All the Shade: An Introduction on Solar Shields
I’ve been thinking about it a lot this past week – what it means to do science, to be a scientist, and all the work that goes into ensuring that science is believable and reliable. After sitting in on “Resources Day,” a day revolving around Denali’s Resources team and the work that they do, I was reminded of how much “science” is involved in ensuring our safety in wild spaces.
One presenter stated that everyone is essentially a scientist: we all ask questions and go through a series of experiments/tests to answer them. I think when we shift our lenses and view it in a biological or technical sense, science just seems inaccessible or unattainable because of all the levels, steps, and rules that it must follow – rules that we often don’t explicitly apply to our own “every-day” science.
As my team prepares for our field week (which will happen during Week 3, this upcoming week), I’m thinking a lot about the different lenses that science works through and how it varies from discipline to discipline. For example, this past week we spent most of our time creating DIY solar shields. And if you remember my project description from my previous posts, you might be thinking to yourself: what do solar shields have to do with pollinators?
In science, we often to have to create environments or scenarios that allow us to isolate and analyze a variety of correlating relationships. From my understanding of our project so far, we are looking at pollinator distribution throughout the park and the types of environments they like to be in. In order to understand the relationship between species and “types of environments,” we have to find some way to quantify and classify that. For this project, we are using habitat type as a proxy for elevation, i.e. “type of environment” – more specifically forest, shrub, or tundra. And at each of these sites, we have temperature loggers that periodically measure the ambient temperature. These loggers are there to ensure that when we’re comparing data, that these categories of sites are similar across the board. And if not, to better understand discrepancies in our data (i.e. why might we see species at one tundra site and not the other).
So… what are solar shields and how do they fit into all of this?
In order for our loggers to accurately log the ambient temperature, we have to make sure they’re all recording from the same standard. This requires some extra steps, as we have to take into account several things:
- direct sunlight vs. shade: you can have two loggers in two different forest sites, but if one has more direct sunlight then the other, you will see differences in measured temperature due to direct sensor heating
- other types of indirect heat, such as exposed soil vs. shrubs reflecting from below a logger
A solar shield’s job is to standardize temperature loggers across an observed dataset. It shields a logger just enough to ensure that it isn’t getting direct sunlight, nor is it getting radiating heat from the soil. It allows loggers to take the ambient temperature without being altered by other direct sources of heat/radiation.
So, on top of doing our project (looking at pollinator distribution and how it may relate to climate/elevation/habitat/temperature), we also had to look at different solar shields and how they may compare to one another. My supervisor found a way to make a DIY solar shield for a fraction of the cost (and weight!) of the ones she has used in the past. The DIY shield, which you can read more about here, is basically made up of corrugated plastic, reflective tape, and lots and lots of zip-ties.
So this past week has been full of assembling these DIY shields and doing mini-experiments to compare them with the more expensive, heavier radiation shields we were planning on using. As of now, we have these comparison experiments set up in two different sites – one of our original collection sites in a forest habitat and right outside our condo in more direct sunlight.
That’s a wrap-up of Week 2! OH! And before I forget:
Happy (belated) National Trails Day!!!