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Notes from the Field

ABoVE: Fires in recently logged forests

June 10th, 2016 by Kylen Solvik

Since our last post, our team has moved an hour south to the small village of Weyakwin, where the Philion fire burned last year. There is a lot of logging Weyakwin, and we are very interested in the interactions between fires and logging. We are comparing burned forests that grew back after people cut trees, to those that grew back after an earlier forest fire.

 Sampling a young harvested site that burned last year. It was harvested only a year or two before it burned. (Credit: Solvik)


Sampling a young harvested site that burned last year. It was harvested only a year or two before it burned. (Credit: Solvik)

We believe there could be differences between the two in burn severity and the amount of carbon released by the fire. When a plot is harvested for lumber, the logs are removed but the soil remains. This is the opposite of burned areas, where fire burns into the soils but a lot of the trees remain standing, albeit charred. To study these differences, we are searching for areas of burn and harvest origin that are about the same age. We have seen some very young burned sites, many were less than 10 years old when they burned. This is surprising since forests in boreal regions typically burn when they are 50 to 100 years old. We were shocked to find a burned plot that had been harvested only a year or two earlier. Even without any significant trees or shrubs to carry the flames, the soil was able to sustain the fire.

At the sample sites, my job is to help characterize and quantify the aboveground biomass. This includes trees, shrubs, and dead trees that have fallen over, called “coarse woody debris.” I work with Brendan Rogers, our team leader, to measure every tree within a 2-by-30 meter sampling area. We identify the tree species, rate the amount of the canopy consumption, and measure the diameter. We will use these numbers to estimate how much carbon was released when that tree burned. Most of these tasks are fairly straightforward — although it can sometimes be tricky to differentiate between similar tree species after they have burned. We can measure individual trees pretty quickly, but it can still take one or even two hours to work through an entire site. At one site, we counted over 350 trees, measuring the diameter and estimating the canopy consumption for each and every one!

Our team and Rita. From left to right: Kylen Solvik, Liz Wiggins, Rita, Brendan Rogers, Sander Veraverbeke, and Jocelyne Laflamme. Missing: Catherine Dieleman, who had to fly home early for a friend’s wedding. (Credit: Solvik)

Our team and Rita. From left to right: Kylen Solvik, Liz Wiggins, Rita, Brendan Rogers, Sander Veraverbeke, and Jocelyne Laflamme. Missing: Catherine Dieleman, who had to fly home early for a friend’s wedding. (Credit: Solvik)

In Weyakwin, we are staying at a small bed & breakfast. Our host, a wonderful lady named Rita, takes great care of us. She cooks us breakfast and dinner, and she even packs us brown bag lunches for us to grab on our way out. After going out for dinner every night at our previous lodging in La Ronge, it has been a great change of pace eating home-cooked meals. We will be staying with Rita for the next week, and then we will be returning to Saskatoon to fly back to our respective homes. One of our team members, Catherine Dieleman, left early for her friend’s wedding. We will miss her and her soil expertise dearly.

But there are a lot more sites to sample before we are done!

 

Kylen Solvik is a research assistant at Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

One of the best parts of a field campaign are the ‘little moments’ that sneak in while you work. They can really make your day. On that front this field campaign has been no slouch. Yesterday for example, we saw a juvenile black bear while we were traveling to a new field site. We also enjoyed a great sunset over Lake La Ronge here in Saskatchewan, and had a beaver sighting later that evening.

The great sunset the team enjoyed over Lake La Ronge on June 5. (Credit: Dieleman)

The great sunset the team enjoyed over Lake La Ronge on June 5. (Credit: Dieleman)

However, for me one of the best ‘little moments’ happened the day before… Our team is split into a number of different groups that measure different ecosystem characteristics: fire severity, tree density, species and age, as well as soil horizons and depth of burn in the soil. Liz Wiggins and myself work together to collect the soil measurements. As we measure and collect samples from every organic soil horizon, this task can take some time — often causing the soils group to finish up well after the rest of the team. Saturday though, everything came together for us soil diggers, and for the first time on this campaign our little group finished up first. We thought it was worth a victory photo. Sometimes it is the little things.

That Saturday was a particularly eventful day for the whole team. We had a great opportunity to participate in the filming of CBC’s The Nature of Things. Everyone was a pleasant combination of excited with a touch of nerves to be filmed, but generally thrilled to be sharing our science in this medium. The whole filming crew was wonderful, and eased us through the whole process. The sneak peek of the drone footage they shot seemed pretty promising to us, but we will all have to wait till 2017 to see the final footage. I guess some days in the field it is the big things too.

Catherine Dieleman is a post-doctoral researcher in Ecosystem Science at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada

 

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The recent megafire around Fort McMurray drew worldwide attention. Not only did this fire devastate a community, the fire also grew exceptionally large and started very early in the fire season. Northern forests are rapidly changing, and fire plays a crucial role in this transition.

A recently burned forest in Saskatchewan, Canada. (Credit: Sander Veraverbeke)

A recently burned forest in Saskatchewan, Canada. (Credit: Sander Veraverbeke)

Fires in the boreal forest emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas. Exactly how much they emit is a difficult question to answer. Over many decades these forest have piled up thick layers of downed needles and other organic material, resulting in thick carbon-rich soils. When a fire spreads through the forest, the carbon it emits comes mostly from these soil layers, and not so much from the actual live trees.

The real question is: how deep do these fires burn into the soils? There is a lot a variability depending on which forest type is burning and how hot it burns.

Some members of our team just excavated a deep organic soil. They will carefully measure this soil pie and cut out some samples for lab analysis. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

Some members of our team just excavated a deep organic soil. They will carefully measure this soil pie and cut out some samples for lab analysis. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

As part of the ABoVE field campaign, our field crew flew into Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on May 28th from Massachusetts, California, Ontario, and the Netherlands. We joined up with another field team from the University of Saskatchewan. After stocking up on supplies, we drove about four hours north to enter vast swaths of boreal forest.

Our goal in Saskatchewan is to quantify how much carbon fires emit in forest types that currently burn infrequently, but may become more sensitive to fire in the near future. For example, we are interested in reburns in forests that last burned only a couple of years ago, or burns in forests where people previously cut down trees. With all the changes that are underway it is important to understand how fires impact these forest types and how much carbon they emit.

Our maneuvers in challenging terrain are rewarded by gorgeous vistas of landscapes that are untouched - except by fire. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

Our maneuvers in challenging terrain are rewarded by gorgeous vistas of landscapes that are untouched – except by fire. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

Since we arrived, we have been hitting up quite a few field plots. Getting to these field plots requires off-trail hiking in often-rough terrain, with soggy bogs and steep rocky hills. We have to scramble through piles of wood that fell down after the fire. Once we get to our desired site, we measure for several hours. We take samples of soils that will be analyzed in the lab and measure lots of trees (as many as several hundred). By doing so, we are able to assess the amount carbon of that was emitted by the fire.

We can link up our field measurements with data from NASA satellites to better characterize all fires within Canada and Alaska. During the day we get rewarded for our hard work with lunches-with-views, mosquitoes, and some thunderstorms that hopefully rain out somewhere far on the horizon…

Sander Veraverbeke is a project scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and an assistant professor in Remote Sensing at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam

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Migration Mystery: Meet our Final Space Robins

May 4th, 2016 by Kylen Solvik

Brian and Ruthie here!

Natalie and Willem packed up their bags and flew the coop over the weekend. It was sad to see them go, but we’ve been here until we could find the rest of our space robins. And now we are proud to introduce our final eight space robins!

Robins in the rain

Even though it’s late April and probably feels a lot like spring wherever you are, we woke up to cold wintry mornings the past few days. You might think that rain would dampen our spirits, but we were excited to open our nets because we were hoping the robins wouldn’t want to travel in the rain and wind. Birds can stay warm even in a cold rain because their feathers keep the water off their skin.

As it turns out, a flock settled on our lawn to look for worms! And that’s how we met Birdie Sanders, Twitter, and Skyler. After they were suited up, they flew right back to join their friends!

Skyler is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Lane’s 5th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

Skyler is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Lane’s 5th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

 

Twitter is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. Wagner’s 4th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

Twitter is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. Wagner’s 4th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

 

Birdy Sanders is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Tan’s 5th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

Birdy Sanders is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Tan’s 5th grade class. (photo credit: Ruthie Oliver)

Tuesday the sun finally broke through the clouds! The warm lawn must have looked like a great place to stop for lunch because we ended up finding our final four space robins out there.

Trooper is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Caunitz and Mrs. Barsanti’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

Trooper is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Caunitz and Mrs. Barsanti’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

 

Flappy is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Ms. Murphy and Mrs. Nadler’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

Flappy is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Ms. Murphy and Mrs. Nadler’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

 

Hippy is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Ms. O’brien’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

Hippy is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Ms. O’brien’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Nicole Krikun)

Journey is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. Sutton’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

Journey is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. Sutton’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

 

And… our final space robin is Sky!

Sky is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. McFadden and Mrs. Viola’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

Sky is an adult female. Her name was chosen by Mrs. McFadden and Mrs. Viola’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

 

We’ve certainly made a lot of new robin friends on this trip, but robins aren’t the only species migrating through the area. Some of our favorites are a Sharp-shinned Hawk (check out those red eyes!), Fox Sparrow, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! Sharp-shinned Hawks don’t just look fierce, they are real predators. They eat lots of smaller birds, including robins – eek! You can learn more about them here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Sharp-shinned_Hawk/id, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Fox_Sparrow/id.

 

We now have 17 space robins flying for us!

Thanks for all your help along the way!

P.S. Chirpie has made a new friend up here at the Boreal Centre. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog as much as they have! (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

P.S. Chirpie has made a new friend up here at the Boreal Centre. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog as much as they have! (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

Meet Five New Space Robins

April 25th, 2016 by Kylen Solvik

The newest space robins

At 6:40 am five American robins flew into our nets. What a great start to the day!

Paul is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Arietta’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Natalie Boelman)

Paul is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Arietta’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Natalie Boelman)

Hudson is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Wasser’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Natalie Boelman)

Hudson is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. Wasser’s 4th grade class. (Photo credit: Natalie Boelman)

Batman is an an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Heilbronn’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

Batman is an an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Heilbronn’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

Robbie is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. McAuliffe’s and Mrs. Cavanaugh’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

Robbie is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mr. McAuliffe’s and Mrs. Cavanaugh’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

Buckbeak is a young male. His name was chosen by Mr. Krump’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

Buckbeak is a young male. His name was chosen by Mr. Krump’s 5th grade class. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks.)

 

Other bird species we’ve seen so far

While we’re on the lookout for American robins, we see lots of other bird species. Brian’s been taking some pretty spectacular photos of them, so we thought we’d share them with you.

 

Busy as a beaver!

The other evening we decided to go check out one of the many nearby beaver lodge and dam complexes. We are in Canada after all!

Have you ever heard the expression “He/She is as busy as a beaver”? It comes from the fact that beavers are famous for keeping themselves very busy gnawing away at the trunks of trees until they fall to the ground – timber! – and can be used to build their homes (lodges) and dams to create lakes where there were previously small streams. You can learn all about beavers here and the structures they build here:

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/beaver/.

Although I had heard a lot about how busy beavers are, I had never seen it with my own eyes and wow, was I impressed! Seeing first hand all the work these beavers have done made me feel awfully lazy. Take a look for yourself:

 

That’s all we have for today, but tune in again soon to meet the next batch of space robins!

Space robin by Nicole Krikun.

Space robin by Nicole Krikun.