Friday, July 26, 2013

Photo Journal: A Day in the Life of the Nitrogen Fixation Crew

Posted by Katy

As we continue to set up experiments at an incredible pace (we are entering our fourth round of nitrogen fixation assays at all five of our NSF sites, plus our three CEMA sites, truly an impressive feat!), we thought it would be fun to share a typical day in our lives through a photo journal.

Wake up earlier than you want to and groggily make a bagel. Caffeinate yourself, because you'll probably need it!
Check the weather one last time!
Make sure everything is packed in your truck!
Time to head out!

The Day
Step 1 of our work day is driving to the site. We've already shared some of our driving mishaps, but even for our sites that are off of the highway, driving is a major task. Most of our sites are about two hours away, so we often spend at least four hours a day in the truck. Sometimes we will drive for a few hours and barely see another vehicle. On other days, when we have to drive up Highway 63 (also known as Alberta's most dangerous highway) to reach our sites, we may end up trapped behind huge trucks transporting logs, oil field equipment, and sometimes even buildings.

Sometimes there's traffic...

We make it! Once we arrive, we need to walk out to the bog. This involves anywhere from two to ten minutes of walking through various terrains. At our Crow Lake site, we walk for about ten minutes through some very swampy turf (and under a power line).
Today, we are taking gas samples from a 24-hour incubation that we use to measure rates of nitrogen fixation in the moss that dominates our bogs.
A happy incubation.

Taking gas samples.
After taking our gas samples, dismantling the incubations, and placing our moss samples back in their plots, we head back up the highway to our nearby Mariana Lakes site, a gorgeous peatland complex. We spot some collaborating researchers taking vegetation samples from the plots in the fen!

I have a side project at Mariana studying the influence of molybdenum and phosphorus availability on nitrogen fixation rates. It's been raining pretty heavily at Mariana for a while, and today I find out that my plots are almost entirely underwater.
Since my plots will be out of commission for a while (our incubation method doesn't work super well on entirely waterlogged moss), I take a pile of moss samples from the fen so I could bring them back to the station and carry out an experiment on the lawn. In the process, I manage to step in a hole and completely soak my feet. We try to stay as dry as possible as we walk through waterlogged peatlands by wearing tall, waterproof boots, but every so often a wrong step will leave one of us with a "soaker."
A handful of peat is worth getting wet feet over!
Back at Meanook Biological Research Station...
After returning from the field, we now have a pile of gas samples that need to be analyzed using gas chromatography. With a run time of 10 minutes per sample, and 48 samples per site per experiment, we spend a good portion of our time running the gas chromatograph. Right now, Hope fires up the machine and prepares herself for a long evening of running samples.
After a while, it is definitely time for a GC snack!
Our lab is currently a mess of sample syringes, jars for incubations, and data.

Outside on the lawn, I apply molybdenum and phosphorus treatments to the new moss samples I collected today.
Kitten, the feisty cat who is the true boss of the research station, bravely defends my samples.
With most of today's work done, it's time to get our supplies ready to set up an incubation at another site tomorrow.
And the next day...we will do it all over again! Working as field ecologists in ecosystems that have a very limited growing season means that we do keep quite a rapid pace during the summer. But with a dedicated crew, careful planning, and a sense of humor, we manage to get done everything that we need to and have fun while we do it.

Coming soon: Pictures and more from our helicopter survey of bogs near the Ft McMurray oil sands mining region!

1 comment:

  1. You guys are kicking some science butt! Love the pics -