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McKenna Anderson

My first few weeks of SEYI have been filled with non-stop extraordinary experiences.

Tuesday, June 28th

My first few weeks of SEYI have been filled with non-stop extraordinary experiences. At the orientation we met all of the other interns and supervisors. Everyone is so kind and filled with passion for Earth Science. Some people were utterly new to this type of internship, while others had returned from the previous summers or had been involved in other similar science programs. Many of the more experienced interns are willing to lend a helping hand. This internship is the first time I have done anything like this. I have only been involved in research science in various classes and school-assisted programs. I am excited to learn from the supervisors and experienced interns as the summer continues.

During the first day of the program, we toured the campus. We got to learn where we would be working this summer and all the best places to eat. We explored a little history of Stanford, including how the infamous arch collapsed in the 1906 earthquake, leaving a notable gap at the entrance. Finally, we met individually with our team and discussed our research project for the summer. 

My group will assist with a long-term research project to monitor marine invertebrates' extinction and evolution rates. My supervisor and his colleagues will use the data to explore current and past trends and make predictions for the future. They devised an equation to calculate the point at which an organism is still alive but can no longer function. It considers the organism's sensitivity to oxygen and temperature, body mass, and metabolic rates. These values are essential because temperature and oxygen supply are the main contributors to extinction. My supervisor then related his work to natural phenomena such as the Cambrian Explosion and the End-Permian Extinction. He explained how these were due to changing environments from temperature and oxygen. It also showed how animals in the polar regions went extinct quicker because there was nowhere to go that was any colder. Interestingly, the End-Permian extinction was due to rapid global warming and ocean acidification. We are beginning to see these trends with current climate change research, so the data from this project could help prevent future disasters.

Specifically, my group will be working on collecting ecology and body size data. Previously, interns had explored extinct species through fossils, but my group would be observing modern species this year. Each member was assigned a unique phylum. Within each phylum, there are thousands of species. I was given the phylum Echinodermata. This phylum includes classes of organisms such as sea stars, brittle stars, sea urchins, sea lilies, and sea cucumbers. Before I began collecting data, I decided to research my specific phylum. I learned that some members of this phylum can create calcium carbonate shells. They are primarily deuterostomes meaning that the blastopore develops the mouth after the anus and that this phylum includes exclusively benthic or bottom-dwelling organisms. 

During the first week, I was informed that we would learn the coding language R to assist our group in our research project separate from our work done for the internship. R is a coding language used mainly in natural sciences. It is used to manipulate data. Over the first weekend, I had the opportunity to indulge in an expeditious coding seminar. I had never done anything with coding before, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. I learned some of the basics of coding, including how to use the program like a calculator, create, download and edit data sets and create complex graphs. The seminar was taught by my supervisor and another professor at Stanford. Along with my fellow group members, it also included college students from a program here at Stanford called SURGE. These students come from universities all over the United States with a shared passion for Earth Science. They were all super friendly and knowledgeable about transitioning from high school to college.

Another cool thing about the internship is our ability to explore the campus and learn from students and professors at Stanford. What I found most interesting was that everyone had such distinctive backgrounds. It is clear that education and career paths don't have to follow a linear route. Those studying at Stanford are encouraged to explore and change their mind about what they want to study. So far, I have heard the stories of about six graduates at Stanford and other Universities. I learned about their educational path and their current projects. It was constructive to hear how people became interested in and took advantage of opportunities in their field, especially since, as a rising senior, I have begun my college application process. Additionally, I had the chance to attend a pride event at Stanford with my group and supervisor. I was glad to discover Stanford as being so inclusive.

As the weeks continue, we will continue inputting data, exploring intriguing parts of campus, and learning from some incredible people at Stanford. I am beyond thrilled to have had this opportunity.

The last few weeks have been quite an adventure with many ups and downs.

Tuesday, July 19th

The last few weeks have been quite an adventure with many ups and downs. As we are nearing the midpoint of the internship, I have grown friendly relations with many other interns. We enjoy our time together at lunch and on various field trips. We have primarily grown fond of card games, and everyone is eager to share their different games and ways of playing. I am making steady progress in my data collection but stumbled through some obstacles on the way. It has been challenging to maintain focus and motivation. I have also encountered a few problems with my data collection: outliers in body size, species that fall into multiple categories of tiering and feeding, and species with synonymous names. Like always in science, there are exceptions to ecological categories and species classification, so I have to work diligently to move around these barriers. When I am stuck, reaching out to my group members, the SURGE students, and supervisors are helpful. However, I am pleased with my progress and look forward to our presentations at the end of the summer.

In the fourth week, we had the opportunity to visit Jasper Ridge, a 483-hectare biological preserve owned and operated by Stanford University. We got to investigate some of the research facilities and meet some of the people that work there. Our tour guides were Stanford undergraduate students who undertook a ten-week program to learn about Jasper Ridge. They learned about the geography and wildlife at Jasper Ridge while conducting specific research in their field with professors at Stanford. Our tour guide worked on a project which examined lichen, a symbiotic relationship between moss and fungi, and how it reacts to toxic metals and other pollutants. She could point out various lichen species, including one with a stretchy white skeleton-like substance beneath the green leaves. She showed us how it could be used as floss in a predicament. Our guide showed us many of the different ecosystems present at the reserve, including wetlands, grasslands, forests, and reservoirs, which each play a vital role in the environment. Beyond the lichen, our guide pointed out some other unique species. Turkey vultures, which she mentioned, can be distinguished by their ‘clumsy’ flying pattern. The madrone tree, a bare reddish tree, is cold to the touch because of the way it sheds its bark and circulates water through its trunk. Finally, horsetail, a bamboo-like plant, which has been thriving for nearly 300 million years. 

We were also able to explore the Jasper Ridge herbarium. This building has documented every known plant and lichen species at Jasper Ridge since the early 20th century. We could see how the plants were stored and identified and the process in which scientists pressed them. We were also shown the recently purchased scanner, which would allow every species to be documented digitally and shown to the rest of the world. I was also very impressed by Stanford’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and respecting the native tribes. Our tour guide remarked how Stanford had made various agreements with the local tribes in the conservation and respect of the land. Certain ceremonial parts of the preserve are blocked off from researchers. The main research facility is also 100% carbon-neutral, using solar panels and considerate architecture. In my reading beyond the visit, I learned that they use a passive heating and cooling system. This sustainable technique combines the careful placement of windows and improved insulation to minimize the need for air-conditioning. They also use sustainable materials such as high ash fly concrete and recycled steel, brick, and insulation. Overall, it was a delightful and educational experience, and I would like to visit again. 

We had the unfortunate event of a power outage in the second week, which limited our access to the campus. We relived our 2020 quarantine with zoom-based meetings and lectures for around a week and a half. We met with Scott Fendorf and Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, professor and assistant professor in earth systems science. Both talked about their unusual journeys to Stanford and the importance of their current research. Scott Fendorf, originally from Aptos, an avid motorcyclist and an apple tree farmer, attended Cal Poly and UC Davis, which he mentioned were perfect for his interest in soil science. He is currently working on research examining the intrusion of toxic metals(mainly arsenic, chromium, and uranium) into the soil and how it affects groundwater quality. With increasing global temperatures, snow is melting much faster, and we must find ways to store the extra supplies of water. Groundwater through injection or infiltration is a great way to do this, but it has some problems. For example, it is difficult to keep clean, is expensive to retrieve, and groundwater depletion can have many issues. Scott Fendorf and his team worked with the Orange County Water District to resolve some of these issues and prevent them from happening elsewhere. Gabrielle Wong-Parodi received a Ph.D. in psychology from UC Berkeley. She is a part of a long-term project called “Our Communities, Our Bay,” which works to monitor the air quality and educate the public on how they can protect themselves against it. With climate change and increasing temperatures, the likelihood of natural disasters such as fires will increase tremendously. These events severely affect air quality and put individuals at risk, especially in low-income communities. “Our Communities, Our Bay” records air quality data through devices called Purple Air Monitors installed in the homes of at-risk families. The device monitors data such as volumes of particulate matter, temperature, and humidity. The project then utilizes an app that provides accurate data to the families and educates them in their native language on ways to protect themselves from poor air, such as with increased ventilation or face masks. This project has already helped hundreds across San Francisco Bay and hopes to help thousands more. 

On our last day of zoom, we met with our supervisor for the last time before he headed off to Canada with his colleagues for a research trip. We will still be able to contact him on select dates, and he will help guide us as we begin brainstorming project ideas for the AGU(American Geophysical Union) conference. In the next few weeks, we will continue collecting data, begin work on our project, and explore Stanford.

In the last few weeks of the internship, we shifted gears towards working on our project for the American Geophysical Union (AGU)

Friday, August 5th

In the last few weeks of the internship, we shifted gears towards working on our project for the American Geophysical Union(AGU). My group is working on a project to find the latitudinal shifts of marine organisms following the end-Permian extinction. The end-Permian extinction, also known as the “Great Dying,” was an extinction event that occurred around 252 million years ago between the Permian and Triassic periods. It is mainly attributed to rising temperatures and declining oxygen supply. It resulted in the loss of nearly 80%-90% of marine species, 70% of terrestrial species, and the displacement of many more. Using an occurrence file from the Paleobiology Database and paleolatitude data, we determined which marine species of the Mollusca and Arthropoda phylum survived the Chansignian(Late Permian) and Induan(Early Triassic) and where they went afterward. We hypothesized that species near the equator would survive and move towards colder areas near the poles. Interestingly, we found a significant latitudinal shift towards the north pole, which follows our predictions. Still, we are not exactly sure why organisms did not move towards the south pole and why many remained near the equator. 

My job for the project was to find background on the end-Permian extinction, find related studies, and outline the abstract. I began by trying to find research projects related to climate change and migration. I found two studies that were very closely related to our project. One saw tetrapods move 10-15° poleward, and another found an absence of fish in the equator following the extinction. Both correspond with our hypothesis and results. I also tried to find information on global cooling events to see if the opposite relationship was present(organisms in the poles survive and move towards the equator); unfortunately, there is little information available on this topic. 

After deliberating with our supervisors, we submitted our abstract. Moving into the fall, we will work on our poster for the online presentation.         

During one of our Tuesday get-togethers, we had the opportunity to visit the Hoover Tower. We walked through the museum to learn about Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, both avid geologists and social activists. We then made our way to the top of the tower, where we could see some fantastic views of Stanford.

The following Thursday, we all toured each other’s workspaces. We showed the other interns around the fossil collection in the geology building. It includes collections from the early 1900s from all over the world. Some of the most remarkable fossils and bones include an entire lion skeleton, a dolphin skull, mammoth molars, and a giant clam shell. We got to tour other labs, including one that studies corals using gas data from ocean water, one that studies arsenic in the soil to find ways to mitigate the effects, and one that explores the magnetic field of meteors, moon rocks, and corals to see how the unique structures were formed and collect data from the magnetic field in outer space.

One last Tuesday, we toured and made pizzas at the farm. They were delicious! The farm has hundreds of species of fruit, vegetables, and flowers. Some of which we were even able to taste. It was interesting to see how the farm functions as a place of food production and an experimental foreground. Stanford professors use many of the farm plots in various departments to study soil, microbes, engineering, and much more. 

Our last day of the internship will consist of presentations from all the interns. We will each get to learn how everyone spent their summer. I am excited to see what everyone will say.