Hello World and Welcome to the Smokies!
I’m Laura C. Del Valle and I’ll be working this summer on Great Smoky Mountains National Park as an acoustic biologist technician for the Natural Sounds & Night Skies Division. My project will consist on capturing the essence of the park by audio recordings. I’ll be hiking around some trails around the park to grab recordings with the goal of capturing everything from birds to the sound of a creek or even the wind that roses the trees. With these recordings, I’ll become some sort of detective as later I’ll try to identify the author of the sound and get a better idea on the density and location of it. These findings may contribute to a much detailed database for a species or specific sounds in general. Other of my duties, will include assisting park rangers at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, to answer some public questions and eventually give some talks and presentations on the project.
It’s been surreal to realize that it’s already been a week that I’ve been away from home, Carolina, Puerto Rico and has been living (literally) at a National Park. To tell you a bit about myself I’m currently a Senior and almost a recent graduate at the University of Puerto Rico, Humacao campus and my major is Wildlife Management. Getting some field experience and job taste outside the classroom was a big must for me as I have plans to apply to Graduate School in the Fall, so this internship will be a huge opportunity, not only to do some networking, but to find some focus interest on where I want to continue to on with the field on wildlife studies.
This is my first time in Tennessee and so far, it’s been great! I’ve gotten a big peak from the wildlife that can be found here. I’ve already checked some wildlife off my bucket list: a raccoon, a deer, and a snake and of course, squirrels! This last Saturday, I got to see my first black bear (my favorite), it was approximately a year old and probably a male. It was the cutest thing , we were really close to it, therefore I was really excited about it. Interesting fact, there are 1,600 black bears are all around the park, but are commonly seen on Cade’s Cove.
Living on a National Park, has been great but only that where I live there’s no service, including WiFi (which is why it has taken me a bit of time to update the blog). It has been interesting and a good experience to take time off social media and actually explore around the campsite neighborhood. Because of this, I was lucky to find the area where the Synchronous Fireflies show gets place. Their high peak only runs from May 30 to June 6. The fireflies were really pretty, looked like yellow blinking stars, and I even got to see some blueish color ones, which I’ve been told are difficult to see. These fireflies have a really short lifespan, they only live on these certain dates, seeing them after will be very difficult. It was also very nice to walk back home and check out the families at the campsite enjoying their time around the fire and smell the barbecue.
For my research, I’ve been able to get started on some hikes to practice with the recording equipment. My first one being a trail around Twin Creeks, where my work area is located. On Friday I got to hike Grotto Falls, which was beautiful. Being the most intensive one has been Ramsey Cascades, the trail where I saw the bear. It was a rough 8 mile roundtrip, but totally worth it, the main cascade is magnificent as well as the ones that you get to see along the way. It sure was a huge workout but like I mentioned, all the nature beauty that surrounded us was worth it!
Following these weeks, I’ll be making more hiking plans with my supervisor and get started full with the recordings. I’ll keep you posted on what I find!
Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way! – Dr. Seuss
This week I jumped right into the job. I began by familiarizing myself with the geologic inventory and brainstorming ideas of how I could reorganize the information to a more user-friendly educational database. An approach I have decided to use is a Story Map or an interactive Map, in order to spatially relate the information to the location of each geologic features that can be found on the islands.
During the week I also had the opportunity to prep and lead, with our team, a tidal pool exploration program for 6 graders. It was a fairly large group that split in 4 groups of 20. Ranger Rebecca and I lead one of those groups. The kids were great! I was very amazed by the amount of interest that they had and knowledge. The idea of the program was for each pair of students to create a healthy ecosystem in a bucket, and then share it with the group. All of them did a great job! It was truly a lovely experience to see them so interested and engaged.
On Saturday, my last work day of the week, I got to participate on stewardship Saturdays a volunteer group organized by the natural resource department. The day focused in manual invasive plant removal, to maintain the biodiversity of the island. Having the opportunity to see my old team and long-term volunteers was quite a treat. It was great to catch up with them, as well as get to know new volunteers. Overall, this week was fantastic. I got to experience my first youth program with the educational team, as well as seeing and working with my old team.
There is the moment after graduation when you finally realize why you have spent the last four years slaving over a computer in the library for hours until the sun came up, only taking short breaks for espresso and chocolate. This moment may not come right away, and sometimes it comes from experiences in your college career that you did not expect. I recently took a course in remote sensing just to fulfill my credit requirement to graduate. The moment of realization came to me when I was granted the opportunity to assist a team working to use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to capture hyperspectral imagery of the restoration sites. I know that does not sound very cool but in simpler terms, I got to walk through a muddy marsh to set up ground control points then witness a high tech drone fly over the same restoration site that I have been sifting through data for.
This is not your average drone from Walmart. The drone needs 6 battery packs, FAA clearance, and a licensed pilot to fly it. The drone has a camera which takes images of the ground with a pixel size of 2 inches. The hyperspectral camera processes 110 bands of spectral information from the ground below. To put this in perspective, Landsat, the satellite that orbits the earth capturing images only captures at most 8 bands of data with a ground sampling distance of 30 by 30 meters. In one flight line, the camera uploaded 32 gigabytes of data. Now that is a lot of data and those who know me know I LOVE DATA!
It is hard to imagine but it gets even cooler than this. Drones are banned from the national parks for numerous safety and environmental risks however; LEWI has been working with this team of scientists for two years to get the proper authorization to use a drone in the park in the name of SCIENCE. And after two years of paperwork, obtaining the proper signatures and licenses, the day finally came to fly!
Even after rolling around in mud through the wetland and watching the UAV take off; the best part about this project is what it means for the future of restoration. By using a hyperspectral camera to capture the spectral signatures of the various plants that exist in a site, the interpreter can determine the location, type, and health of the vegetation without getting on the ground for surveying. Using a drone to fly over a site would save time and people power while also accessing sites that may be too remote to get to. This also allows more of an inclusive approach to ecosystem restoration by encompassing the entire area for analysis rather than a centric ecosystem approach. I am fortunate to have this opportunity to work with talented people who have the same vision and passion for environmental stewardship and conservation as me. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
“Things get done only if the data we gather can inform and inspire those in a position to make a difference.”
This week has consisted of a lot of in-office research and learning how to program custom recording schedule using various different configuration software. I can then import the programs I’ve created onto the Automated Recording Device (ARD) that we will be deploying throughout Everglades National Park in hopes of collecting acoustic data to monitor amphibians. We will be using several different ARDs to carry out our acoustic monitoring project which requires me to learn how to use several configuration software since each ARD has different programming compatibility and there is no single software that works for them all. I was also working on Kaleidoscope and Raven Pro to analyze some spectrograms.
Also here are some more pictures from my exploration of the national park on my own time. Enjoy!