Saturday, March 01, 2008

Tooling Around

Yesterday, I gave a talk to the home crowd on the dustiest polar glaciers on earth, the great analogues for Martian life (I'm working on my marketing skills for future endeavors). My adviser is back from his tour del tropicos so it was a good time to present. Great feedback!--- Including from Bill Showers, he stuck around for my talk... I'm still drooling over the auto-nitrate analyzer Bill uses in his studies. It will revolutionize future stream studies- best capturing pulse events (and be easy for students to use!!!). I am auctioning off my doll collection to buy one... no seriously, I will write a grant proposal for this one.

In the final stretch of PhD-land, I am building greater context for the stream chemistry story in the McMurdo Dry Valleys... although the dry valleys have been dry valleys for millions of years they are projected to respond to future global climate change... and I do have some data from the melt year to project metal fluxes with....and I do have some smart friends to collaborate with...

My coffee breath is getting to me, so I'm done tooling for now.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Fertilize the earth- the wetlands might save us...

Yesterday, I heard the most fantastic talk on nitrate! And it ties in well with a previous post this week on wetlands (the great filters and transformers of human derived pollutants). First, some background: nitrogen in our atmosphere is fixed by microbes and then utilized by all forms of life. It is an essential fertilizer. However, the burning of fossil fuels and our use of fertilizers for agricultural and other things have overwhelmed the natural nitrogen cycle. This is primarily indicated by the surplus of nitrate (for instance, in the Mount Hood Snow I collected a few summers ago, there was clearly enrichments in nitrate from fossil fuel burning). Humans presently dominate the earth's major geochemical cyles- (Vitousek and others, 1997)

Dr. Bill Showers from North Carolina State University is studying nitrate in the Neuse River Basin, NC. Bill's research group studied runoff from an area where biosolids (or the end-product of wastewater management) are applied on soils. (They know exactly how much nitrate is in these biosolids). The surprising results: groundwater, not not surface runoff, contribute most of the nitrate to the Neuse River.

Bill and his group also found that the locations where nitrate-rich biosolids were applied showed little relation to the nitrate in the stream water. The stronger control on stream chemistry was the type of soil. Water-loving soils retained the most nitrate, keeping it from reaching the streams. So, Bill and his team are going to engineer wetlands to create hydric soils and measure their capacity to retain nitrate and improve stream water quality......

The biggest, scariest conclusion of Bill's talk was that by 2050 fertilizer, sludge, wastewater, and even groundwater are going to pale in comparison to atmospheric nitrate flux. This is very, very bad for us with the nitrate concentrations in many watersheds already reaching toxic levels (think- blue baby syndrome).

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The tufa part is over

Ah, this calls for a geology pun. I'm done with most of my dissertation. It all goes to the committee in April. Now back to work for the margin police! Pretty soon I'm going back to the painting postcards hobby... this writing to break from writing is....(I'm not sure I have an end for the sentence. ..)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Phreatomagmatic Petrologist and Locust-eyed Geochemist

I really like having locust eyes... as I remember, Trey mentioned that it might be good to take those off for the picture. On the other hand, you can't see his eyes either...fortunately, we've evolved, and 6 years later, we have eyes...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dalmations and Cougars and Worms- Oh My!

The Fouse Elementary School Cougar and Dalmatian are back after a strange journey to the Antarctic underworld. The visited with the mighty Wurm (pictured below), the ruler of the soil underworld in the Antarctic polar desert. Wurm and his friends are better known as Scottnema to lovers of all things that sneak in the soil. Anyway, I am glad the Dalmatian and Cougar made it back safely because I can always use more help in the lab. Yesterday, might have been the end of it all, if not for the yawn that overtook my brain.
For more about Wurm and his friends check out this link put together by my worm-herding cohorts (led by the superb Dr. Diana Wall):

Or learn more about the Antarctic dry valleys from the engaging Dr. Becky Ball from the Dartmouth Soil Chemistry Group (led by the wonderful Dr. Ross Virginia):

Monday, February 25, 2008

On the shoulders of giants

Admittedly, I am blogging a lot lately. Either it's all the time in the lab, or because I feel a bit like I'm in some jaw-dropping location. The possibilities!!! My adviser, Berry, was very, very kind in the meeting we held to set my dissertation defense date. And it seems whatever road I take, I have his full support as well the others in my committee (and my family).

Now, more than ever, I am filled with thoughts of guiding students. I am setting goals and taking measures to conduct purposeful research with young people. Every route I conjure is filled with this.


It's least entering the periphery of my thoughts... Girl's Explore Archeology Day. For activity planning, I left an apple outside to rot in my backyard over the weekend. I am going to wrap another one in modeling clay next week and see how it fairs in comparison. I wonder if it will stop the apple from oxidizing? I suspect apple mummies could be good smelly fun. Although, this will pale in comparison to making batteries from the lunch items of 5th graders. Stench, unless it is gut-wrenching, is very affective at capturing the interest of younger students.... and myself....

Sunday, February 24, 2008


The recent thaw-induced sidewalk ooze of salt and eroding concrete pulls my thoughts to spring. Here's a picture (of Becki) I took in March (2005) from Death Valley during the 100 year wildflower bloom. What joy!