Current and Recent Projects
Aluminum, Iron and Phosphorus in
Dr. Ivan Fernandez, Dr. Stephen Norton, and Dr. Aria Amirbahman
are the principal investigators for two multi-year National Science
Foundation projects investigating mobility and bioavailability of
phosphorus as related to aluminum and iron geochemistry in soil, soil
water, surface waters, and stream and lake sediments. This project
involves researchers and sites in Maine, including Acadia National Park,
West Virginia, France, and the Czech Republic. The SECRL is the primary
laboratory for this project. Funding is in place for 2 more years; about
13,000 samples will be analyzed over this period. Analyses include pH,
ANC, phosphorus, base cations and trace metals, DIC, DOC, anions, and
soil and sediment extractions and digestions.
Methyl Mercury in Lakes
Dr. Aria Amirbahman is investigating seasonal comparisons of
methyl mercury in lake water. The Sawyer Environmental Chemistry
Research Laboratory is one of only a few labs in the country that has
the capability to analyze samples for methyl mercury. He and his
graduate students are also studying mercury dynamics in estuarine
sediments, especially in the lower reaches of Penobscot River, through
two grants from the NOAA (Saltonstal-Kennedy, and Sea-Grant programs).
Historical Metal Accumulation in Acadia Peat Bogs
The SECRL is analyzing sediment and peat cores from Acadia National
Park. These cores are used to determine concentrations and accumulation
rates of heavy metal pollutants which can be related to anthropogenic
sources during recent time (the last 500 years).
Mercury and Metals in Lobster
Dr. Rodney Bushway and Dr. Brian Perkins, Department of Food
Science and Human Nutrition, and Dr. Robert Bayer, Lobster Institute, in
conjunction with the NSF GK-12 program fellow Jason Bolton, are studying
the concentrations of heavy metals in the tissue and tomalley of
lobsters along the New England Coast. Approximately 140 have been
microwave digested and analyzed by ICP and FIMS for trace metals and
mercury. The SECRL has also analyzed lobster exports to ensure levels of
metals were below the European Union's permissible health limits.
Methyl and Trace Mercury in Amphibians and Fish
Dr. Adria Elskus, Dr. Cyndy Loftin, and Dr. Joe Zydlewski are
interested in the concentrations of mercury in amphibians and fish. They
will be analyzing 80 salamanders and sculpin for both total and methyl
Monitoring Well Analyses
Dr. Andrew Reeve and his students routinely use this lab for
analysis of water obtained from monitoring wells. These samples are
typically analyzed for cations, anions, phosphorus and trace metals.
Mercury and Metals in Urchin Roe
Dr. Scott Haskell is interested in metal and mercury
concentrations in wild marine populations. Currently the SECRL is
processing and analyzing approximately 250 urchin samples for mercury
and trace metals. Funding is pending for similar projects involving
bivalves and lobsters.
Aluminum, Iron and Phosphorus in Watersheds
Dr. Petr Porcal is a post-doctoral researcher from
Hydrobiological Institute, Academy of Science of Czech Republic. He has
received a Fulbright-Masaryk Fellowship and is focusing research on
photochemical changes of dissolved organic matter and organically bound
metals in fresh waters. DOC and metals are analyzed in samples after
irradiation of UV-A.
Trace Mercury in Streams and Through-fall
Researchers from the George Mitchell Center (GMC) monitor mercury levels
in streams and through-fall collectors at Acadia National Park. The SECRL analyzes these samples for trace mercury.
Other Faculty Projects
A number of faculty and their students use the Sawyer Environmental
Chemistry Research Laboratory for basic water chemistry analyses such as
cations, anions, phosphorus, chlorophyll, carbon, pH, and alkalinity.
Contributors include Professors Katherine Webster, Chris Cronan,
Bryan Dail, and Adriaan van Heiningen.
Graduate Student Involvement
Mercury Monitoring on the Lower Penobscot River
Karen Merritt is one of only two current graduate students at
UMaine to receive a STAR research fellowship from the U. S.
Environmental Protection Agency. Merritt will continue her current
research analyzing siloxane gels to increase the accuracy of mercury
monitoring. Merritt uses instruments such as the Flow Injection Mercury
System and the Tekran to analyze her samples for mercury at the ppb and
ppt levels. She also uses the microwave and other equipment here to
digest her samples before analysis. In addition to funding from the
EPA-STAR, Merritt's research is supported by two grants from the NOAA (Saltonstal-Kennedy,
and Sea-Grant programs). Merritt has analyzed over 500 samples for
mercury and plans to analyze another 300 this year.
Cadmium Levels in Moose Browse
Chandra McGee is working with the Passamaquoddy Nation and the
Environmental Protection Agency to determine levels of cadmium in a
variety of flora that comprise the moose diet. This study is linked to
other studies investigating the health risks associated with the
traditional consumption of moose liver by Indian Tribes. McGee has
collected over 600 samples for this project. The SERCL and Climate
Change Institute, with assistance from McGee, have microwave digested
and analyzed these samples by ICP-MS.
Trace Mercury in Snowfall
Sarah Nelson is studying the deposition of mercury in snowfall at
Acadia National Park. Her research is funded by the Canon National Parks
Science Scholars Program. Nelson collected and assisted in the analysis
of 90 snow fall samples last winter.
Mercury Bioaccumulation in Harbor Seals
Dianne Kopec is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Biological
Sciences researching the trophic transfer of mercury from fish to harbor
seals. Dianne uses mercury residues in otoliths (fish ear stones) and
eye lenses to track the level of mercury in fish eaten by seals.
Aluminum, Iron and Phosphorus in Watersheds
Heather Goss, Brett Holmes, David Huntress, Molly Laird, Michael
SanClements, and Tiffany Wilson are MS and PhD graduate students
working under NSF projects on metal and phosphorus dynamics. These
students are analyzing thousands of water and sediment samples over the
next two years and are using this laboratory for most of the
extractions, digestions, and analyses.
Aluminum, Iron and Phosphorus in Watersheds
Bjorn Lake is a Ph. D candidate in Civil and Environmental
Engineering. Research interests focus on the biogeochemistry of
freshwater sediments, specifically phosphorus cycling dynamics in the
anoxic sediments of Maine lakes with high dissolved organic carbon
concentrations in the water column.
Trace Metals in Ice Cores
Nancy Bertler is a post-doctoral researcher from the Antarctica
Research Center in Victoria, New Zealand and conducts part of her
research at the Climate Change Institute. She recently analyzed
approximately 1,000 ice core samples for trace metals. Climate Change
Institute students Bruce Williamson, Erich Osterberg, and Alan Wanamaker
have used the ICP for their analyses during 2004/5/6. Williamson will be
using the SECRL microwave digestion system to develop a clean digestion
method to analyze ice samples at very low levels.
Molly Harris and Emily Klingler are Master of Science in Teaching
students that have used the laboratory for projects involving mercury
and water quality.
Baseline and EcoReserve
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) monitors
between 100 and 200 lakes for its Baseline and EcoReserve projects. The
DEP uses the Sawyer Environmental Chemistry Research Laboratory to
analyze these samples for basic water chemistry including cations,
anions, ANC, DOC, phosphorus, conductivity, total N, ammonium, color and
chlorophyll a. Contributing researchers from the DEP include Linda
Bacon, Roy Bouchard, David Courtemanch, Jeff Dennis, David Halliwell,
and Mark Whiting.
Waste Water Trace Mercury
Wastewater treatment plants from the entire state send DEP
mandated compliance samples to this certified trace mercury laboratory
to ensure their discharge does not contain elevated levels of mercury.
Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Nation Water Monitoring
The SECRL analyzes water and tissue samples for the Penobscot and
Passamaquoddy Nations. The Penobscot Nation typically has 130
samples analyzed for chlorophyll a, total phosphorus, and pH. The
Passamaquoddy Nation sends 80 to 100 samples for total phosphorus and
chlorophyll a analysis.
DEP Volunteer Lake Monitors
Volunteer Lake Monitors from Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire
work in conjunction with the Maine DEP and send water samples to be
analyzed for total phosphorus. Last summer there were over 30 volunteers
and over 80 samples were mailed to the laboratory for analysis. This
year the volunteer mail in program has expanded to include 30 additional
samples that are analyzed for total phosphorus, cations, anions,
nitrogen, ANC, phosphorus, trace metals, organic carbon, and color.
Other State and Local Projects
The Maine Department of Transportation sends about 15 samples per
year to be analyzed for bromide to determine the origin of salt in
The Bangor and Brewer Water Districts send samples to be analyzed
for total phosphorus, chlorophyll a, and total organic carbon.
The State of Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation
monitors a set of lakes and asks SECRL to analyze about 80 samples for
aluminum species and 60 samples for organic carbon.
The Sawyer Environmental Chemistry
Research Laboratory provides analytical assistance and guidance to
NSF GK-12 Fellows and High School teachers. There will be at
least three fellows using the lab this summer.
Ed Lindsey, an area high school teacher, and his students have
been monitoring the chemistry of the Kenduskeag watershed for the past
few summers. Lindsey and other science teachers use the laboratory,
equipment, and expertise of the staff and faculty for professional
Ken Hoyt, Catherine Wakely, and Lynel Winters are Animal and
Veterinary Science undergraduate students using the analytical
facilities to generate data for their senior projects and to gain
experience in a laboratory setting.
Upward bound science students are using the laboratory to analyze
samples from lakes they are monitoring. The SECRL will train these
students, in small groups, to analyze their own samples for total
Sarah Nickerson, a high school student at Greely High School in
Cumberland, recently won first place in the State Science Fair under the
category of Institutionally Aided Projects. Sarah's project had to do
with mercury in yellow perch. Nickerson was trained by the staff to
assist in the analysis of her samples. Catie Zielinski (Bangor
High School) won a New England level award for her chemical studies of
the Kenduskeag Stream headwaters.
SECRL hosts laboratory tours and demonstrations for visiting high school
groups through University-sponsored programs such as 'Expanding Your
Horizons" and "Gear-Up."