What Do Mussels and a Pennsylvania Quarry Have in Common?

28 Sep 2017
ByMaria Asteinza

As part of her fieldwork for Fieldston Upper's Science Research class, junior Emma Holub, under the guidance of upper school science teacher Rob Getz, has been studying the population growth and density of zebra mussels at a quarry lake in Pennsylvania.

Science Research, a two-year course open to all Fieldston Upper students, is being taught this year by ECFS's Green Dean, Howie Waldman, and new teacher Anne Kloimwieder. It includes a lab component and has recently expanded to encompass fieldwork, which is where Getz, a field scientist, plays a role, assisting students with data collection and analysis.

Since the spring, he has been helping Holub with fieldwork involving zebra mussels, so called because of the striped patterns commonly found on their shells. An invasive species, zebra mussels were first detected in the Great Lakes in the 1980s and have since spread to other bodies of water, including the Hudson River.

How did Holub come to study the striped bivalves? This past March, she spent time at the Island School in the Bahamas with a small group of Fieldston Upper students. The trip, one of several global-learning opportunities offered to ECFS students, was led by Getz. While at the Island School, Holub learned about conserving reef eco-systems, worked on a reef sustainability project, and participated in research projects alongside top scientists.

"I enjoyed the experience and wanted to do more work in this area," explained Holub, who also was looking for opportunities to practice and improve her diving skills. (All students who participate in Island School programs must complete a scuba certification course prior to attending.) After returning from the Island School, Holub—along with Getz and Fieldston Upper students Spence Lott, Haley Wakoff, and Zachary Zemmel—traveled to the Dutch Springs quarry in Pennsylvania, near the New Jersey border, to study the population density and growth of zebra mussels.

"A quarry is a controlled environment," noted Getz, "making it an ideal place to study how quickly an invasive species like zebra mussels are spreading." The Dutch Springs quarry lake is submerged with vehicles, such as aircraft, where the mussels and other aquatic life grows. "Because we know exactly when a vehicle was sunk in the quarry, we can track the progress of the mussels' growth over a determined period of time," added Getz.

Holub plans to return to Dutch Springs in early October to continue her fieldwork.