Monday, July 26, 2010

Two events

Our field season has become increasingly busy over the last few weeks but I wanted to take some time to talk a little about two events we have had here in the last 10 days.

EVENT 1: Research in Action Tour

Each year the CNSC staff organize a community bus tour of the research based out of the CNSC. The bus picks community members and visitors to the Churchill area up from town and brings them to several research sites before ending the tour at the centre itself. This lets people from outside the CNSC see what researchers are up too and ask questions about how the Churchill landscape is affected by research. It also gives researchers a chance to improve their communication skills and see what eachother are up to as well (because believe it or not with everyone running around trying to get their stuff done, it is possible to go almost an entire field season and not know what every project entails). This year we heard about zooplankton, semipalmated plovers, aquatic insects, mites and the effect of snow cover on shrub encroachment. We had great weather and an awesome turn out! My site was the first on the tour and it was great to be waiting there and all of a sudden have 2 buses and a convoy of vehicles show up!

EVENT 2: 2nd Annual CNSC Science Olymp-a-thon

The Olymp-a-thon is a way to get everyone together for some science type fun and a bit of healthy competition. Using a random number generator, the researchers were split into teams of 4 and competed in a mascot competition using stuff from our "free for all" shelf, a find the hidden chick contest using pictures from the field (thanks JR and Francois) and a chest wader relay, followed by some casual horseshoes and a bonfire.

As you can see the competition gets pretty intense...

During our bonfire that night, we were treated to the magnificent aurora borealis, reminding us all why scientists first came to Churchill in the first place (well one of the reasons)!

Thanks to Leeanne Dunne and Andy Jonhson for the pictures this time around.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The way things go...

With the Research in Action tour happening in a few days I have been thinking about what I would like to tell community members and visitors about my study sites and project. While I will most likely explain my question, talk about the uniqueness of the bluffs and show them some fun swimming zooplankton, there is actually much more that I would love to say.

For instance, I would love to share one of the reasons that I love science and field ecology in particular...and that is that there is always something new to think about or improvise. Even when you think you have found an answer, a new question or challenge will pop up (and I say this in the most optimistic way possible).

This year we are collecting data for an undergraduate project focusing on phytoplankton communities and co-occurrence with zooplankton on the rock bluffs. I think that this is an important part of the ecosystem that we have yet to touch on during our studies in Churchill, and after reading several papers on functional traits of phytoplankton and how these can impact multiple trophic levels I was determined to collect data for this project.

Enter problem 1 and 2: how do you collect something that you often can't see with the naked eye (but that should be everywhere) and secondly, how do you go about identifying said organisms.

Well, the identification is a work in progress but we now have the study up and running on 5 different bluffs using 2 collection methods. One involves a simple bucket and plankton net method, capturing and concentrating the phytoplankton in much the same manner as we collect zooplankton.

The 2nd method involved a bit more improv and some outside advice. After studying an apparatus used by another research group to study algae colonization, we contructed and deployed several film traps, basically floating traps with secured plastic film designed to have phytoplankton accumulate on it.

We have had a few friends come out with us to the bluffs recently (most likely because of our propensity for seeing polar bears...7 today alone), and several have taken some great pictures of the phytoplankton project so I will post those soon.

Until then, here is myself and Kuz sorting some zooplankton.

Brittany has been here for a week now and will add a blog on her first impressions shortly! Tomorrow is Parks Day and we will venturing across the Churchill R to see the Prince of Wales Fort. Expect a post on that, the Research in Action Tour and the upcoming CNSC Olymp-a-thon shortly!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Serious science (sort of)

I've become convinced that a field season is about more than just your own research project. One of the many things that I love about the CNSC is the chance to experience other types of science. Not only is this an amazing learning experience but it really opens your eyes up to happenings in the scientific world...something undoubtedly important for any young grad student. Last week I had the opportunity to learn more about the world of ornithology, when I ventured into the field with my friend Anne, a fellow researcher from Trent University. Anne studies semipalmated plovers and killdeers. She is interested in how climate change may affect plovers as killdeer move north and overlap the plovers' range.

Watch out birders, I have now banded 3 birds! It has been really interesting to learn more about this study...with my research I am very focused on community level ecology and on abiotic processes as well to a certain extent. To learn more about how science is done at the population and behaviour level has been really neat.

Being in Churchill also provides you with some unique recreational opportunities. On Canada Day, several researchers braved the cold waters of Hudson Bay to participate in the annual Bay Dip, a relay race into Hudson Bay.

We are preparing for the CNSC's annual "Research in Action" tour so expect an update on that in the next few weeks!

In other news, Brittany has now arrived and will post a blog soon on her first impressions of Churchill and polar bears (yep they have arrived)!