Kenneth H. Foreman, a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, and Wyntin E. Goodman, a summer student with the Woods Hole Partnership Education Program, were drilling wells Thursday, July 23, at Little Pond.
This installation of wells along the shore is the first part of a research project to learn how sewering in the area may affect nutrient concentrations in the groundwater that flows into the pond.
Dr. Foreman received approval from the residents on whose land they are placing the wells and from the town.
This project is largely made possible with the support of two Woods Hole education programs, Partnership Education Program (PEP), and the Semester in Environmental Science (SES) at MBL’s Ecosystems Center, whose students will help do the work.
The wells consist of nylon tubing inserted into the ground at different depths. Yesterday they were drilling one of the deepest wells, 25 feet deep.
A stainless steel drive tip attached to the end of a piece of tubing helped drive the tubing, encased in a steel pipe, down into the ground.
Mr. Goodman used a hammer drill powered by a generator to push the pipe down.
When they are done, the tip releases and the pipe will be pulled out, leaving the tubing in the ground. Water samples can be taken from the tubing using a geo pump.
“I enjoy being in the field,” Mr. Goodman said.
Mr. Goodman is entering his junior year at University of Maryland Eastern Shore as an environmental science major with a concentration in chemistry. He grew up on the coast of Maryland and has always been drawn to the water and science.
“Being near the water is something I need,” Mr. Goodman said.
This project fits into his interest in water conservation and his career goal of studying and finding new ways to purify sea water into palatable drinking water. Water shortages, such as that in the western part of the United States, occur globally, he noted.
“Research on campus is interesting, but there is nothing like going somewhere else and experiencing science and meeting people from all over the country,” Mr. Goodman said.
PEP grew out of an initiative of the Woods Hole Diversity Advisory Committee, a consortium of scientific institutions in the area including the Marine Biological Laboratory, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Sea Education Association, US Geological Survey, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Woods Hole Research Center.
“We looked at how to broaden those who participated in scientific research in Woods Hole,” said Ambrose Jearld Jr., the chairman of the committee, who works at NOAA. “It (the program) focuses on bringing in students that normally would not have a beaten path to Woods Hole.”
Each year 12 to 16 students, usually juniors or seniors, come to Woods Hole for 10 weeks. They take a four-week classroom course and have a six- to 10-week research project and live together, learning about each other’s backgrounds as well.
“They share culinary skills and their cultural background,” Dr. Jearld said. “We think this is important in building an appreciation and respect for diversity.”
The upcoming sewering at Little Pond offers an opportunity for a real-world research project.
“Here the town is doing a nice experiment,” Dr. Foreman said. The wells are right at shore, which is essentially sea level, he said.
When it rains, the water that seeps down through the sandy porous earth contributes to the groundwater. So does the wastewater flowing from septic systems on the pond, which is full of nutrients such as nitrogen.
The groundwater flows roughly following the topography of the land at about a foot a day toward the sea. Groundwater with high concentrations of nitrogen adds to the degradation of the water quality in coastal ponds and estuaries.
With sewering, the excess nitrogen that has been flowing into the pond will be diverted. Dr. Foreman is interested in how the ecology will change once the nutrients are removed.
“Quite a bit is known about how excess nutrients result in a loss of eel grass, anoxia and algal blooms,” Dr. Foreman said. “There is less information on how things recover once you remove the nutrients. We want to get an insight on the trajectory of recovery, how rapidly it recovers.”
Students in the Semester in Environmental Science program that Dr. Foreman directs at MBL will continue measuring the wells during the year for nitrogen, nitrate, ammonia, total nitrogen, and phosphate as well as other water characteristics such as salinity and oxygen levels. These wells will last five to 10 years.
“A question is, where does the system go?” Dr. Foreman said. “Does it return to where it was before or to an alternate state?”
Dr. Foreman installed and had been measuring samples from wells in West Falmouth Harbor since 2005 when the sewer treatment plant was upgraded to add a step that removes nitrogen from the effluent which flows into the harbor.
He has not yet seen a reduction in nutrients in the groundwater sampled close to shore in West Falmouth. He explains it can take years for the water to travel to the sea.
“It doesn’t flow straight,” Dr. Foreman said. “It flows up and down; it takes longer than you think.”
He expects to see changes in the nutrient concentration in West Falmouth Harbor in the next year. However, these concentrations may change sooner at Little Pond because the water does not flow as far, Dr. Foreman said.
On Thursday, Dr. Foreman and Mr. Goodman planned to install three to four wells. As Dr. Foreman and Mr. Goodman drilled the well, the ground vibrated underneath.
“It’s a well-oiled machine,” Dr. Foreman said.