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Continental N Day 6: Missouri and Iowa

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 10.17.30 PMStates Sampled: Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa
Trees Cored: 110
Total Mileage: ~3800
Total In-Car Hours: ~56

Today was full of all sorts of interesting developments. First – I found the sunglasses I lost somewhere around Mississippi! We stopped at McDonald’s for lunch and (klutz that I am), I dropped a french fry between the seat and the center console and when I looked down to pick it up, it was sitting on top of my sunglasses. Thanks, renegade french fry!

Anyway, the other fun developments are actually sampling related 😀

Site 10: Ashland Research Area, Missouri
Our first sampling site today was a University of Missouri research station. Not only did I spend the night in Columbia, I voluntarily set foot on Mizzou property. Forunately, Kevin Hossman (who works at the station and met us at the sampling site) was super cool 😀 We had some more trouble with the oaks having rotted centers, but I think we got samples long enough for use. We ran into bigger trouble with the extractors – the oaks are hard enough that the cores can be difficult to remove and we may or may not have bent a couple of the extractors trying to insert them into the corers. They’re still usable, but a little wonky.

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Site 11: Big Springs Fish Hatchery, Iowa
This site was already the lab favorite. All the other sites are places you would expect – national forests, university research stations, etc – so a fish hatchery is clearly the oddball… The sampling went about as well as everywhere else has gone – we had a bit of trouble with sticky cores, and rotted centers. In fact, I got another core stuck inside the corer (remember, we’re already down a corer from getting a core stuck back in Arkansas). I expressed my frustration with this problem to Gary Siegwarth, the hatchery biologist. Not only did he get both cores out of the corers (although sacrificing the cores themselves was unavoidable), but he also made us a tool for removing stuck cores from the corers! He welded a narrow metal rod to a flat metal base – the rod just fits inside the corer and can be pushed down against the broad base until the core is pushed out the wider back end of the corer. Simple, efficient, ingenious! I told him this will be a staple of PaleoLab field supplies – I can’t believe such a thing didn’t already exist. Gary should totally patent it.
Gary also showed us around the hatchery. Each of the tunnel-like things pictured below holds up to 10,000 trout, which are used to stock rivers throughout Iowa. We also had a four-legged assistant – the hatchery puppy, a 9-month-old chocolate lab named Woody. Emily and I were hard pressed to not bring him home with us 😀

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So, what next?
I was still debating the northern loop because of the weather. Today, I called each of the three remaining sites (the Dakotas and Nebraska) to check on the situation. All three of the station biologists assured me there was minimal (if any) snow, that all roads were clear, and that sampling would still be totally doable. So tonight, we are relaxing in Minneapolis – three hours ahead of schedule. Our plan is to power through the rest of the sites – sampling in North Dakota tomorrow, then South Dakota and Nebraska on Friday, and (barring severe tiredness) heading home Friday evening after the Nebraska sampling. We’ll get in late, but it will be worth a final 12-hour day to sleep in our own beds.
On the drive to Minneapolis, we saw a beautiful snowy sunset, and twice passed a bald eagle dining on some roadside carrion. We got a blurry picture the second time…

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Also, there was a patch of snow at the hatchery site in Iowa, where some of the fall leaves had stuck and were melting. I thought they were pretty 🙂

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Continental N Day 5: Tennessee

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 9.12.48 PMStates Sampled: Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee
Trees Cored: 90
Total Mileage: ~3250
Total In-Car Hours: ~47

Today was the first day where the car time really started to grate on us both. In particular, it was really hard to end the day heading west on I-70, knowing how close we are to home, seeing Kansas City on the signs, and knowing we can’t go home yet….

Even so, the day was an overall success. The sampling at Tennessee went as smoothly as it has everywhere else. I had scheduled us to spend the night in Tennessee, but considering we were already ahead of schedule, we finished the sampling around lunch time and headed north towards the Missouri site. After all (as we said to each other), what’s five more hours in the car? It’s not really a joke – five hours feels like nothing, anymore.

Spending the evening in Missouri gave us two chances to see some of Emily’s family: 1) we stopped in St. Louis for dinner with her boyfriend Dan, and his friend Steve. Dan is an architecture student at K-State and is in St. Louis for spring break visiting family. It was nice to finally meet someone I’ve heard so much about the last week 🙂 And, 2) Emily’s grandparents Sharon and Charles live in Columbia and are letting us crash here for the night. I can’t tell you how nice it is to break the chain of mildly shady hotels and spend the night in a real bed!

Site 9: Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge, Tennessee
Hatchie is another NADP site (as are most of the remaining sites), so we drove out to the monitor and then hiked out a stand of trees near the monitor. Here we cored our first eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper), producing the beautiful red core pictured below which smells almost more wonderful than the pines. They core nearly as easily as pine, which is nice too. I’d really like them, if they weren’t causing so many problems with invasiveness along the western edge of its range (in Kansas and Nebraska – in fact, the Nebraska site manager expressly told me I could core, cut, chop down, or burn any and all red cedars I find 😀 ).

Anyway, we had some more minor problems with the larger oaks being rotted out in the center. These ones had enough live tissue that we can still use the core, but a rotted center means the corer just spins and is hard to remove (hence the picture of me braced against the tree, pulling with all my weight). You can get it out, it’s just a pain. We’ve also noticed that a number of the oaks have some bluish-purple staining on some sections – I’m not sure if this is common in oaks, or indicative of some kind of problem (disease?). I’ll need to look into that, and maybe call some folks who have more experience with oaks in particular, and see if I can’t figure out why that is.

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What’s Next?
Our big question is still what to do with the northern loop. Iowa looks to be safe from the coming storm, so we’ll hit both the Missouri and Iowa sites tomorrow. By then, we’ll know how bad the storm is hitting the northern states and better evaluate the risk. I’m only worried about the roads. We can core in cold and snow – in fact, one of the other PaleoLab members, Ian Howard, was coring in Minnesota and Wisconsin two weeks ago – he needed snow shoes to get to some of the sampling sites, but he came back with cores! So, as long as the roads through the states are clear, and there aren’t predictions for more major snow later in the week, we’ll probably continue on. If it looks bad though, we’ll bail and schedule a weekend sometime in the early summer to sample in the last three states (ND, SD, and NE).