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Sawyer Environmental Chemistry Research Lab

Current and Recent Projects

Faculty Involvement

Aluminum, Iron and Phosphorus in Watersheds
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 mercury.

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.

MST Program
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 Monitoring Projects
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 Monitoring
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 wells.

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.

Science education

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 development projects.

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 phosphorus.

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."


Sawyer Environmental Chemistry Research Laboratory
5764 Sawyer Research Center
The University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469
Phone: (207) 581-3288 | Fax: (207) 581-3290

The University of Maine
, Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System