Within the first day of the White Lab’s Gulf excursion, we were introduced to the world of oil-soaked sand patty collection while covering a commendable amount of ground.
The day started out with A trip from Philadelphia to Charlotte, where we met up with the Reddy lab from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (including the famous BigBob, King of GCxGC).
From there, we arrived in Pensacola, Florida and it was time to start sampling. At the first site, the shores were abundant with white sand and tar balls. HKW demonstrated the proper methods to collect these lab staples (which involves being mindful of contamination effects as well as remaining discrete, for we were at a public beach). The collection itself was both fun and informative, in a way that science should be. It was really great to see where the samples that we analyze in lab come from. As in, the oil that Max runs through the GC-MS on a daily basis came from a jar that was collected on a beach, and that oil originally came from the Macondo Well, which came from fossilized organic material from over 65 million years ago. The coolest part about this is that we can show all of these properties via analytical chemistry, and we can compare data between tar ball samples between and within beaches to show their similarities and differences, as well as history (degrees of weathering). We spent the day panning for scientific gold.
From there, we hit beaches along the coast from Florida through Alabama, and finally Mississippi. The collection processes on the 5 different sites were very similar: search for tar balls in the surf or along the tide lines, within piles of shells, and buried in the sand, and collect it in a sterile jar. The sites were incredibly different though. At one site, we found a significant portion of samples in washed up piles of shells, in another, we found samples in the surf and higher up on the beach, and even buried samples. Within sites as well, there was variability based on position along the beach (I guess we have to ask a physical oceanographer to better explain that process). There was something really rewarding though, about waking up before dawn, sampling until sunset, and staying up late in order to advance our lab’s ongoing research.
TLDR: Environmental chemistry is great because it combines wet lab work and field work. Also,if the “sand patty” crumbles, it is just mud. Don’t collect mud.
P.S. Follow our lab twitter for play by play updates at www.twitter.com/hkwlab !