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Time lapse photography goes underground


Wednesday, June 5, 2013, by Arline Gould
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We rarely give much thought to what goes on beneath our feet. Even those of us who enjoy outdoor activities spend considerable amounts of money on shielding our soles from the earth upon which we walk. So much of what we know and experience pertains only to aboveground settings. Plants, on the other hand, derive much of their livelihood from the soil on which most of us are content merely to tread.

[A close-up of our non-waterproof Minirhizotron.]This summer, I have the opportunity to alter common conceptions of forests, specifically the temperate forests I have grown up in and learned from throughout my entire life. With my mentor, Rose Abramoff, and fellow intern, Johanna Recalde, I will be exploring the growth and decay of fine roots in the Harvard Forest. This is important because fine roots are a significant component of the cycles which makes forest soils a major carbon sink. If we can gain a better understanding of root life cycles and thus belowground carbon sequestration, we can better predict the effects on climate change on those cycles. We do this using a cylindrical camera called the Minirhizotron, which I embarrassingly proposed slinging over my back while riding a bicycle during our orientation week (if you laid eyes upon the size or price tag of this piece of equipment, you would realize just how ridiculous of a proposition that was). The camera fits perfectly into about 60 tubes installed throughout the forest, including 24 in the nitrogen addition/soil warming plots.

[close-ups of our non-waterproof Minirhizotron and our indispensable Swiffer.]Here are close-ups of our non-waterproof Minirhizotron and our indispensable Swiffer, used for periodically cleaning condensation out of the tubes while taking photographs.

After we capture images with the minirhizotron, we process them in a program called Rootfly, where we can trace the roots and see when they are growing or dying over time. During orientation week, Johanna and I were also introduced to Rose's root boxes and their [uninvited] inhabitants.

These boxes have 2 gridded panels so that we can measure root growth through photography, as well as flaps from which we can take samples of root tissues to gain an even better understanding of what is going on underground. This will be particularly useful during my studies of roots and their symbiotic fungi.

[Our uninvited inhabitants.]In other news, getting acclimated to the life at the Harvard Forest has been relaxing, stimulating, and motivationally inspiring all at once. The fresh air, surrounding wildlife and available knowledge pool give me no doubts that this summer will be one of great health and intellectual development. The delicious food doesn't hurt either. Some highlights so far include my research work (of course), our Memorial Day barbeque, our workshop on "Talking Ecology with the Public" with Clarisse Hart (evidence of which you will have already inferred through how incredibly entertaining this blog post is), and climbing a tower which tested the magnitude of my fear of heights.

Here is a photo of Channing and me at the top of the tower. I promise I was excited to be in the Hemlock canopy with an incredible view of the forest—I am not great at being the subject of photos.[Me and Channing in the hemlock canopy.]

[Our Memorial Day Barbeque.]Finally I will leave you, dear reader, with a photo from our Memorial Day Barbeque that symbolizes the warmth and zest stirring in my brain and tummy after a week of living and working at the Harvard Forest. 

Arline Gould

Quirky Q&A with Arline

You have the choice to live with a gorilla who knows sign language or a dog who sings lullabies, which do you choose?

Definitely a gorilla because I think he/she would have a lot of wisdom to communicate since reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.

What's the first thing you do when you get home from a trip?

Snuggle my cats to the brink of suffocation, then raid the fridge.

What do you love and dislike the most about the human race?

I oppose the way we disregard the viability of other forms of life, placing our own species upon a pedestal, and I love the art, knowledge, and culture that could only come out of such a perceived evolutionary hierarchy.

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