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Archive for the ‘Hanover, NH’ Category

It’s the dead of night. An investigator is working in the lab, trying to answer one simple question, one question that begins all good investigations: Who are you?

She examines the body, which has three bright white lights shining on it. The body is hairier than expected. The key, she thinks, is the unusual indentations on the side of his abdomen.

After taking notes and doing a final once-over, the investigator knows who this guy is. She feels like cueing some tv crime show theme song. Maybe the one from Bones, where scientists help solve an FBI case.

After a careful examination of the body, an identification was possible.

After a careful examination of the body, an identification was possible.

But the dead-of-night investigator isn’t done yet. She has 194 bodies to go. The ultimate goal is to create a network – like the kind you see on those tv crime shows. Who’s connected to whom? What were their usual hang-outs?

Making a network helps an investigator figure out who's connected to whom and what their usual hang-outs are.

Making a network helps an investigator figure out who’s connected to whom and what their usual hang-outs were. Credit:cityTV

The guy she just identified might have had a thing for hanging out at buttercups. Or maybe he visited gray willow, like many of the other guys and girls. The guy’s a fly.

Identifying fly specimens is a daunting task. She progresses to the next fly, and starts the process all over again. Antenna shape. Wing veins. Leg spikes. Hairs on the middle of the body near the legs. So many characters to pour over. So many possible identities. Each identification is helping to uncover the network, which will help us understand the importance of pollinators in Greenland.

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A fly being identified under the microscope.

The pollen that was previously collected off the fly’s body will give the investigator insight into the fly’s hang outs –  flowers they were visiting.  Stay tuned as we collect these clues .

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Last week, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to share some of my recent research at a Science Pub in Lebanon, NH. The idea behind these Science Pubs is pretty simple: have a few scientists come to a local pub to have an informal conversation with community members about the research they do and how it might be relevant to our lives. This Science Pub was titled “Climate Change: Bringing it Home,” and it featured Professor Richard Howarth from Environmental Sciences Department to discuss ecological economics, Postdoc David Lutz from the Environmental Sciences Department to discuss forest ecology and albedo, and I was there to represent the snow albedo aspects of our research through the EPSCoR “Ecosystems and Society” project. We discussed the value of carbon sequestration in our New Hampshire forests versus the value of the high albedo of open landscapes in wintertime because of the reflectivity of snow. The discussion then moved into the effects of climate change on our local forests and what changes we might expect to see in snowfall and ecosystem services (from flood prevention to maple syrup production)!

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My role in the discussion was to talk about my research in snow albedo, studying the effects of grain size and impurities on snow reflectivity in New Hampshire and Greenland (see Ruth’s post about albedo in Greenland this past summer). Thanks to the inspiration of fellow IGERTeer, Gifford Wong, I came up with a story to help convey my research to the audience. The story was of Debra the Delicate Dendrite and her struggles against enemies Black Carbon and Heat! I was surprised by how well it went over and by how much more fun it was for the audience and for me when I discussed my research from the prospective of a protagonist who faces struggles, like any good character in a story! Stay tuned for a full post about Debra’s story sometime soon!

And in the meantime, check out the schedule for upcoming Science Pubs here!

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A cool thing about being part of an interdisciplinary group focused on understanding Polar Environmental Change is that everyone knows I am studying Arctic mosquitoes, so when the ethnobotanist/linguist pulls out an obscure text on lifestyles and languages of the Iglulik Eskimos, they can alert me to scientifically informative passages, such as “Of the lower animal world may be mentioned the mosquito which, in the short summer – from the middle of July to the middle of August – can make life in the open air a torment. The low, swampy land on Southampton Island is said to be particularly bad in this respect; there are fewest mosquitos [sic] in Cockburn Land, although at certain places, for instance round the trading station at Ponds Inlet, they can be extremely annoying.” Therkel Mathiassen, in Material Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos, a report from the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-1924

Although brief, it’s relevant to what I am studying- the distribution, abundance, and phenology of mosquitoes in the Arctic. I suspect that the humanities literature, especially accounts from historical expeditions, is full of useful references and tidbits of scientific information. Without interdisciplinary collaboration, much of this information would remain elusive.

IGERT POWER. And thanks, Simone.

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[Aedes nigripes posing for a photo in front of the Greenland Ice Sheet.]

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This term we welcomed the fourth and final Dartmouth IGERT cohort to our clan. We thought that a great way to welcome them would be to create a scavenger hunt that would take them across Dartmouth campus, finishing with a group dinner with cohorts 1, 2 & 3.

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And the scavenger hunt begins….

The scavenger hunt started in the Arctic library and took cohort 4 to various important places across campus: Thayer engineering building, Ross Virginia’s office, to the Steffansson collection at the Rauner Library, and to the new Life Sciences Center.

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Cohort 4 completes a task of the scavenger hunt by taking a photo on the green with no feet (or hooves!) on the ground.

The scavenger hunt culminated with a fun dinner with all cohorts present.

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Ross Virginia with all of the IGERT cohorts. A great way to kick of the new term!

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Kangerlussuaq is peppered with lakes and ponds, extending all the way up to the ice margin. There are many interesting questions to be answered with regard to these lakes – for example, what are the nutrient inputs? How does the water chemistry vary between each? What is the community composition of aquatic plant and animal life? And how might all of the above parameters be influenced by the surrounding vegetation and geology?

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Setting up to take water, sediment, and plankton samples. Photo courtesy C. Vario.

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The crew finds sea tomatoes settled all over the lake sediment. Photo courtesy C. Vario.

To get at some of these questions, Ali, Chelsea, Stephanie and I headed into the field one last time before leaving Greenland. Together, we sampled four lakes between the town of Kangerlussuaq and the ice margin. These lakes are especially interesting because of the orange, spherical balls inhabiting them, known locally as sea tomatoes. These fascinating organisms are a species of colonial cyanobacteria belonging to the genus Nostoc. Lakes here are highly variable in their abundances of sea tomatoes, with some having no visible colonies, and others supporting hundreds to thousands of colonies.

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High density sea tomato lake.

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Sea tomatoes vary in size, with large colonies reaching the size of a softball.

To capture this density gradient, we sampled lakes at four different sea tomato densities, ranging from no visible colonies, to high abundance (estimated to be thousands of colonies). At each lake, we took samples of (1) whole lake water, (2) lake sediment, (3) zooplankton and phytoplankton, and (4) the sea tomatoes.

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Steph tosses the plankton net into the lake to capture zooplankton. Photo courtesy C. Vario.

Back in the lab, I hope to use these samples to better understand the occurrence and distribution of sea tomatoes, including: what are some of the limits to sea tomato dispersal? Lakes with few to no visible sea tomatoes are often situated next to lakes teeming with them; what limits their movement and establishment to certain lakes, but not others? Do high versus low sea tomato lakes show differences in water and sediment nutrient levels? Many species of cyanobacteria, including other species of Nostoc, produce toxins, but we don’t yet know whether or to what extent sea tomatoes in these lakes are releasing toxins into the system. Further, examining the zooplankton will allow us to ask additional questions about the movement of the toxins through the food web and more generally, about the composition of these arctic lake communities.

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Steph and Jess inspect the fresh plankton net catch. Photo courtesy C. Vario.

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Lively zooplankton dart around the sample jar after being caught in the plankton net. Photo courtesy C. Vario.

*Look for updates soon on what we are now learning from these samples!*

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Jessica and Chelsea headed out this morning with cargo to support the third Greenland Field Seminar. They’re on their way to the Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York, packed to the gills with a microscope, an inflatable boat, camping supplies, and of course food, which includes plenty of chocolate. The human cargo is leaving for Greenland July 18.

Jess and Chelsea on their way to Scotia to drop Greenland cargo

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Conference halls have long been the meeting point for the larger scientific community. After all, there couldn’t possibly be any other way to reunite with colleagues, learn about the latest results, and cook up the next exciting research project. …. Or could there??

National Science Foundation is testing a model that might revolutionize poster sessions. What’s new this time, anyway?

  • The meeting is virtual.
  • Scientific posters are paired with 3 minute videos aimed at a more general audience.
  • Online tools enable discussion between participants and visitors.
  • All videos and posters are available to the public, so you can see what it’s all about.

The meeting is the NSF IGERT Video & Poster Competition, which brings together students and faculty from IGERT programs across the country. An astounding range of graduate research is presented, from materials research to traditional knowledge.

As a presenter I can say that this has been full of brand new experiences for me, from the video making process to overcoming fears of committing responses to online questions. The conference is live until Friday, so I invite you to visit my poster and watch my video. In the spirit of the scientific community, I encourage you to explore, ask questions, start a discussion (and “Like” my poster on your Facebook page). Stop on by, because this is where you can find me:

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