Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ask A Grad Student: Raphaelle Descoteaux

It's been a while since we've had an interview with a grad student, but this one was worth the wait. Raphaelle is on the cutting edge of ocean acidification work, which we learned a little bit about here and here, and won for best student poster presentation at this year's Alaska Marine Science Symposium. Oh yeah, and she can speak English and French!

Age: 24

Degree: M.S. Marine Biology

Current City: Fairbanks, AK

1. Describe your project, in 4 sentences or less.

My project looks at the effects of ocean acidification on the development of crab larvae (Tanner, Dungeness, and black-clawed cancer crabs). Part of the carbon dioxide we emit in the atmosphere gets dissolved in the oceans and reacts with water molecules to form an acid, causing the oceans to become more and more acidic. So I performed experiments in the lab in which I placed newly-hatched crab larvae into waters of different pH, or acidity. I am now at the stage of measuring things like body length, weight, and shell composition to assess whether the different pH conditions in which the young crabs were raised affected their development.

And in French…

Le but de mon projet est de déterminer si l’acidification des océans aura un impact sur le développement des crabes an Alaska. Une bonne partie du dioxide de carbone que nous produisons se dissous dans les océans et réagit avec les molécules d’eau, formant un acide. Ainsi, plus nous émettons du dioxide de carbone, plus nos océans deviennent acides. J’ai effectué une expérience dans laquelle j’ai placé des larves de crabes dans des eaux de différent pH et je suis présentement au stade de mesurer différents paramètres comme la longueur, le poids et la composition de la carapace de mes jeunes crabes. En comparant ces paramètres parmi les crabes qui ont grandit dans les eaux de différents pH je pourrai déterminer si l’acidification des eaux aura un impact sur le développement des crabes dans le futur.

closely-monitored flow-through systems

2. What has been your biggest challenge with this project so far and how have you overcome it?

One of the big challenges so far has been dealing with logistical difficulties of working with such small animals. The crab larvae I am looking at are very small. They are about 1-2 mm long and weigh a fraction of a milligram. Measuring, weighing, and analyzing their shell chemistry at this scale has required a lot of team work, patience, and imagination!

can you believe how cute these little
Tanner crabs (Chionoecetes bairdi) are!?!

3. Why Alaska? Are you from here, or did the project lure you here, or was there something else about AK that brought you here?

I am originally from Quebec, Canada and came to Fairbanks as an exchange student for the senior year of my undergraduate degree. I was studying at McGill University in Montreal and felt like I needed to experience something different. Wow! Fairbanks was definitely different and I just fell in love with it. I knew I had to stay! I met my current advisors, Katrin Iken and Sarah Hardy, and we came up with this great ocean acidification project for my Master’s degree.

4. Which was harder: finishing the Equinox marathon or keeping larval crabs alive?

I actually walked the Equinox marathon once and ran the relay last year. The goal is to run the whole thing this year. I’m sure training for it will be difficult but I would still expect keeping larval crabs alive to be harder! This year has been a great learning experience for me in terms of raising larval crabs but I still have lots more to learn!

the Eqinox Marathon profile - yes, that does say a gain of 3,285 feet!

5. What is your favorite piece of crab paraphernalia?

I don’t own much crab paraphernalia frankly but I do LOVE my brand new “I love snow crabs” mug!

woo-hoo! the Snow Crab Love mug in action!

Thanks, Raphaelle, and good luck with the Equinox!

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