Week of June 3, 2024

Hello Alpena! I’m Charlie Azzarito, a rising senior at Florida State University (FSU) studying Anthropology. Throughout my time at FSU, I came to learn about archaeology and grew fond of the courses and opportunities available in Florida. One track in my major focused on underwater archaeology, the study of submerged sites in marine and aquatic environments. I was lucky enough to receive extensive dive training through FSU’s Underwater Crime Scene Investigations program which took me from an Open Water diver to a Scientific diver in just two semesters. This training allowed me to attend a field school studying a submerged, pre-Ice Age site in Florida’s Aucilla River Basin. My research into paleoenvironmental reconstruction and human adaptation to climate change (along with my dive training) helped me qualify for NOAA’s Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship program. This program provided me with two years of tuition assistance and an opportunity to intern with NOAA the summer between my junior and senior year. For my internship, I chose Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary where I could study alongside marine archaeologists and scientists on the Freshwater Acidification Monitoring Project.

The Freshwater Acidification Project is an extension of NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Monitoring Program. While we have a lot of data on the acidification of the ocean, the freshwater monitoring project here at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (TBNMS) is the first of its kind. This research will create a baseline for future research into the effects of climate change across the Great Lakes basin. As part of the project, I take surface water samples from six different shipwreck and coastal sites in the sanctuary. I also deploy a CTD scanner measuring conductivity, temperature, and depth. The samples and data are then sent to NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) in Ann Arbor, where researchers analyze changes in the pH level, the partial pressure of carbon dioxide (pCO2), dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), and total alkalinity (TA) of the Lake Huron system. Using these metrics, we can better understand the changes being brought onto the Great Lakes ecosystem by human activity. Our ultimate goal with this research is to improve the resilience of plants, animals, people, and industry in communities threatened by climate change, such as Alpena.

I arrived in Alpena Memorial Day weekend and spent the first week learning the ropes here at the sanctuary. Starting my second week on the job, Madalyn (Maddy) Saddler, and I planned our sampling schedule for the week. Monday was light, but also very productive. I was able to take the afternoon off and spent that time getting to know the town a little better. I grabbed lunch from Blue Moon Cafe downtown and then signed up for a summer membership at Bay Athletic Club. I usually tell people I like to go early in the mornings to get the workout out of the way, but I’m a dreamer and a liar. You can catch me there three to five days a week in the afternoons when I’m off work!

On Tuesday we began our sampling schedule for the week. Maddy and I hopped aboard the Lady Michigan with a 4th and 5th grade class from Hillman Elementary School. Here, we took samples from the W.P. Rend, the last shipwreck stop on the glass bottom boat tour. After collecting our samples, we promptly headed back to the sanctuary to package and send our vials to GLERL. If you’re able to catch Maddy and I on one of the glass bottom boat tours, we’re always happy to answer any questions about the project or the work being done at the sanctuary!

Wednesday was another eventful day, we met at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center (GLMHC) to calibrate our NOAA Science on a Sphere exhibit. This exhibit is a great tool for us at the sanctuary, using a carbon fiber sphere and four HD projectors to display climate data collected by NOAA and other scientists and also present research findings. We discussed plans to make a new presentation focused on the Great Lakes and the Freshwater Acidification Monitoring Project. I spent the rest of the day on a self-guided tour of the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, familiarizing myself with the exhibits and taking notes on how visitors were interacting with the museum.

As Thursday rolled around, I joined Daniel Moffatt and Sophie Stuart with our educational program at TBNMS. Daniel earned a grant through NOAA’s Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project (MDMAP), a program where we form transects along the coastline of the sanctuary and record any large human-made debris that washes ashore. This program also corresponds to TBNMS’s focus on public outreach and community engagement, as we hope to include students from across Michigan in our future survey efforts. Thursday was a trial run to establish a survey point at the North Point Nature Preserve. While many of our transects thankfully didn’t have much debris, we did find a mylar balloon sandwiched right on the shoreline. This was a poignant reminder of where all our celebratory balloons end up when we’re done with the festivities.

I woke up early Friday and spent the day with Daniel. We started off working on the Freshwater Acidification Project, kayaking out to Ishpeming – one of our shipwreck sampling sites – from the mouth of the Black River. After collecting our samples and deploying our CastAway CTD, we kayaked back and immediately drove over to Negwegon State Park to continue the MDMAP. We established our survey area and found an assortment of plastic debris, but thankfully no balloons! After returning to the sanctuary and sending our samples and data to GLERL, I quickly caught a flight back home to see my sister’s high school graduation. She graduated from my alma mater, Cooper City High, with honors and a medallion of bi-literacy in Spanish! I return Monday to continue the work of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

A boy in jeans and a blue shirt takes a knee while filling a vial with filtered water coming through a hose attached to a yellow portable sampler. He is stationed on an old cement shipping dock, which is now covered with vegetation. Behind him Lake Huron is visible, with partly cloudy skies and a large shrub obstructing the view.

Charlie Azzarito at Rockport using a portable sampler to collect vials of water for testing.
Credit: NOAA TBNMS

Two people on lake coastline holding plastic buckets and marine debris

Finding a balloon that became marine debris at North Point Nature Preserve
Credit: NOAA TBNMS