Trial run, whooooo!

This week I did a full trial run of the field protocol, and it went GREAT! Super exciting!

Here is Marcia Macedo, being my field assistant for the day, even though she is a way better scientist than me and approximately one million times more experienced. Marcia rules! She was the official time keeper and data writer-downer. Plus she is my general advice-giver this week and always.

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Here is the set up of one of five chambers that we sampled every 20 minutes for an hour:

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Here is the picture of the lab where all the samples go afterwards and where the magic of soil processing happens:

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I spent much of last week scrubbing bat poo off the walls of this lab. So, needless to say, this lab and I are officially now old friends. Marcia noted that scrubbing bat poo off its walls is pretty much a mandatory rite of passage at this field site.

Samples!  (Yeah, those are empty bottles of air.  Experimental air!)

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One minor setback: when we were packing up the truck to head into the forest for the trial run, I picked up one of the gas sampling chambers and the o-ring around the edge had been all chewed up by some animal.

That was weather stripping from Home Depot, you bastards! It wasn’t meant to be delicious!!! Why would you eat that?????

Critters in the tropics will eat ANYTHING. Jerkfaces!

And the plot thickened! When I got back from dinner last night, what do I find? But a colony of ants eating more of my weather stripping!  Are you kidding me?

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So I dumped baby powder all over them, which seemed to scare them away. But not before one of the little guys made a beeline for me and bit me on the foot! Double jerkfaces!!! I guess I did screw up their dinner party… but, still.

Kate Brauman suggests smearing tiger balm all over things I want to render inedible.  Don’t think I won’t do it, my little ant friends.

In any case, now that the trial run went smashingly, all we do is sit back and wait for approval from the farm to conduct sampling on their fields as well as in the forest, all while having my fingers crossed that approval will, eventually, get the ok. If not, maybe this blog can become one of my dissertation chapters – eh, they’re pretty much the same thing, right?

The day that we flew a freaking DRONE

The most ridiculously amazing thing happened to me today. I stood next to a regular human being who flew a freaking drone over a portion of Amazon forest and mapped it. It took 20 minutes and it was the MOST. BADASS. THING. EVER!

Here are two pictures of Manuel Ferreira, a professor at Universidade Federal de Goiás (UFG), setting up the drone.


The thing, first off, is commercially available, which is insane. Sure, it costs $25,000, but in terms of scientific equipment that’s a vaguely accessible price. It’s made of some sort of fancy styrofoam and has embedded in it a little slot for a radio (to signal back to “home”, i.e. where you launched it so it knows where to land), a GPS (so it can fly a route that you pre-define using your friendly neighborhood GIS software), a camera (so it can take photos and map the place you want it to map) and two little rudders. Today the flight path we sent the drone on (!) flew over a riparian buffer zone of intact forest that my friend Marcia Macedo has studied.  “Urubu” (“vulture,” as we took to calling it) flew along the route at 300 m altitude (which is crazy high when you’re watching from the ground) and took photos at intervals along the way that were stitched together for one big photo of the forest at a 10 cm resolution. And then the drone flew itself back to us and landed calmly in a patch of soybean field without needing any extra instructions. An entire chunk of forest, photographed at 10 cm resolution, from a styrofoam airplane drone. That is nuts!


Manuel and his two colleagues (also from UFG) are here because they brought a group of 35 undergrads out to the field for a “short course,” a hands-on week long course that brings undergrads into field research environments (“prática integrada de campo II”, or the spring semester’s integrated field practicum). The students were great and I even gave a guest lecture about my nitrogen work in English while Marcia translated. My attempts at teaching in Portuguese were pretty hilarious.

Tomorrow we head back to town for the weekend, during which time I hope to post about my first chunk o’ data (rad!) and my adventures this week wearing lab gloves while scrubbing bat droppings. Research: very, very glamorous!

Double take

Very busy and exciting week down in a floresta (the forest) – got a bunch of the equipment sorted out and built, tested out methods in the forest, and set some equipment up to get a few days worth of soil temperature data for use later. Awesome! And I’ll do a lengthier post about the details of all that at some point, hopefully tomorrow.

In the meantime, I wanted to give a sense of how extreme it feels to have large-scale, industrialized ag jutting up against Amazon forest. For a lot of the work I’ll be doing, I hop in a pickup truck and drive 20 or 45 minutes to a forest or cropland site that we’ll be sampling. Along the way, we’re routinely driving along roads with primary Amazon forest on one side and wide open soybean fields on the other side:

These are my friends Paul and Danúbia. We were heading to a northern part of the farm to check out how much harvesting had been done already. (Side note: they are rad!)

Sometimes the contrast is ridiculously striking, like when Paul took the scenic route north so that we could go check out this emergent tree (tree that is taller than the majority of the tropical forest canopy) that happens to have landed right next to the road.

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Mato Grosso: formerly the wild frontier, now just a place where two completely different ecological worlds intersect.