Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day 29: Through the Binoculars

I had a day off today, so I went out with one of the birding crews!

Introducing the team (from left to right): Laura, Carmen,
and Emilie from Trent - look how excited they are! Also
notice the mosquito jackets that everyone is sporting. That's
right, beige is the new black and netting is the new chique
fabric up here in Churchill. It always seems to come into fashion
right around the time mosquito buzzing is the loudest. I'm
not sure that is is a coincidence. Luckily, the extreme wind
kept most of the mosquito mass away today!
This is a nest! Can you see the four eggs? Really hard to
find these. While walking through the muddy fen, the birds
that are sitting on the nests will flush - flying up to get you
to follow the parent rather than finding their nests. It is so easy
to watch the bird fly off and miss where the nest is hidden in the
sedges, making it a great method of drawing predators away
from the nest. Typically, there are four eggs in a nest of a shorebird,
they just fit well in the nest and all can get warm. Though we
found one with 5 eggs and one with only 2, the oddities.

So we walked from nest to nest, marked on GPS. So we zig
zagged for several kilometers. Once we got to the nest, there
were several measurements and notes made. Here, Carmen
is measuring the size of the eggs and seeing if they are
 warm, which means that male has sat on them recently.  We were
looking at phalarope nests and dunlin nests, both of
which have the male do most of the care of the eggs
and chicks - the brood!

The eggs are also submerged in warm water for a few seconds
to determine the stage of development. If it sinks, it is still in early
stages of development. If it floats, it is nearing hatching, but
then you have to look at how it is floating. It floats because
an air sac forms. The air sac gets bigger as the chick nears hatching
causing the egg to float at different angles. When the long axis
is vertical and 90 degrees, it is less developed than when the
long axis is horizontal and floating, when it is really close
to hatching. This isn't always accurate though. A better
indicator is seeing the star on the shell where the chick has
started to peck it's way out. If I remember well enough, once
you see the first tiny cracks in the shell, it is about two
more days until they hatch. We came across one nest that
they had seen the cracks on yesterday, but when we got there
today, everything was gone except the top of one shell.
Laura determined that it was a victim of predation.
It was so sad to see a nest that was so close - you can hear
the chicks peeping at this point in development - be
completely destroyed. Nature can be harsh at times, but
predators have to eat, too.

After the egg check, and sometimes in reverse order, we put
a cage around the nest with a door open on one end. That
way, when the male comes back to sit on the eggs - sometimes
circling for 20 minutes before going in - he will settle onto
the nest. Then one of the birders will jump up and run at
the trap, scaring the bird away from the door of the cage.
The birder then sticks her hand into the cage and grabs the
bird from behind with it's head between two fingers so it
doesn't get injured and can't struggle too much.

This is a dunlin with the proper hold demonstrated. We caught
two birds today, this is the first. It was extremely docile! It
never flapped or tried to bite or claw, so unlike my bird, Star,
at home who would draw blood, though she does have a much
smaller beak to access the fingers gripping her. These birds
are tagged with a unique three letter ID which later has to
be read by binoculars. I'm still amazed that anyone can
read the small lettering when all you see is a flash of the tag
as the bird is running through the sedge. I definitely
need some improvement if I'm to help with tag id.

So now to play with the birds. This is Emilie, she is about
to kiss the dunlin - who looks a bit terrified. Just kidding,
she is actually blowing on the feathers to see several things:
1. She is looking for pin feathers, new feathers coming in after
a molt, to judge health.
2. She is looking for the yellow-white fat layer, another judge
of health. This one was pink, so it had no fat.
Other measurements are taken as well.
Here, the tarsus (foot) is being measured.
The beak length, and the beak and head
length are also measured using the caliper.
Basically, this is an avian checkup.

A checkup which is not complete without taking a blood
sample. A small prick is made into the vein near the elbow
of the bird's wing. If you have ever given blood, this is like the
prick on the finger that they use to test the amount of iron in your
blood (whether if floats or sinks in a certain amount of time).
That is about the same amount of blood that is taken from the bird.
It stops bleeding really quickly as well. You only have about
10 seconds to get the sample before it clogs. This bird amazed
me, it didn't even flinch!

This is the labeled vial for the blood sample. It will be tested
for DNA to understand the genetics and relatedness of birds
in this area compared to other nesting areas. If there is enough
blood, it is also analyzed for diseases such as malaria and viruses.

One of the highlights! I got to hold a wild dunlin! I also got to
let it free after it's alien abduction was complete.

Working out in the fen also gave me a glimpse of another three bears, a mother and her two cubs who were lounging around some of the ponds. We were far enough away that we weren't in immediate danger, but we didn't stick around to see what the mother would do. The most dangerous situation with bears is getting between a protective mother and her cubs. We booked it out of there with Laura deciding to come back tomorrow to check on the nests in that area rather than risk working so close to the wild bears. During the rather high-paced walk away from the bears, I lined myself up perfectly with a godwit nest! It flushed about 5 feet from me, which makes it really hard to find their nests since you have to be really close to them before they fly. The group of birders from Cornel are studying the godwits, having to walk around 20 km a day in sucking mud searching for the nests, many of which they have found have been predated! They were really happy that I was able to find one for them. Beginner's luck! It also made me happy to be useful in the field!

A great day off! I think on my next one, I will go hunt for some fox dens!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 28: Coming to 4 in threes

Tomorrow will be my 4 week mark.
There are only 6 weeks left of my stay in the subarctic.
I thought I would recap.

I have subjected my feet to:
hip waders, rubber boots, and dirty socks,
I made them:
walk in mud that sucked them down and threatened to never return them,
in a pond in which I sank into half mud and half water, stopping only when I hit permafrost,
and on top of peat polygons that crunched after days without rain.

I have stuffed my hands into:
heavy work gloves, sterile blue nitrile gloves, and pockets in search of pieces of paper with valuable sampling information scribbled down,
I made them:
snap a shutter and pull a trigger,
dip into water barely above freezing to get water samples,
and slap at the monstrous mass of mosquitos to keep them from my face and each other - the only exposed skin.

I have stuffed my head into:
a baseball cap to keep out of the sun, a toque to keep warm, and a hood to stay dry.
I made them:
covered in sweat from the evening bike rides, the moving of heavy, unmarked boxes, and the effort of 5 a and 5 b sun salutations,
covered in a layer of white dust after cleaning the labs, a layer of mud after running my sediment-caked hands through my hair, and a layer of smoke after the longest day of the year.
and safe from the mosquito mass, from the Bonaparte's onslaught, and the overwhelming desire to eat every desert at every meal - which I may have failed at occasionally.

I've met scientists, volunteers, and locals,
from Canada, Britain, and the US,
who are just as dirty, just as sleep-deprived and just as excited to be here.

I've woken up at 3 am to a rising sun,
and at 1 to a setting one,
and at 2 to something in between,

I've become giddy while collecting rain water,
frustrated while messing around with spreadsheets,
and terrified while searching for plastic bottles in a dump haunted by polar bears.

This has been my experience thus far in Churchill.
What will the next 6 weeks bring?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 27: ...but not eaten!

That's right, I saw my first wild polar bear of the season! I don't know a more exciting way to wake up than to hear, "There's a bear outside!"

A juvenile male polar bear that walked around the back study centre at 7 am this
morning. He was huge! His back is about as high as a horse, to give perspective!
The major benefit of the new building: I can look out side my bedroom window
and see this! Unfortunately, the windows are really dirty from the outside, so I wasn't
able to get any good pictures from my bedroom. But the new building has a balcony
that puts us safely above the bear while giving us a clear shot. Thrilling!

He was wondering around in the woods. The staff kept him
pretty far away from the Centre by firing off cracker shells
which are like fireworks aimed between yourself and the bear
to get the bear to run the other way, which it did, but it was
still to curious to leave.

Peaking around some trees. The bear was just scared back into
the woods by a car horn. I was surprised that the car horn worked
when the air horn did absolutely nothing.

He is sniffing us from down wind - which is probably why he was
reluctant to leave. The chef made sausage this morning and I'm sure
that the bear could smell that for miles! From last reports, he is still
hanging around the centre, so walking outside has become extremely
A great start to the day. I then did my rounds on the water samples and did some more stats, which is giving me some trouble, but I won't worry about that for a while since today is supposed to be my day off. I am officially signed up for the Bay Dip on July 1 with the team name The Dipping Daphnids! Can you guess our costumes? This is what happens when you get lake people into a group!

After lunch, I went to the dump with Celia and Brit to gather some more plastic bottles to provide more buoyancy for Celia's zooplankton experimental set up. Some of the mesocosms sank and got covered in water with yesterday's storm so she has to build some reinforcements. The dump is a somewhat terrifying place to be since it is known as the place for bears to hang out. We were extremely cautious, keeping to the open, maintaining a sightline to everyone and working fast to get out of there as quickly as possible. It was tense. 

Collecting plastic bottles at the dump. I was so filthy! This was
the last straw that made me do my laundry today. The two weeks
of wearing the same clothes really made it necessary!

It was so dirty in there with a huge pile of "recyclables" - I'm not
sure how they are recyclables when nothing was recycled,
 it was just storage for the plastics. 

I saw my second bear of the season outside of the dump
 while we were leaving. This one was a lot bigger than the juvenile
 at the centre, but it was also a lot further away and stretching
 out, paying no attention to us. I didn't have my camera
for that sighting so I borrowed Celia's. It definitely makes me
appreciate my camera and my Dad's amazing lens!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 26: Back off man, I'm a scientist!

It rained today! I may be the only one excited about the rain – as Hannah said, I was walking through the lab with a mischievous smile once I got my rain water sample! And I was too, for some reason I was super excited. Well, there is a reason. It had rained in the early morning so LeeAnn and I stapled a plastic sheet to some wood and chucked it in the parking lot behind the cafeteria, weighing it down with some buckets full of rocks. The plastic was used to catch the rainfall in a pool so it can be analyzed for nutrients. This gives us a standard of comparison so we can see if the nutrients going into the lakes are from the rain itself or gathered in the water before it enters the lake as runoff. So why was I excited? Take a look at the set up:

The set up of my water collection through the bear bars of the
window. In the old buildings, the windows are covered with
bars to keep the bears from breaking the glass and getting in.

Any guesses on how much water this can gather?

A better picture of the set up between down pours. Pretty
scientific, right?

So how much water? That was why I was so excited!! That little set up got me two liters of water! I had more than enough water to filter! No wonder I was smiling mischievously, I just get that excited about my water samples!

So, you know, back off man, I’m a scientist. (Currently watching Ghostbusters with a bunch of nerdy scientists, hence the reference.) And being a scientist, I am allowed to get excited and get away with anything. Scientists just have the perfect reputation of eccentricity, extreme passion, and random bouts of giddiness with even the slightest discovery or the hope of data. And why wouldn't we. Look where we work! Outside all day in beautiful lakes and doing something that is worth the work, something that will advance our understanding of the world around us. What can be greater than that knowledge and exploration?

This is Ramsay - remember the lake that was covered in ice
and I drilled into during my first week here? Well, the ice is gone
but there is still some snowpacks around the edges. That's me
with a probe to take readings on pH, water temperature,
conductivity and dissolved oxygen. What an amazing job!
Cold, but amazing!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 25: Free the feet

Let's start out with some pictures:

Tundra in bloom

Spruce in purple

I had the afternoon off so I went out with Celia from Queen's, who is doing a mesocosm experiment to see the response on the zooplankton community with added nutrients and varying salinity. She is still setting up, so I was able to help by gathering the zooplankton with this sock-like fine net. We then put the zooplankton into the bags in the mesocosms so the bags have a good representation of the zooplankton community of the lake. The experiment is like the next level of my little pool one. Mine is in a pool, her's in a lake. Mine looks at plants, algae on the sediment (benthos) and in the water (phytoplankton), her's looks at animals, zooplankton. Mine has about 30 small 1 liter containers, her's has about 75 large 40 liter bags, so mine is a microcosm and her's is a mesocosm experiment. Mine is an undergrad project, her's is a master's thesis. So yea, similarities stop after saying that we both look at lakes. Pretty cool though!

The 70 or so mesocosm bags in the lake. We can only get to them by
wearing chest waders or taking a boat out (for the last couple of rows it's
just too deep for the chest waders). 

I'm in a boat! See how happy I am to be in a
boat and working outside?

So I am hammering sheets of plastic over top of the the bags
to reduce evaporation and dilution by rainfall and to stop
bugs from laying their larvae in them - perfect mosquito habitat!
I also saw a daphnia give birth under a microscope! How cool is that?!

This is a daphnia and the little circle coming out of the
bottom is a baby daphnia! This is also what I want to make
my costume of for the Bay Dip on Canada Day!
(not my pic - from flickr!)
Another bear sighting today in the fen - the same polar bear and a black bear! Still haven't seen any though.

As for the "free the feet" comment, after spending a couple hours in hip waders that are a size too big while kneeling in a boat, it is absolute luxury to be barefoot. Feet freed!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 24: Missing it

The title today is "missing it" for several reasons.

Number 1:
Today was my day off, but it was too son in my opinion with the addition of just getting all the data back for the pool experiment (all of those water samples were analyzed!). So instead of taking a day off, I spent the day relearning stats and SPSS, and missing the right steps or the right arrangement of data to do the analyses. It's been a long day working through ANOVAs and the assumptions that are linked with it. At least I got to sit in the lounge to the Aurora Dome, a plastic bubble on top of the building that lets you star gaze and watch the aurora when it is 60 below outside, so it was a great view and warmer than my desk in the lab. Still working on the data, but I think I need to call it a night.

Number 2:
Today, four polar bears were sighted... and I missed them all! Three of the bears were found at the coast, lounging in the rocks, looking like rocks, and easily avoidable. One of them was in the fen, which is inland and an unusual place to spot them. 7 of the birders were out in the fen, searching for nests when they spotted the bear about a kilometer off, which is pretty close to see a bear, especially when they were away from the truck. They double-timed it back to the truck while another researcher was driving out for her work in the fen. She was almost there when she heard the chatter that there was a polar bear ahead, and decided to keep going in case she could get the birders in her truck if she was closer than theirs was. She rounded the bend, startling the bear out of a group of willows! It stood there some 10-15 feet away from her truck! But it was the distraction that the birders needed to get safely in their truck. They had good communication, fired some cracker shots at the bear to scare it away, then rode back to CNSC to call it a day - leaving everything, including a laptop behind. Fortunately, no one was hurt, except possibly the ego of one birder who fell and wedged fen mud up the barrel of his shotgun. Scary, but handled well with everyone, including the bear, safe.

Number 3:
One thing I did not miss out on was the firearms safety training, which I passed! I now have a PAL (as soon as the paper work gets processed, which may be a while yet, but close enough)! So... which gun should I buy? The fun ones to take to the firing range are the 22 gauge rim-action since they are the cheapest and other than for polar bear protection, and since I don't hunt, something fun to shoot at a range would be what I'm looking for. Also, I've found out that you can go shooting without a PAL as long as the person you're going with has one. That's not bad at all!

Number 4:
I'm getting a little homesick and missing everyone. This is the longest I've ever been away from home, and I'm not too bad, I just have to make sure to keep busy.

Number 5:
I don't know if it's because I've been here longer now, or if it is something about the new building, but the social dynamics are falling apart. In the old building, there were hangout spots where you could easily find anyone else and see if anyone wants to watch a movie, go for a bike ride, play cards, play pool or just hang out. Now, if you aren't already part of the group - most of the other researchers are here with a group - then you don't know what anyone else is up to. So I don't know what anyone else is up to, even when I sit in the cafeteria or A/V lounge, no one else is around! I only see them at meal times and even then it's a bit rare since a lot of them are in the field for lunch, and I'm running late in the morning or evening so I miss everyone then as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 23: Question Assumptions

The traditional evolutionary example is the story of the peppered moth. Here's how the original goes, as I have heard in numerous ecology and evolution courses and accepted as a really good example:

We are looking at England and we are looking at these small moths that are predated on by birds. So the story goes that before the industrial revolution in England the majority of peppered moths were this molted white variety with much less being the darker variety. As the theory goes, the lighter peppered moths could hide more easily on the light coloured lichen that covered the bark of the trees. When the factories began to open with the industrial revolution, the soot killed the lichen that covered the trees, making the trees appear darker. The theory goes that the moth population began to have more of the dark variety, which now had the advantage to blending into the tree trunks to hide. If the moth can hide, it won't get eaten and will have more offspring, passing that trait on to the next generation.

This is a great example of natural selection and is in every intro genetics, evolution, and ecology textbook that I can remember reading. It's simple. The conclusions are obvious. To pass on genes, you have to survive. To survive, you can't be eaten. To not be eaten, you can camouflage with your surroundings! Great!
An illustrated picture of peppered moths from

So what's the problem? There are assumptions that are questionable. The first is a misunderstanding of the behavioural ecology of the moths. It turns out that some studies showed that the moths are rarely found on tree trunks. The second is a human bias. Humans use sight as a primary sense, so the researchers immediately thought of camouflage, something that is important to us. Birds, the predators of these moths, can sense other spectrums of light, such as UV, in which both varieties of moths are equally detectable, so blending in for our visual spectrum is also meaningless. However, predation studies do seem to indicate that a predator can find and eat more of the darker form in unpolluted areas and more of the white form in the polluted areas. The scientific debate was raised by Jerry Coyne as he critically questioned the original Kettlewell experiments.

I'm not here to say who is right, since science is never decided that way, but is decided through exploration of the scientific questions. I'm just curious why these assumptions took 50 years to be truly questioned. There were studies in the mean time that explored the questions, but not in such a fundamental form. How much of science is based on a couple unknown assumptions? And how easily these assumptions can travel throughout a field as hundreds of papers begin to cite a big study that they build off of, and other papers cite those papers and so on and so on, except there may be a big glaring flaw in that original paper that no one sees, yet everyone builds on top of.

So how can we avoid this? I'm always told to question my assumptions, but it is much harder than it sounds, yet it seems so easy and obvious to question someone else's assumptions, to some extent. For example, in paleolimnology, we identify different species of algae or invertebrates in the sediment layers, sometimes thousands of years back. We know what the optima ranges are for various factors that allow them to survive in the present day, such as temperature, pH, salinity, etc., but how do we know that these are the same optima as that species had hundreds of years ago? I still don't understand this. But for something even closer to me, such as the experiment I designed in the kiddy pool, what am I missing? I know I'm missing something, but what is it? Now that I have some of the results back, I'm wondering if the nutrient availability in the water is temperature dependent, not necessarily even biological, but due to physical attributes of the nutrients, of the sediment? Not letting the system settle long enough to reestablish the algal population in the new containers? Why the spikes weren't noticed in the sampling right away - was it a sampling error, or does it take a while for the nutrients to diffuse in the water? And that's just a few things that I was able to notice, what haven't I noticed?

I know one way to solve the question assumptions problem is to tell other people about the idea and the project to get new perspectives. This also seems like such a simple, obvious step, yet I never really do it. I'm actually irrationally afraid that someone will find a flaw in my experiment that I didn't see, making my work completely useless and there goes my experiment. I know that from failure in science, you can always learn something, you can even learn a lot of really interesting things from failures. But... I don't want to fail! It's opening myself and my project up to criticisms that I'm afraid to take, but it's probably better to do so now than to finish the experiment and have so many bad assumptions that the results are truly meaningless.

I am in a good situation to have gone through the first stage of the experiment with the initial plan of using the first experiment as a trial for the second experiment, allowing me to change things as needed! Always prototype, that's another tenet of design, as is to get feedback from people with no detailed knowledge of the experiment/project. Writing up the methods to be critiqued by family and friends may be my task tomorrow, just to see what I've missed!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 22: Safety off

There was mandatory polar bear safety and firearms training today followed by a trip to the shooting range. So to sum up the polar bear part: always look around and be aware of your surroundings so a bear doesn't sneak up on you or you sneak up on a bear. In the instance that you encounter a bear, remain calm, slowly back up while facing the bear and get everyone in the group together - just forget the gear, get into a vehicle and drive away or into a building. If the bear looks like it is going to charge (head down and swinging, shifting weight on its feet) fire a deterrent, starting with non-lethal. If somehow a mother and cub situation happens, be extremely careful because this is the worst case scenario and the mother will fight to the death. But you do the same thing - keep it cool, slowly back away, use the deterrents making sure the bears will move together to the same escape location where there is no one else they can run into.

Now to the fun stuff!

The Red Dragon! A 1981 standard of some maker - I'm not good
at remembering car brands. It was extremely sketchy though!

The firing range with targets set against a sand dune. We shot
from 20 paces.

This is a picture of the first time I ever shot a gun as the recoil
from the 22 gauge pump-action shotgun pushes me back into
Kat's hand and pushes the end of the barrel towards the sky.
I shot a gun!! Kat said I was so giddy and giggly after every shot.
It was awesome! Next I'll be like Cari Byron cutting trees with
a minigun Dillon M134D. So much fun! Now all I have to
do is learn how to sight down the barrel and not raise the gun
in anticipation. 

Last night was summer solstice! We had a Trash Dash to clean up the area of the construction site garbage that was blown into the rocks and trees. Then we were rewarded with a campfire with marshmallows, chips, and, the necessity of every casual science gathering, beer. A great tradition that left me and all my clothes smelling of smoke - which is great since I really don't have that many clothes up here so I have to smell like smoke until I can do laundry again!

To roast the jumbo marshmallows, a technique was involved.
Roast the outer layer over the coals, pull that off leaving a
gooey melty mellow which gets roasted again. The best roasters
managed 5 layers of roasties.

This is around midnight. What isn't seen in this picture is that
the sun was still setting behind me, and still setting when I
went to bed at 1 pm.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 21: Tree Ideas

This post will be very academic and filled with questions since I am trying to figure out how to set up the coring of the trees in the fen between my study lake, Larch, and the lake that feeds the inflow into Larch.

This may just reveal how my mind works as I try to research these questions and how I develop these questions. The first credit goes to the person who commented at the end of my PALS presentation that I could verify the age of the fen leading into Larch by sampling the tree rings.

So here it goes...

I'm interested in figuring out:
  1. Which species to core: Larch? Black spruce? White spruce?
  2. Where to core: Within the fen connection? Outside of the fen connection but still close to the study lake? Somewhere else in the region (or just compare to other cores taken in the region?)? We need to be able to determine if the growth rings during the time we are interested is due to the increased moisture (due to hydrological connection) or due to some other regional climatic factor.
  3. How many to core: How many to be statistically significant?
  4. How many cores in one tree? Two at about the same height but different angles to see the rings all the way around? One at chest height? What's the difference between base and chest height cores?
  5. How old are the trees?
    1. How do I find the oldest tree? Just by height and width of the trunk?
    2. Do I only core the oldest?
    3. If the oldest trees are still younger than the connection that we hypothesize occurred around 1960, will they be of any use at all?
    4. If the oldest trees are a lot older, is there a way to see a signal of increased moisture in the soil such as increased growth? Can I differentiate between increased moisture due to the melting of the snowpack at the beginning of the summer to increased moisture throughout the summer which could indicate the connection between the lakes? I will need to compare to trees that are in dry areas (how do I know that these areas are historically dry?). 
  6. What am I looking for in a core?
    1. Wide growth rings starting around 1960 in the trees along the fen, but not the trees outside of the fen
    2. continuous rings (discontinuous rings could indicate disease?)

Paper #1: Girardin et al., 2005 doi: 10.1657/1523-0430(2005)037[0206:RGOTLL]2.0.CO;2

Overview: Using tree cores from spruce and tamarack to determine the effects of the larch sawfly herbivory on the radial growth of tamaracks due to the defoliation of the trees. The study correlates the rings with the epidemic levels of the sawfly that slowed growth in the trees. Growth rings also correlate with the regional climate.
Larch sawfly
  • "Most variations in radial growth (highs and lows) were adequately predicted, with the exception of the 1940s and 1950s for which the prediction models underestimated the growth reductions in both tamarack and spruces." - where are these sites? Are any of the sites near my lake?
  • Less severe larch sawfly outbreaks in hydric site - does that mean that in the same tree and during the same outbreaks as other trees in the region, the damage will be less severe once the hydrological connection is made into Larch?
  • Should I use tamaracks if there seems to be a large larch sawfly epidemic right in the time frame I am looking at? Should I use white or black spruce instead? Which one?
  • How do I know the growth ring changes are due to regional effects, local effects, bugs and other catastrophes?
  • Statistical testing: Tree rings after the fen connection developed for the trees in the fen should differ significantly from the tree rings before the connection, which should be most similar to the tree rings outside of the fen (correcting for regional climate changes).
  • "This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the stand least susceptible to sawfly outbreak (LLA5) showed the weakest correlation with the nonhost chronologies and the highest percentage of affected trees in the outbreak analysis (Fig. 6) during the interval 1903–1912." - where is this stand? Would this be a stand that would look similar to the Larch inflow stand?
  • "Periodic flooding of bogs was reported to produce growth reduction which, were “indistinguishable” from those caused by larch sawfly defoliation (Nairn et al., 1962Ives and Nairn, 1966a)." and "Denyer and Riley (1964) reported important dieback and root mortality in tamarack growing in “treed muskeg” due to rising water levels."
    • Would this mean that instead of increased growth after 1960, I will actually find a period of supressed growth? 
    • Would black spruce (which grows better in wet soil) grow better in the fen or first establish itself in the fen when it is produced, outcompeting the tamarack?
  • What to try to correlate with? 
    • Trees outside of the fen
    • the larch core data
    • climate - regional temp during different months, precip during different months - how important is this for my study?
Paper #2: Tardif et al. 2008, Tree rings, δ13C and climate in Picea glauca growing near Churchill, subarctic Manitoba, Canada
  • "The climate signal contained in both ring-width and the δ13C residual chronologies suggests that warm early summers were conducive to larger rings whereas the δ13C best reflects the overall growing season temperature. Precipitation, relative humidity and/or drought index have little to no association with either chronology."
  • So this is looking at regional climate, not small scale locations and impacts, maybe that's why there is no correlation to the broad data - maybe the resolution of δ13C isn't strong enough
Paper #3: Camill DOI: 10.1007/s10584-005-4785-y
  • "Compressional growth rings formed as wide, lignified bands on the downslope side of the stem as a mechanism for restoring vertical growth, and the number of compression rings laid down indicated the number of years of leaning by each tree."
    • really interesting - an indication of permafrost thaw due to slump and figuring out when that slump began but not sure if it really helps
    • The writing of this study seems more like a personal write-up rather than a journal article. I'll have to remember that when I write mine
Paper #4: Ise and Moorcroft 2008, Quantifying local factors in medium-frequency trends of tree ring records: Case study in Canadian boreal forests
  • "In a Canadian continental boreal region, we compared synchronicity of medium-frequency tree ring patterns of open- and closed-canopy black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) B.S.P.) stands, and considered underlying mechanisms of spatial synchronicity."
  • Specifically looking for ecological interactions between individual trees that limit that tree's growth to determine stand history rather than the regional averages (where this sort of detailed information is filtered out)
    • I'm looking for this type of resolution! Not on the regional scale
  • So this study is looking at techniques to enhance the local "gap-scale" (the gap-scale refers to the space around a tree when the neighboring tree dies - there is more detail about the crown expansion and growth rate of the trees, but I don't think I need to get into that here) effects - through stratified sampling design which maybe I could implement.
    • "Medium-frequency signals were extracted with an index derived from exponentially weighted moving average (EWMA) in a continuous time series."
    • "Then, by using this index, local effects were quantified with an analysis of synchronicity in patterns."
    • "Our assumptions were that regional factors such as climatic variations are relatively homogeneous within the given stand, whereas local factors such as stochastic disturbance and competition occur in a less synchronous fashion in a mature stand (Tessier et al., 1997)."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 20: Tree stories

This morning, I was attacked by Bonapartes. I was sampling the Alpine and getting temperature readings when a sandpiper, probably a yellow-leg, started sending out this piercing alarm call while perched on top of a spruce. I assume it had a nest nearby. I kept sampling, not really thinking more than, yea there's a nest somewhere. But, within a minute, another one shows up, bringing with it three Bonaparte's gulls that began dive bombing my head! I held up my yellow field notebook so they would target that instead of my head, and it worked a bit, but they still got within feet of me before finally turning away. I made a run for it, forgetting one of my sampling couplers (a resister that can measure temperature based on the differences in resistance in the metal) so I stealthily snuck back out. As soon as I hear the alarm calls again, I booked it out of there! Those dive bombs were terrifying! (Though I was smiling the whole time!)

This afternoon, I tagged along with the EarthWatch group - a group of school teachers up here on a volunteer vacation to do some science. The instructor began the afternoon session with a talk on plants.

Common Butterwort - this plant secretes a mucilage that looks
like water and attracts animals that are searching for water. Once
the animal lands on the leaf with what it thinks is water, it gets
trapped by the mucilage! The plant then secretes enzymes to
digest the trapped insects until only an exoskeleton is left...
freaky! You can see the trapped insects on this butterwort!
Lapland Rosebay Rhododendron lapponicum which will
bud into a beautiful purple flower that will cover the tundra
floor, painting the ground purple instead of the current
browns and dull greens.
Pink Bog Rosemary with light green lichen in the centre and
yellow cranberry on the left.
Tundra close up
Then I learned how to core a tree! I think the age of the oldest tree or maybe if the water availability changed for the oldest tree may correlate with when the connection between my study lake, Larch, and the inflow lake was established! Hopefully, I will be able to get some tree cores and verify this date with the sediment cores from the lake.
Pete, the EarthWatch guy, explaining how to
take a tree core! Well, in this photo he is
explaining why one side of the tree has
been stripped of branches on the North
West. This is because the ice and snow
is blown from the north-west in the winter
and abrades this side of the tree until it
can finally grow tall enough to  be above
the ice crystal bombardment. Also, how to
tell white spruce from black spruce. Look
at the latest growth (on the ends of the
stems) and fold back the needles. If the area
between the needles is woody and scaly, it
is a white spruce. If it is fuzzy, it is a black
spruce. This one is a white spruce.
They are actually coring this tree. You do this at the base of
 the tree and again at a standardized chest height (of 1.3 m in
Canada, and 1.4 m in the US). I don't know why these
locations are chosen. The blue tree corer has a screw inside
that carves the hole into the tree and then extracts the core intact. 

That thin straw-like thing is the tree core! So important things
to look for. The core has bark on either side (so you get the full
core) and that the core goes through the pith which is the very
centre of the tree. If it doesn't go through this, then the core
won't have all the rings on it and can't be counted. And because
one of the reasons we core the tree is to find out the age (among
other things such as climatic conditions, soil conditions, blights,
etc.) so you need to have the rings!
The hole after the coring. It's a very small hole so it will not
interfere with the flow of nutrients up the tree. It can introduce
bacteria into the tree since the main defense of plants is the bark.
However, the tree also secretes resin within a day of the coring
which fills the hole and provides protection.

I also need to measure the height of the tree (breaking out that forgotten trig), the width of the trunk where I cored the tree, and the gps location and elevation. Measuring the elevation may also help to determine the flow between the lakes where I was unable to visually see the flow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 19: Climb

I finally got my climbing fix. Along the shores of Hudson Bay, there is a short bluff with large rocks. When I stood at the bottom, next to the salt water of the Bay, the bluff rose a few feet above my head. At a ninety degree incline with few obvious holds, the rocks looked perfect for a short scramble.

Bird Cove along the Bay with the last remnants of snow and ice.
The wind is still harsh enough to stain my cheeks red and make me wrap in layers. 
The details of the ice as it is molded by the wind and snow
melt. I wonder how long the beauty of the crystals will last.

The edge of a bluff in stark relief against a setting sun.
I was a called a goat woman of the goat people as I scrambled up and down the rocks by the British girls - ta by the way, you tossers! It was nice to climb something that wasn't polished by hundreds of hands, even the smallest handhold was grained and sharp, easy to hold. The difficulty came with the footing. Not that there wasn't enough spots for a good foothold, only that I was wearing my heavy, large, flexible hiking boots. The cracks I could normally climb with ease became challenging without the use of my legs. In fact, the last climb was a bit of an adrenaline rush. Though it was only about a two foot fall, I really didn't want to fall, so when I slipped and lost a foot, I scrapped my hands on the rock to find something, anything to grab. I managed to slow my fall with the friction of my hands against rock until my foot found a large enough crack to wedge itself in. (To the parents reading this, the drop was nothing. I would have been completely ok. I just didn't want to fall because mentally I wasn't attached to anything or had a mat under me, which made it a bit more tense. But it was much safer than sliding down a rock face with the hope of landing on the rocks beside a river in stead of falling straight into the river... Dad! - Happy Father's day!)

All is good though and the rest of the day was relatively uneventful - water sampling, filtering, picking people up at the airport for a group called EarthWatch.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 18: Inu

My day off was a trip to the mouth of the Churchill River:

Two beluga whales or Qilalugaq

Harbour Seal playing near shore

Common Eiders on an ice float being swept into the bay

Raven being attacked by Arctic Tern after predating their nests.

And also a stop in at the Eskimo Museum:

It is called the Eskimo Museum, but as the invading white people recently learned, "eskimo" is a derogatory term meaning "makers of snowshoes," "speakers of a foreign tongue," and the Ojibwa form of "raw meat eaters" or "one who eats raw."

So the self-designation is a little different. Inuit means "the people" referring to all the indigenous arctic people. Inuk refers to one individual, Inuuk refers to two individuals. Then there is further breakdown of the self-designations depending on location. In Western Canadian Arctic, the singular is Inuvialuk and the plural for the people is Inuvialuit. The root, "Inu" means life!

Wunderkammer! Everything from a full Qajaq (kayak) to
a narwal tusk, a stuffed polar bear to soapstone and antler

The stories that accompany the sculptures are so short and pointed. For example:
Mythical Bird that Helped a Man
This mythical bird was so large and strong that it could carry a man. Once, a man was running away from people trying to kill him. He came to a river that he could not cross but the bird carried him across it and he escaped.
As told by Therese Arnasivik Tabo

Another sculpture I saw was labeled, young polar bear meets young birds for first time. So this is the story I came up with:

Young Bear: first polar bear I have seen this year, but he
doesn't quite count.

Young Bear that meets Young Bird
The young bear walked away from his mother and met young bird. Young bear had never seen a bird. Young bird had never seen a bear. Young bear sniffed young bird curiously and startled back when young bird ruffled and shook his feathers. Then young bear pawed the soft feathers like he would his brother. 
As told by Kaleigh Eichel