Tuesday, May 24, 2016

MSU Field Crew Arrives

The MSU crew (Nate, Lila and Kate) arrived in Iceland today after ~24h door to door travel time! Since the Veidi is kind enough to let us store equipment there during the year, we got off pretty light on lab packing this summer:

Scale, for scale

Nate and Lila made good use of a 6 hour layover in their own respective ways...

Not pictured: running through JFK for our very last connection of the day. But once we got on the plane, there was a neat view of the midnight sun somewhere around Greenland:

We'll blame poor photo quality on sleep deprivation...

Once we landed in Reykjavik we met up with St. Kate's tech/lab manager Delor at the airport, then took a bus to Hafnarfjörður, the neighborhood we'll be living in this year. The weather's about 45F with 30mph wind gusts, so we all hunkered down to wait for our ride to the house.

Just your average Hafnarfjörður science hobos
The plan is to spend tomorrow prepping gear at the Veidi, then head out to Hengill on Thursday to do some landscape sampling!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

2016 Channel experiments start

Today we got the 2016 channel experiments started. Yah!

 This year, we are manipulating temperature and phosphorus. Below, Lyndsie and I are celebrating the start of the experiment. Lyndsie is a beginning masters student at The Ohio State University who's thesis will focus on the channel experiments.

We'll leave the details of setting up the experiment for a later post.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Getting our Phosphorus Enrichments Up and Running

It was a super-successful week here in Iceland, kicked off with a bit of good ole-fashioned shopping.

Dr. Benstead at the local 'Bauhaus' hardware store, headed for the kiddy aisle.

We were searching for a few important items that would allow us to mix and drip phosphoric acid (our experimental treatment) into our study streams. One of our main goals this year is to experimentally 'pollute' 4 of our study streams with phosphorus to understand how nutrient pollution and temperature interact. First and foremost, we needed solid eye protection! Folks, never mess around with acid!!

This is me, feeling safe, secure, and ready for action.

Our next stop was the Icelandic shipping company, "Eimskip", to pick up a few barrels of our phosphoric acid. This was exciting, industrial times! Just have a look at those scary barrels of unknown origin and contents!

Jon. . in absolute awe.

Now, in terms of transporting our gear to the field sites, we lucked out - bigtime. The long road in to our sites was clear and free of snow. This meant there was no need to carry our gear the full 7 or 8 kilometers from the paved road to the streams (a daunting task we were anticipating). Instead, we were able to walk just a short distance across the valley to get things rolling. 
Team work

Once we arrived at the sites, we assembled the dripper gear, mixed up our phosphoric acid solution, and started our nutrient enrichment experiments!  A few shots of Jon Benstead in action:

"Is this really happening?"

"Yes . . I think this IS really happening. . . "

Deep thoughts into a big barrel of ~20% phosphoric acid.  We are using these large barrels to store multiple weeks worth of phosphorus.

And a few more choice shots. Below is one of our more difficult dripper sites. As you can see, the snow hasn't quite receded yet, making for exciting  - and damp - times.

Finally, here's another site that required a bit of, shall we say, excavation:

Stay tuned. . there's more to come soon. Alex Huryn, Jim Hood, and Phillip Johnson arrive tomorrow, and they will begin setting up our streamside-channel experiment.  

Friday, May 6, 2016

Preparing for our channel experiment

A view of the stream (buried under snow) that feeds our stream channel warming experiment

We spend yesterday morning in the studio of Gudny Magnusdottir, an Icelandic potter that has a gallery in the center of Reykjavik. 

Gudny has been kind enough to help us burn and ash thousands of basalt tiles in her studio in Kopavogur, Iceland. The point of this is to remove - by extreme heat (500 degrees centigrade) - any biological material that may be remaining on the tiles from last year.  

Jon was feeling particularly good about this. . . . 

Thanks to Gudny's very large kiln, we were able to accommodate all three thousand of our tiles in one burning. . . . we are very thankful!

Here is a small sampling of her work. . . . beautiful stuff. .come to Iceland and check it out!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

And the summer of 2016 begins. . .  .

with Icelandic flag donuts!.  . .yep. . burp.

This summer we plan to add phosphorus to 4 of our streams (for 12 weeks!) in an effort to understand how nutrient pollution and temperature interact to influence species interactions and ecological processes.

Look out for upcoming posts as we get rolling.  BUT - for now, check out a recent video podcast about our work.  This was put together by our film team, Hans Gassman (MFA student in the MSU Science and Natural History Filmmaking Program: http://sfp.montana.edu/sciencenaturefilm/) and Dennis Aig (the director of the School of Film and Photography at Montana State University).

check it out here:  VIDEO HERE

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

When life gives you lemons, pick bugs.

“Sit back, relax, put on your favorite tunes, and pick.”
                On my first day volunteering in the Cross Lab, I saw this line from the bug picking protocol. Little did I know that I would take these words literally as I encountered the most challenging semester of my college experience. After making the decision to quit running for the MSU Track & Field team for the sake of my education, I bugged Wyatt about letting me into his lab so I could take advantage of all my newly acquired free time. Luckily, Kate needed someone to help speed up the process of ashing filters and entering data, so I gladly volunteered my time during the fall semester. Eventually I gained her trust, and when the filters ran out, Kate offered me the opportunity to continue my lab work in the form of bug picking, and I accepted. Turns out, this was the worst decision of my life.

                Totally kidding! Bug picking can be tedious . . . all right, bug picking IS tedious! Always. But along with a break from the never-ending schoolwork, picking offers a chance to slow down and sort out the racing thoughts of everyday life.
Here we have Kinzie diligently picking…and picking…and picking…
A certain sense of wonder follows the shift from looking at the Bridger Mountains to looking through a microscope at these little guys.
“Mite I ask you a question? How did I get here?”

The good company of the lab (bugs and people alike) kept me coming back, even though the training sessions took a toll on my untrained eyes and the delicate ostracods tested my patience. Working in the lab offers a chance to contribute to the ever expanding world of freshwater ecology, a gentle reminder that the balancing act of student life is worth the work it requires. With a summer in Iceland to look forward to and plenty of work to keep myself busy, I’m reassured that the decisions I’ve made have landed me right where I wanted. 
And of course, in the Cross Lab, safety is #1.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Passing It On

Now that we're back from Iceland (by the way, we're back from Iceland!), we can finally think beyond the Hengill weather forecast for tomorrow. On Friday, E.O. Wilson came to MSU to help present the American Computer & Robotics Museum's E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Awards. During a question and answer session, a student asked Dr. Wilson how to get people to care about biodiversity, even when it doesn't provide any direct benefit to the person. Dr. Wilson's response? "Three words: education, education, education."

At that point I was feeling pretty good about myself, since it just so happens that I spent most of Friday knee deep in a creek, getting middle schoolers interested in stream bugs. Here's a secret: it's actually pretty easy. Throw some waders on them, hand them a net, and make sure they don't wade into a deep pool. Then step back and let them explore.

"Who wants to hold a bug?" Just about everyone.

Many of them were amazed how easy it was to find life in the stream, especially once I pointed out that all those "sticks" were caddisfly cases. Notable catches of the day included a cranefly larvae as big around as my pinkie, a crayfish, and one very confused sucker. But the real highlight was seeing a bunch of kids get excited about a world they hadn't known was there.

Future stream ecologists?

The aftermath: well worth it!