Clam Gardens Revisited

**This blog was originally posted on Sci/Why —  a blog where Canadian children’s writers discuss science, words, and the eternal question – why? Check it out here: http://sci-why.blogspot.ca

We are happy to welcome Paula Johanson to the blog today. Paula tells us about helping intertidal biologists studying traditional First Nations clam gardens on the west coast. You can follow Paula on Twitter @PaulaJohanson and you can read more about her at the end of this post. All photos are credited to Amy Groesbeck, intertidal biologist

 

Ever dig clams on a beach? If you had to race razor clams as they ducked away in sand, it’s easy to think “There HAS to be a better way!” But if you scraped for butter clams only a few inches down in the stony muck of a clam garden, you’d know that clam gardens ARE a better way.

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Clam gardens are beaches modified by First Nations people on shorelines along the West Coast, to increase and improve the habitat for clams that are particularly tasty and easy to gather. Back in 2011, I was lucky to be a volunteer helping biologist Amy Grosbeck in her study of clam gardens, and wrote for Sci/Why about the experience. Click here to read that post and see some excellent photos by that scientist. Amy Grosbeck and her colleagues went on to write a journal article about their study (and it’s really interesting to read).

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Amy called me up this summer to offer another chance to volunteer to help her with another study. Hurray! My spouse Bernie and I were glad to join her on Quadra Island, to take some samples and tidy the clam gardens she was studying this summer. We stayed a few nights in a bunkhouse maintained by the Tula Foundation for the Hakai Institute, which supports intertidal biology research by Amy and many of her colleagues.

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At 4am, you better have a headlamp!

Studying intertidal biology means getting up before dawn, and getting to our launch point at Granite Bay before low tide.We left the bunkhouse at four o’clock in the morning, after a quick breakfast. Amy and Bernie paddled a canoe loaded with pails of scientific gear, while I paddled alongside in my inflatable kayak (The Lagoon is a very practical boat, sent to me by Advanced Elements, and a big improvement on the already excellent version I paddled on my 2011 trip with Amy.)

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When the sun came up, we could see clouds, fog, and rain all around Kanish Bay.

Paddling in a light drizzle of rain at 4:30am was made more interesting by the swirls of phosphorescence in the water. Every time our boats moved, the water would sparkle with tiny specks of light made by plankton. If there had been a moon or lots of electric lights, the dim sparkles wouldn’t show. On that dark early morning, the swirls of light were amazing. Each stroke of a canoe paddle left big swooshes of light, and my kayak was skimming on waves of sparkles. Then we paddled over a bed of kelp, which lit up with the movements of fish and shrimp. Too bad the sparkles are too dim to photograph well with ordinary cameras. The light show made getting up so early seem worthwhile.

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It seemed even more worthwhile when we got to the clam garden and learned how much work Amy had been doing there. Quickly she showed Bernie how to take samples of the beach material — stony sand mixed with broken clam shells and muck — while she and I gathered up sample bags she had fastened to metal rods driven into the beach at intervals.

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Somehow we got all the samples taken, all the bags gathered, and all the rods retrieved before the rising tide covered her sample sites. The beach was tidied up at the end of Amy’s study season, and our work was done.

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And then we did it all again the next day on new beaches. Science! Paddling at 4:30 am in the rain for science! Soaked to the skin all day for science! It was worth it, and I’ll go again when Amy calls me to come do for a few days what she does over and over many times a year.. To be an intertidal ecologist for a few days, gathering data for scientific studies, is a wonderful opportunity.

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Paula Johanson writes nonfiction books on science, health, and literature for educational publishers. She’s an avid kayaker who enjoys paddling, biking, and hiking with friends. Check out her novel Tower in the Crooked Wood from Five Rivers Publishing at http://fiveriverspublishing.com/?page_id=356 Many of her books are profiled at http://paulajohanson.blogspot.ca

Haaaaapppppy Birthday to you!

canada-159585_1280Today marks the 150th anniversary of confederation in Canada, so happy birthday Canada! Today also marks the third anniversary of our blog and, we kid you not, the 150th blog post on Dispatches from the field! Today I was at a bookstore and I saw a children’s book about Canada and why we love it. It was perfect because it was, for the most part, all nature-related content. It made think about how lucky I am to be a field biologist in Canada. Canadian fieldwork certainly features the most beautiful places, the neatest flora and fauna, the sharpest researchers and an engaged and thoughtful community.

Those of us working here are privileged to have so many different land types – each one beautiful in its own way. Our country stretches from one ocean to the next. Some of us are sticking our hands into the sea bird nests of Haida Gwaii nestled in the Pacific, or frolicking with wild horses on Sable Island in the Atlantic. Others might be roaming the vast open grasslands of the Prairies, looking on into the distance forever, or scampering through lush, enchanting woodlands and forests in awe. And a few lucky ones are able to enjoy the journey across the country in its entirety.

Incredible places are a big reason why Canadian fieldwork is so awesome, but amazing creatures is another one. Just last week, we had a field biologist talk about her incredible work with the Gray Jay: Canada’s national bird, whose distribution spans from coast to coast. And until recently, who knew we had such an incredible diversity of bats! And of course, the icon of the Canadian north, the polar bear, which one of our bloggers had the neat experience of tracking in the Arctic.

And then of course there are the people and the researchers themselves. We have some amazing Canadian scientists doing fieldwork. In fact, our most viewed post of this past year was all about being female in the field. So to all of the wonderful women who have posted their stories over the past 3 years – thank you! I also wanted to take a minute to thank two very special women – my two incredible fellow female Canadian co-founders of Dispatches from the field. For those of you who don’t know, this blog was created over (one too many) drinks at the local campus pub, and here we are with 150 posts and 3 years under our belt. I have loved every minute of working with Sarah and Catherine and couldn’t think of stronger, more inspirational women in science. And of course, I need to send my love to all the other amazing scientists out there, Canadian or not, and let you know just how much we have appreciated you supporting us through this journey, contributing your stories, and reading the blogs we put up each week.

Finally, the community network I’ve noticed doing my fieldwork is something to be jealous of. Just last week Sarah, Catherine and I attended the Queen’s University Biological Station Open House where we chatted with members of the public about our blog, the success we have had and where we see it going in the future. We were met with genuine interest and support from all who spoke with us and were given many well wishes going forward. I can’t tell you how much that means to us. Three years down, and many more to come. From coast to coast, we are wishing everyone a relaxing long weekend and of course a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Canada and Dispatches from the Field! Cheers to 150 more years and 150 more posts!

On Murphy’s Law and quick fixes in the field

Over the past 8-10 years, I have done a lot of fieldwork. This means that I have designed a lot of field experiments, and as such I have also dealt with a lot of planning, anticipating and building/purchasing of fieldwork-related equipment. This also means I have done a lot of tweaking, troubleshooting and repairing in the field. I am a firm believer that fieldwork operates under Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. Murphy’s Law, of course, just doesn’t apply to fieldwork, I am most certain it applies to all work, or perhaps even life in general, but for many reasons fieldwork is more sensitive to things going wrong, and for a couple of key reasons.

1) Most fieldwork is done far enough away from civilization that running to the hardware store just simply is not an option. This means that creativity and resourcefulness are two of the top qualities needed in field biologists.

I remember when the latch on the driver’s door of the field van just mysteriously stopped working. The door would simply not stay closed. We still had over an hour to drive home, and we were not letting this silly door stop us. One of the girls working in the field, Sarah, took her belt right off her pants, and looped it around the handle on the inside of the door. I sat behind her and held on for dear life as we flew down the windy country roads hoping that the belt would not slip and cause the door to fly off… or Sarah to fly out… or any other hideous disasters. We survived and made it back in one piece. It ended up being that the lock was just jammed and it was an easy fix…oh, life’s lessons!

 

 

Another time, I was building cages out of fencing for a herbivory treatment and had arrived very prepared with rabbit clips, and the special pliers to clamp them on. Quickly, I realized that this plan was not going to work. The pliers were too big to fit through the holes in the fencing. Luckily, between tape from the First Aid kit, Zip ties from the floor of the van, and a package of twist ties, we made it work! FIVE years later, those cages are still holding strong! Originality in the field is key!

2) Most fieldwork experiments are put in place with very little control over what happens. You can plan and anticipate until you are blue in the face, but there is always something you miss, and for years after you might think, “what if I had just…”

During my Master’s I was working on an experiment where I isolated target plants to obtain their maximum potential body size, in the absence of competition. We carefully chose plants, tagged them, cleared all the neighbouring plants, placed straw on the ground as mulch, and caged them with cages 1 metre in height to prevent deer grazing. We had thought of it all! Nothing could go wrong…WRONG! Not only did the entire field flood (that’s for another story) but we realized that it’s harder than we thought to outsmart a deer. While we had caged only 5 buttercups in an entire field filled with hundreds of thousands of buttercups, the deer wanted the ones in the cage. And they did anything they could to get the ones in the cage. They would pull cages up using…I don’t quite know, maybe their faces, or their front limbs…there was lots of hair stuck to the fencing to suggest they used some body part to lift them up. They also tried lying down on the cages or pushing them over just enough so that they could grab hold of and tug my precious sample right out of the ground. As frustrating as this experience was, I can only look back on it and laugh at the persistence of those pesky deer.

A “deer proof cage”

These are only a couple of examples of how Murphy’s Law is very applicable to fieldwork and field biology. If you have some stories about Murphy’s Law and your fieldwork, shoot us an email at fieldworkblog@gmail.com!

Prairies provide cryptic, undervalued, and threatened biodiversity

We are excited to welcome Lysandra Pyle to the blog today. Lysandra is an Ecologist from the University of Alberta and today she tells us about her fieldwork in the prairies. For more about Lysandra, see the end of this post!

My first memories of prairies are engrained in the experiences of my childhood growing up in south eastern Saskatchewan. Checking for ticks (Dermacentor variabilis), picking sharp seeds (Hesperostipa spp.) or spines (Opuntia spp.) out of skin, and waiting for my mom to forage every last Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) or choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) from a bush along a grid road were common summer activities. I remember sitting by a pond, home to painted turtles (Chrysemys picta), on a farm in the bald prairie south of Radville, SK and feeling the barometric pressure drop, warning of significant thunderstorm which rolled powerfully over the hills.

Saskatoons on the left and choke cherries on the right! Provides forage for coyotes, birds, and graduate students.

However the first time I was truly awakened to the wonder of this environment was during my first fieldwork experience. Thanks to the serendipitous luck of my university’s match-making internship program and the first choice candidate not having a driver’s licence, I moved to south western Saskatchewan for a summer term, working in a small rangeland plant ecology program. There I was bitten by the botany bug, as I gained hands-on experience working with native prairie plants and exposure to species at risk. That summer I purchased numerous field guides, started teaching myself plant identification, and enriched my native prairie immersion by frequently visiting Grasslands National Park and Saskatchewan Landing. Shadowing my supervisors as they effortlessly identified all of the plants in a quadrat and pulled back grass leaves to reveal unique ligules and collars had me hooked. Perhaps I was impressionable, but learning grasslands were so diverse changed me, provided me with a profound appreciation for where I am from, and gave me purpose.

This is the ecosystem I love and study. You can easily identify needle and threadgrass with curly awns (Hesperostipa comata) which is common in Mixedgrass Prairie. Its fruit has evolved to burrow into fur and skin!

Native prairie provides invaluable ecological services and irreplaceable habitat for wildlife. For my M.Sc. research I was transplanted into north central Alberta’s Aspen Parkland in January.  I spent that winter and spring anxiously waiting to explore northern fescue prairie. That summer I was tasked with driving around the peri-urban area of Edmonton, AB to interview landowners about their pasture management, score the health of their pasture, survey their plant communities, and sample the seed bank. Imposing my experience from SW SK, I planned to run a survey transect that was just over 1 km long. What I found was a landscape heavily modified by cultivation and fire suppression which caused woody encroachment (invasion by a clonal trees like aspen (Populus tremuloides)); the land was also subdivided into many smaller mixed farms which called for the reduction of the transect length (to 265 m) and a lowering of my expectations regarding the discovery of intact native pastures.  Historically, grasslands in the Parkland were dominated by plains rough fescue (Festuca hallii); currently, ecologists struggle to restore this grass, and these ecosystems are in my opinion endangered. Luckily I found an ecosite with relatively saline soil (which deterred cultivation) dominated by fescue.  This patch less than 260 ha was bustling with the biodiversity I commonly associated with southern grasslands. Less than 50 km from Edmonton, I heard the ‘UFO’ call of a Sprague’s pipit (Anthus spragueii, listed as threatened) and the Spring-of-the-gurgling associated with the western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta).  This tiny patch of prairie was an oasis in a sea of wheat and canola. This illustrates the importance of preserving intact, native grasslands for obligate wildlife, and demonstrates that grassland is not simple, leafy, indistinguishable phytomass but has irreplaceable structure and heterogeneity which provides habitat.

Plains rough fescue (Festuca hallii) flowers irregularly; this was impressive for mid-May!

While surveying plant communities in vast open grasslands, I frequently pause for about 10 to 15 minutes to record plant community characteristics from my quadrat. In these moments, you can see over great distances – which is ideal for observing prairie wildlife. However, sometimes when you are too focused, animals surprise you!  There have been numerous occasions when I have been nose-deep in grass and startled by the huff of a deer standing behind me, or surprised by a flush of birds that settled nearby while I was absorbed by scrutinizing glumes and counting florets.  One of my more interesting encounters occurred when I sat up quickly after observing plant cover and came face-to-face with a male ruby throated humming bird (Archilochus colubris). Hummingbirds are capable of hovering in flight, and that sustained moment of mutual alarm and intrigue filled me with awe: moments like these are why I love field work. It is the unexpected encounters, rare findings, and spontaneous invitations to explore nature or observe the interactions of organisms that make long days outside in variable weather worth it.

This is a quadrat (50 cm x 50 cm frame). Here we measure the relative cover of species.

 

I don’t have any pictures of birds but here are some other surprises. A baby pronghorn, and North American long-tailed weasel–observing the researchers from a distance of course.

Naturalism and botany, which often provide a foundation in taxonomy, can be a gateway into many other disciplines, and once you master one taxa the mind can wander onto new research questions and other organisms. If you look down and look beyond the grass while in the prairie, you will discover an intriguing community layer of cryptogamic organisms like lichen, mosses, and spike-mosses called a biological soil crust. Soil crusts can cover up to 90% of the soil surface, contribute cryptic biodiversity to the ecosystem, prevent soil erosion, and fix atmospheric nitrogen and carbon! For my Ph.D. research, I have incorporated this community into my understanding of seed bank composition in Dry Mixedgrass Prairie disturbed by oil and gas pipelines. Organisms like lichen, which can have delicate branches, cups, and leaf-like bodies, are sensitive to disturbance and recover extremely slowly. Although they are an intrinsic attribute of grasslands, many botanists, like me, are unaware of them and policies regarding the reclamation and revegetation of industrially disturbed areas in prairies ignore these organisms.

These are some lichens you can find in prairie soil crusts. The white crusty species on the left side (Diploschistes muscorum) is called cow-pie lichen in common vernacular.

Working in the field, I value the independence and the time allowed for self-reflectance while wandering a tortuous path to a survey location. The ritual of parking, packing, swinging a quadrat over my shoulder and scouring my path for any unique organisms or movement in the grass is an experience I look forward to every field season. However, grasslands are sensitive, fragmented ecosystems.  Although they are often described as ‘marginal’ or ‘waste’ lands, grasslands are in fact the most threatened and least protected ecosystem in Canada, as is easily demonstrated by driving across Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba on the Trans-Canada Highway observing a patchy mosaic of cultivated fields with small margins of native grass and trees remaining along hillsides, coulees, and wetlands.  As a young ecologist, I want to communicate the irreplaceable and invaluable ecosystem services (carbon storage, biodiversity, water purification, etc.) prairies provide as they benefit society and host understudied taxa and ecosystem processes.

Surveying pipeline disturbance. Those cute calves chewed holes in that measuring tape after this photo was taken.

 

Lysandra studies rangeland ecology and management at the University of Alberta. Her Ph.D. research addresses grassland disturbances and land use history on soil seed banks, plant communities, and soil. You can find her on Twitter at @GrasslandNerd 

Dispatches from 2016

Well, another year has come and gone. 2016 took us lots of places and was filled to the brim with adventures in the field. We started the year off chasing the mighty elf owl in Arizona, and followed up with talk of butterflies and bats.  Our first story from Ecuador then surfaced – Alpaca my bags – but we didn’t stay there long as we headed right back to Canada – this time to check out some salmon along the east coast.

As the spring began, we got sprayed with bear spray, and then had not one, but two battles with everyone’s favourite beefy animal.  We pictured the tides in Haida Gwaii, imagined guppies splashing around in Trinidad, and felt a little “tipsy” in the Adirondacks.

We spent summer in the redwoods, but took a couple of stops in Yellowstone, and White Salmon. In the fall we hit Costa Rica,  played with some honeybees and had an awesome Thanksgiving meal in Alaska.

Our most sincere thanks to everyone who contributed to those blogs featured here and the MANY other posts we had in 2016. Of course, thanks to everyone who read our blog and we promise more exciting stories in 2017. We are very excited to see what the new year brings!

Amanda, Catherine & Sarah

Stranger things have happened in Wire Fence field

Seven years. I have spent seven years doing fieldwork in Wire Fence field, and just last weekend, I collected my final data from that site. Next year the field is set to be bush-hogged and that will mark the end of my time at the site. I wanted to take a moment today to write a bit about the wonderfully beautiful and endlessly frustrating Wire Fence field.

Wire fence field is a beautiful field site, and over the seven years I have worked there, I have developed a very strong love-hate relationship with this place. Wire fence field is a small old-field that is entirely surrounded by closed canopy forest. It is located about 500 m off Opinicon Road on route to the Queen’s University Biological Station. To access it, there is a laneway through the forest. The laneway is accessible enough to travel by vehicle or it can be easily hiked in about five minutes. Friends and colleagues that know me well have certainly heard me complain about this field site. Statements like “I’d rather stare at a wall all day than ever have to spend another moment in that       field” or “This field is ruining my life” are not uncommon in the peak of a field season. It is a rewarding but challenging place to work for many reasons.

The beautiful walk into Wire Fence field (October 2016)

The beautiful walk into Wire Fence field (October 2016)

Getting there – yes, a short five-minute walk doesn’t seem that bad. And it isn’t. Except in the summer months, when mosquitoes swarm like the monster from Stranger Things would if you cut off your finger. Then that five-minute walk quickly seems endless. The path to the field is well-maintained, generally flat and easy to walk or drive on. Except that it dips down into a very low-lying area right before you hit the field site. This summer wasn’t so bad because we were hit with a really bad drought but in previous field seasons this has made for many boots getting stuck in the muck, and well, with a 2 wheel, rear wheel drive Astro van- It wasn’t just boots getting stuck in there. Getting to Wire Fence field isn’t always easy.

You always get stuck in Wire Fence field

You always get stuck in Wire Fence field (November 2015)

Surviving there – There is no cell phone service in this field, so if something bad happens, let’s hope it’s before dark and you’re well enough to walk out on your own. Evidence of black bears have been found at this site on more than one (hundred) occasions so being aware of that is important. The field has more and more thistles in it every year. Also, there is one spot where an old Wire Fence (coincidence??) has fallen over and grown into the ground, and in one spot it sticks up and I kid you not SOMEONE trips over that fence EVERY single time we work there. And it’s usually me, who has been to the field site probably over 500 times. I’ve also never seen deer flies like I have seen them at this site. In the peak of deer fly season, you have to be fully clothed from head to toe and with layers. At one point I was wearing gloves and still got more than 10 bites on my hands alone. Surviving in Wire Fence field is a challenge.

 

Staying there – Things disappear – it’s almost as if there is some ‘Upside down’ Wire Fence field somewhere and the monster comes to the field in the night, and steals stuff and takes it back to the Upside down. Stranger Things fans, you’ll know what I mean. Shovels, cages, individual tagged plants, you name it! If we have brought it there we have also lost it there. Of course, on the other side of the main road there is a camp ground and patrons often venture across the road for hikes, so it might not be too surprising that we have lost some items here and there. The more troubling part is that I have installed cylinders into the ground at this site (100 of them in fact). That are only about 1 inch above the ground and cannot be removed with ease. With grass that reaches well over one metre at its peak they definitely aren’t easy to spot. Even some of those have gone missing. Including plot 11 (Eleven)..I am not even kidding….OK perhaps it is time to call in Hopp, Mrs. Byers and the whole crew to investigate.

 

Even though getting there, surviving there and staying there all present their own set of unique challenges, I love the place. And I miss it already.

 

Wire fence field is surrounded by closed canopy forest with lots of very large oak, basswood, ironwood and blue beech trees towering over it. In the spring months, sides of the laneway and all of the ground surrounding the field edges is sprinkled with white and red trilliums, trout lilies and wild ginger. For about one week in early May, the entire laneway is covered in spring beauties. Tens of thousands of them peak out from the decaying autumn leaves and brighten up the forest. As the season progresses along buttercups burst open and give the field vibrant pops of yellow among the tall green grass. I haven’t seen buttercups in such numbers as I do at Wire Fence field. And then there are the deer. Deer love buttercups and thus, deer love Wire Fence field. Many mornings we would walk up to the field site and see anywhere from one to a dozen deer happily grazing on all of our experimental plots and lots of pressed down areas of grass each morning suggested that it was a common place for them to spend their nights. Sometimes we would stand there and just watch them for a few minutes, before they noticed us and re-located for the day.

Even in early spring, with nothing growing, this field is a beautiful place (April 2014)

Even in early spring, with nothing growing, this field is a beautiful place (April 2014)

Last day of fieldwork in Wire Fence field (October 2016)

Last day of fieldwork in Wire Fence field (October 2016)

Even though working in Wire Fence field has many challenges, it was a beautiful, peaceful and quirky place to spend the last seven years.

The Fire and Ice Tour Part 2

#TeamFire is now over with (see last week’s post), and onto the second half of the adventures from Dr. Jeff Havig:

#TeamIce (Glacial systems on Pacific Northwest stratovolcanoes)

  • Dr. Jeff Havig (Department of Geology, University of Cincinnati)
  • Professor Trinity Hamilton (Department of Biological Sciences, UC)
  • Jordyn Miller (Graduate Student, Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Purdue University)
  • Helen Rogers (lab worker, Department of Biological Sciences, UC)

#TeamIce was now assembled in White Salmon, WA, in the home of Bob and Sally Havig (my parents). Our goal was to hike into multiple glaciers and camp overnight, allowing us to collect samples and conduct carbon uptake incubation experiments to characterize primary productivity and nutrient cycling in these systems. Our targets were: Gotchen Glacier on the southwest flank of Mt. Adams, WA (north of White Salmon), Eliot Glacier on the northeast flank of Mt. Hood, OR (south of White Salmon), Diller Glacier on the east flank of Middle Sister, OR, and Collier Glacier on the west flank of North Sister, OR. For the glaciers on the sisters, we would move our forward base of operations to the Bend/Sisters area. Our meals would primarily consist of sandwiches we made supplemented with trail snacks, plus oatmeal and coffee in the morning.

Professor Trinity Hamilton looking over the climb

Professor Trinity Hamilton resting after climbing several thousand feet in a couple miles as we made our way to Gotchen Glacier on Mt. Adams, WA, looking towards the southwest.

Gotchen Glacier, Mt. Adams, WA. A fortuitous stop at the National Forest Ranger Station in Trout Lake, WA provided us with valuable intelligence:

processing water samples on the edge

Gotchen Glacier was kind enough to provide me this little table for processing water samples. Fortunately, the crampons, helmet, and ice ax were not needed here. Note the most excellent 140 mL syringe and caulking gun setup for filtering samples, and the little foam cutout I made for holding sample bottles while distributing filtered water.

there had been a fire the year before in the area we had planned to approach Gotchen from (giving us a relatively easy ~1.5 mile (~2.4 km) hike), and it had been closed. We had to amend our trajectory, now having a ~2.5 mile (~4 km) hike to tackle. The hike was through an area that had burned a few years previous, and was thus devoid of any shade, making the hike much hotter and dustier. Nevertheless, we persevered and made it to Gotchen Glacier.

Red snow

Red snow (center) and orange snow (center top) on Gotchen Glacier, Mt. Adams, WA. This was our target for sampling and carbon uptake incubations.

Finding no place on the moraine to camp, we elected to set up on the snow near the lake at the base of the glacier, making for a chilly night’s sleep. We found plenty of snow algae to sample, and the water in the lake was some of the best tasting water I have ever had! We packed up in the morning and made our way back to the car and on to White Salmon.

Eliot Glacier, Mt. Hood, OR. We wound our way south through the apple and pear orchards of the Hood River Valley, stopped at the NFS Ranger Station, and then headed to the Cloud Cap Inn (not functioning…don’t bother to try to make a reservation) where our trailhead awaited us. We loaded up and made our way up through an ancient grove of Mountain Hemlocks (many trees over 500 years old, some far older) and on up to the windswept moraines of Eliot Glacier. We were rewarded for our efforts with an amazing view north of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier (all in WA).

Eliot Glacier

Panoramic image of the summit of Mt. Hood, OR, Eliot Glacier, and Eliot’s moraines. Note the pink, yellow, and grey rocks in the moraine, sourced from different lava flows. To the upper right we could see Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and even Mt. Rainier on the horizon. We camped and sampled on the part of the glacier just below the dark grey rock outcrop in the center of Eliot Glacier.

Jeff with the massive water syringe.

I snapped this selfie while the crew was busily working on a sample we had collected in the morning on Eliot Glacier (note all of the layers and the lack of sunshine). Pictured are (left to right) myself, Helen Rogers (UC Biology lab worker), Jordyn Miller (Purdue University graduate student), and Professor Trinity Hamilton. Finding enough level, non-rocky space to pitch tents on was no small feat, but we were lucky enough to find space to do so. The suspended solids in the water (see the syringe) are typical of water with a large subglacial melt component, but the large diameter filter made life a LOT easier in dealing with that.

We were able to find two spots of loose sediment large enough to pitch our tents, and proceeded with sampling. Above us loomed a plug of andesite that had resisted the glacier, leaving a cliff over which a large waterfall of glacial meltwater poured. We headed out with our collection of incubations and snow, glacial ice, supraglacial and subglacial water, rocks, sediments, and algae samples. The next day we packed everything into the minivan and took the scenic drive along highways 35 and 26 to Bend, OR.

 

The view that greeted us as we made it up the moraine at the base of Diller Glacier on Middle Sister, OR. We were excited to see the lake at the base of the glacier, and even more excited to not have any moraine rocks tumbling down on us.

The view that greeted us as we made it up the moraine at the base of Diller Glacier on Middle Sister, OR. We were excited to see the lake at the base of the glacier, and even more excited to not have any moraine rocks tumbling down on us.

Diller Glacier, Middle Sister, OR. This was to be a scouting missing to assess its utility as a field site for future expeditions, since we had never been to Diller before. As such, we decided to hike up and back in one day, alleviating the need for extra food and all of our camping paraphernalia. (This would also buy us an extra day to recuperate before our full pack ~5 mile (~8 km) trek into Collier.)

Purple penstemons and reddish-orange paintbrush

The wildflowers on the trip were amazing. Here there were purple penstemons and reddish-orange paintbrush on an end moraine below Diller Glacier on Middle Sister. Always a surprise to get buzzed by hummingbirds at 8000+ ft.

While the climb was rather gradual, it was also ~5.5 miles (~8.9 km) one way. We pushed through to Camp Lake to replenish our drinking water reserves and eat lunch, and then made our way to Diller. After the prerequisite scrambling up and over sketchy glacial moraines, we reached the base of Diller, where we were greeted by another beautiful glacial lake. We collected samples (no time for C-uptake experiments), and then hiked back down to our awaiting transport. We were able to make it down before it was pitch black, but there was minimal light for pitching our tents off the road in the National Forest land.

Jeff's massive bag overflowing with equipment.

A picture of my nemesis. I was carrying my sleeping bag, geochemical sampling equipment, food for three days, a stove, crampons, ice ax, helmet, 3 L of water, drinking water filtration kit, first aid kit, several layers of clothes, and let’s not forget the cooler with 20 lbs of dry ice for flash freezing DNA samples and carbon uptake experiments. And yes, that’s a full day pack strapped to the outside of my pack. My pack topped off around 55 to 60 lbs. Needless to say, I was moving pretty slow on the steep climbs, and we were all very excited to take our packs off upon arrival at the site!

Our crew at the trailhead about to head to Collier Glacier, North Sister, OR, including (left to right) myself, Professor Hamilton, Helen Rogers, and Jordyn Miller. Don’t let the smiling faces fool you…we were loaded with determination as well as heavy packs as we set off on the 5 mile trek with a ½ mile elevation gain. As they say, that which does not kill you leaves deep and permanent scarring…

Our crew at the trailhead about to head to Collier Glacier, North Sister, OR, including (left to right) myself, Professor Hamilton, Helen Rogers, and Jordyn Miller. Don’t let the smiling faces fool you…we were loaded with determination as well as heavy packs as we set off on the 5 mile trek with a ½ mile elevation gain. As they say, that which does not kill you leaves deep and permanent scarring…

Collier Glacier, North Sister, OR. After two days to refit and recuperate from the ‘Diller Death March’, we found ourselves at the trailhead that would take us to Collier Glacier. This hike was through the Obsidian Limited Access Area (requires a special access permit) on a trail that goes up and over the 400 year old Jerry Lava Flow (in which we found some small mantle xenoliths) and terminates at the Pacific Crest Trail. We followed the PCT for a short period before we had to break off to traverse Little Brother, climb ~1000 ft (~300 m) in elevation over about half a mile (~ 0.8 km), and then cross Collier Glacier with crampons and ice axes. We were rewarded for our long day with an amazing sunset and a view looking north up the line of stratovolcanoes.

red and orange sunset over Collier Glacier

Our reward after making it onto Collier Glacier, setting up camp, and having dinner. An amazing view looking north up the Cascade Range of (from left to right) Mt. Washington, Three-fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, and the very tip top of Mt. Adams. In the Foreground is Collier Glacier, to the right is the peak of North Sister, to the left is Little Brother, and in the center is a lake at the base of a small cinder cone (Collier Cone), which erupted a mere 400 years ago.

Dinner was a New York City Sub Shop sub (the Bronx is my favorite, check them out if you are in Bend or Hood River). The next day we sampled up and down Collier Glacier, from our camp on the upper portion of the glacier on down to the glacial meltwater fed lake below, collecting water, snow, ice, and sediments and setting up multiple incubation experiments. A Purdue University group (led by Dr. Briony Horgan and Dr. Allie Rutledge) had been planning to meet us on our second day, to overlap sampling and exchange data/information, but all day we did not see them. Late into the evening we had nearly given up hope (assuming they had a late start and wouldn’t make it in until the next day), when off in the distance near the lake we saw the glow of two lights appear. I immediately attempted to signal with my headlamp to disclose our camp position (as it was now dark), and thought I saw a return signal. Professor Hamilton and I stayed up to continue signaling, and two weary travelers arrived: Dr. Rutledge and a Purdue graduate student (Marie). They hurriedly pitched their tent and settled in for the night, exhausted from their long 6+ mile (~10 km) trek with 50+ pound (23+ kg) backpacks.

sampling in the early morning

I paused from filtering a water sample to snap this picture of the crew hard at work for an early morning sampling on Collier Glacier (the day star wouldn’t grace us with it’s warm embrace for several hours). Believe it or not, the tent behind Professor Hamilton is actually on a patch of soft sediments that I was able to clear of (many!) large rocks.

The morning was great, collecting a last water sample and sharing information with Allie and Marie.

 

The rest of the Purdue group came in and set up camp down by the lake as we packed up and left to make our way back down to camp.

UC written in stones

We were at Collier Glacier in advance of a Purdue University team that would overlap with us for our last day. I decided to leave them this little reminder of our presence… (Go Bearcats!)

 

I yodeled my goodbye to our friends and colleagues as we crested the saddle next to Little Brother before dropping down the other side.

Posing with the advanced party from the Purdue expedition as we were about to head out from Collier Glacier. From left to right: myself, Dr. Allie Rutledge (Purdue University Postdoc), Professor Hamilton, Marie (Purdue University graduate student), Jordyn, and Helen.

Posing with the advanced party from the Purdue expedition as we were about to head out from Collier Glacier. From left to right: myself, Dr. Allie Rutledge (Purdue University Postdoc), Professor Hamilton, Marie (Purdue University graduate student), Jordyn, and Helen.

A rainbow beside a geyser.

A parting shot of Old Faithful, Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.