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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ecological Engineering

Science involves making measurements to estimate process that are sneaky and difficult to measure. To prepare for this, we need an arsenal of equipment specifically designed for the task at hand.

Bond. James Bond.
Annette (right) and Delor (left), ready to glue anything into submission

Liesa (left) and Annette expertly inventing

"Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to construct a sampling chamber that can be used for incubations in the light, darkened to measure the same processes with no light, along with creating a device to circulate the water in the chamber without interfering with measurements. This message will self-destruct."

The St. Kate’s team has chosen to accept this challenge, in addition to helping with stream sampling as a part of the larger Hengill 2016 crew. Liesa and Annette have been expertly preparing equipment for upcoming analyses, flexing their engineering muscles and showing off their scientific prowess.

An Ecological Stir Plate, in all it's glory
The chambers in question hold our samples, along with a stir bar. This stir bar is propelled by magnets attached to a computer fan – an ecological stir plate. As the magnetic fan spins, so does the stir bar thus stirring the water to mimic conditions found in the stream within the chamber. This stir plate has been carefully water-proofed so it can be completely submerged in the stream – a handy modification for processes that need to be measured in stream ecosystems, and certainly no easy task. Good thing we have handy women to take on the task! It has been great getting to see Liesa and Annette jump into these tasks with fervor, using their backgrounds growing up tinkering and their natural curiosity. Will this adhesive work? What are the limitations? Is it safe for aquatic environments? Not only have they been asking the right questions, they have been tenaciously working to find the answers. As Nobel prize winning chemist Michael Levitt said, “If you know where you’re going, you’re not gonna find anything really interesting”. Innovation and curiosity have brought us to solutions that are both interesting and functional!

We have darkened chambers with an expert mix of duct tape, adhesive, and garbage bags. Ecologists are nothing if not resourceful! Keep an eye out for more updates as we see if the equipment can hold up to the capricious Icelandic conditions as well as these Minnesota women can.

All of our hard work is paying off!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Summer 2016 Field Season Begins

Annette and Liesa working on our chamber design -
 making some improvements to the engineering.
Yes, the summer field season in Iceland is off to a great start!  We have hit the ground running this year and the weather has been so nice that we have been out in the field getting our first set of measurements underway.  As a result, we have been slow to get blogging.  Our St. Kate's students, Liesa and Annette, have been working closely with our colleagues from Montana State University and the University of Alabama on some of our big team sampling efforts and learning a great deal about the streams they had heard so much about, but hadn't seen first hand yet.  They have also been spending time in the lab working on the design for the chambers which we will use to make many of our measurements this summer.  I will let them write about how their experience compares with their initial expectations and fill you in on their early project development.  

Of course, while the weather has been unbelievable, we have still encountered much rain and some days have been very cold and soggy.  But, we are in high spirits and we have such a great group of people to work with.  So, we are off to a strong start and very excited to see what new knowledge emerges from our work this season.  This year we are studying the interaction between temperature and phosphorus fertilization - and how these two factors can interact to affect how stream ecosystems function.  Understanding how both warming and nutrient addition can affect stream food webs and the way that ecosystems process and cycle nutrients is important in our efforts to predict how freshwaters will respond to both current and future environmental change.  So, stay tuned for updates from our team and more about our results as the summer progresses.  We have a very busy weekend coming up with a full day of water chemistry sampling on Saturday, followed by bug, organic matter, and algal sampling on Sunday.  Then, we are hoping for a bit of a break to catch our breath and maybe write a blog! In the meantime, we have many new photos in the slideshow, which capture some of our nice weather and initial days here together this summer.

Delor, Nate, Liesa, and Annette working on the channel experiment.
Weather isn't too bad....
Okay, maybe the black flies are bad...
With little wind, the black flies can be quite bothersome!
They are good at finding your eyes and ears.