of the art facility that has all the necessary equipment to propagate mussel growth and development. There are small tanks for growing glochidia, small fish host tanks, mussel storage tanks, and algae tanks for growing food for the mussels. Dr. McGregor discussed how each system in his lab works. It was an interesting and informative tour that complimented his seminar that he gave the previous week.

We finished our habitat assessments and zebra mussel scraping on last Tuesday (August 5th). The habitat assessments were conducted at our upstream sample sites Z2 and Z1. We used the same methods as we used the previous week for Z4 and Z3. Once we finished the habitat assessments of our upstream sites, we performed zebra mussel scraping on the furthest upstream mooring cell. The zebra mussels were placed in 95% ethanol to preserve them for further processing in the lab. Before heading back to the lock house, we collected the remaining Hester Dendys as well. The Hester Dendys are part of an intern’s independent project. However, we assisted whenever we had extra time.

On last Wednesday (August 6th), we had a seminar with Dr. Erik Pilgrim about DNA barcoding and metagenomics applications for aquatic ecosystems. He uses these molecular genetic tools for environmental bioassessments and invasive species detection and monitoring. His goal is to provide quick and cost effective measures of aquatic biodiversity than previously possible. He intends to achieve his goal by using metagenomics. Essentially, metagenomics is genetic material recovered directly from environmental samples. For example, Dr. Pilgrim could take a kick net sample of benthic macroinvertebrates and grind them up, and sequence their DNA. The results would display all the macroinvertebrates that were present in the kick net sample.

We gave our final presentations on Friday (August 8th). We began by having five interns including myself present the PowerPoint presentation about our bioassessment of the Ohio River near the Zimmer power station. Our bioassessment presentation covered the results of our habitat assessment, physiochemical sampling, and fish collection. Once we finished our bioassessment presentation, the two interns that spearheaded our side DNA project presented a separate PowerPoint about our findings with the molecular work.
We presented our habitat assessment and physiochemical results first. We found that our upstream and downstream sites have a similar average depth, riparian area, and shoreline. By design, our four research sites are similar. It enables us to analyze the potential impacts Zimmer has on the Ohio River. For our habitat result, we found that research sites Z1, Z3, and Z4 are dominated by gravel substrate. Z2’s substrate consists mainly of fines (silt and clay). All four research sites lacked an abundance of boulders. For our physiochemical results, we compared our downstream sites to our upstream sites. There were no significant differences for pH, dissolved oxygen, and water temperature. However, there were significant differences for conductivity and secchi disk depth.

The next section that we presented was our fish results. We calculated the Ohio River Fish Index, number of species, individuals, and biomass for fish captured in our nets and electrofishing. The Ohio River Fish Index rates the health of a fish population. The minimum score is 13 and the maximum score is 65. Z1, Z2, and Z4 were rated as good scores, while Z3 had a fair score. In total, we sampled 32 fish species and 1,261 individuals.

Through our study, we found that the Ohio River around the Zimmer power plant meets water quality standards to support aquatic life. Our four study sites were comparable across all datasets including, physiochemical, habitat, and biological. However, there were a few notable exceptions:

• A higher proportion of fine substrate at Z2. This negatively affects the fish community in this area because benthic macro invertebrates tend to colonize structured substrates. Benthic macroinvertebrates are a primary food source for numerous fish species and they need structured substrate to colonize.

• Another notable exception is that we sampled higher abundance of fish downstream in our gill nets. This could be attributable to a tributary known as Big Indian Creek near Z4. This stream could be bringing nutrients and attracting fish to this area of the Ohio River.

• The next notable exception is that there was a significantly higher number of fish sampled upstream through electrofishing. This is because we sampled many mimic shiners upstream while electrofishing. However, it is not uncommon to collect a mass of minnows one night and none the next.

• The final notable exception is that there were significantly higher turbidity and conductivity levels downstream of the Zimmer power plant. The increased turbidity downstream could be due to high barge traffic, Big Indian Creek, recreational boaters near boat docks and ramps. We suspect that the increased conductivity is a consequence of suboptimal discharge from the Zimmer power plant.

Overall, this internship has been a great experience. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to be a part of the long-term bioassessment of the Ohio River near the Zimmer power plant. I learned first-hand crucial big river sampling techniques and procedures. I was fortunate to spend almost every day working outside on the mighty Ohio River. Throughout this internship, I was able to work with multiple agencies and learn from professional researchers through their interactive seminars at the lock house. These collaborators include the Newport Aquarium, Duke Energy, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Service, Cincinnati Museum Center, U.S. EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ORSANCO, and other agencies. I would also like to thank Dr. Lorentz and all of my colleagues from this summer. Additionally, I am grateful of all the support that I have had throughout this internship.

Thanks for reading,
-Luke

Week 9

Last week started with DNA work in the morning and electrofishing at night. Our goal for DNA processing last week was to start processing our new samples and reach a stopping point by the end of Wednesday. To achieve our goal, we needed to extract the DNA from the tissue. This was completed by passing through a serious of steps including centrifuging multiple times to extract the tissue and leave behind the DNA. We reached our goal on Wednesday and finished in the lab by suspending our DNA samples and placing them in the freezer. We went electrofishing at our research sites Z3 and Z2. Prior to electrofishing, we met at the lock house at 8:30 p.m. to prepare our research vessel. For electrofishing, we need two generators (one for the electrofishing unit and one for the bow lights), electrofishing unit, anodes, four nets, lights, two live wells, five gallon bucket, weighing scales, two meter sticks, data book, and all required safety equipment. Z3 is directly downstream of the power plant and Z2 is directly upstream. At both of these locations, we caught a significant amount of minnows. We also sampled numerous other fish species as well. Each fish was weighed and measured before being released back into the river.

On last Wednesday, we had a seminar with Dr. Monte McGregor. Dr. McGregor is a world-renowned malacologist that has worked on numerous mussel conservation projects. During his talk, he discussed mussel history, issues, and a method he recently developed to culture larval mussels. He explained how mussels are some of the rarest species on the planet, but the Mississippi and Ohio have very diverse species. Interestingly, there are more species of mussels in Kentucky then there is in all of Europe. The life history of mussels is unique as well. Once an upstream male fertilizes the eggs, the female lures a host fish over and sprays her larvae onto the fish. The glochidia (mussel larvae) attach to the host fish gills and incubate there for up to two week. When the glochidia reach a juvenile stage, they detach from the fish gills. Each mussel species has very specific host fish and the females lure directly targets these host species. The female lures can range from mimicking a baitfish to a worm. This poses as an irresistible snack to the unsuspecting fish. The historical significance with mussels originated with Indians. The Indians used mussels for tools and jewelry. Eventually, a large button industry was developed around the freshwater mussels. These destructive industries led to an overharvest of mussel populations. Another important fact about mussels is that they are pollution intolerant and are a great indicator species. However, they have been affected by habitat loss, pollution, disease, climate change, invasive species, siltation, poor agricultural practices, and coal in the sediment. To combat the losses of native mussel species, Dr. McGregor developed a method for successfully raising mussels. His method produces glochidia without the fish host stage. Instead, he incubates larval mussels on petri-dishes with a rabbit blood or fish blood serum. This technique is very successful and can produce thousands of juvenile mussels. These mussels are then inserted into streams and rivers that are in need of mussel conservation.

We had our private tour of the Zimmer power plant facility last Thursday. It was interesting to tour the power plant that we sampled all summer. While on our tour, we were required to wear a hard hat, safety glasses, and earplugs in certain locations. The tour began with a brief overview of the power plant. It produces approximately 1300 megawatts of electricity per day and burns about 600 tons of coal per hour. Only forty percent of that is converted into electricity. The rest of the energy escapes as steam at the cooling tower. We then toured the maintenance room, control room, boiler room, and various other aspects of the power plant. The most intriguing part of the tour was when we entered the nuclear reactor! Zimmer was originally constructed to be a nuclear power plant, but converted to coal at the last minute. There was not much left in the reactor, most of the material had been scrapped. During the tour, we learned that the power plant turbines were constructed on a separate foundation to prevent them from shaking the entire building. When we stepped onto the turbine foundation, we felt a considerable amount of vibration. The tour concluded 350 feet up on a rooftop overlooking the power plant. It provided a gorgeous view of the Ohio River (I apologize in advance for the blurry pictures below).
Zimmer 1

Zimmer 2

Zimmer 3

Zimmer 4

On Friday, we began conducting habitat assessments of our four research sites. The methods that we used to conduct our habitat assessments were developed by ORSANCO. For this assessment, we needed a 100 ft. tape measure, a 100-meter tape measure, and two 10 ft. copper poles. The copper poles are used to determine the type of substrate. By lowering the copper poles down and tapping them gently on the bottom, we were able to distinguish between boulders, cobble, gravel, sand, fines, and hardpan. We began at Z4 and marked off a 500-meter section of the shoreline placing a marker at every 100 meters starting at 0 meters. At each 100 meters, we would start at the shoreline and sample the substrate at intervals of 10 ft. until we reach 100 ft. out on the river from the shoreline. This procedure was repeated at the six 100 meter marks of the research site. At each transect, we also recorded the percent riparian cover, percent shoreline cover, percent of wood cover, and the percent of aquatic vegetation. Furthermore, we recorded the percent of barges, docks, boat ramps, residential lawns, mooring cells, and industry. This procedure was repeated at the six 100 meter marks of the research site. We completed habitat assessments at Z4 and Z3, but intend to perform habitat assessments at Z2 and Z1 on Tuesday. After we finished our habitat assessments at Z4 and Z3, we conducted zebra mussel scraping on the furthest downstream mooring cell of the power plant. This yielded a few hundred zebra mussels. In previous years, Dr. Lorentz said that they have sampled and collected over a thousand with this method.

Last week we also finished the construction of the mulch bed and fossil garden. To complete these two projects, Dr. Lorentz wants us to develop some trivia questions about the Ohio River for the mulch bed. He also wants us to create an educational sign for the fossil garden about the rich geologic history in this area. These projects have complimented the lock house very well.

The beginning of this week has been busy as well and will continue to be until our final presentations on Friday. Currently, we are working on organizing our final draft of the Standard Operation Procedures for performing a bioassessment of the power plant, constructing our PowerPoint presentation, and creating a poster. Additionally, this week Dr. Monte McGregor’s is giving us a tour of his mussel lab. We are also going to complete habitat assessments of Z1 and Z2, attend a seminar on Wednesday evening, perform zebra mussel scraping upstream of the power plant, and collecting Hester Dendys.

Thanks for reading,
-Luke

Week 8

Last week was the eighth week of my internship. Last Monday, we made our seven-mile boat ride to the power plant to set up our nets for the week. We set a hoop net and a gill net at each of our four sample locations. During the week, we checked our nets twice a day and recorded the lengths and weight of the fish we sampled. For fish species that we have not sampled previously, we collected DNA samples from them to sequence in the lab. Additionally, at our four research sites we recorded physicochemical data. We did not sample any unique fish last week, just the more common fish species of the river. By the more common species, I mean longnose gar, river carpsucker, gizzard shad, channel catfish, smallmouth buffalo, etc.

On Tuesday last week, we went night electrofishing at the older power plant that I talked about in my first post. This coal-fired power plant is lacking vital technology to operate on a consistent basis. This facility is only in operation when extra electricity is needed, or when the other power plant is down for maintenance. The negative characteristics associated with the ancient power plant are large water intake, thermal discharge, absence of ash settling ponds, and a nonexistence environmentally efficient technology. When EPA’s Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) is implemented in 2015, this facility will retire. While we electrofished, the power plant was in operation. Consequently, we were able to feel the direct effects of the thermal discharge that was well in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, we do not collect physiochemical parameters when we electrofish, so we did not know the exact temperature. That being said, we could feel the significant temperature change just by placing our hands in the water near the discharge. Once we finished electrofishing downstream of the power plant, we recorded the lengths and weights of the fish that we had sampled. We then motored upstream of the power plant and electrofished a designated research area and repeated our process of recording the lengths and weights of each fish. We stored the minnows from each location in separate containers for identification in the lab the next morning.

Electrofishing Beckjord

On last Wednesday, we processed our minnows from the previous night, checked our nets, and had a seminar with Erich Emery from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Mr. Emery is a biologist and water quality specialists at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. His talk focused on harmful algal blooms. These algal blooms are harmful and sometimes deadly to humans and their pets. They have also become more common in recent years and have lasted longer than usual. Mr. Emery discussed one instance of where a lake had an algal bloom that lasted over the winter. Water specialists such as Mr. Emery are trying to improve their understanding of these toxic algal blooms to prevent further harm to humans.

We pulled our nets from our four sample locations near the power plant on Friday for the last time this summer. When we brought them back to the field station, we cleaned them and put them in storage for the next group of interns. Additionally, last week we continued to work on the fossil and mulch bed projects in our spare time. These two projects are going to be continued and are set to be completed before we have our final presentations in August.

This week we are sequencing DNA samples, electrofishing, performing habitat assessments, analyzing our data, writing our standard operational procedures, and constructing our PowerPoint and poster presentations. Our final presentations are going to be held on Friday August 8th. On Monday, we went to the Cincinnati Museum Center to begin the first steps in processing our DNA samples. These steps included cutting our tissue samples into small pieces to increase the surface area, labeling each vial, pipetting a digestion buffer into each sample, and placing them on a hot plate overnight. The hot plate increases the rate of digestion. That afternoon, we went sampling and caught a blue sucker! This is a rare fish and is threatened in much of its native range. To get a sense of how rare it is in this area, it was only the third one to be sampled in the twenty-five years that this project has been conducted. Consequently, we handled this fish with great care and with a sense of urgency to return it to the water as quickly as possible.

Blue Sucker
Blue Sucker1

It is hard for me to believe that this internship is winding down to an end so quickly. However, it has been a great experience and I am certain the remainder will be as well.

Thanks for reading,
-Luke

Conclusion of Week 6 and Week 7

Last week was the conclusion of week 6 of my internship on the Ohio River. Our research group was checking hoop nets, gill nets, and taking water quality parameters twice a day at our four research sites. Last Friday, when we arrived at our first gill net, we were greeted with a large American Paddlefish! This is a rare find on this section of the Ohio River. We recorded its length and weight and successfully released it back in to the water as quickly as possible to reduce the amount of stress on the fish. Paddlefish are an interesting fish that use their electroreceptor-lined rostrum to detect electrical impulses from zooplankton. The mouth of a paddlefish has long gill rakers that are adapted to filter out the zooplankton from the water. The paddlefish was once abundant in parts of the United States, but dams, development, and polluted waters led to a decline in population. Fortunately, greater awareness has improved water quality on some parts of the Ohio River leading to a slight increase in the paddlefish population.
Polydon spathula
Polydon spathula2

Polydon spathula1

In my previous posts, I have talked a lot about collecting fish data, but I have not discussed data analysis. Once we have all of our fish data collected, we are going to calculate a biological index known as the Ohio River Fish Index (ORFIn). The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) developed this index. ORSANCO is a water pollution control agency that consists of eight states including Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Using the Index of Biological Integrity as a model, ORSANCO developed the ORFIn to examine fish data from the Ohio River. This index consists of 13 metrics used to determine fish community health. It is designed to have a maximum score of 65 with each metric having a max score of 5. A high score is reflective of good water quality and a healthy fish community. The ORFIn takes into account the number of species, the type of species, and the number of DELTs (Deformities, Eroded fins, Lesions, or Tumors). ORSANCO has developed expected scores based on three distinct habitat classes. A, B, and C are the designated habitat classes with A being the highest and C the lowest. We have not done habitat surveys, but intend to do them during our last week of fieldwork. However, I am excited to see if we will find a difference in our sample sites above and below the power plant.

This week is week 7 of my internship. It was also STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) camp week for forty high school students. We had groups of students visit the field station on Monday and Wednesday. On these days, our research group participated as mentors and took small groups of students out on our three research vessels to conduct a bioassessment of the Ohio River near the field station. This was completed by instructing them on the proper techniques for collecting water quality parameters, checking hoop nets, and boat electrofishing. Overall, the students had a great time at the field station and learned a lot.
STEM Camp

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to backpack electrofish during the day and boat electrofish that evening. We backpack electrofished a small stream near the field station with a professor that wanted to collect teaching specimens for the fall semester. Therefore, we did not have a set protocol for sampling; we just needed to collect various fish species. While sampling, we encountered darters, creek chubs, sunfish, catfish, and rock bass. The professor was content on adding these fish to his collection. On Tuesday evening, Mat Latos from the Cincinnati Reds came to the field station to go boat electrofishing. Fortunately, for us interns, we were able to go out sampling with him.

backpack electrofishingDarterLepomis megalotisMat Latos1

This week Dr. Lorentz has added a couple more projects for our research group to work on in our spare time. One of these tasks is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for our bioassessment of the Ohio River. Dr. Lorentz intends to use this document to give to interns during their first week of the internship. He hopes that this document will have all the information needed for the interns to complete their bioassessment of the Ohio River. Another project that we began working on this week is a landscaping fossil project. Dr. Lorentz wants us to collect interesting fossils to display the rich geologic history of this area. To display these fossils we began to create a walkway that will have informative signs about the history of the fossils. This area of Kentucky is rich in marine fossils including brachiopods, mollusks, corals, and occasionally a trilobite. Many of the fossils that we have found have come from the banks of the Ohio River less than a mile away from the field station.

Next week we are going to continue our bioassessment of the Ohio River. This will include setting and checking hoop nets and gill nets, collecting water quality data, and boat electrofishing.

Thanks for reading,
-Luke

Week Five

Last week was our week off, so I went home to visit family and friends. It felt good to be home and I was able to talk to them about what I had experienced thus far this summer during my internship. I also enjoyed spending time with my family on Independence Day. However, I was not too reluctant when I had to leave to come back to Kentucky because I was ready to start working again. I arrived back at the Center for Ohio River Research and Education on Sunday afternoon and spent the rest of my day unpacking and preparing for the upcoming week.

This week we are continuing to sample the Ohio River near the power plant with hoop nets and gill nets. We placed the nets at our four sample locations on Monday. As a reminder, our sample sites consist of two sites below the power plant and two sites above. While setting our nets on Monday, we ran into a multitude of issues. To start with, our main research vessel (the Sea Arch) was supposed to be out of the garage, but the mechanics did not finish the repairs on time. Consequently, we had to use our other research vessel (the Roughneck). We felt good about taking the Roughneck because it had recently been repaired and the engine was running well. When we began our seven-mile trek to the power plant, we immediately noticed engine malfunctions. We were able to conclude that the problem was a bad fuel line. Fortunately, the field station is not far from the nearest boat shop and Dr. Lorentz was able to purchase a new fuel line. With the new fuel line installed, we motored upstream to the power plant. When we arrived at our first site, we attached an anchor line, buoy line, and tree line to the hoop net and set it in the water. We repeated this process for our remaining three sites. That evening we checked our hoop nets and set a gill net at each location.

Over the past few days, we have continued to check our nets in the morning and evening, collect water quality parameters, and process our DNA samples. So far, we have sampled longnose gar, gizzard shad, silver redhorse, blue catfish, river carpsucker, smallmouth buffalo, blue gill, longear sunfish, skipjack herring, and several other fish species in our nets this week. In the lab, we have finished sequencing our DNA samples. This is important because it enables us to check for correct fish identification, fish hybridization, and provides samples for an online database for researchers known as the Fish Barcode of Life initiative (FISH-BOL). The FISH-BOL database is a global effort to develop a reference library for all fish species. In theory, a handheld device will be constructed that will have the ability to be a barcode reader of tissue samples. Once the device reads the tissue sample, it would be relayed instantly to the FISH-BOL database. The database would then respond with the specimens name, photograph, and description. This type of technology would be beneficial to any potential user. On Wednesday, we were scheduled to have Dr. Erik Pilgrim from the US EPA give a seminar about DNA Barcoding and other genetic tools used in aquatic ecology. Unfortunately, Dr. Pilgrim was not feeling well and the seminar has been rescheduled for a later date. We are going to finish this week with pulling our nets and preparing them for the next time we use them.

Thanks for reading,
-Luke

Week Four

Night electrofishing was a great experience last Monday. We headed out on to the river just as the sun was going down. The reason we boat electrofish at night is that fish become more active and move closer to the surface of the river. It was still day light out when we arrived at the power plant, so we reviewed safety precautions and proper techniques until the sun had completely sank below the horizon. We motored over to our sample location downstream of the power plant and filled our live wells with water. Next, we fired up the generators, turned on the electrofishing unit, lowered the electrodes into the water, illuminated the bow of the research vessel, and positioned ourselves to net the tetanized fish. Our sampling consisted of a reach of 1200 seconds beginning at our sample site downstream of the power plant. In our research vessel, one intern regulated the voltage of the electrofishing unit, one intern placed the netted fish in to the live wells, and four interns netted fish from the bow of the research vessel. Once we finished our designated reach, we recorded the lengths and weights of the fish and released them back in to the river. We kept the minnows for later identification and for tissue samples.

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Tuesday entailed identifying the minnows we sampled the previous night and a behind the scenes tour of the Newport Aquarium. We used dichotomous fish keys to correctly identify the minnows. Next, we grouped the minnows together by species and recorded their weight. Later that day, we drove to the Newport Aquarium for our behind the scenes tour. An employee at the aquarium talked us through his daily routine and the various tasks that need to be completed for the aquarium to function properly. The most interesting exhibits we toured consisted of the shark rays, Amazon fish (including a few arapaima), and the paddlefish.

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On Wednesday, we went to the Cincinnati Museum Center to further process our DNA samples and we also went night electrofishing that evening. At the Museum Center, we continued the process of extracting the DNA from our samples so that we can eventually run our samples through the DNA sequencer. This involved multiple steps using the centrifuge for twenty-minute intervals. Once completed, our samples were ready for the DNA sequencer. However, that step will not be completed until we have our other samples processed to the same phase. That evening, we went electrofishing above the power plant for a reach of 1200 seconds. While electrofishing, we were able to net four Asian carp. Dr. Lorentz stated that we have been shocking more Asian carp this year than he has in previous years on this section of the Ohio River. When we finished the reach, we completed our usual routine of recording the length and weight of each fish that we sampled.

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The week concluded with our research group identifying minnows on Thursday and having the day off on Friday. With our day off on Friday, a colleague and I went on a canoe adventure on Elkhorn Creek. It was a beautiful stream with a diversity of fish. However, the particular fish that we were seeking was the smallmouth bass. We caught a few on our fishing rods and released them back into the creek. Overall, it was a good day.

Thanks for reading,
-Luke

Week Three

Last week started similar to the previous week. However, the focus of last week was to collect tissue samples of fish species for DNA sequencing this week. On Monday morning, we put our gill nets and hoop nets out at our four sampling locations by the power plant. That evening, we checked our nets and recorded the lengths and weights of the fish that we caught. We also took tissue samples from each different fish species that we netted. This process of checking nets, recording lengths and weights, and taking samples for DNA sequencing continued for the rest of the week with the exception of Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday morning, thirty high school students came out to the Thomas More College Biology Field Station for an educational field trip. Before they arrived, Dr. Lorentz took us out electrofishing to collect fish to show them. While shocking, a five-foot paddlefish came thrashing to the surface and was gone in the blink of an eye! Paddlefish are prehistoric fish that have remained relatively unchanged for the past seventy five million years. However, they are not as common as they once were. When the students arrived, they were divided among the different intern groups for an hour each before rotating. The interns at the field station were able to instruct the students about their summer research projects. For instance, my intern group and I went with Dr. Lorentz and instructed the students how to boat electrofish, take water quality data, check a hoop net, and sample for zooplankton. We took two boats, Dr. Lorentz in the electrofishing boat and two interns and I in the second boat that focused on water quality, zooplankton sampling, and checking the hoop nets. The boat ride began with a short discussion of the importance of water quality and the meaning of each parameter. We also discussed the range of parameters a healthy river system should possess. Next, we let the students use the necessary tools to collect their water quality data and record their findings. We also encouraged them to make general observations about the current weather because the weather can significantly affect fish movement. When we checked the hoop net, they were all excited to see a longnose gar in the net.

On Wednesday afternoon, I went with Dr. Lorentz to take more students boat electrofishing. Dr. Lorentz informed the students of the importance of electrofishing. It is a widely used process and is one of the best methods to sample fish because it does not discriminate; it targets all fish species. Furthermore, it does not harm fish it only temporarily tetanizes them. Additionally, fish do not have pain receptors, so they cannot feel pain. While we were electrofishing at the confluence of a small tributary of the Ohio River, two silver carp came hurdling out of the water and one landed in a student’s net! This was an interesting revelation because silver carp are an invasive fish. These carp were used in ponds to reduce the algae and zooplankton. However, they first entered the Mississippi River when the farm ponds flooded. They eventually moved north into the Ohio River and are continuing to move north today. The controversy with silver carp (pictured below) is that they are detrimental to freshwater systems and they out compete native fishes such as the American paddlefish. Both of these fish have robust gill rakers used to filter out zooplankton, but when they are placed in the same system the silver carp will out compete the paddlefish.

 

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For the remainder of the week, we continued to check our nets, take tissue samples, and we volunteered for River Sweep and Paddle fest. We did not find any rare or unique fish in the nets this week. On Friday, we pulled the nets and once again began the tedious process of mending and pressure washing them. River Sweep was Saturday and I was in charge of driving a boat to transport volunteers to nearby sections of the Ohio River. This turned out to be a lot of fun and we were able to remove a decent amount of trash. In total, 21,000 participants volunteered for the Ohio River Sweep. The most interesting item that was found from the volunteers near the field station was an old wagon wheel hub that was estimated to have been from the late 1700s or early 1800s. On Sunday, the largest paddling event east of the Mississippi River occurred; Paddle fest. For this event, the U.S. Coast Guard closed commercial and powerboat traffic for an eight-mile section of the Ohio River from Coney Island to Cincinnati. Over 1,400 canoes and kayaks entered the river for this occasion. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this event because I was out of town with a colleague.

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This week we will be performing DNA sequencing and boat electrofishing at night. We started the first few steps of preparing our tissue samples for sequencing today at the Cincinnati Museum Center. This consisted of taking our tissue samples and cutting them into smaller pieces to increase the surface area. Next, we used a micro pipet to insert a digestive buffer into each test tube. We added another agent and placed the test tubes at 60°C until tomorrow morning. This process creates a soup like mixture that exposes the DNA for extraction.

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Currently, I am preparing to go boat electrofishing tonight!

Thanks for reading,
-Luke

Week Two

This past week we began sampling for fish. This was accomplished by using gill nets and hoop nets. On Monday, we placed a gill net and a hoop net at each of our four sample sites. It is not a very complicated process, but location and positioning of the nets is critical. We attached the hoop net to a tree line and then anchored it to the riverbed with the opening of the net facing downstream. We also tied a buoy line to the hoop net, so we would know the exact location of the net. Next, we tied a tree line to the gill net with an anchor and buoy attached at each end of the net. This process was completed for our two experimental sites downstream of Zimmer power plant and our two control sites upstream of Zimmer. Once these nets are in the water, they need to be checked twice a day. Consequently, we came back that evening to check the nets. While we are checking the nets, we also collect physiochemical data at each location. We had an additional project that evening, which consisted of collecting water samples for a toxicity test. A toxicity test is conducted to determine the degree to which a substance can damage a living organism. In our case, the substance that we are going to be testing is the effluent of the Zimmer power plant to our control water upstream of the power plant. While we were collecting physiochemical data from the effluent samples, we noticed the water had a warmer temperature and a much higher conductivity than the control samples. The organisms that we are using in our toxicity test are fathead minnows. A toxicology test is an interesting tool that can be integrated to help determine the overall water quality. It is a biological test to compare how the fathead minnows live in the experimental and control water samples. When the time is up for the toxicity test, the surviving fathead minnows are dried and weighed to see if they grew while living in each water sample. If the minnows survived and grew it means that the water quality is adequate for the minnows to live. Currently, the test is not finished.

 

 

 

 

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Over the next four days, we continued to check the nets twice a day. After the first day, Dr. Lorentz let us go out on our own because he felt that we are an experienced group that works well together as a team. For each fish that we sampled we recorded the weight (in grams), total length (in cm), and standard length (in cm). Once these parameters were recorded, we released the fish back into the river. The only occasions that we were unable to check our nets this past week were Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening. Tuesday evening we could not go out on the water because of strong thunderstorms and Wednesday evening we had a seminar with Dr. James Lazorchak. Dr. Lazorchak is from the U.S. EPA and his seminar title was “Comparing Single Species Toxicity Tests to Community-Level Effects of Excess Total Dissolved Solids Doses Using Model Streams.” This interesting presentation looked at different organisms used in toxicity testing and how it relates to different levels of total dissolved solids. On Friday, after we checked the nets we had to pull them out of the river because we cannot leave them in over the weekend. Once we arrived back at the Center for Ohio Research and Education, we began preparing the nets for next week. This task consists of pressure washing the debris from the nets and mending the holes in the net. Mending the holes in the nets is a very tedious process that took several hours to complete. Some of the fish species that we have sampled thus far are walleye, river carpsucker, silver redhorse, smallmouth buffalo, longear sunfish, white bass, striper, channel catfish, blue catfish, longnose gar, gizzard shad, etc. The most common fish that we have been catching in our nets is the longnose gar. However, the most interesting fish in the net was a lamprey. Unfortunately, it was able to work its way out of the net before we were able to get it on the boat.

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This past week I was able to take advantage of a few opportunities in my spare time. I went fossil hunting and found interesting fossils unique to this geological region. We were searching for trilobites, but were unsuccessful at finding one. I was also able to explore Fort Thomas, which was a U.S. army post in 1890. To conclude this week, my research team and I were allowed to take one of the research vessels downstream to the Riverbend Music Center and listen to the Zach Brown Band.

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Next week, we are going to continue sampling for water quality parameters and fish with our hoop nets and gill nets. However, on Thursday we are going to boat electrofishing for the first time. Additionally, next Saturday is the Ohio River Sweep, which is one of the largest river cleanup days in the country in terms of participation.  

Thanks for reading,

-Luke

First Week

Today is the conclusion of the first week of my internship on the Ohio River in Kentucky. I arrived here in California, KY last Saturday after an eight-hour drive from Pennsylvania. California, KY is approximately a half hour from Cincinnati, Ohio. The housing arrangement here is similar to the Raystown Field Station at Juniata College. There are three student houses, a lodge, and the Lock House that are all overlooking the mighty Ohio River. However, the Lock House (picture below) is the most interesting building. It was constructed in the early 1920s to serve as 1 of 51 lock and dams on the Ohio River. Eventually, the wooden wicket dams were replaced with 20 dams that are more technologically advanced. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages these dams to control the flow of the Ohio River. Thomas More College acquired the Lock House in 1967 and has since renovated it. Currently, the Lock House consists of a classroom, aquatic lab, mussel lab, and aquaculture lab. The Lock House is also known as the Center for Ohio River Research and Education. Numerous interns are working here this summer. The intern research groups are the aquaculture crew, stream assessment crew, environmental educators, work-study crew, and the Ohio River bioassessment crew. The Ohio River bioassessment crew is the research team that I am working with this summer.

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This internship is part of a long-term study that began in the early 1970s to determine the potential impacts of the coal-fired Zimmer Power Plant and to document trends in the Ohio River. The objectives of this study are to collect biological, chemical and physical characteristics of the Ohio River ecosystem near the power plant, conduct a bioassessment of the fishes near the plant, and to collect fish tissue samples for DNA sequencing. To sequence our DNA samples we will be using the DNA sequencer at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Our study area consists of two sites upstream of the power plant and two sites downstream of the power plant. The upstream sites represent our control sites and the downstream sites represent our experimental sites. We will also be sampling near the Beckjord plant as well, which is a dinosaur of a coal-fired power plant and will be soon reaching retirement.

We will be using various sampling techniques in order to complete our bioassessment. Our data collection of physiochemical parameters consist of dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, temperature, turbidity, habitat, and river levels. Our biological data collection will consist of fish, zebra mussels, and toxicity studies. Fish data will be collected using gill nets, hoop nets, and boat electrofishing.

This week has consisted of training and orienting the research group to the equipment that we will be using for duration of the summer. We also prepared the equipment to make sure all the gear is fully functional for next week when we begin sampling. Our research group toured the Cincinnati Museum Center’s DNA sequencing lab to become familiar with the equipment. In addition, each member of our group practiced driving the research vessels that we will be using this summer. In my free time this week, I have enjoyed fishing and exploring the banks of the Ohio River.

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I will post again next week.
Thanks for reading,
-Luke