A diatom study begins at Wooster

This happy Wooster Geologist is Justine Paul Berina (’22). He and I have started a project with diatoms found in mud cores taken from Brown’s Lake and Brown’s Lake Bog by Dr. Greg Wiles, Nick Weisenberg, various crews from the University of Cincinnati, and countless students of Dr. Wiles. Justine and I are honored to join this productive team that has studied this lake and bog system for many years.

Diatoms are microalgae with two-part siliceous skeletons (frustules) found in just about every aquatic system. They manufacture from 20 to 50% of our atmospheric oxygen and cycle billions of tons of silica through the environment. If you want more details on diatoms, check out what I consider the best website ever devoted to a taxonomic group: Diatoms.org.

Diatoms are especially helpful for assessing the health of water systems because they are very sensitive to aquatic geochemistry and ecological changes. This is how Justine and I are using the Brown’s Lake diatom distributions, essentially as paleoecological tools.

Above is Brown’s Lake Bog, familiar to generations of Wooster students and readers of this blog.

Justine devoted his Junior Independent Study project last semester to examining diatoms from a Brown’s Lake Bog core. He used an existing collection of smear slides to first find where diatoms were most common, and then he made his own slides. Justine and I are very fortunate to have the advice of a diatom expert, Dr. Julie Wolin at Cleveland State University. Dr. Wolin corrected our diatom identifications and has given us many ideas for future work.

Our project involves studying the diatoms in core sections before and after agricultural work began in the Brown’s Lake area. We want to see how the lake and bog conditions changed with the anthropogenic modifications of the drainage systems and soils.

This is an image Justine made of our most common Brown’s Lake Bog diatom, Pinnularia.The diatom Stauroneis has a subtle “bowtie” in its center.

There are also numerous siliceous sponge spicules scattered through the cores. We hope they have some paleoecological value as well.

Justine has only a few more days left in the lab before he travels to the University of Delaware for a summer internship. I will continue our work on diatoms until Justine returns in August to begin his Senior Independent Study project on the critters.

Again Justine and I are proud to join the Brown’s Lake crew and look forward to making our contributions to the science!

About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is a Professor of Geology at The College of Wooster. He specializes in invertebrate paleontology, carbonate sedimentology, and stratigraphy. He also is an expert on pseudoscience, especially creationism.
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3 Responses to A diatom study begins at Wooster

  1. Fred says:

    Great job Justine! Diatoms are with a lot of fun!

  2. Alex Crawford says:

    Love the photos, as always — and happy to see some good diatom work.

  3. Mark Wilson says:

    Knew you would appreciate the diatoms, Alex. Thanks for the comment!

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