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
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
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.
In the National Park Service, there are a lot of acronyms and buzz words used to describe entities and procedures. I compiled a list of lingo that are thrown around the office and in the field:
Arrowhead: The National Park Service emblem
Bioswail: area of plants and soil to capture sediment before they reach the water source
Blowdown: a tree or trees that have been blown down by the wind or other factors.
“It is best to avoid blowdown while walking through the forest.”
Cut stump: Using loppers to cut woody stems and apply a herbicide to stunt growth
Dbh: stands for diameter at breast height, is a measuring tape.
Epp: a sound made by a crewmember to locate other members or call for assistance in the forest
1 epp= hey! 2epps= come over here 3epps= emergency or cool mushroom
GAR: Operational risk management assessment procedure that ranks 8 categories green, amber, or red to determine mitigation
Garlon: Herbicide used for cut stump treatments
GIS: geographic information systems capture, store, manipulate, and analyze spatial data
GPS: global positioning system
HAGA: a rangefinder used to measure the height of trees and forest canopy.
Hori-hori: Japanese soil knife that is very sharp and useful for removing blackberry shrubs
Nurse log: a fallen tree that decays and provides nutrients to support other trees
Organic Act of 1916: the federal that established the National Park Service
“…to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
PIV: Personal identity verification card for US Federal employees that takes a long process to obtain
PNW: Pacific Northwest
PPE: Personal protective equipment such as goggles or gloves
Snag: dead tree that has fallen or at a 40 degree angle
SPE: severity, probability, and exposure for assessing risk of injury
Surfactant: a chemical solution mixed with herbicide to stick to the plant it is applied to
Transect: a line in which people walk along that is representative of the larger site usually for invasive work or vegetation monitoring
Tree hugging: literally hugging trees or measuring a tree using a dbh measuring tape (see dbh)
VC: Visitor Center
VIP: Volunteer-in-Parks program for people to get involved in the national parks
WASO: Washington Support Office is the NPS national headquarters which provide services to the regional offices and coordinate with other agencies
YCC: Youth Conservation Corps is a summer youth program
The past few weeks I have been entering data, checking field logs for quality assurance, and searching for shapefiles. As much as I love data, it was a long tedious process that I celebrated when it was completed. On Tuesday, I got to change up my office environment to the East fork of the Lewis River. My supervisor, Carla, and I joined other scientists and professionals at a Science Work Group Trip organized by the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership. We started to canoe at La Center, Washington and continued along the river to a couple of restoration sites to learn about the progress of other projects and network.
The first stop was a brief tour of the La Center restoration site. The site was lush with native plantings and had been under water for a majority of the winter and spring. The willow trees were looking healthy and the reed canary grass growth had been stunted for the long duration of inundation. This site was particularly intriguing because it looked similar to the restoration site I have been analyzing data for. We learned about their management techniques and returned to paddle downriver. The second project was at Plas Newydd farm and Wapato Valley Mitigation Bank, an 876-acre restoration. The plan was impressive; recreating channels for salmonids, reestablishing habitats for Streaked Horned Lark, promoting growth of Oregon White Oak, and securing turtle nesting areas. After the presentation we enjoyed lunch underneath massive sequoia trees. The day on the river was the perfect escape from the confines of my desk, but more importantly, I got to talk to scientists who are dedicated to the work they do inspiring me to continue my career in natural resource management. When you love what you do, it is not work anymore. It is joy.
It is time to go back to Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (PAAL) again. But before I tell some of the great things that happened during the July trip I want to tell you a little about what happens in between the trips.
The journey between Lafayette, LA and Brownsville, TX takes approximately 9 to 10 hours each way. It is imperative that we make the money and time spent worth it. During the drive back, last time, William Finney, the network field biologist, and I spend a great amount of time talking about this project. You can’t imagine how much inspiration you can have when you are confine to a small space. The intention of this internship project is to implement, test, and evaluate the design of the radio tracking project which will continue beyond the summer. I can’t express how happy I’m to have the opportunity of giving my inputs to a project that will help improve the decisions made to manage the natural resources of one of our beautiful National Parks.
Between trips there is a lot of work to do, however when you know that what you do DOES make a difference and can have REAL impact on the results of science discoveries it is all worth. After processing our field data, pictures, GPS points, writing the trip report, and having project meetings we decided to modify the project design, and tracking procedures. I’m confident that the project changes will greatly improve the quality of this project results. So there you go, now that you know a little more what happens behind the scenes let’s talk about of highlights of this trip.
Contrary to popular belief tortoises do not walk super slowly. Here you can see one of our tracked animals in turbo mode.
Tortoises and snakes have the same hiding spots. This can be very dangerous if you are not extremely careful during you field work.
Tiny tortoises are adorable.
Doesn’t matter if you have a transmitter on you, there will always be a male that is attracted to you.
Contrary to the more common way of fishing ‘hook, line, sinker’, there is electro-fishing! Electro-fishing is a method used for scientific surveys of fish populations. Using direct current electricity you can create an electric field that stuns nearby fish. This makes it incredibly easy to net them. Once they’re netted you store them in the live well while you continue your survey, in which time they usually start to come back to normal.
When you’re finished collecting fish in your survey area then you can start to identify them. You keep track of the different types of species found and how many. Depending on the fish size, they may also be weighed and measured.
Knowing what types of fish are there and in what abundance really helps to inform you on water quality. Fish that are more reliant on clean water and are pollutant sensitive are a good sign. While having a profound amount of pollutant tolerant fish might mean higher pollution in the water.
These waterways are vital to the ecosystem, as are the fish that live in it, so these surveys really help to give us a good idea of the good and bad changes that’re happening in that environment.
On late July I started editing on the computer all the good recordings I’ve been collecting over the past couple of weeks. Harsh thing about field work is that after you spend a good couple of hours, and return to the office to check out the audio, turns out only a couple are good. And the number reduce even more so, when you polish it via a spectrogram using the software, Audacity.
Field work is still going with more stationary recorders, which can capture for more hours throughout the day. This way, it captures more birds and other critters like mice, squirrels and bugs. I learned how to use them recently the other day just for 2 hours. Now I just have to listen to the data and check out what kind of sounds !
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs
Camping Trip with the Youth Conservation Corps in French Creek
I love eating dinner outside watching the sun set and feeling the warm day begin to cool down a little. I love sitting around the campfire and hearing the cackling of the wood and watching its shadow dance. I love sharing laughs, stories, and music. I love the smell of marshmallows as they catch just a little bit of fire and get toasty outside and melt on the inside. I love laying down and stretching out my body ready for rest while staring up at the stars. I love being able to see the brightness of the stars, away from city lights, surrounded by the silhouette of trees. I love waking up to the sound of birds chirping feeling the warm sun shining on my face gently waking me up. I love opening my eyes and having the tips of tree branches come into focus as I wake up~
VAFO hosts a summer long event called the summer challenge for staff members. The challenge is to participate in at least three activities outside of the department you work for. I think this is really cool because it gives staff members the opportunity to experience first hand what others do on their day to day. One activity I participated in was learning the reenactment process of shooting a musket. The person leading this activity gave us a bit of historical background before teaching us how to load and fire the musket. This was one of my favorite history lessons because I was able to visualize and feel the weight of the muskets that soldiers had to carry. I was able to take a small step into history and imagine part of what day to day life was like for these soldiers. This helped me understand the importance of preserving historical structures and artifacts to allow people to envision snippets of historical events.
After processing the video footage from our first week of stationary camera deployments, we noticed we were not alone. Most people just recognize her as a shark, but that’s an understatement. She’s a tiger shark. Locals have taken to calling her Tony the Tiger. National Park Service biologists and technicians have yet to encounter one in their many years of diving around Buck Island so my team and I are confident we won’t be crossing paths with Tony while scuba diving.
NPS has been working with multiple collaborators to study the movements of sharks within the monument using acoustic telemetry. Given these recent sightings of Tony in our video footage, NPS biologists are eager to see if they can cross reference these sightings with detections from acoustic receivers installed near our camera monitoring site. We hope to find that Tony is one of the individuals that was tagged in previous years.
Tiger sharks are natural predators to sea turtles. Their serrated teeth allow them to tear through the turtle’s carapace (shell). Even though Tony has been feeding on our study subjects, we’re happy that she’s here. The presence of apex predators is one of the signs of a healthy ecosystem. Believe it or not, they play an important role in structuring seagrass ecosystems. They balance the food web as well as prevent lower levels from exhausting resources.
Healthy seagrass ecosystem = Abundant greens turtles = Tiger sharks
It’s important to understand the significance of top-down control in natural ecosystems in order to better establish conservation and management baselines that could predict ecosystem responses to natural and anthropogenic change.