June 27, 2017

We Probably Should Have Waterproofed That: Swimming in Bubbles

Posted by larryohanlon

By The Clemson Geopaths Team

One of the more unique environments in Dominica are the marine fumeroles (underwater gas seeps) that occur mere steps from the beach. There are a few locations on the island that display this phenomenon; one of which is the appropriately-named Champagne Beach. Located on the southeast coast, it is a unique experience for sure to swim through so many bubbles!

Emily swims through CO2 bubbles at Champagne Beach.

Swimming in bubbles, while fun, was not our primary goal. These fumeroles are steadily adding gases, such as carbon and sulfur dioxide, to the local ocean ecosystem. Dr. Lazar is interested in the effects of these gases on the health and abundance of microscopic organisms called foraminifera that live on or within sand on the seafloor. These protists uniquely produce a calcium carbonate shell, called a test, that is susceptible to changes in ocean chemistry. At locations such as Champagne Beach, are the types of foraminifera you would find being affected by this unique environment? Are their tests? These are the questions we jumped into the water to attempt to answer.

The rocky shore at Champagne Beach.

The first wrinkle in our plan is that we were looking for sand, which is more difficult than you might expect on many beaches of Dominica. As you can see in the picture above, there is no sand on the beach here, just smooth, rounded rocks. Were we going to be able to find and collect sand on the ocean bottom?

The team of snorkelers in search of sand to sample.

Luckily, we found that although the beaches themselves have very small amounts, there is sand on the bottom over many parts of the nearshore environment. We were able to collect several vials of sand both on top of and far from the seeps as well as measure common ocean chemistry properties (pH, salinity, etc.). Doing field measurements is no easy task, and Katrina (pictured below) had to use her balancing skills while completing these tests. As it started to pour rain, we decided that we had named our fieldwork blog quite fittingly – we definitely discovered some items we had not appropriately waterproofed!

Katrina balances on a rock and tries to stay dry as she adds seawater to the refractometer.

Before leaving, we wanted to make sure to document such a unique location so we can share it with other students who may not have the opportunity to visit themselves. Using 360-degree cameras, Emily, Stephanie, and Sawyer took images and videos of the beach and the small reef close to shore. When we return to Clemson, we will process the videos and create an immersive, 360-degree experience so others can experience what it’s like to swim through the bubbles at Champagne Beach!

Can you find the octopus hiding in this photo?

We want to hear from you about what you study in the geoscience fields and why you think it is important to our earth and society! Share your thoughts to help promote passion for geoscience by tweeting us @ClemsonGeopaths.

The Clemson GeoPaths Team is headed by Dr. Stephen Moysey and Dr. Kelly Lazar who work under a NSF grant for geoscience education, with a goal of promoting geoscience through interactive experiences. This summer, the students involved include Stephanie, Emily, Sawyer and Katrina.