We are a group of freshwater ecologists from the Biology Department at St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota studying the effect of temperature and nutrient availability on metabolism and nitrogen fixation in geothermally active streams in the Hengill region of Iceland. This is a collaborative research effort with our partners from Montana State University, the University of Alabama, the University of Iceland, and the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries in Iceland. See links to our collaborators labs below.

Monday, May 5, 2014

[Insert Catchy Title Here] - A Call to All Scientists

St. Kate's Students and Faculty at NCUR
Recently I had the opportunity to present the results from our research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in Lexington, Kentucky. The conference hosted a wide range of subjects including fields from the arts, sciences, business, and social sciences, among many others. The conference lasted three days with multiple presentations occurring at the same time and ongoing most of the day from 9 am until 7 pm. With so many presentations, it was clear that I could not make it to all of them. This being the case, I tended to choose talks based on the only information I had - location and title. Reflecting back on this, I realize how little, or how much, a title can tell you about a presentation.

Excited for our plane ride
One aspect of my process in choosing presentations has stood out to me - I chose what I thought was interesting. This seems trivial. Of course, naturally I would choose to listen to a subject that grabbed my attention. However, I found myself at a fair number of non-science talks. Upon consideration, I had to ask myself, was I avoiding the scientific subjects? I didn't think this was the case though and I knew that it wasn't from a lack of interest in scientific research. It was then that I realized that the subject wasn't the issue, it was the lack of a draw in the titles. The titles of scientific talks were dry, often because they had to save room in the title for organism names, gene names, site locations, or other scientific jargon. While practical, this has the disadvantage of deterring the interest of almost all non-scientists and even some of the science-oriented attendees. It’s important to have an informative title; however, I think a larger focus should be placed on accessibility to the subject.  It should draw you in...

Scientific literature, articles, and research reports are usually written in a cut and dry manner that strives to merely present the data in an unbiased and unopinionated voice. The main goal is to report what was measured, how it was measured, how many times it was measured, and how the data compare with other values reported in the literature as a validation of the results. While this is practical and efficient, it is often inaccessible to most people outside of the field. I’m not suggesting a revolution in scientific literature, but rather ask how can scientists compensate for this gap - who is getting to use all of this valuable information? The non-scientist is unlikely to sit down and read scientific literature. It’s too dense and unfamiliar. This being the case, I think we need to reevaluate how scientific data is reported, explore how to broaden public access to the results, and make them meaningful and exciting to everyone - because, after all, they are exciting!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Presenting our Work at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR)

Getting excited to give my talk!
After weeks of preparation, we were off to Lexington, Kentucky for the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). This conference showcases the amazing research that undergraduates are doing all across the country and even all over the world.
We arrived in Lexington to a cool breeze, which was a nice change from the snow we left in Minnesota. We were up at 7 am to head off to the conference for our first day of presentations. It goes without saying that most of us were fairly nervous about our presentations, not only giving them in general, but to give them in front of complete strangers.
I am willing to admit that I was extremely nervous to give my talk, but after practicing it a few times, I felt confident in giving it.

Describing the important role nitrogenase plays in nitrogen fixation
It was nerve-racking, but once I was done, it felt amazing to have given that kind of a talk; another thing I would have never done had I never been a part of this research. This research experience has definitely given me the confidence I need to do these types of things now without hesitation.  I am extremely thankful for these opportunities. Now we are turning our attention to our next conference in Portland, Oregon this coming May, where both Jackie and I will be presenting posters - but this time we will be presenting our work to an international audience of aquatic scientists.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lightening the Load

Rock covered in algae - all of which will be scraped off.
Then, the rock can be traced.
Even though we’re not in Iceland, we are hard at work here in Minnesota. For the last few weeks, I have been working on entering data into Microsoft Excel, and Aimee and I have been working with samples and data from the trip. As astute ecologists, we often wonder if we are measuring the most accurate number and getting accurate values for nitrogen fixation rates. Once we know how to make the measurements for nitrogen fixation, it becomes easy to slip into the habit of trusting the values we get from our data. However, being the perfectionists we are, we have learned otherwise. Our work is simply not done once we return from the field site, nor is it done after several days of lab work. Measuring nitrogen fixation, or any biological process, involves consistency in the field work and the lab work, and ensuring that we have all of the information we need to draw the right conclusions from our data.

Recently I have taken on the task of calculating the surface area of rocks that we pulled from the stream in January. When we were in Iceland, we took rocks from the stream, measured nitrogen fixation rates, and then scraped the algae off into a container and took the algae back to the lab. Later on, we would need to know the surface area that the algae inhabited on the rocks, but we didn’t want to carry around the rocks until we needed that information. To make our load a little lighter, we traced the rocks on waterproof paper and then labeled each side of the rock to help us know which sides were covered with the algae. This is like many of the first steps we take when dealing with field samples- transport. How do we get algae, rocks and water samples back home to our lab? Tasks like tracing rocks may seem arbitrary at the time, but it really simplifies our job down the road.

A photocopy of  a rock tracing - with all sides - that was
 traced in the field on January 15th, 2014.
Once we returned home, we were able to scan the rock tracings and load them onto our computers so we have a digital copy of the rock surface areas. However, these images don’t tell us the surface area of the rock on their own and it requires a little work on our part, more specifically on my part, to get the data. Over the last few weeks, I have been using a special computer program called Image J to find the area of the rock that we traced.  Precision is key here.   It is important that I carefully trace the images so that we obtain an accurate area of the rock. This also goes for any type of lab work that we do because without precision, we can't be sure if our calculated results are accurate or due to our own error in the methods.

Image J program - it is simply a tool bar on my desktop
and I open the rock files as photo images and trace them
with tools from this tool bar.
Even though the field work provides much better scenery, the lab work can be just as fun and exciting. Part of the experience of taking all these samples in Iceland is getting to see the final results come together. Sometimes the lab work can seem daunting and overwhelming even, but the end result is really worth it. It's been a fun process for me to see the follow through of a research project and how much work and dedication it can require. It has certainly given me a new perspective on ecological research. The next step in the process it to see the final work put together into a paper or presentation, where I will really get to see everything come together. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Craft Time or Research?

Continuing on with my research, I’ve decided to design my own project this semester in hopes of answering some questions that came up during our trip to Iceland. I am interested in how nitrogen fixation rates have been measured in the field using different methods, and what each of those methods tells us. One of the most important parts of our research is making sure our methods are accurately measuring nitrogen fixation rates. If there are some variables that are unaccounted for in our methods, we may be underestimating or overestimating the rates at which new nitrogen is entering ecosystems.

One of the three methods - injecting the water with
heavy nitrogen gas.
This semester I will be working towards understanding how current methods for measuring nitrogen fixation rates compare to each other. I will be studying them in a completely controlled laboratory environment, while only manipulating single variables at a time. What I hope to establish is how each method responds to temperature when measuring nitrogen fixation rates. While not unexpected, the preliminary data suggest the three different methods that we have used in the field do not agree with each other. This is perplexing to me and I am determined to solve this mystery.

 Bauhaus - the "pot of gold" to us -
a hardware store we relied on in
Iceland for supplies.
As I prepare to begin my experiment, I have been reading scientific papers that describe these methods in detail, trying to understand long calculations, and thinking about all the details that I need to keep track of during my experiments. I have to closely monitor water temperature, pressure, and volume among many other variables. The next step will be to buy and order all the supplies I need, including live algal cultures, and make a trip to the local hardware store. It seems impossible, but sometimes we can’t just go online and order the exact supplies for these specific experiments. While they may not know it, hardware stores are very useful for scientific experiments.

Though it may not seem like it, research can involve many skills. It involves math, science, critical thinking and writing skills, just as much as it involves being just a little bit crafty at times. There are numerous occasions where we need to build custom supplies for such a specific task, that there just isn't the demand for them yet among many consumers, and they just can’t be ordered. The best way to get exactly what you want is to make it yourself. This requires some resourcefulness and thinking outside of the box. Luckily, hardware stores usually carry a wide variety of odds and ends to provide us with all the necessary items to make custom equipment that can suit the needs of any unique project. This is the part where I really have to thank my parents for all those years of childhood crafts and building projects. Those years of fine tuning my love and appreciation for tape, glue and re-purposed cardboard boxes have finally been put to the test and come in handy. Last summer our team invented a way to keep warm water in 60 ml syringes insulated while we shook them for 5 minutes or sometimes longer. What we came up with was insulating them with pipe insulation and duct tape. The design was nearly perfect - it allowed us to shake three large syringes in one hand at a time, while keeping the temperature of the water inside within a few tenths of a degree away from the temperature of the stream, after being exposed to the air for 5 minutes. This was especially ideal for days when the air temperature was much colder than the water temperature.
Syringe insulators made from pipe insulator and
wrapped in duct tape, which I named
"Sleevies", because they look like sleeves for syringes!

With my new project this semester, I will be using familiar methods, but I will be applying them in a laboratory setting.  So, I will have to rethink the overall design and discover how to best adapt our field methods for the lab. While working in the lab is certainly much easier than the unpredictable field environment in many ways, other aspects of the project become more challenging.  In the field, I really took for granted that the algae was right at our feet and self-sufficient -  all we had to do was collect it from the stream. Unfortunately, it is now winter in Minnesota and below freezing, and obtaining and maintaining algal specimens to work with will be one of the most challenging factors to deal with in a laboratory setting. Hopefully, I can find an algal species that will cooperate and be an appropriate comparison with our field data; however, I’m looking forward to the challenge.  I will really add some diversity to my skill set and research experience with this project, and will challenge myself in new ways by taking leadership of the project as a whole. Stay tuned for updates on my progress and possible inventions!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Tetris and a New Technique

Filtering apparatus
After we returned to the city, cleaned up, and filled out stomachs, we started our work in the lab. The first order of business was to get our gas samples run on the gas chromatograph (GC) as soon as possible. While those were being run, Jackie and I got to work getting our samples preserved and ready to take home. 
Top: a photo of our equipment that needed to be packed
Bottom:Tetris, a tile-matching video game
 (Image from www.tetris.com)
In order to get the biomass from our sample bottles (which is mostly a solution of water and algae) we had to pipette specific amounts of solution out and onto a filtering apparatus that removes all the water from the sample, leaving just the biomass on a filter.  Those samples were brought home where they will help us unlock some of the elemental mysteries and to help further tell the story of the nitrogen-fixers in Hengill. Our final days in the lab were spent rearranging and organizing the bins full of supplies and field equipment that we brought home with us. In order to keep our bags and bins from being overweight, we had to move and position items in such a way so that we could maximize space without overloading them. We lovingly call this “playing Tetris” (Video of Tetris: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X91_x7ReYyM).  Once we arrived home, before we could do anything with our samples, we had to clean the lab out from top to bottom. Now it’s ready for us to do our work. Starting sometime within the coming week, I will begin working on elemental analysis of our samples; a new technique that I am eager and excited to learn and put into practice.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Experimenting with Photography and Capturing Science

A moment of perfect light with a beautiful backdrop.
Before I left last summer for Iceland, I decided to make an investment in a quality camera. It’s something I’ve always wanted to buy, and I finally had the perfect excuse. Over the course of the summer I developed a new love for photography and what it can mean. I took my time trying different angles, using different amounts of light in the photo and experimenting with the settings on my camera. I realized that the best photography teacher for me was myself and my own experimentation.
Guttation: close up of a small plant on the ground.

Sometimes I could plan for a particular photo and really anticipate how it would turn out; but, often I was wrong. Some of my favorite photos are ones that I took spontaneously out of pure inspiration in a simple moment with no plan or expectation.  I remember one day I was out in the field and the air felt very heavy with water that day.  A slight mist was falling across the landscape. I was hiking up a hill and very carefully watching my feet when I began to notice that the tiny little plants were covered with big glossy drops of water. Upon closer examination, I realized that these plants were not covered in dew, but the water was actually escaping from the tips of the leaves traveling all the way up through the xylem from the roots, through the stems, and finally into the leaves where tiny pores are found called stomata. These pores are typically used for gas exchange during photosynthesis, and allow for evaporation of water molecules as a cooling mechanism for the plants - much like we sweat through our pores.  However, on some occasions, when the conditions are right, and the air is heavy with moisture,  the pressure of water entering the roots is enough to push water molecules all the way up to the top of these tiny plants and out through their pores in a process called guttation; forming water droplets on the leaves that can be mistaken as dew.

Top: A picture of a geothermal hot pot and the
landscape under a low sun.
Bottom: A close up
 of the water
 frozen in rings around where

hot bubbles of water escape in the middle
To some extent, the way I approach photography is similar to the way I approach scientific research. I see some phenomenon, draw in closer and investigate, zoom in with my macro lens, and find the small details that are often unnoticed and hidden. I like to catch the small details of an object up close and personal. But, then sometimes when you get too buried in the details, you have to zoom back out and take a look at the big picture. This is true in our research as well.  At times, we need to focus in on small details and mechanisms at work, like the factors that influence what happens inside a small cell or the movement of molecules.  But, at the same time, we have to remind ourselves of the larger goal and our broader questions - and how the ecosystem works as a whole. This is similar to when I’ve really zoomed in on a small detail of a plant, or building, and at first glance you can’t always tell what it is, but when I step back and take a picture of the whole, sometimes the view is just as detailed and spectacular and reveals the whole story.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Not So Modern, Not So Convenient, But So Worth It

Instant mash potatoes made by flashlight.
It seems like only last week were in Iceland and out in the field doing research. Since we have been back, I have spent some time reflecting on how easy and convenient many of our modern technologies make our lives. When we were living in the cabin, we had no running water, no electricity, and a minimal source of heat. Most evenings were spent wearing a headlamp and occasionally sitting in front of the small fireplace to warm up a bit in between scraping rocks.  There were even occasions where I would turn off my headlamp when sitting by the fire and then would get up and think, ‘who turned off the lights’ when noticing how dark it had become. After having this experience, I’ve appreciated how much I depend on electricity, and how easy it is to turn on a light when I enter a room.
A small fire - our main heat source.

I have also gained a new appreciation for running water. When we needed more water, we had to hike to a stream to fill our water bottles for drinking and cooking, and when we needed water to wash dishes, we had to boil snow so we didn’t waste our drinking water.  I also learned to conserve water and I now think about how much water I waste in a day. For example, when I want a drink of water, I usually let the faucet run until it feels cold, and similarly, when I go to take a shower, I let the water run until it feels hot. It has also made me think about all the times I drink half a glass of water and dump out the rest of it. I definitely appreciate this convenience now and I am humbled to have had this experience. It’s one thing to think about how many people live or have lived without running water and be sympathetic towards that, but it’s another to experience it first hand. 
Wearing all of our essential gear.  Yes, it was super windy!

Indoor heating is another convenience that I’ve come to appreciate. Having lived in Minnesota my whole life, I thought I knew what it meant to be cold; however, what I didn’t know, was what it meant to be out in the cold all the time. By the end of the week, it wasn’t clear if it had really warmed up, or if we were just used to being in the cold. The time that I usually felt the most warm was during the hour walk each day to and from the field site. Most days I was wearing four layers consisting of a base layer, multiple fleece layers and a water proof shell on both the top and bottom half. I also usually doubled up on wool socks to keep my feet warm and dry.  I was most grateful to have packed my ski goggles, which kept blowing snow out of my eyes, my face mask, which kept my face and nose warm, my sleeping bag, which is rated for 20 F temperatures, and instant heat packs, which helped us out in more than one occasion when we underestimated the impact of being cold and wet. Of course there were other items that I wished I had brought with us, but overall, we had the essentials covered. Even though the conditions were tough at times, and we had to persevere when we were tired and uncomfortable, it was an experience that I wouldn’t trade. I would go back and do it again in a heartbeat.

The Bare Necessities of Life Will Come to You

The University of Iceland's amazing truck.
The moment the super truck pulled up, I knew our week in the mountains was going to be an extraordinary adventure. The ride out to Hengill was a new experience, to say the least. Once we veered off the main road, we were faced with a huge snowdrift that seemed almost impassable; but, we managed to get through it.   The trip was especially challenging since it had just snowed and the conditions prevented the snow from solidifying.  Sveinbjörn Steinþórsson informed us that the snow was like “powdered sugar” in the sense that it was difficult for the tires to get traction on such a soft and grainy surface.  Due to this, we had to dig the truck out a few times.  To avoid further shoveling, we then took an amazing detour up the side of the mountain, which allowed us to see a completely new part of Hengill.
            Upon arrival to our new home away from home, we quickly realized that we were not in the city anymore. This cabin had no electricity or running water. Thankfully, it did have a fireplace and a diesel heater. We spent the rest of our first day acclimating to our new environment and getting our gear organized. I became well aware of the luxuries we are accustomed to at home when I had to put my boots on and walked 50 yards just to go to the bathroom or boiled snow on a propane powered stove just to make oatmeal - all with my heavy mittens on!  It truly hit me when we had to cut wood by hand for firewood just to stay warm - if we didn't keep cutting wood when the pile got low,no matter the hour, we would have no warmth.  Life became about necessity and not accessory, but it was the greatest feeling in the world.
Nostoc pruniforme,
 found in stream 9 under 5 feet of snow!
            The first full day started by crawling out of our sleeping bags pretending that it wasn’t as cold as we thought as we began to boil water for our breakfast. We then headed off on our first hike to our field site. It was amazing to see the landscape that I had worked in for months over the summer so completely changed by the snow. It took a while to become adjusted to the new landscape. This daily hike took about 45 minutes and consisted of hill climbing and high stepping- an excellent workout, I can assure you. Due to the “powdered sugar” effect, every step resulted in a deep plunge into the fresh snow or, sometimes, breaking through into a deep hole.  It was quite an adventure and mystery as to which we would get with each step.  This day consisted of finding the different streams we were going to be working in over the coming week. We found the warm streams fairly easily, but stream 9, a was completely covered with 5 feet of snow.  Stream 10, just over the hill from stream 9, was partially open, but we still had to dig a section of it out from under a few feet of snow. We found a photosynthetic nitrogen-fixer - Nostoc pruniforme, in both streams, covered by snow, healthy and in abundance. Interesting indeed.

Setting up chambers on stream 10 with Dan Nelson.
            Now that we knew where to find our nitrogen fixers, our second day became our first sampling day. We started  with stream 10, and began by hunting down rocks to be used in our chambers. This was accomplished by digging small tunnels down to the stream bed and climbing down with headlamps to find representative samples, all while being careful not to collapse the snow tunnel or fall through accidentally. 

Hiking back after dusk; just enough light for a photo.
Working in these streams over the summer, we didn’t have to worry about our fingers getting too cold, but it became one of our primary concerns working in stream 10, where the water temperature was just above freezing.  In order to keep our hands from being exposed to the cold water and the cold air, we used extremely fashionable dish washing gloves.  While not extremely comfortable, the gloves did keep our hands dry and much warmer overall.  We finished our sampling at dusk, which meant our hike back was going to be a dark one.  The already slightly risky hike was now even more treacherous due to the fact that we could only see what was directly illuminated by our headlamps.   But, we always made it back safely and enjoyed the view of the brilliant night sky as we walked.  

Upon arrival back to the cabin, we started scraping the algae off of the rocks that we had collected earlier. I was given a new found appreciation for doing this type of work in a controlled lab environment that has an abundance of light and warmth.
A new challenge: rock scraping by headlamp.
The longest hike of the trip happened on our third day. We walked all the way to stream 11. This was also our longest sampling day. We collected samples from two different parts of stream 11 - some from under deep snow and some that were uncovered and exposed. This allowed us to stay relatively warm due to the constant hiking up and down a steep hill. The beginning of the day started off with mixed precipitation of rain and snow, but it cleared up a short time afterwards. It was definitely a long hike back with a backpack full of rocks, but it made sitting in front of the fire much more rewarding. Finally the raging winds had settled down and we were able to utilize both the fireplace and the heater. The cabin was raging hot by the end of the night, reaching temperatures of 7°C (~45°F).

Beautiful wide open stream 6!
        The fourth day we sampled stream 6. The hike there took the least amount of time; we were there well before sunrise. We had plenty of time to look around and find rocks for sampling. Stream 6 was by far the easiest stream to sample because it is completely open, flat, and warm. By this time, we were a well-oiled machine, but cabin fever was starting to set in and I was in desperate need of a shower. On the hike back, we had a moment of adrenaline.  We were walking across a previously solid patch of snow and the next moment, we found Jackie hanging by her elbows in a hole that just appeared under her feet. After pulling her out of the hole, we realized that we had been walking across a ravine without even knowing it. After much laughing as the adrenaline rush subsided, we found out that Jackie wasn't in any real danger - her feet were only few inches from the ground, but it was an exciting moment to be sure.
My masterpiece!
Our final day we took on stream 9. At the end of the week, it had warmed up by a few degrees and the snow had started to melt. Land that was completely covered by snow a few days ago was now uncovered. However, stream 9 was still covered by a solid 5 feet of snow. We began by digging holes down to the stream to collect rocks for sampling. Once we began our incubation, we had a few minutes to enjoy the snow.  I made a little snow castle using a pitcher to form snow blocks. Once our incubations were done, we began our final hike back to the cabin. Shortly after sunset, Sveinbjörn showed up to take us back into town. I cannot explain to you the odd feeling we all had riding in a vehicle for the first time in a week. It was an incredibly strange feeling to be moving without having to walk on your own legs, but the strangest feeling by far was being warm.
Jackie and I on our final hike back to the cabin.
Upon arrival back to civilization, we headed back to our apartment where we all rushed to take long hot showers and then feast on food that wasn’t warmed by water. It was an incredible week out in the cabin; an experience that I miss today. It was remarkable to live so simply and be completely dependent on each other. While we were out there, I did miss having a cell phone, heat, electricity, and running water, but I realized that I didn’t need them to survive - and how satisfying it was to live without these luxuries, even for just a week.  This experience continues to have a long lasting impact on my priorities and how I view my own resource use.  I continue to use the lights less and the stairs more!  I am more in tune with what I need, what's important, and what I can accomplish.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Exploring Hengill: January 2014

I can't believe that our time in Iceland is almost over.  We have been here just a short time, but we have accomplished a great deal.  We knew that the winter trip would be difficult and every step of the way I was happy that we were well prepared for whatever the weather would bring.  We had enough clothes, food, water, and all of the gear needed - nothing was forgotten - whew!  That certainly helped, but every day was labor intensive and the conditions forced us to be on our toes both mentally and physically. 

The week started with the truck ride of a lifetime with Sveinbjörn Steinþórsson from the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland.  It is his job to monitor seismic activity and status of glacier growth and retreat in Iceland and with a job like that, you need a truck that can go anywhere.  It was amazing!  The truck was outfitted with every technological gadget you can imagine, as well as a souped
up hydraulic system to raise and lower the vehicle, and an internal air compressor to fill the tires, after emptying them to help better hug the snow on the mountainous terrain.  It was a blast and we were fortunate to have Sveinbjörn's assistance in getting to our study site as it had just snowed and it was a challenging trip, even for the super jeep.  The snow was very light and grainy and wouldn't stick together, making it difficult to get traction.  But, we made it no problem with the assistance of our experienced guide and enjoyed the ride and the adventure. 

We arrived at the doorstep of our home for the week  - a scout hut that was built during World War II called Þrymheimr (ThrymrThrym; "uproar").   The cabin is named after Þrymr, who is said to have stole Thor's hammer to extort the gods into giving him Freyja as his wife.  However, his plot was foiled by the gods and eventually Thor killed Þrymr - the story of how Thor got his hammer back is told in the poem Þrymskviða.   The cabin is full of character with old wood and 11 bunk beds that are used by scouting groups throughout the year.

The high winds had packed in the front door with snow, so we had to do a little shoveling to extract our entrance, and we were excited to get inside with all of our field gear and equipment and set up shop.  The cabin has no electricity or running water, but it does have a very small fireplace and a diesel heater.  However, the winds were so high the first two days that the gusts would come straight down the chimney and blow out the flame in our diesel heater.   We did what we could with the fireplace, but the damp conditions made it difficult to even get paper to light, let alone our damp wood.  So, we were a bit extra cold the first night and I don't think any of us took our mittens off for long.   We did try a short game of Yatzi by the fire, but I am still learning how to play and I gave up after a bit, but it was fun to sit by the fire and relax a bit after out trek in.   After the second day, the winds subsided and we were able to use both the heater and fireplace and it felt almost luxurious! We joked about the incredible spa treatment in the sauna-like conditions - but really, it was still pretty cold (maybe in the 30's - Fahrenheit that is).    

Aimee and Jackie standing in streams 7 (left)
and 8 (right).
The first hike into the Hengill Valley was probably the windiest of the week - you definitely had to have your goggles on to protect your eyes from the pounding sleet, but at the same time, it was incredibly beautiful.  Due to the fresh and loose snow, our feet broke through the surface quite a bit and we got a good workout with lots of highsteps as we pulled our legs forward through the deep layers.  So, it wasn't an easy hike, but the views were fantastic and the sunrise was a welcoming sight.  The weather improved throughout the day, as well as the rest of the week.

Our first task on day one was to do some exploring - to revisit our study streams, which up until now, we had only seen in the summer.  Now, many of them were covered with snow, and we had no idea what kinds of algae we would find, or if nitrogen fixers would be present under such dark conditions.  First along our path, we encountered streams 5 and 6 - two of our warmer streams.  We jumped in and scanned the rocks - not much algae in stream 5 and little sign of cyanobacteria.  But stream 6 was another story - we noticed the black tinge to the rocks right away - some kind of cyanobacteria, but it wasn't immediately obvious what species we had.  I can't wait to get those samples back home so that Dr. Paula Furey can take a look at them under the microscope and help us determine what it is!

Then, we hiked on to streams 9 and 10.  Both were covered with snow and we chose a couple of spots to carefully dig holes to get a look at the streams below.   In fact, as we hiked across the landscape, we had to be careful where we stepped and to anticipate the locations of the streams and holes underneath the snow so that we didn't fall through.   Amazingly enough, the first holes that we dug on both streams 9 and 10 revealed rocks covered with Nostoc pruniforme - and they looked healthy and thriving.   So, the week was off to a great start.  We now know that cyanobacteria are thriving under the dark and snowy winter conditions in the Hengill Valley - but what are they up to under all of that snow?  More on that soon....