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24 June, 2001


Sleep in day. The main reason for that is not that it is Sunday and our day off but that breakfast isn't served till 11:30! Glen knows hungry field workers are not happy (or productive) field workers so we getting a late start but it was nice to have the morning!

We're starting the second part of this season's work today. Glen wants to gather data on species growth and variation within his plots and see if the different treatments he has going in each plot will have an effect on plant productivity. We will be doing carbon flux measurements on the individual species in the plots also to see if significant differences exist in species.

To do a species count in tundra vegetation is painstaking, not because it is difficult, but because the plants you have to count are so small and they are interspersed with many similar looking species. Imagine mixing 20 different species (types) of grass seeds together, planting them and then going back out when your yard is nice and green and finding only the rye grass plants in 18, 2 foot by 2 foot circles randomly picked around your yard. That is what we started doing today.

Glen selected out a parcticular grass species, Dupontia fischeri, along with 3 other vascular plant species, which we will be counting, measuring and relocating twice this season to document population and growth changes. These species were chosen because they are present in most all the plots in varying numbers. He did not want to mark or flag the vegetation, which in itself might change the plots and skew the data possibly, so he devised a system to record the location of the designated plants using a compass and a measuring devise.

Michelle and I were given the task of coming up with making the measuring tool that would accomplish Glen's goal, and as you see from below, the KISS principle worked once again. The string is secured on a pivot point overlaid on a 360-degree compass. Each knot is a centimeter apart. We record the degrees and the distance of the plants we want to study, record the information, and then we'll return to the same ones whenever we have to check growth rates and numbers. We worked most of the afternoon on our stomachs! These plants are short plus we had to separate the different species. In 3 hours we had 2 plots completed! Hopefully, with practice, the times will get shorter as we get familiar with the identification. The group from U. of Michigan, across the hall, is doing this type of work all summer!

Michelle is also responsible for designing and carrying out a project while she is up here in Barrow. Her project concerns looking into fungal infection rates of the root system of 2 specific species of scrubs, Salix roundofloria and Salix pulcra. We located 4 areas near Glen's site, mainly to cut down on the walking, and marked them out with stakes and string. These areas are called meter squares and as their name implies they are one meter to a side. Within each square Michelle will take two soil core samples beneath the plants. This sample is either cut out or, when possible, a soil can is placed on the surface and pushed down to fill with a sample. Michelle is also collecting samples of each species because she wants to chemically test the roots in the lab to see if they have any fungal growth.

Why is so much time being devoted to plants up here? The CO2 in the atmosphere is interacting with the vegetation. It is thought that when the moisture content of soil is high the less ability the plants, including the roots, have to undergo respiration. Less respiration occurring means a lesser amount of CO2 is released into the air. One would say that is beneficial presently because we want to cut down on the amount of this gas but the less amount of plant production occurs under this condition also. Less plant production, less amounts of CO2 are being taken out of the air and used (stored) by plan

Michelle should have had a clue to how hard cleaning the root of this species would be when she had to cut a chunk of plant (like the center piece of a sheet cake) removing it with all its roots in tact from the tundra. After working on the cleaning process under water in the lab tonight for a few hours she found that the cleaning process was going to be difficult. Luckily there are people here who have done this and they gave her some helpful hints. She'll have to shake the soil from the roots in a shaker set up. The soil, really peat, and the roots are so entwined that no amount of pulling can separate the two. Nothing is as easy as it looks at first we're finding out.

I found this plant while helping Michelle look for her species. Cochlearia officinalis, scurvygrass. It looks different here than my specimen a few days ago. The pen showes you just how tiny this plant is. We all had sore backs after the plant patrol!

In the field you get creative when need arises and use materials that are available. We are beginning Glen's plant species count and needed measureing devises. After much R and D we developed these high tech, painstakingly calibrated instruments. (Pat. pending! Don't try this at home!))

How did our calibrated measuring instruments work? Look at the results, two researchers successfully counting (and being able to relocate) several species of tundra grasses.

Glen and Michelle stringing out Michelle's meter square plots. Michelle located parcticular plant species and then marked them off. She will be taking growth measurements and investigating root development.

Here is what Salix pulchra looks like on the ground. Notice the gray, furry flowers, a give away for the willow family. These are hard to spot!

This is the other shrub, Salix rotundifolia, Michelle is studying. The knife is there so she can cut a piece of tundra out without disturbing the roots. Many ot the plants here are clones, by that I mean each surface plant does not have its own individual root but grows off of the underground root system. Thus on the surface the plants may look numerous but in reality the plant has a common root and has to be extracted from the soil in a clump.

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