Saturday, August 5, 2017

Channel Sampling: Success!

It’s official- the stream-side channel experiment is over! After two weeks of sampling, our team completed both rounds of metabolism, nutrient uptake and nitrogen fixation measurements. These efforts involved 15 people, 300 chamber incubations, and scrubbing biofilm off more than 1,000 tiles. Although it’s a relief to be done with the long days, I’m a bit sad to see the channel experiment come to an end. What am I supposed to do with myself now that I don’t have any biofilm to grow or channels to maintain? I guess I’ll have to take up a hobby (gardening should be similar to growing biofilm...), and of course analyzing all that data will keep me busy for a while!

Anyways, here are some highlights from the sampling events:

Day 1: A flawless team measuring metabolism on a flawless day

Day 2: Weather not so flawless, but our crew stayed strong to complete nitrogen and phosphorus uptake measurements

Days 3 and 4: N-fixation Nation!

Annette is a MIMs Buddha

This is what learning looks like

The final sampling push

At the channels, the optimal observer-to-worker ratio is 3:1

...except for the last day of sampling, when everyone just takes a nap

Thursday, July 27, 2017

If You Don't Like the Weather in Iceland, Just Wait Five Minutes...

We have a confession to make...

The majority of our blogposts give our readers a false sense of weather here in Iceland. Although the climate is mild for the latitude, rainy days are common at our field site. Here is a little dose of reality. Enjoy.

Can you see the glistening rain jackets? 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Channel Sampling is Almost Here!

The channels have been running for a whopping 45 days now (which is basically years in “channel time”), and things have been going great at the site. The hotpot that was giving us trouble in the beginning has been stable, which means we have consistent temperature treatments, and our biofilm has been busy growing under the varying temperature and nutrient treatments. Heath and I have been busy maintaining the experiment during this time, as well as collecting samples for our biomass time series. These time series data can show us differences in biofilm growth rates among the nutrient conditions (i.e., low-N vs. high-N treatments), as well as whether these nutrient effects change under different temperature regimes. We won’t have answers until the samples are processed back at OSU, so for now it’s lots of scrubbing biofilm off tiles and filtering the samples for transport back to Ohio.
A quick look at differences in biofilm growth among channel treatments

We’ve also been taking background water chemistry samples for each channel, to ensure that the nitrogen and phosphorus additions for each treatment are at the correct concentrations.

But perhaps most importantly, we’re busy gearing up for our first round of metabolism, nutrient uptake, and nitrogen-fixation measurements. This will be a 4-5 day push with the entire team involved in the sampling efforts. During sampling, we incubate the biofilm in small plastic chambers, so we’ve spent the last few days ensuring the chambers and equipment is in working order.
Chambers: Geared up and ready to sample some biofilm

Things are looking good so far, and we should be ready for sampling in the next few days. Check back for pictures and updates of the main event!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Update: 15N additions and channel experiment

I am back from Iceland, after an ultimately successful trip, despite weather that was often difficult and that postponed the start of our five-day 15N additions to the two cold and two warm streams. The shot above is of everyone sampling food web compartments in Stream 11 during the drip. The sun did come out every now and then! The channel experiment continues to go well too. Here's a shot of our REU student Heath Goertzen and MS student Lyndsie Collis collecting and processing tiles for the biomass accumulation time series. You can just make out the diversity of growth responses that are being driven by differences in temperature and nutrient concentrations. Some tiles are still effectively bare after six weeks, while a thick algal growth is threatening to overtop some channels. Maybe we'll see some interesting temperature-nutrient interactions. Time will tell.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Nitrogen isotope additions finally start

This year the weather did a good job delaying the start of the planned simultaneous nitrogen isotope additions to our four focal streams (two warm, two cold), as we cannot start them if the streams are too high. We finally got a forecast for a break in the weather, so Mick and Jon started the drippers yesterday evening (in truly awful weather, as it happened). The good weather has now arrived and all 8 drippers (one for ammonium nitrate and one for 15N-enriched ammonium chloride and potassium nitrate in each stream) were behaving well when we changed the batteries after one day out of the scheduled five days of isotope addition. Fingers crossed that those five days go off without a hitch.

Tomorrow we take our first food web samples from the four streams, followed two days later by comprehensive water sampling for nitrogen concentrations and isotopes. More posts to follow.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Other Valley

Typically, most of my time in Hengill is spent running the side-stream channel experiment, so I rarely get a chance to visit the other streams that our group studies. However, earlier this month I had the opportunity to assist with checking the nutrient drippers in the “landscape” streams, which allowed me venture away from the channel site and see what else Hengill has to offer.

All I can say is that I’ve been missing out on some beautiful views-

This year we’re adding nitrogen to our four study streams using a rather elegant dripper system that is controlled entirely by gravity. It’s essentially the same setup as the drippers we use for the channel experiment, but slightly modified to fertilize an entire stream as opposed to a small plastic channel. 
Although this dripper system maintains a remarkably consistent drip rate once set up, it does require the occasional check, and an occasional refill of the reservoir to maintain the nitrogen supply. Here’s Kate and Bonnie in refill action:
 Just add water...
and stir!
It was a nice change of pace to hike around the streams of Hengill’s “other” valley, and a good reminder of the interconnectedness of the work done with the channels and the landscape streams. We’re all excited to see the results of this year’s nitrogen additions, and I’m particularly interested in how these results might compare (and/or contrast) with our channel data!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Update on the whole-stream nitrogen additions

This year we're adding nitrogen to the two cold and two warm streams. Six hundred kilos of ammonium nitrate fertilizer will do the job, delivered by the same float-valve drippers we used last year to add phosphorus. 

It's now mid-June and still early days for our nitrogen additions, but we're already playing spot the difference. Here are two shots taken two days ago of one of our warm streams. The left photo is just upstream of the nitrogen dripper, while the other shot is just downstream. Note the particularly lurid green clumps of Cladophora that start directly below the dripper.

Our isotope additions to the four streams will start in the next few days (depending on weather!), so watch this space.

New publication from Iceland project

Dan Nelson's first manuscript from his dissertation is now out in Global Change Biology. In it, we describe how our experimental warming of Stream 7 at Hengill by 3.8 degrees C changed the structure of its invertebrate community. Somewhat surprisingly, average body size increased. Across all of Hengill's streams we can obviously find taxa with a wide range in thermal preference. It just happens that many of the invertebrates with higher thermal preference are relatively large-bodied (snails and black flies, for example) and these groups responded strongly to our whole-stream warming manipulation. Conversely, many cold-adapted taxa are quite small (many midges are obvious examples) and these groups declined. These results show that shifts towards lower average body size with warming are not universal, and that the combination of diversity in thermal preference and dispersal ability will dictate how communities reassemble as ecosystems warm in the future. Well done to Dan for all the hard work he put in to reveal these patterns!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Update and Hot Pot

Hey Everyone!
My name is Heath Goertzen. I’m the undergrad REU student helping Lyndsie with the channels experiment this year. This blog post shouldn’t be anything complicated, just a quick update on the project so far and what we’ve been doing. I’ll also be adding a few pictures, just for posterity.

The channels have been operating quite smoothly (knock on wood) so most of what we’ve been doing is relatively simple maintenance and monitoring of channel operation, with some sampling for biomass along the way. We’ve also been spending some serious time standing over the hot pot being confused. Here’s a picture of it:

 It's the thing on the bottom, on the top is the warm pond

Now, that looks like a normal hot pot. For the first 3 years of the experiment, I’m told that this hot pot sat at a nice 40 degrees C and behaved itself. Notice the tragic use of past tense because this year, things have gotten weird. Conditions are changing day to day (perfect for scientific experiments based on consistency), so this post will probably be inaccurate by the time you see it. I’ll still fill you in on some of the more notable conditions we’ve seen. First, the hot pot got sad. See Lyndsie’s posts below mine for more but essentially, it wasn’t being a hotpot (more of a refreshing bath, really). Lyndise bailed it out (see below) and that helped at least get the temps back up. After that, the hot pot started warming in cycles. This involved it going from the original consistent temperature of 40 C to a potentially face-scalding 90 degrees C. It also started having cycles of activity that I can only describe as geyser-esque (note, I have no idea what I’m talking about and this is pure, blind speculation), wherein levels and temperature would both change over time (~1000 liters of water and 10 degrees C variability), with peak periods looking like this.

 Don’t put your face in it

 And low periods looking like this.

Still not a good idea to put your face in it

This conditional behavior caused some of the treatments to get more temp variation than was allowable, so we tried clearing a channel between the warm pond and the hot pot. The added inflow solved our level problem (yes!) but the temperature continued in cycles, which in turn perpetuated the variability (no!).

We finally blocked the same channel we had previously cleared (the one leading to the warm pond). It feels a bit like playing a game with three options wherein you’re probably going to lose no matter what you do, but you’re losing anyways so you may as well try something. Last I heard, blocking the flow has made some improvements and the hot pot was looking more consistent! I’d like everyone reading this to engage in some manner of good luck superstition. Rub a rabbit's foot, I'm serious. At this point we’ll take all the help we can get in maintaining consistency. Cheers and thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017 Channel Experiment Begins!

After nearly 3 weeks of setup and countless trips carrying equipment to our field site, the big day has finally arrived- the channel experiment has officially begun! The temperature treatments are maintaining nice 4C intervals, the water flow through the channels is consistent, and the nutrient drippers are delivering a steady supply of N and P to each channel. Now I just get to sit back, relax, and let my biofilm grow. :)

Here's a picture of the final setup, can you spot me?

Monday, May 22, 2017

A slow but steady start

My first week back in Hengill has gone exactly as expected, full of both small achievements and some interesting challenges.

This summer I will be running our fourth and final side-stream channel experiment, in which we will investigate the effects of climate change and nutrient pollution on stream ecosystem processes, such as carbon fixation and the cycling of associated nutrients. To do this we’ll culture biofilms in side-stream channels along a temperature gradient of 5C-25C (41F-77F), while adding N and P at varying concentrations and ratios. This will allow us to understand if the concentration of a nutrient, or its relative availability to other nutrients, influences how biofilms and their coupled ecosystem processes respond to temperature.

However, before we can answer these questions the channels need to be up and running, which is proving more difficult than anticipated. Although the PIs spent the last two weeks getting the infrastructure in place and securing a constant supply of water to our site, the hot pot that warms our water is refusing to stay hot. Last year the pool was consistently around 45C; this year it struggles to hit 40C and seems unable to maintain a heat source.

If a hot pot doesn't produce hot water, is it really a hot pot?
These are the questions that keep me up at night.

I’m currently testing out a few ideas to get the heat back. Draining the hot pot completely results in an inflow of warmer water- sometimes the incoming water is 70C- that’s 158F! However, once the pool refills the pressure from the water seems to “shut off” the heat vent, and the water begins to cool. Keeping the water levels lower in the hot pot may therefore help us maintain a constant supply of hot water. I’ll be keeping an eye on the temperature in the coming days, bailing water as needed, and hoping for the best.
"The Belly of the Beast"- 
a rare glimpse into the inner-workings our volatile hot pot after I removed over 1500 L of water

Meanwhile, I’m continuing to put the final touches on the rest of the experiment. Beth and Filipa, two Master’s students from Imperial College London, lent a hand carrying out tiles to the site, which I use as the “rocks” in my experiment for the biofilm to grow on. We spent the afternoon lining the channels with the tiles, and their help sped up the process considerably.

    Set up and ready for some bioifilm

Despite the setbacks it’s been a productive first week, and I’m looking forward to a fun and successful field season- one with lots of hot water!
Look at that steam... if only this was 1 km closer to our field site...