We're an international team of ecologists studying streams in the Hengill region of Iceland. Our research is focused on understanding the effects of global warming on stream food webs and ecosystem processes.
Just recently I had the great pleasure of visiting Drs. Jill Welter and Paula Furey at St. Catherine University in the beautiful city of St. Paul, MN (not to be confused with Minneapolis, MN). On this trip (funded by the Montana Institute on Ecosystems) I received training in algal and cyanobacteria identification. With the skills I gained at St. Kate's I can now examine how temperature alters the structure of benthic communities. Below are photos of a few species that colonized the tiles in my experimental channels this past summer.
Over the past few years, we've seen post after post of glorious field work and courageous science action. There's no doubt that most of us got into this business so that we could spend long, lovely periods of time outside, observing and collecting critters. The truth, however, is that ecological science involves a little time in the field and a LOT OF TIME in the lab. Fortunately for us, lab work is just as exhilarating!. .. . .as long as you're in the zone. Here's a few shots of Montana folks in the zone.
Tanner has been busy analyzing nutrient chemistry samples from his experimental channels - and yes, his hair continues to grow! His goal is measure dissolved ammonium and phosphate in water samples to examine whether experimental warming affects rates and ratios of nitrogen and phosphorus uptake. Shouldn't be long before he can post some preliminary data!
Jim has been hard at work processing benthic samples from the landscape temperature gradient. He's finding large differences in the structure of macrophyte-algal-cyanobacteria communities, and his plan is to quantify how these differences affect pools and ratios of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus at the ecosystem-level. He may be missing a front tooth (sorry Jim), but this has not slowed progress. In the next few weeks, Jim will be packing up hundreds (thousands?) of samples for carbon and nitrogen analysis. Stay tuned for updates!
And then there's Dr. Jim Hood, our unflappable post-doc and resident R guru. Jim is deep in the midst of compiling, coding, and analyzing data from our whole-stream warming experiment. The paper resulting from these efforts is within reach, and we're getting excited about the emerging patterns. In other news, Jim just birthed a new beautiful baby girl (Lauren), who is now our lab mascot. We look forward to her help!
And last. . .there's me, Wyatt. I've been steeped in classes (teaching 3 this semester!) and making good progress on analyzing chamber metabolism data (thanks to Hood). I think I'm getting bags under my eyes. . . .oh well. .. it's worth it!
We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to work in an area as fascinating and informative as Hengill, and we hope to continue doing so for many years to come. In light of this, we try our hardest to reduce our impact on this fragile landscape. Yesterday, I raised the proverbial small army and we dismantled and removed our experimental channels from Hengill (including the 600 feet of tubing!). We transported all of the pieces back to Reykjavik, where we can safely store them over the long winter until the next field season. Many thanks to our Icelandic colleagues at the University of Iceland and the Insitute for Freshwater Fisheries!
Dissembling the heat exchangers. Strange hot pot chemistry appears to have stained our equipment orange.
Photo by J. Goldschmidt
The first of many trips.
Photo by J. Goldschmidt
Photo by J. Goldschmidt
Loading the cars at the river.
Photo by J. Goldschmidt
The former site of Lake Allison (our inlet reservoir for the channels) with natural flow conditions restored.
Our experimental channel site cleaned up for the approaching winter.
I know the team thinks I was just relaxing on the beach during my recent trip to California. Think again! I happened to catch a lecture by Dr. Geoffrey West, given for the 'Complexity Group' (http://www.stanford.edu/group/complexity/) at Stanford University. He gave a very interesting talk on metabolic scaling that was highly relevant to our research (despite the 167 slides!). He had some fascinating new nuggets about aging and companies.
When Tanner handed me a tea steeper and a piece of a plastic channel and said "connect this somehow..." I quickly harnessed my MacGyver-chi and went searching around the lab for parts to complete this engineering task. About 15 minutes of grumbling and mumbling, fumbling with rubber bands and zip-ties, I emerged from the lab with a Frankenstein-esque work of biomass-catching art. Conveniently detachable for easy removal, I might add. And the best part is, these puppies cost $0.00; all of the materials can be dismantled and put right back in the lab. Cup-holder to come on edition 2.0. We installed them the next day on Tanner's channels, and what do you know, they work!
The idea was that there was a lot of biomass being schluffed off the channels and we wanted a way to capture it as to get an accurate representation of how much of what is actually being grown/moved around the tiles. The result is this (quite colorful) hodge-podge of pencils and baskets and rubber bands.
With the 4-week and 6-week sampling under our belts, we're all feeling pretty comfortable with our methods now as we're heading in the last sampling period. Now with an added twist of trying a little side project of my own, we'll see how this next week will go. The weather hasn't been very conducive to warm, sunny summer field work, but hey- when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. This next week will consist of getting Ryan Jones' (Montana State University) samples, my side project of tile transplants (we'll be moving tiles from the +10 and +20 treatments into the +15 channel and we'll measure metabolism after 2 hours and again after 3 days of incubation), Tanner's regular metabolism data, N-up, P-up and Jill Welter's nitrogen fixation runs. We had a long day in the field last week when Jill and her crew decided to do three (yes, three) methods of nitrogen fixation in one day. It actually went relatively smoothly given that none of us had done anything quite to that scale ever, and overlapping the methods turned out to be a lot shorter of an endeavor than going out over several days.
All in all, the summer is coming to an end and there's a bitter sweet mood in the air- Iceland is just such a cool place, it definitely has brought out my inner nerd more than ever. Spending time in such a relatively new country really puts a new perspective on how you view the world and no doubt inspires a more thorough examination and interpretation of the landscapes we live in.
After one of our days in the field, we came home to a beautiful rainbow framed by the blooming lupines.
The experimental channels turn 6 weeks old and biomass is exploding in the warm treatments. We're pretty excited that the treatment effect we noticed early on is still holding strong. We just completed another full round of sampling over the past 3 days, and now we wait until our final sample event two weeks from now. What will they look like then?
Just wanted to give credit to the large team of folks helping me with the first (4 week) sampling event on the experimental channels. We had uncharacteristically good weather for 2 of the 3 days, any more of that and I'll become spoiled!
Left to right: Ellie Zignego (Montana State U.), Tanner Williamson (Montana State U.), Jill Welter (St. Kate's U.), Amiee Ahles (St. Kate's U.), David Hernandez (U. of Alabama), and Jackie Goldschmidt (St. Kate's U). Not pictured are Dan Nelson and Jon Benstead (both U of Alabama).
Woohoo! After a rainy, windy start, we successfully completed our first round of sampling in the channels! The Welter crew, John Benstead, Tanner and I all went out on Wednesday to get started on the process. The Welter crew checked out around 1pm to head back to give a presentation, and boy did they leave just in time. John, Tanner, and I were left to do the sampling (which ran quite smoothly, once we got our rhythm down), but not without some treacherous rain. There were about 4 or 5 really good rainy sessions lasting upwards of 45 minutes. The sun would pop out for a second, giving us hope, and then not too long after the winds would pick up and we would once again submerge ourselves in our waterproof cocoons. Dan and David came out for the last hour or so to check out the sampling and to help carry back some equipment.
The next two days, however, were uncharacteristically warm and sunny! We broke out the sunscreen and kicked off our shoes, letting the mysterious, glowing orb in the sky warm us up. With one set of sampling done, everyone (especially Tanner) can relax and be a little more confident in the sampling process.
Enjoying the squishy (dry!) ground on bare feet!
View of the valley- if you look on the left hand side, the pool of water is the medium-warm hot pot Tanner uses to heat the water
The Minnesota contingent has come to Reyk-town for the 2013 summer field season! This past Sunday Dr. Jill Welter and two undergraduates arrived from St. Kate's University (St. Paul / Minneapolis, Minnesota) ready for some exciting N-fixing research at Hengill. Sorry, I've no photos yet, but I assure you they're hard at work unpacking their 14 cases of equipment (that's right, 14, these folks don't mess around). Please see Jill's blog (Fixation on Ice) for the latest news and some photos of their arrival (found here).
In other news, the experimental channels turn 4 weeks old, and we're about to begin our first sample event. We wanted to start today, but zero visibility fog and gusting winds at over 16 m/s forced us to delay until tomorrow.
Tiles from the 5 temperature treatments in all of their glory (taken June 13th). We're pretty excited that even at this early stage we can see visual treatment differences in algal growth!
After about 5 days of strange and mysterious sleep cycles, I think I finally have this sleeping in 24-hour daylight thing down. The trick is to follow suite with the locals- lots of walking around the city and plenty of time soaking in one of the nearby geothermal pools. Dan, David, and I made our first venture to the neighborhood pool a few days ago and we now understand what all the buzz was about. Couples, friends, and singles alike come to soak and relax in the variously heated pools and a steam room that could make even Satan sweat. The pools are one of the few places that stay open past 6 pm- it seems everyone gets off work early to go soak in the pools, open until 10 pm.
Tanner and I have been busy babysitting the channels every other day or so, making sure they're flowing correctly and staying at the right temperatures. It's a pretty incredible place to call your work place- the tussock tundra spans for miles (although the visibility has been lacking, the sun seems to be on hiatus up there) and the rocks climb up the sky. I'm fairly certain I've seen a troll or two up there lurking around the hills.... further investigation is necessary. The hot pots sure make a nice, quick relief to any cold hands out there and the sulfur smell kind of grows on you...
Here I am at the channels doing very important, sciencey things.
The remainder of the Montana and Alabama contingent has finally arrived in Reyk-town for the summer field season! Joining me this summer is Dan Nelson (now on his nth trip to Iceland), David Hernandez (undergrad REU scholar from the University of Alabama), and Ellie Zignego (undergrad REU scholar from Montana State University).
Dan and David wasted no time in jury-rigging some black out curtains (duct taped trash bags) to catch some much needed z's after the long flight in from Alabama.
Ellie and I have been keeping busy testing and learning to use our new metabolism chambers. Here's Ellie comparing our new metabolism chambers (lined up on the table) to the first generation chambers used on the natural streams in Hengill (the one she's holding).
A close up shot of the metabolism chambers (lovingly handcrafted by Dr. Alex Huryn). Ellie and I will be using these this summer to measure metabolism on tiles in the experimental channels.
There was a great showing at the annual SFS meeting in Jacksonville, Florida. Good times were had, and our Icelandic research was well represented. Here's a photo of Delor Sander in front of her poster on N-fixation - together with Jon Olafsson, Gisli Gislason, and Jim Hood.
Other Iceland team presentations included:
Jim Hood et al. - "Patterns of nitrogen and phosphorus uptake across a thermal gradient of subarctic streams"
Jim Junker et al. - "Patterns of epilithic CNP stoichiometry across a natural temperature gradient in Icelandic streams"
Dan Nelson et al. - "Experimental whole-stream warming increases algal standing crop but reduces consumer biomass"
Jill Welter et al. - "Effect of temperature on N2-fixation rates and N2-fixer species assemblages in streams in the Hengill region of Iceland"
Paula Furey et al. - "Composition and abundance of nitrogen-fixing algal assemblages in nitrogen-limited streams along a geothermal gradient in the Hengill region of Iceland"
Today (May 20th) our experimental channels went online for real! Our little basalt tiles (pictured below) have reached the terminus of their long journey, all the way from my office floor back in Montana (see original post here). Jon Benstead and I lugged these tiles, all 1,650 of them (~100 pounds) to our site in what Jim Hood calls "typical Hengill weather." Equal parts sunshine, rain, sleet, snow and a sprinkling of hail for good measure! Now we keep our fingers crossed for the next 8 weeks while this experiment runs.
Close-up of a single basalt tile.
Slotting the tiles into our 15 channels (5 temperature treatments with 3 replicates at each temperature).
The tiles snug in their new homes (at least for the next 8 weeks). The channel discharge may not look like much, but over the next 8 weeks we'll pass over 2.5 million liters of water through these channels.
Here are the first temperature data from the streamside channels. Tanner downloaded these data to see how things are shaping up before the experiment actually begins (now scheduled for May 20th!).
Things are pretty much on target (we love physics), but the coldest treatment ("ambient") appears to be gaining a few degrees between the inlet stream and the experimental channel. In an effort to reduce this effect, and keep our coldest temperature cold, Tanner painted the black tubing extending between the stream and the channels. We'll see if this helps!
Good news faithful followers! The coolers, channels, and piping are all in place. We've successfully plumbed all components together and have water flowing in the channels. The plan is to let the system run without tiles for 3-4 days to work out the kinks and and get the whole thing operation for our 8-week experiment by the middle of May.
PI's Cross and Benstead (in association with visiting professor Bob Hall from the University of Wyoming) steadfastly transporting the channels the kilometer (or so) out to our hot pots.
The coolers in place and plumbed into the heat exchange system.
Assigning temperature treatments to channels in a randomized 3 block design.
Success! Water flowing in our channels for the first time!
Many thanks to undergraduate scholar Raquel (University of Barcelona) for coming out on this particularly damp afternoon to help assemble the final pieces.
Things are really coming together on the streamside channels. We expect that we'll have water flowing in them by this time tomorrow (late Thursday afternoon). Today, on what was probably the most beautiful day I've ever experienced out at Hengill, we got the channel racks assembled and finished construction on the dam. The dam will provide a consistent water reservoir that will feed our channels all summer.
Our finished dam, the inlet pipe for our channels, and a nice pool of water (Lake Allison)
The assembled PVC pipe frame that the channels will sit on. You can see from these photos that the snow is melty quickly now. It was even a sweat inducing 12 C (53 F) out there today!
The channels prepped and ready to for delivery tomorrow. Stay posted and soon you'll see some flowing channel action!
Day 4 of the HEX2 installation started with the uncoiling and joining of the 600 feet of 2-inch tubing. Once completed, we were able to get water flowing down it as it lay along the channel. We waited until the next day to move it over to the heat exchanger site.
Alex also donned a pair of chest waders and plumbed the depths of the big 25C pool. It's deeper than we thought! Deeper than he could go anyway. That's good for us: plenty of volume is great for the heat exchangers.
Other activities on Day 4 included placing the spiral heat exchanger in the 50C hot pot and prepping the other two heat exchangers for deployment (or, more appropriately, LAUNCH).
Day 5 began with a slight delay, as the water in the 2-inch tubing had frozen (it has been unseasonably cold in Iceland this spring). Once flowing again, we moved the tubing over to the site. We had running water - a major milestone.
All that remained was to launch the straight heat exchangers and connect up the rest of the tubing and valves.
We turned the valve on the 2-inch feed and found we had hot and cold running water! It was time to celebrate with the customary can of Gull.
We ended the day by tweaking the valves to manipulate temperature in the five outflows. Before too long we had buckets at around 6C (ambient), 11C, 16C, 21C, and 25C. Not bad, but we can do better. In fact, we're headed up there now to play around with it some more. Everything downstream of our work (header tanks, channels) is being done by the Montana State crew (gulp...), who arrive soon. Watch this space as the whole channel set-up is completed and the experiment begins on June 1.