Earthwatch Expeditions

CLIMATE CHANGE: SEA TO TREES AT ACADIA NATIONAL PARK

How is a national treasure being reshaped by the changing climate? Help scientists search for clues in Acadia National Park.

Schoodic Institute is partnering with Acadia National Park and Earthwatch to bring citizen scientist volunteers to Acadia National Park.  Earthwatch works internationally, bringing individuals from all walks of life together with world-class scientists to work for the good of the planet.  The Earthwatch community continues to grow rapidly, with participation from members of the general public we call “citizen scientists,” to corporate employees, to educators and students.

There are several opportunities to join a team of Earthwatch participants to work with Schoodic Institute staff, along with Acadia National Park and partner researchers, at the Schoodic Institute for week-long expeditions in 2017.  Register at the Earthwatch website.

Help keep Acadia National Park healthy for the animals that call it home and the millions of people who come to visit it each year.

The granite mountains and craggy coasts of the islands that make up Acadia are famous for their beauty and their wildlife. This is classic, unspoiled New England. Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, our partner, is based near the tip of Schoodic Point, feet away from the crashing surf.

Acadia is on a bird “superhighway,” a route heavily traveled by birds that migrate between Canada and South America. Researchers have recorded 23 species of warblers alone here. The park’s lakes and coastal waters provide a home for 30 species of fish and a wide array of invertebrates, such as sea stars and urchins. Acadia deserves our protection.

And it needs it. Things are changing in Acadia. How do we know? For one thing, Acadia’s scientists have over 120 years of detailed natural history observations to compare current patterns to. And that’s where Earthwatch volunteers come in- to help collect similar data that can be compared to this extended time-series data-set. Few places in the country have such a rich pool of observations to draw from and make comparisons to.

Help scientists tell the story of how humans are reshaping Acadia, which they hope will inspire policies that will help safeguard this iconic American habitat.

Enjoy this video of 2016 Earthwatch Team 8 during their stay at Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park.

Enjoy this video of 2015 Earthwatch Team 5 during their stay at Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park.

WHY THE RESEARCH IS IMPORTANT

Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is contributing to warming temperatures and ocean acidification. It is also beginning to change the timing of when various species depend on each other’s resources or services.

Get a detailed look at environmental change in Acadia National Park. You’ll examine the impacts of three phenomena—warming temperatures, mercury pollution, and ocean acidification—on plants and wildlife, on land, in ponds, and within the intertidal zone.

Changes in temperature and precipitation are now known to cause shifts in when flowers bloom, and subsequent changes in when those flowers become fruit. Those shifts, in turn, may lead to a flower blooming before its main pollinator arrives on the scene, or make it harder for birds to find the fruits when they need them. These are called “ecological mismatches”, and scientists are just now trying to decipher what this means for natural communities.

The burning of coal also deposits mercury in ponds, and it works its way up the food chain. Though by definition, dragonfly larvae are an immature stage of the fast-flying aerial predators that we see as adults, these “youngsters” are also near the top of some aquatic foods chains. As dragonflies spend most of their life as larvae, toxins accumulate in their bodies. You will assist scientists in collecting these larvae for analysis of mercury content.

Lastly, as carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, the ocean does what it has always done and absorbs much of that gas. Without this service, CO2 levels would be much higher, and temperatures would be much hotter. However, CO2 in the water leads to higher levels of acidity. For many shell-bearing creatures in the intertidal zone (and beyond), this means shell structure may be compromised, leading to lower survival rates for these organisms. The increased acidification can also cause changes in important behaviors, such as an organism’s ability to detect predators. All of this combined is likely to lead to changes in the structure of marine communities.

These changes are important both ecologically and economically, as the Acadia region relies on natural resources and tourism for much of its economy. Help scientists and Schoodic Institute reveal how all these connections are being influenced by a changing climate.

ABOUT THE RESEARCH AREA

You’ll stay at Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, within the Schoodic District of the Park, located near Winter Harbor, Maine, a charming fishing village just across Frenchman Bay from Mount Desert Island, the biggest section of the park. Depending on when you’re in town, you may get to take in the annual lobster festival, lobster boat races, or birding festival. You can always explore the town’s working waterfront and eat fresh seafood.

Acadia National Park covers the tip of the Schoodic Peninsula, most of Mount Desert Island, and parts of other islands that sit in the Gulf of Maine, just off the coast. The striking rocky coastline and lush spruce forests make the area a popular hiking and camping destination. Visitors can explore it by foot, bike, or car along more than 200 miles of trails, paved roads, and gravel carriage roads. The beautiful setting has lured artists, travelers, and naturalists for hundreds of years.

DAILY LIFE IN THE FIELD

Explore the coastline and the forests of Acadia National Park as you:

  • Hike and bike to observe birds, plants, insects, and crustaceans. While covering about two miles a day, you’ll identify insects, and birds, and record when plants are flowering and bearing fruit. Along the shore, you’ll hike over rocky tide pools.
  • Collect dragonflies from freshwater sources. To test for mercury pollution, you will collect dragonfly larvae from lakes and streams, then send them off to the lab where the levels of mercury in their bodies will be tested.
  • Experiment in the aquarium lab. Perform a variety of experiments to test how acidic seawater impacts how hard-shelled organisms, like crabs, form their shells and interact with each other.
  • Transcribe historical accounts. Dig into the accounts of naturalists that visited Acadia as far back as 200 years ago as you add them to digital databases and preserve them for historical records.

When you’re not contributing to this vital research, you will learn about the area from scientists, local fisherman, historians, artists, and others. You’ll also have some free time to kayak, hike, and get to know the other researchers and volunteers while taking in the beauty of this wild place.

THE SCIENTISTS

MEET THE LEAD SCIENTIST

Abraham
Miller-Rushing
Science Coordinator, National Park Service, Acadia National Park

ABOUT ABRAHAM MILLER-RUSHING

Dr. Miller-Rushing is a phenologist—a scientist who studies seasonal changes over time. He feels the biggest management action needed for Acadia National Park is to tell the story of what’s happening there to agencies and the public.

READ MORE +

MEET THE OTHER SCIENTISTS

ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD

Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park will be your home during this expedition. These comfortable accommodations have a strong community atmosphere. You’ll stay in either a two- or four-bedroom apartment or a bunkhouse. Amenities include a full gym, wifi, and shared computers.

The Institute’s accomplished food service staff will prepare your meals, which will include full breakfasts and lunch and dinner options such as tacos, sandwiches, pot roast, lasagna, a salad bar, and dessert. Snacks and a variety of beverages are also available.

SIGN UP!

Join a team of Earthwatch participants!  Register at the Earthwatch website.