Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 11: First blood

I've officially been inducted into the science staff at CNSC. Before today, I was science staff in name only, now I have joined them in spirit. It turns out that there was only one thing that I had to do in order to be inducted. I'll give you a hint. The induction ceremony consisted of a lot of ice and bandages... I'll save you from the ghastly pictures. I have to back up to tell you how it happened, because there were many different ways that first blood could have been drawn today, there were several close calls.

Scenario number 1: The Fen

The fen is a flat peat swampland with a lot of standing water. Where we were
working, and where we had to carry heavy boards and an awkwardly large box,
was about 750 meters into the fen. By the end of it, I think I understood how
not to get sucked into the mucky bottom! At the beginning, I nearly fell every
couple of feet!
This morning I helped Krista and Jolene set up a giant box to hold 8 huge, heavy car batteries. I didn't realize how heavy until I had to move it from one wooden pallet to another and dropped it into the fen. So close call number one, almost onto my foot, but I missed! We then had to stack pallets to make a stable platform to but the battery box on top of. Pallets are heavy but manageable. So the problems almost happened when we had to screw the pallets and the 4x2 pieces of wood together. I wasn't the one drilling, I was stabilizing. Do you know the saying that it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye? The teasing of pushing the driller, Jo, into the water made her do some twitching movements, one of which involved a screw getting awfully close to my eye! The drill wasn't on though, and it missed. So still fun and games? You bet!

Side story: I saw a wood frog today! Yesterday? Two days ago? I've lost track of days... I heard the wood frogs calling along with the boreal chorus frogs, but I didn't have time to search for them. Today, I had a bit of down time as Krista, Jo and Kat were fiddling with the battery box. The frogs had us surrounded on the fen, calling on all sides, so I picked out one call out of the hundred or so that was close to me and tried to search the water from 15 meters or so away. I watched carefully and began to notice that when I heard the call, there was a tiny flash of light. That's it! I slowly snuck up and at 3 meters I distinctly saw the little wood frog. With each call, the vocal pouch expands, and the light reflects off of the skin, allowing me to locate them! This little guy (it was a guy because only the males croak to attack the females and warn other males out of their territory) finally stopped croaking when I was a few feet away, then it swam under the water towards me, stopped about a foot away and sat still at the bottom of the water. I touched the water right above him and he still didn't move. I reached deeper into the freezing water and it still didn't move. I could have easily picked the little guy up! When I told my supervisor up here, she told me that this is a defense mechanism so that the larger birds and fox can't find them if they are not moving. I wonder if this strategy really works though, why swim towards me?

Scenario number 2: Black box
The black box is this giant black box, hence the name, that we carry to the two sites that we are monitoring the plants for ITEX (remember ITEX? I talked about it before so I won't explain it here). The black box has all the equipment to measure CO2 consumption so we can figure out how much photosynthesis is occurring in our study plots. To power this, we have a relatively heavy 12V battery, not as heavy as the fen batteries. The battery is attached by extension cord to the black box and has to be carried separately. The cord was the hazard because I kept almost tripping on it. But that's not where I got hurt.

Scenario number 3: Coring
In preparation for my experiment I have to practice the coring methodology. So while I was doing black box with Kat, I decided to practice at the same time. My study lake isn't near the ITEX site, but there was one that has similar sediment which gives me a chance to practice. I broke out the coring tube and the bung which provides the suction to pull up the sediment and I took several cores to get the hang of the technique. I'm still experimenting with it, and I think that I need to build something that will let me slice off exactly the top 3 cm of the sediment (because I'm putting the cores into a container and then adding water on top, I need to be really precise with the amount of sediment and water because I need to add a specific volume of nutrient spike to the water which changes depending on the volume of the water which is dependent on the depth of the sediment). By the real day, I think I will have everything ready.

This is my practice lake! It was another beautiful day!
20C, light breeze, not a cloud in the sky and no bugs.
The last is the nicest because this may be the final bug-free day!
Side story number 2: The lake I was practice coring on also had a good population of wood and boreal chorus frogs. But what really surprised me was that I found an egg mass! I didn't think they would lay so soon since the first call heard was around May 28th. I don't know which frog it belongs to and my supervisor says they look very similar, but I suspect it was wood frog - though I have no science to base this on! I can't wait until there are tadpoles! I may be able to tell the difference between the wood and boreal chorus in tadpole form. I also can't wait to see a boreal chorus frog which is a tiny frog that could sit on a single finger! The small size and great camouflage is also one of the reasons I can't easily find it. I will let you know when I do.

The black circles are the eggs of a frog. A single female would have
laid all of these eggs and probably has another couple batches in other
ponds as well, a strategy adapted to life in the north. Southern frogs will
lay all the eggs together in a single, much larger mass!
Coring continued:
So back in the lab, I was showing LeeAnn the coring technique and my idea for a 3 cm extruder. She pushed the bung pretty far into the plastic core tube to see if there would be enough suction. After talking it through, I had to get the bung out using a wooden pole. Here it comes. It was really stuck in there so I pushed the wooden pole really hard against this spongy orange bung until out it pops and in goes my hand. The end of the core tube has a sharp wedged edge which helps to push it into the sediment... and into my skin. The edge caught the nail on my thumb, pulling it halfway back and the skin below the knuckles on my thumb and forefinger. First blood!

The culprits! On the right is the orange bung that goes into the long
plastic coring tube. The wooden pole with the green rubber top is what
I used to push the bung out. On the left is a container filled with sediment
 and water as a prototype for my experiment! Tomorrow, I will see if I can
actually get a cookie cut out of the top layer which is full of benthic
algae to see if that part of my experiment will really work.

I turned a bit white and sweaty, but I'm proud of myself for not letting out a scream. I had to take pain killer after dinner because it was really throbbing and any pressure shot tremors through my hand, but I don't think it was obvious on the surface. But now I'm part of the team! I guess that's worth the pain, right? Right?!

I also got some feedback about my knot post. The photos on that post are actual climbing ropes, not the tiny string that I'm using. So to be authentic, below are my knots on the tiny string. Only someone familiar with the knots and has good eyesight will be able to make it out! I made them loose to help you out a bit. (Is that better, Matt?)


Half hitch

Double half hitch


  1. be careful Kaleigh! I want you back in one piece with both thumbs intact!!!!

  2. Much better, I see what you mean by how tricky these must have been to tie. But after close examination, I do declaration, that is a bowline.