Monday, November 8, 2010

Update From Dr. Ted

Some of you blog-followers may have wondered, "What exactly is Ted doing for work?" Well, here's your answer.

My Fulbright sponsor, Narcis Prat, professor at the University of Barcelona in the Department of Ecology, does research on rivers in Spain and has set me up in a little office for visiting scholars at the University, where I go most everyday to work on my computer and meet with other researchers.

I've been busy trying to get my dissertation chapters out for publication but have also started on a few new projects.

One study investigates the effects of water pollution on stream insect communities. It's a bit of a departure from my PhD research in northern California (on the impacts of vineyard water management on fish), but has provided an excellent opportunity to conduct a mesocosm study.

What's a mesocosm, you ask? 
A mesocosm is an experimental system that simulates real-life conditions as closely as possible, but allows for manipulation of environmental factors to test specific hypotheses.

I'll let that sink in for a second...OK.

Basically, we've constructed a system of artificial stream channels that support a biotic community similar to that of the 'natural' river. We can then manipulate the quantity or quality of water that passes through the channels to quantify the effects, if any, that our treatment has on the bugs.

Here's what it looks like.

Here's how it works.

First, we go and collect cobbles from the river in a reach that is in relatively good condition. If you look closely, you'll see that the river rocks are teaming with life!

Then we carefully place the rocks in the artificial channels.

There is a pump that draws water from the river into a cistern, which is then used to maintain a constant flow through each of the channels.

We let the bug community 'get settled' into their new environment for a week or two. The channels aren't the same as the river, but in a truly European fashion, the bugs don't seem to mind the minimalist style of the PVC drain pipes that they now call home.

Now the fun begins.

In each set of channels, there's a secondary pipe through which we can introduce, well, anything we want!  This month, we're looking at the effects of increased salt concentrations. There are a series of salt mines (see photo below) downstream of our site and sampling from the river suggests that runoff from the mines could be wiping out a lot of the sensitive species that live there. So we've decided to do an aquatic toxicology study in our mesocosm to look at how the insect community responds to different levels of salt in the water.

I'll let you know how it works out.

Of course we expect to see a big change in the channel with the highest salt concentration, but the effects of the intermediate treatments are what we're most interested in. And by conclusively (within 95% confidence intervals) demonstrating the negative effects of the salt mine runoff, the results of our published study should put a little more pressure on the powers-that-be to do a better job regulating the mining industry.

That's the idea, anyhow.

I'm also working on another project with the Catalan Water Agency, comparing aspects of the Spanish system of water management to California's, but more on that later...

Needless to say, there's a lot of interesting work to be done here.


  1. Wow Ted, you're really doing it! Reading this takes me back to the long day long ago that we translated your proposal and I felt like I kind of minimally understood what you do.

  2. Oops - somehow that comment came out as Megan. She was using my computer. This is Katy. I think I understand your project more than I understand how to navigate this blog. :-/

  3. Wow! It all sounds fascinating, but makes my little brain spin. Thank goodness there of folks like you who can make sense out of all this data and help our planet. Scienc was never my forte. I am so happy you are part of our family-Aunt Kitty

    What does it mean choose a profile? I close my eyes and pick

  4. Glad to see that you're working! ;-} This is what every mother wants, progress reports from her son the doctor. We miss you - Love, Mom

  5. Hi! Im Issabella's friend who does the water quality at USGS. That is so cool that you are able to do some science type stuff there. Two years ago I went with the USGS to Missoula and we looked at riparian bugs there and analyzed them for heavy metal contaminants! If you need any help with field work give me a shout!! Also I can send you some papers that came out of the work in Montana if you are interested in their methods etc.

  6. Very cool, Valarie. Who were you working with in Montana?