Just a short drive to the east, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) sits surrounded by trees, wetland and water–a wilderness perfect for studying everything from climate change to earthworms. While most of us work indoors at desks, Smithsonian ecologists call the 2,650-acre campus along the Chesapeake Bay their office. This Saturday, visitors will have the chance to get up close and personal with the work those scientists do at the annual Family Fall Day.
“I was drawn to this research site because it’s among the world’s most thoroughly studied wetland ecosystems,” explains biogeochemist Pat Megonigal. “It offers a wealth of data and the infrastructure I need to conduct a range of experiments on global change.”
In addition to the local research on marine life in the bay, SERC also hosts scientists around the world, from Belize to Alaska. Topics range from tropical mangroves to microscopic parasites that turn male crabs into females. The center is also known for its ongoing research into climate change, including an ongoing study begun in 1987.
“The main features are our research labs,” says Karen McDonald, outreach coordinator for the center. “It’s kind of unique because people actually get to meet world-class researchers.”
Megonigal’s work will be presented at one of the five laboratory demonstrations on Saturday. The labs include a look at forest canopy, trace elements, biogeochemistry, North American orchids and aquatic bottom dwellers viewed through a remote-contol camera. And of course, everyone’s favorite boat, Richard Lee, will be offering hour-long tours along the water. With plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning, including crabbing and seining in the bay, there’s something for everyone.
“I always look forward to the diversity of activities,” says McDonald. “There’s always something different every time you come.”
Registration required, here. Saturday September 15, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.