This summer, I am working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)- a US government agency concerned with research and policy development in weather, climate, and coastal and marine management. NOAA was officially established in 1970, but grew out of many existing agencies and departments. For instance, NOAA fisheries, the department I am working for, has existed since the 1870s.
The research I am doing is based in Seattle, Washington, and is focused on the ecosystems and diets of Pacific Salmon. Pacific salmon are migratory fish which live in the ocean for much of their lives, but spawn in freshwater streams. Since their diets consist largely of aquatic (and some terrestrial) macro-invertebrates, having an abundant and diverse community of these macro-invertebrates is crucial to the survival of these fish, which are threatened by anthropogenic related activities—not to mention the critical ecosystem services stream invertebrates provide. There is also evidence that having abundant food supply can mitigate the adverse effects on Pacific salmon of rising stream temperatures. Thus, understanding what influences the stream macro-invertebrate abundance is an important step in conservation efforts. For instance, testing out different treatments and seeing the corresponding invertebrate abundance, this can ultimately help shape policy to help conserve and restore stream habitats favorable to invertebrate drift.
My mentor, Peter Kiffney, is a NOAA researcher investigating the processes that influence invertebrate drift in stream ecosystems. So far, I have been helping him by analyzing and visualizing data using RStudio. This includes aggregating data and creating graphs such as histograms and boxplots.
I worked remotely for the first few weeks of June so that I could spend some time with my family, and then flew out to Seattle last week to work in person. Unfortunately, I encountered a snafu with my security paperwork being delayed, which means I’m still working remotely for now. However, I’m trying to make the most out of the experience by really engaging with the material I’m learning, as well as getting out and exploring a new city.
Next week I’m going to a lab a bit north of Seattle to dissect fish (to get a very direct glimpse of their diets). I’m looking forward to this, as well as starting to do fieldwork and lab work once I can work in person. I have also gotten a bit more confident with my data analysis skills, so I hope to keep improving them.
Overall, I’ve learned so much in a short period of time—whether it be the life cycles of Pacific Salmon, running a linear regression analysis in R, or how to pronounce the word “ephemeroptera” (commonly known as mayflies), and I’m excited to continue learning more.