As we set out on our last porewater sampling trip of the 2017 summer, I get a bittersweet feeling. I’m happy about all the progress we’ve made on Dani’s saltwater intrusion project, and proud of all I have contributed to the study, but I know I’ll miss spending every other week on Maryland’s beautiful Eastern Shore. Over the summer I have met some awesome people, and I’m grateful that half the time “another day at the office” meant knee-high boots and a machete, but I think I’ll miss the marsh wildlife the most.
Growing up I was always outside looking for snakes, frogs, and bugs, and when I had to be inside I was watching animal planet or reading National Geographic. I left no stone unturned…literally. Instead of growing out of this fascination with life, I only became more interested as I got older, and now I own field guides for just about any critter in North America. The marsh and forests on the shore are rich with animals, and participating in this study was a perfect opportunity to pursue my love for environmental science, and to get up close and personal with the fauna. I must say the mosquitos, deer flies, and chiggers got a little too up-close and personal at times, but it was all worth it. After four water sampling trips and a soil sampling “campaign,” I think we all were starting to feel like marsh wildlife ourselves.
Working with the AgroEcoLab has been an amazing experience, and I look forward to continuing our work into the fall semester, but I will miss the wildlife of the Eastern Shore. In all we’ve rescued four turtles in the middle of the road, hopefully that’s enough good karma to last us until we can get back down there.
- by John Dietrich
I have been working in the Agroecology Lab for almost a year now researching the movement of nitrogen through the soil profile and into cover crops. In this time, I have installed instrumentation in the field, processed data using a combination of R and excel, and collected over a thousand soil and plant samples.
Our instrumentation includes lysimeters and Time-Domain Reflectometers (TDR). Lysimeters are used to collect porewater samples, which we use to quantify nitrate and ammonia concentrations 60 cm down the soil profile. This will give us an idea of how much nitrate-N is leaching out of the system. Our TDR’s are used to measure soil temperature, volumetric water content, bulk relative permittivity, electrical conductivity, and soil pore water electrical conductivity at 0-10 cm, 20-30 cm, and 50-60 cm down the soil profile. The TDR’s were installed for approximately 4 months and collecting data every 10 minutes yielding 252, 870 data points. This forced me to quit using excel all together and familiarize myself with R Studio. Data processing in R Studio has been a wonderful, rewarding experience.
Over 900 soil samples sounds quite intimidating. However, we processed all of our soils shortly after the collection date, so it was quite manageable. Unfortunately, some sources of contamination are entirely unexpected and are left undiscovered until the data processing stage. Four of our sampling dates had unusually high levels of ammonia. Contamination is part of working in a lab and is something we are all very careful about. After a while we discovered the potential source of contamination: our filter papers. I rummaged through my archived soils and began the process all over again. Luckily, with the help of our amazing lab crew: Cullen, John, Gabe, and Tony we were able to complete all 900+ extraction in seven days!
- By Josh Gaimaro