Off the Kona Coast in Hawaii, massive manta rays glide through the ocean waters feeding on microscopic zooplankton. For more than 50 years, local hotels and tour boat companies artificially illuminated the coast with bright lights to attract plankton, and ultimately manta rays seeking an extra boost of nutrition in the evening hours.
“The manta ray tours use white lights, but we were curious to know if different light wavelengths correlated to changes in plankton abundance and diversity,” said earth and environmental studies senior Rebecca Hanschell.
As part of the EE&S 398 Senior Field Research Project course, Hanchsell and 18 of her peers spent Jan. 5-12 in Hawaii working on group research projects. This course is open to all E&ES majors who completed the mandatory course E&ES 397 Senior Seminar during the fall semester.
The goal of 397 is to provide seniors with a seminar-style capstone experience “that explores topics that span multiple subdisciplines of the earth and environmental sciences,” explained Tim Ku, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences. “In addition, students create hypothesis-driven original research projects which are then implemented in 398. We hope the seminar and field research project teaches students how to become independent, professional scientists.”
Hanschell, along with Zachary Calhoun, Alex Fireman and Robert Ramos, worked with a tour boat company to collect samples of seawater exposed to no light, white light, yellow light and red light. After removing water and examining the particulate matter left behind in filters in the SEM microscope, the group discovered that red light treatment had the highest nitrogen concentration and the highest overall number of plankton identified. The control sample collected in pure darkness had the lowest number of identified plankton.
For their senior field research project, Will Sawyer and Lydia Tierney studied a Hawaiian lava tree formed in 1974.