Field Work Along the Trent River


Earlier this summer I spent several days doing field work in North Carolina. I was accompanied by my advisor, Rowan Lockwood, and a local expert on local invertebrate paleontology, Buck Ward. This was my first experience working in the field for an extended period of time or taking on a leadership position during data collection. I learned a lot very quickly, which I’ve been able to apply throughout the rest of my work this summer.

Field Sites

We worked on several Crassostrea gigantissima outcrops along the Trent River near Pollocksville, North Carolina. The oysters in this area are a little over 20 million years old. Most natural outcrops occur along the river, as it gradually cuts through the sediment and exposes once-buried shells. Buck has collected C. gigantissima here in the past. In fact, he collected the majority of shells I’ve borrowed from museums. With the help of his boat and a map carefully detailing outcrops along the river, we spent hours wading through the water, climbing up banks, and prying heavy shells out of the sediment.

The Haul

In total we collected about 15 buckets full of shell material from 4 different locations along the river. Interestingly, there was a wide range in preservation quality between different sites. This includes sites that were only a few hundred meters apart. Unfortunately, several sites were located beneath the water line. As the Trent has a very high organic content we’ve decided not to perform stable isotope analysis on shells collected from sites consistently submerged below water level. There’s a good chance any data collected from those shells is altered and could result in an inaccurate record.


Once field work was completed I spent several weeks preparing each shell. Generally, this involves cutting them in half lengthwise down the hinge and removing powdered material. It’s important to only test material from the inside of the hinge as it’s the least likely to have been altered. Moving on to the next step, I’m flying to Birmingham, Alabama next week to complete the bulk of lab analysis. The results of this analysis will be the first quantitative data I’ve generated. I’m very excited to be able to assign numbers to the trends we’ve observed in the field!


Our boat, loaded up with bags and buckets of oysters!


  1. omspencer says:

    Your project sounds very interesting and involved. I also had the opportunity to try my hand out with field work this summer and it is exciting to do analyses on data that you collected yourself. I hope that all goes well with the rest of your research and you enjoy analyzing your data!

  2. Kayla Cahoon says:

    I love hearing about this amazing species! We know that changes in water temperature and depth impact species, but to be able to use those organisms to determine environmental changes (essentially working backwards) is fascinating! I look forward to your results.