Soil Sampling and Nitrogen at MacLeish Field Station

23 Jul

For the past ten weeks, we have been working as summer interns for professor Amy Rhodes. Some of our work has been collecting soil from forest plots at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station as part of the ongoing MacLeish soil project which was established in 2012. This soil collection is unique in that we collect from pairs of distinct types of plots: one deciduous and one hemlock. Selective logging in the history of the field station created these side-by-side plots, perfect for research.

Each of the plots we have been sampling from has been divided into seven subplots, delineated by bright orange garden flags and biodegradable twine. Multiple times a week we have gone out to the plots to use a fancy tool we call a soil corer and a fancy storage container we call a cooler with ice packs and brought back to campus upwards of fourteen soil samples to be analyzed and processed in the lab.

Hannah                                               Hannah takes a core sample.

 Cooler                               The cooler with a day’s harvest of soil core samples.

Our major focus has been looking at nitrogen in the form of nitrate and ammonium. Many of the hemlock trees at MacLeish are dying because of two invasive insects: the Woolly Adelgid and Hemlock Scale. This has resulted in a change of the forest ecology as black birch trees gradually take the place of hemlocks. We are looking to see if there is a significant difference between the nitrogen found in the soil beneath the hemlock trees and that found in the soil beneath black birch trees. We use the IC to analyze the total nitrate and ammonium in each of the plots.

Taylor                                     Taylor after a day of coring.

Taylor is in the process of crunching our data with R-Studio. She is deftly tackling the difficulties of working with Excel and is contrasting our time in the field with equal time on the computer. Luckily, the fragrance of the delicious forest air lingers in our nostrils and our recent memories of being outdoors sustain us as we settle down to forge ahead on the inside-on-the-computer portion of our work.

We both agree that ten weeks has slipped by quicker than soil passes through our 2mm sieves. Our time in the field, and in the lab, has been rewarding both in our understanding of data collection and analysis, and in the way a lab setting creates interactions between incredible minds. Soil has appeared to have permanently wedged itself under our fingernails, and while vigorous hand washing may eventually remediate that situation, we will lament its loss, and look forward to another opportunity to get our hands dirty

-Hannah Francis ’16 is an environmental geosciences major and is typically cooking or baking when she is not swimming as a member of the Smith swimming and diving team.
-Taylor Jones ’17 is a biological sciences major, and loves backpacking, being outside and playing with her puppy whenever she can.

Hannah and Taylor’s internships were supported by the Smith’s SUmmer Research Fellowship (SURF) program and CEEDS.

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