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.

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