Filling in the (Basal and Canopy) Gaps

Filling in the (Basal and Canopy) Gaps

As promised, I’ll be starting off this blog with an update on my smelliness level after 6 days in the desert with no shower… And let me tell you, it was bad. But four rounds of shampoo later and my hair was fresh, clean, and free of sand.

Now for the fun stuff.

About a week ago I spent six days and five nights in Capitol Reef National Park on my very first field work hitch, and to say that it was an experience would be an understatement. I felt like I was diving straight into the deep end of scientific field work and not looking back, but I can certainly say that I learned a lot.

The fieldwork crew that I was working with specializes in upland vegetation monitoring. Upland areas are land areas that lie above the elevation where flooding generally occurs, and upland vegetation monitoring consists of a complex survey design that measures a variety of characteristics about the vegetation and soils in these areas. This specific monitoring procedure measures soil stability, hydrologic function, biological soil crusts, and plant community characteristics so that the National Park Service can make educated decisions about the management of these lands while taking into consideration factors such as historic land use for livestock and timber production, increased recreational use, and the effects of changing climate and weather patterns.

Throughout this hitch I was continuously learning new things and gaining new fieldwork skills. I was taught how to carry out soil stability tests in the field, how to take line point intercept measurements (a way of quantifying soil cover, vegetation, litter, rocks, and biotic crust in a vegetation sampling plot), how to measure basal and canopy vegetation gaps (this helps to estimate how susceptible to wind and water erosion a sampling plot may be), along with multiple other monitoring methods.

Helping my supervisor, Sarah Karinen, to record vegetation canopy gaps. This is her favorite part of upland vegetation monitoring!

But not only did I learn field work skills, I also gained insight into just how extreme field work can get. The crew and I were working long days and waking up at the crack of dawn to escape a little of the desert heat, but even 6:00 A.M. starts couldn’t fully evade afternoon temperatures of over 100 ºF. We were working in full protective sun gear, from wide-brimmed hats to reflective sun-umbrellas to long-sleeved sun shirts. And beyond the heat, there were other environmental factors that made this hitch both memorable and exhausting. We faced incredibly strong winds that not only blew sand literally everywhere (such as inside my tent AND my sleeping bag) but also we were forced to wear headnets due to an overwhelming number of gnats.

The view from our campsite at sunset.

Earned a gold star made out of our 2 meter folding ruler! Probably not because of my very fashionable bug net though…

Despite the conditions, I think this hitch was incredibly beneficial to me as a beginning biologist who is still trying to determine my areas of interest. I discovered the reality of some fieldwork conditions and also started working on my plant identification skills! In my remaining weeks in Utah, I’m excited to continue learning the flora of the area and exploring new areas of fieldwork!

On our way back home we stopped to look at these stunning rock formations called the Bentonite Hills!

As a final note: Shout-out to my incredible supervisor (Sarah Karinen) for the very punny title of this blog 🙂

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