Alaska offers many opportunities for volunteer “citizen scientists” to share observations about water quality, earthquakes, invasive plants and populations of loons, bats, and other creatures. One of my favorites is the Mat-Su Borough Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program, which, by the way, is recruiting additional volunteers for this summer.
Once a month from May to October, my husband, Bryan, and I squeeze into our blue tandem kayak and paddle out to the deepest section of our lake surrounded by $4,600 worth of loaned scientific equipment to measure water quality. There, Bryan drops anchor and waits for the lake bottom to settle. Meanwhile, he calls out from the stern his observations about the weather, air temperature, wind direction, water color, and any floral or faunal wildlife. I take notes on a four-page form. These monthly notes, year after year, capture the dates on which annual visitors, like pond lilies, equisetum, pond ribbons, spider mites, are most prolific.
Once the water is still, Bryan slowly lowers a flat, Secchi disk to monitor water clarity, which can be affected by algae, sediment, or other suspended particles. I record the depth at which he can no longer differentiate the alternating white and black panels. Next, he lowers a heavy, multi-parameter sensor (a Quanta) to compare temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and pH at various depths throughout the lake profile Finally, Bryan lowers a water sampler, which collects and caps water one meter below the surface.
Because our lake is shallow, our collection/assessment takes only about 45 minutes. Volunteers monitoring deep lakes may spend two hours.
“Their location is fortunate for several reasons,” said Melanie Trost, watershed coordinator. “For one thing, they are our only volunteers west of the Susitna River, and their sleepy lake may be in the process of changing. It is near another water body, Alexander Lake, where Alaska Department of Fish and Game found a relatively small patch of Elodea last summer. That is the first discovery of the invasive aquatic plant in the Mat-Su Borough.
“Even people who cannot do monthly water sampling can help with occasional observations of dumping, pollution, and invasive plants in our lakes and rivers,” she continued. “One concern is old polystyrene docks, which beavers and muskrats scratch and the sun degrades, causing the little foam beads to spread. Birds, fish, and mammals mistake the beads for food, particularly fish eggs. We welcome pilots, boaters, and remote residents among our volunteers.”
To become a citizen scientist yourself, www.matsugov.us/lakemonitoring or contact Trost at (907) 861-8608. For 2015, volunteers are particularly sought for Alexander Lake, Big Lake, Lake Lucille, Cottonwood Lake, Matanuska Lake, Kepler Lake and Bradley Lake. Three one-hour training sessions will occur in three Borough locations in early May.
— Laura Emerson