Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Veggies call it quits …until next year

The field season came to an end this week for the Veg group. As September approaches, day length is down to 16 hours (and 10 minutes shorter each day) and air temperatures have been in the 30’s. The plants will be closing up shop soon, and so are we. On Sunday Victoria and I collected some additional soil cores to augment the samples we collected several weeks ago.  We needed to check how much, if any, additional root growth had occurred, and we wanted to try out a better method for extracting cores from the very wet locations. On Monday, under a cold, gray sky and a fierce wind, we collected a final set of measurements of thaw depth (30-50 cm), soil temperature (cold!), and moisture (very wet, dry, or in between). On Tuesday (cold and even some snow, but less wind), the Plant Root Simulator probes were collected and replaced with a set that will be in place over winter to catch the flux of nutrients in the spring thaw. Victoria has a few additional tasks, but our field work is now essentially complete. Lots of samples to process in the lab, however, and lots of time to do it before the next growing season starts.

Measuring soil moisture (along with temperature and thaw depth)

A modified hole saw worked well in the wet areas

Replacing Plant Root Simulators

Having worked for many years in Tennessee forests, where the growing season is from April to November, it’s really quite hard to comprehend the speed and intensity of Arctic biology. Scheduling field sampling trips around the biology has proven to be quite difficult, but I think we will end up with a lot of good data and a much richer understanding of this ecosystem. I benefited from Victoria’s trained eye to start seeing some of the vegetation patterns. Some of these patterns are obvious (see photos); some are much more subtle. One noticeable change this trip was the number of mushrooms that had appeared—always one of the more magical aspects of an ecosystem.
The vegetation pattern across the polygons is sometimes obvious

A magical tundra mushroom

One highlight of this trip was observing the large numbers of geese, especially along Cake Eater Road and in the BEO. I guess they sense that winter is coming on and are assembling for a trip south. Me too.