This week (May 27-31), Kansas State University is hosting 20 students from throughout the country who are interested in learning about stable isotope analysis and interpretation, particularly regarding paleo-environmental research. Instructors Jesse Nippert, Troy Ocheltree, Kendra McLauchlan, Joe Craine, and myself have outlined the use of nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen stable isotopes in ecosystem research on modern, decadal, and millennial time scales. Students are staying at the Konza Prairie Biological Station and have had the opportunity to design and implement sampling protocols for local vegetation, soil, and water. Samples are being run by the Stable Isotope and Mass Spectrometry lab at Kansas State, and students will present novel research at our seminar this Friday.
I have been working with the drendrochronological group, made up of Kyleen Kelly (KSU), Ian Howard (KSU) and Mark Burhnam (WVU). We sampled two American Elm (Ulmus americana) trees in each of three watersheds with different fire regimes (burned every 2, 4, or 20 years). We then measured ring widths from 1990-2010 and chose individual rings for nitrogen isotope analysis (years 2002-2006 for 2- and 4-year watersheds, and years 1992, 1993, 2002-2004 for the 20-year burn). Once the analyses are run, the students can analyze ring width responses to fire events and regimes, as well as nitrogen response in each watershed through time. Once the analyses and data interpretation are complete, I’ll post our impressive results here!
In addition, instructors Kendra McLauchlan and Joe Craine hosted a dinner for workshop participants. Following dinner, ice cream was planned for desert! Unfortunately, the Craine-McLauchlan household had recently sold their ice cream maker. What to do?! Never fear – scientists are nothing if not resourceful and ice cream was indeed produced via a ewer of liquid nitrogen and a mixer-bowl of cream and flavoring. Tasty and educational! Children at the event were notably impressed.