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Cara Manning how nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, cycles between the air and microbes and water in ponds. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) [ Hide caption ]

Cara Manning

Tracking the greenhouse gas N2O

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One of Cara Manning’s hobbies is cooking, which seems compatible for a chemist, right?

“Some of my nonscientist friends are convinced that my culinary skills are related to my chemistry background because cooking involves measuring things accurately and following directions,” she said. But in the kitchen, Manning likes to modify recipes, changing and adding ingredients in a way she’d never try in the lab.

This summer, Manning worked on Oyster Pond, a Cape Cod kettle pond with a high surrounding population density that is probably changing the pond’s chemistry. Manning investigated how much nitrous oxide is entering the pond from sources other than the atmosphere, how much is being generated by microbial metabolic processes in the pond, and how much is released into the atmosphere. The questions are important because nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas.

From an inflatable boat, Manning collected water samples and incubated bacteria in the samples with different nutrients to see whether they produced more or less nitrous oxide. The boat was borrowed from a “scientist down the hall from our lab who purchased it for his research and said we could use it,” she said.

Manning, a senior chemistry and earth and ocean sciences major at the University of Victoria in Canada, has set her sights on a graduate degree in chemical oceanography. Part of the draw of the WHOI Summer Student Fellowship program for Manning was that WHOI is among the few U.S. institutions that welcomes international students for such undergraduate internships.

The 3,000-mile leap—her second time on an airplane—meant the opportunity to explore new surroundings, whether on a bike around Woods Hole or on trips to Boston and New York, and even on Oyster Pond at midnight, collecting samples with a headlamp. It also expand her horizons as a chemist.

“I’ve been exposed to new techniques and a whole range of oceanography that isn’t taking place at home,” Manning said. “There are only two chemical oceanographers at my university.

“My favorite experience was presenting at the marine chemistry departmental seminar,” she said.  “I felt honored to present in front of scientists that I consider role models.”

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Cara Manning how nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, cycles between the air and microbes and water in ponds. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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