Rebeccas Frei and Banjamin Abbott, Plant & Wildlife Sciences
I conducted a project assessing the components of aquatic ecosystems to characterize their resilience to ever-increasing nutrient pollution. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have more than doubled nitrogen inputs, and quintupled phosphorus inputs. Some of these nutrients run off into streams and rivers, resulting in an overabundance of nutrients, a state called eutrophication. Major threats of eutrophication include toxic algal blooms and waterbody oxygen depletion, which kill aquatic life, harm local economies, threaten human health, and endanger water security.
To address this problem, I leveraged large public water quality datasets and synoptic field sampling techniques to calculate nutrient budgets and measure novel parameters that could be used as tracers for biogeochemical and hydrological processes. After receiving the funding, Dr. Abbott and I solidified travel plans and research arrangements. I attended a workshop in March at Idaho State University with some of the leading international researchers of eutrophication and resilience, including my French supervisor, Dr. Remi Dupas. Through that workshop I was able to establish a working relationship with Dr. Dupas and network with other high-profile scientists in my field. Over the next couple months, I scheduled isotope analyses for my forthcoming water samples, learned incubation assay techniques under the tutelage of Dr. Abbott, and began drafting the introduction and methods section for the project manuscript. I also presented my research project idea at the Spring Runoff Conference at Utah State Univeristy in a poster session—my first professional presentation experience.
In late May I arrived in Rennes, France and immediately began my internship at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) where Dr. Dupas is a full-time research scientist. I got involved in local eutrophication projects and planned and implemented the week-long field campaign for my own project. For the field campaign, we sampled 49 rivers and streams around the Brittany region and interacted with local stakeholders from farmers to wastewater treatment facility directors. Following the field campaign, I setup a month-long incubation assay experiment to measure the biodegradability of the dissolved organic matter and helped analyze the samples for carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, dissolved gases, and optical properties.
With the field portion finished, I spent the remainder of my time in France working with long-term public datasets and learning critical data management skills. Dr. Dupas and I used GIS and R software to extract nutrient input data and discharge measurements at each of our sites to construct nutrient budgets. I also had to manage the various analytical chemistry results from the field samples to combine all the data into a manageable database. By August, we had most of the results from the field campaign, calculated nutrient budgets from the regional databases, and I had met and connected with all the collaborators on the project.
Back at BYU during the Fall semester, I kept in close contact with Dr. Dupas and the other collaborators during the data analysis phase. I submitted an abstract and presented my results at the Salt Lake County Watershed Symposium and American Geophysical Union in Washington DC and have gained valuable and encouraging feedback from other experts. Currently, I am still in the data analysis phase with plans to implement robust statistical analyses before finishing up the manuscript and submitting it for review in the following semester. Because of my supportive and efficient team, I am confident that the paper will be published.
Beyond publishing a paper in a peer-reviewed journal on which I will be first author, from this experience I have also made life-long connections, gained marketable skills, and solidified my career and research goals. During my stay in Rennes, I lived with a French LDS family that enlarged my perspective about how to live the gospel in an international church. They exhibited how to share the pure love of Christ with all of God’s children and consequently my stay was a formative and spiritually enlarging experience. Additionally, this project has helped me enlarge my quantitative skills in data analysis and use of geographic and computational software. I also have had numerous networking and presentation opportunities at multiple conferences and workshops that have elevated my vision and boosted my confidence as a scientist and person. Furthermore, through my interactions with the various scientists with whom I have become friends, I feel confident in my desire to pursue academia as my career. I have had many long conversations about the struggles and triumphs of research and academia, and it is the path that I want to pursue. Moreover, I have developed a deep love for aquatic ecosystems and how carbon and nutrients cycle within them to fuel all living things. Water is necessary for all human functionality, and I am committed to furthering the research in this field for the benefit of the earth and humanity.