The life of a field biologist is not easy...
Well today proved to be a great introduction to field biology. After breakfast our research team met for a morning briefing to go over the objectives and goals for the day. Each team member chose a team to be a part of based on the techniques that they practiced and felt most comfortable with after our training session yesterday.
I chose to be a part of the Tree Structure team where we would use the “Point Center Quartered Method.” Basically prior to our fieldwork this week, the scientists set up a grid in the boreal forest, in the tundra, and the zone in between the boreal forest and the tundra. This giant grid is set up using GPS, aerial photographs, and measuring tapes. The grid is like a giant “Tic-Tac-Toe Board.” The points at which the lines intersect are marked by metal stakes sticking up 3 feet into the air with numbers on them and colored flags. The distance in between the intersection points are 50 meters. So each grid box is 50 m2 .
Once we got to the site, we found the center point in the middle of each grid box and marked this spot. We then broke the grid box up into quarters called quadrants. In each quadrant we had to identify buffalo berry plants, willow shrubs, black and white spruce; trees, saplings, and seedlings, larch; trees, saplings, seedlings, Bog Birch, and Shephardia. Each species that was identified was measured from the distance it was growing relative to the center point, the quadrant it was found in, If the specimen was a tree then in addition we had to record the diameter of the stem / trunk at the point in which it breaks through the ground (also known as Diameter at Root Crown), the diameter of the stem / trunk at chest height (also known as Diameter at Breast Height), the number of upright stems, and the number of cones and catkins (the reproductive structures).
This process then had to be repeated in all nine grid boxes. This process was extremely tedious because searching for seedlings and saplings took a very long time. Specimens were classified and stratified by height. Specimens that were between 0-15 cm were deemed seedlings, 15+ - 199 cm were deemed saplings, and over 199 cm were deemed trees. Those that grow only as shrubs had to be at least 30 cm tall.
Basically my team crawled along the ground on our hands and knees to look for the specimens for hours. Our morning field work was not very difficult once we got into the “groove,” however in the afternoon the weather changed and we worked through the pouring rain. It was a cold, bone chilling Arctic rain that lasted for hours. So were not able to complete our task and meet our goal for the day. But we certainly tried hard, learned a lot, and have come to appreciate the hard work and efforts of field research scientists.
After drying out our evening was spent inputting data and attending a lecture on permafrost. It was certainly a great end to the day. Tomorrow we will be back in the field at the same site trying to gather data.