I had the great opportunity to work on the 2017 Solar Eclipse event here at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and on the best spot to see it, Clingmans Dome. We were expecting thousands of people, and for our surprise (and a very good thing), the event turned out pretty chill. It turned out so perfect, that the garbage cleaning around the park scheduled for the next day got cancelled! Apparently visitors turned out to be more conscious on leaving the park better than they’ve found it.
My supervisor along the Air Quality technician and I, set up a telescope exploration area to observe the Sun. It was pretty fun to help visitors observe the Sun and the Eclipse events as it came closer to totality.
I also had the opportunity to talk and show visitors, specially kids about my natural sounds project. The Natural Sounds & Night Skies Division had the project of setting up sound recording equipment across 22 national parks that were found around the totality region with the purpose of gathering data of animal activity during the eclipse. People were very interested on these topics and on my project. It felt great to be able to share information with people and see that they were curious into knowing more.
From Totality, we were able to note some changes: Temperature dropped, it got a lot cooler, bees that you could hear around suddenly stopped buzzing, birds got more active and we saw near us a snake that got out to rest on a plaque on the ground, from which we could assume it was searching for heat. It was very interesting to be able to notice all these changes as these events are unique; they don’t happen on the same spot everytime for at least a long time.
This Solar Eclipse event made me realize how fortunate this summer has been for me. It is coming to an end, as this is my last week. I’ve learn a lot and events like this reminds me that doesn’t matter at what point we are in our lives, we never truly stop learning.
“Always walk through life as if you have something learn to new, and you will” – Vernon Howard
This past week I had the opportunity to go out into the field and sample my Whitebark Pine plots. The sites were ones I identified using ArcMap as having a high probability of Whitebark Pine populations. I used different slope, soil, elevation, and vegetation information to derive areas of interest, then randomly designated 50×50 meter plots within those areas. Whitebark Pine is found in subalpine and alpine elevations, mostly in rockier soil types, which meant that the majority of my plots were surrounding Lassen Peak. When I went out to my first plot I was excited to see that there was indeed Whitebark Pine populations growing! They were also present at the second and third sites I visited—score!
It was a relief to see that I correctly identified populous areas. I was mainly excited, however, to be applying skills learned during my time in college to real-world issues. Through the first few plots that I sampled I was able to gather information about white pine blister rust and its distribution throughout the park. I can only wait to see what I else I will discover by the end of the season.
The final touches for the 2017 continental United States Solar Eclipse are being done as we speak, as tomorrow August 21rst is finally arriving. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been on a hectic assignment for planning two major events happening: Clingmans Dome (Highest point on the park) and Cades Cove (a clear valley), where the most NASA media is going to be, including a guest astronaut at Clingmans Dome. Being part of the Natural Sounds & Night Skies Division, guess where am I going to be? At the main spot for the event, Clingmans Dome!
But before telling you about my duties, what is a solar eclipse and why is it such an event? A solar eclipse occurs when the moon casts a shadow on Earth, fully (umbra) or partially (penumbra) blocking the sun’s light in some areas.
This event doesn’t occur every year nor in the same place. On the United States, it hasn’t been to presence in 38 years (1979), and the next one after August 21rst, will be April 8, 2024. For this one, lots of people are going to be able to see it. Everyone in the contiguous United States, in fact, everyone in North America plus parts of South America, Africa, and Europe will see at least a partial solar eclipse, while the thin path of totality will pass through portions of 14 states.
This may be a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, so get pumped to go outside!
For this event, it’s important to keep safety of your eyes on every phase of the eclipse. Here are some tips provided by NASA:
The natural neatness of this is that observers found within the path of totality will be able to see the sun’s corona.
This eclipse is a great opportunity to share with family, friends and a group of strangers that has gotten together as a curious community that cares for the environment. Remember, wherever you are going to be, to be safe in traffic, make sure you have snacks, plenty of water and your safety method of observation.
For more information, visit: NASA’s official webpage: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/, and don’t hesitate to ask questions to leaders on your “Eclipse -viewing” event.
“A man should look for what it is and not for what he thinks should be” – Albert Einstein
This is what my kind of field work looked like in Denali. It was a lot of hiking for four days to our transects where we would locate our sites using our GPS. We would then dump the contents of the cup (soapy water, coolant/antifreeze, and the arthropod bodies) into a strainer, reuse the liquid by dumping it back into the cup(add more coolant if needed for preservation purposes) and place the strained contents into a whirl-pak as pictured. At times we would fill one entire large whirl-pak and sometimes more in each site (most of what fell in our traps though were non-target species such as black flies and forest gnats).
Once we were finished with our four days of field work that next week we would spend hours under the microscope looking through the whirl-pak contents and working to separate the arthropods (bees, flies, beetles, spiders, butterflies, moths, etc.). After sorting through all of the baggies, if time permitted we got to wash the bumble bees in a mason jar using dish soap and then blow dry them with a hair dryer to get their fur fluffy and nice for pinning and identification.
It was definitely a messy task, getting coolant on our clothes and hands, having bug parts accidentally on our hands and arms and getting ethanol on the desk and on us, but that, I’ve learned is how field work goes and that’s how it went.
My favorite net collecting day in Denali was when we hiked all the way to the tippety top of Sable Mountain. We are particularly interested in collecting syrphids (bee mimics) since they like hanging out in the rocky outcrops of the landscape. Initially our ascent began with hiking along Tattler creek which is very well known for high bear activity and is also the location of where the park discovered its first dinosaur footprint tracks embedded on the rock walls. It was a nice hike up the creek and we reached the gully where we then entered the tundra. In the tundra we collected a number of bees that were pollinating the variety of flower patches. We didn’t see bears, we didn’t see the dino footprints.
This isn’t the point. What was moving about this hike, was the name of the mountain. Sable mountain, the name of my elementary school, Sable elementary. That’s the age in which I realized I loved hanging out with insects. Those elementary years were the years where I owned my first ant farm, fed, watched them grow, that’s when I learned and became comfortable with catching grasshoppers with my bare hands, and catch lady bugs to count their dots. And here I was standing on Sable mountain, doing just what I learned to love when I was little, except a decade or so later, as a grown adult, with a paid job doing what i’d always been fascinated with and enjoyed so much.
There was also great views!
This week has been a scramble to get started on the field portion of my project, with the coming of the Klamath Network Inventory and Monitoring Program (KLMN) to teach me their standard operating procedures (SOPs) when sampling plots. As the season gets later and later we are able to get further up the mountains, where our plots were once (and some still are) covered in snow. This year, Lassen Volcanic NP had the latest road opening on record due to snowfall, which has created some challenges when monitoring at high elevations. Thankfully, we were able to make it to some plots so I could get hands-on experience with data sampling, monitoring, and storing– rather than just reading a how-to guide.
Learning KLMN’s procedures is crucial to this study because it makes our data comparable and replicable with theirs. Some things I learned were how to set up plots and subplots in the field, what signs to look for when diagnosing a blister rust infection, and how to prepare for going out in the field. It is such a unique experience working with trees; though they are living, their time-scale transcends that of humans. In the field, I am able to see trees that are hundreds of years old (Whitebark Pine can live up to 1,000 years!), many which probably withstood the eruptions from Mount Lassen. I am able to be a sort of ‘doctor’ to these trees, diagnosing infections and attempting to identify methods to restore the populations of a keystone species. This work is so fulfilling to me. Perhaps one day I will become a real doctor to these trees once I pursue a PhD in Forest Ecology.
I have to admit; writing a post unrelated to work feels odd. But I’ll go with it anyway. Plus, I feel the pictures accompanying this post are worth sharing.
On Sunday morning, despite the ominous clouds looming about, my colleague Dr. Evan Anderson and I decided to finally ascend Raspberry Mountain after putting it off for several weeks. The morning started off quite brisk and just as we started the trail towards Raspberry Mountain I was regretting not having brought along a jacket. However, within a few minutes of hiking uphill, my body began to warm up. There were so many great sights along the trail that I soon forgot about how cold I was. I was thrilled to have stumbled upon the state flower of Colorado, the Blue Columbine.
After about an hour and a half of hiking, we reached the summit of Raspberry Mountain. The views were incredibly spectacular and the clouds began to dissipate while we were up there. Though Tava (Pikes Peak) was initially covered in clouds, by the time we reached the summit, she decided to reveal herself.
Shortly after, a man and his dog, Tyson, joined us at the summit. Instantly, I was reminded of one of my dogs back home in Los Angeles. Tyson shared many of the same features with my dog Canela. After speaking with the man about the breed of his dog, it all made sense; both are a mix between Labrador Retriever and Rhodesian Ridgeback. Not only were their physical features incredibly similar, but also their personalities. There was an instant connection between Tyson and I. So much that he even posed for the camera without me asking him to.
As if taking his own photos weren’t enough, with every shot I had Evan take of me at the summit, Tyson managed to squeeze his way into them. I didn’t mind at all though. In fact, I pretended that it was Canela I had with me and made the most of it.
I realize to many people, a moment like this may not mean much. However, for someone like me, who has always had at least one dog in their life, it was incredibly special. I have always connected real well with dogs and this encounter was just as meaningful as if it were my own dog with me. To end this post, I’ll add a picture of another landscape shot I took. Just to vary things a bit.