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Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip Day 5

June 19, 2018

Today was incredibly rainy, but it broke for us at the moments when we needed it to. We lingered over breakfast at Lake Lodge and when someone asked to stop by a second time to fill a water bottle we ended up seeing a pine marten running around the porch! The rain stopped just in time for our hike on Pelican Creek and the pelicans were doing their synchronous feeding dance. We found salamanders and leeches at Isa Lake (and though the kids tried hard they would not suck blood so maybe they really are detritivores, as we had been told). West Thumb Geyser Basin wasn’t crowded at all (and it usually is) because it had just stopped pouring. We found a beautiful picnic site for lunch where it wasn’t raining at the time. We stopped for a jam that turned out to be bluebirds hovering over a wetland to feed – tons of them – and then had to run back to the cars in 20 mph winds and sleety rain. The sun came out as we laid by Black Sand pool to feel how it thumps with small hydrothermal explosions, and we took a hike to see Daisy Geyser which erupted as we arrived.

JCs waiting to feel the small hydrothermal explosions from Black Sand Pool

JCs waiting to feel the small hydrothermal explosions from Black Sand Pool

We saw and incredibly beautiful Old Faithful eruption (our third of the day!) as the sun hit it in front of dark clouds.


Afternoon storms behind Old Faithful

And the setting sun broke through again as we reached the new Grand Prismatic overlook.

Sunset over Grand Prismatic Spring

Sunset over Grand Prismatic Spring

So in spite of the rain it was a great day… it is good to be here.


Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip Day 4

June 18, 2018

“Okay JC’s!” Melissa shouted to the damp flock of teenagers. One by one, they began quieting down, sitting in a circle despite a brief squabble over who would sit next to the radiator.

“What do we want to add to today’s blog?”

Murmurs rippled through the group as ideas were mulled over. It was amazing how one day could be packed with so many exciting options.

“What about the snow this morning?” Alaina offered, tentative in her response. The group considered this, it HAD been memorable after all. Snowballs were thrown, words were written, they even went ‘sledding’ in just their pants! There were a few giggles at the memory.

JCs sliding down a slope in the last snow on Mount Washburn

JCs sliding down a slope in the last snow on Mount Washburn

“Okay, but that coyote though!” Olivia chimed in.

“Oh yeah! And when it chased that baby elk into the river! Coyotes are metal.” Carson added.

Elk cow and calf safely across the river from a coyote

Elk cow and calf safely across the river from a coyote

“Maybe that can be our band name?” Robert suggested with a shrug. His friends snickered in response.

“Alright guys, back on topic.” Erin grinned at the rambunctious boys.

“Hey, remember when those people got too close to the bison at the thermal features?” Danielle asked after a moment. The JC’s responded with a chorus of oofs. They knew very well how dangerous the large mammals could be, though evidently not all park-goers shared that knowledge.


Lauren measuring the temperature of Mud Volcano

“I dunno, the cutthroat trout were pretty cool.” Robert interjected.

“Yeah, especially when they were jumping!” Alyssa, who had waited a good half hour for the perfect picture of the fish, mused.

“We got some pretty great pictures of that.” Sam added, taking out his camera to demonstrate.

“Speaking if pictures, what about that hawk we saw!” Mavry grinned at the memory.

“Oh yeah! And the pelican was pretty majestic too,” Rumi shared in the excitement, “it was huge!”

Then Melissa said she got a report of a moose and they ran to the vans, the blog forgotten.

By Mavry, Lauren, Robert, and Jason

Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip Day 3

June 17, 2018

It was another rainy day, but that did not deter us. We got to meet and go hiking with an amazing wildlife photographer Dan Hartman. He took us hiking through open meadows where we saw a ruffed grouse and a big bull bison (from a safe distance).

Some other highlight included finding a second frog species, spawning cutthroat trout, and another wolf.

A favorite moment was our “wild moose chase” which ended with a great view of a cow moose along Soda Butte Creek.

Overall, it was another wild day in Yellowstone!

Hiking through meadows with Dan Hartman

Hiking through meadows with Dan Hartman


Our shoes got very wet but the sun finally came out over Trout Lake


Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip Day 1 and 2

June 16, 2018

Here’s the blog we wrote at the end of the day we arrived… a little late in coming, but we hope you enjoy!

When we all assembled, it was four am in RDU airport. The day we had anticipated for months was finally upon us—the day we departed for Yellowstone National Park.

Thirteen Junior Curators from NCMNS and our three fearless leaders, Melissa, Erin, and Kurt, headed to Yellowstone for a weeklong foray into the wilderness. After ten hours of travel by air and land (aka plane and van), we reveled in the fact that we had finally arrived in Yellowstone. We walked through the Roosevelt Arch that used to mark the arrival of stagecoaches into the park, “letting go of our cares like autumn leaves,” as John Muir instructed Yellowstone visitors years ago, we turned our minds to focus on exploring the park and its wonders.

Within five hours of our arrival, we had seen a total of six bears and multiple elk and pronghorns, as well as more common animals such as beetles and chipmunks. We saw elk lying in a field between two buildings at Mammoth Hot Springs and watched four bears—including three cubs—run across the road between stopped cars.

At the end of the day, we arrived at our lodgings and settled in for food and discussion of what we had seen and hoped to see in the following days…

Our second day, in summary, was cold, wet, and amazing. We fit so much in that it felt like a week instead of a day. We got to see baby sheep jumping in the air and wolves feeding on a baby pronghorn. We watched a adult peregrine falcon feed her four chicks, while its partner waited out the rain in a notch across the canyon. We stood quietly by a talus slope and were lucky enough to see an elusive pika. We saw one of only 5 amphibians in Yellowstone – a boreal chorus frog. And we learned a lot about wolves on a hike to the only remaining acclimation pen with Kira Cassidy, a wolf biologist. Cold. Wet. Amazing!

The group watching for pika

The group watching for pika


Peregrine falcon nest


Checking a pond for amphibians


Looking at a wolf pelt with Kira Cassidy, wolf biologist

Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip First Glimpse

June 14, 2018

We’re here! Yellowstone is wonderful! We only have limited internet access right now, so we’ll post more details soon. But for now a few pictures from our first afternoon in the park.

Group at Yellowstone sign

Group at Yellowstone sign

Black bear sow and cub

Black bear sow and cub

black bear cub

Black bear cub

Exploring Carolina Canyons by the Numbers

September 8, 2017
Sunset at sea.

Sunset at sea.

  • 25,000 gallons of water used.
  • 2 ship safety drills, which required putting on immersion suits both times.
  • 7 Sentry dives.
  • 22 CTD stations.
  • 4.7 TB of data collected by Sentry.
  • 400 freshly baked chocolate chip cookies consumed.
  • 1 live audio presentation piped into the SECU Daily Planet Theater at the Museum.
  • 105.5 hours of time underwater for Sentry.
  • 200 bottles and bags of mud collected.
  • 14,000 gallons of fuel consumed.
  • 139.5 km traveled by Sentry.
  • 69,691 photos taken by Sentry and reviewed by the Chief Scientist.
  • 4 photo-worthy sunsets.

Life in the Mud

September 7, 2017

When you think of canyons on land, you picture deep, steep sides with a river at the bottom. Rockslides and mudslides bring debris crashing down, and evidence of them can be seen strewn across the canyon floor. But what happens in deepwater canyons? What evidence can we find of what is raining down from above?

Launching the CTD.

Launching the CTD.

During this mission we are using a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) instrument to sample the water column. Attached to that is a monocore, which plunges into the mud and brings back a 2-inch-diameter core sample. These two tools are helping us gain an understanding of how nutrients and minerals cycle in the canyons by sampling “what is raining down from above.”

The CTD consists of both sensors to collect water chemistry data and Niskin bottles, which sample water at specific depths. We use charts to determine the best locations for sampling based on depth and the geography of the canyon. The sampling sites cover a variety of areas in the canyon – some near the mouth of the canyon, others in its deepest recesses. Using a winch, we lower the CTD and monocore over the side, letting the apparatus sink until the monocore hits bottom. As the CTD returns to the surface, we stop at the predetermined depths and fire the Niskin bottles. The bottles seal tightly, allowing no additional water in. The number of samples you take is dependent upon the number of bottles your CTD can hold. We usually took eight water samples, and always sampled at the bottom and surface.

Rob filtering water from the CTD.

Rob filtering water from the CTD.

Once the CTD is back on deck, the water from each Niskin bottle is collected in clean containers. This water is run through a 0.7-micron glass fiber filter, concentrating the particulate matter. The filters are kept frozen until they are brought back to the lab. Once back on shore, the researchers scrape off the material captured on the filters, and analyze it for organic content. Comparing what we find at the top to what is found near the seafloor helps us understand what “food” is making its way down into the canyons. The surface of the ocean is highly productive, with phytoplankton converting the sun’s energy into fuel useful for animals. Examining these filters tells us the quantity, and chemical signature, of the food that is available at the top. We can then compare it to the quantity and chemical signature of what we collect close to the bottom.

The core sample of mud.

The core sample of mud.

The monocore also returns to the deck, bringing a cylindrical core sample of the bottom. While the sample depends upon the make-up of the seafloor (for example, we do not get a sample if the bottom is rocky), we usually bring up a tube of mud that is about 10 centimeters high. Precise slices are taken from the core and preserved for future examination. Formalin is added to some samples in order to preserve the animals that might be present, such as small worms and tiny crustaceans. Most of these animals are found in the top two centimeters. Other samples are used to look at the physical and chemical make-up of the mud, such as particle size (is it more sand or more silt?) and the percentage of organic matter.

Amanda is ready to preserve samples.

Amanda is ready to preserve specimens.

While these tiny animals that live in the deep dark ocean might not appear to be relevant to our life on land, they perform important functions, helping cycle nutrients and sequestering carbon. They are part of the food chain and are eaten by many things including bottom-dwelling fish and crabs that sift through the mud hunting for these prey.

Some of the jars of preserved mud.

Some of the jars of preserved mud.