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Global warming in a plastic bucket

Wednesday, July 10, 2013, by Justine Kaseman
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This summer at Harvard Forest, I am researching the top down effects of vertebrates on the ecosystem. We are using warming chambers which are about 10 feet in diameter and are heated up from 0 degrees to 5.5 degrees celcius over ambient temperature. For our experiment, we have created 3 mesocosms, which are like tiny environments in five gallon buckets. Each mesocosm has leaves, a rock, and some treatment. The treatments are as follows:

  1. Soil
  2. Soil and invertebrates
  3. Soils, invertebrates, and a salamander

The soil includes the first trophic in the ecosystem: microbes. The inverts are the second trophic level because they feed on the microbes, and salamanders are the third. Through this study, we need to measure soil respiration. We are doing this through the use of the 20 lb box called the Licor, or affectionately referred to by my research partner as the "swag machine."

Aside from some deaths and escapees from the test subjects, the Licor acting up, and having to re-do an experiment, I think by the end of the week we will be back on track for the rest of the summer.

[The elusive red back salamander (Plethedon cinereus) tail hidden in the leaves.]The most rewarding part about doing this project (aside from reliving my childhood... rummaging through dirt piles in search of red salamander tails disappointingly finding the red of an earthworm) is being able to study salamanders. Amphibians in general are an indicator species. Meaning that if the environment is not doing well, the populations will start dwindling rapidly. In the future through climate change, a number of things will happen to the environment. Studies have already shown that amphibians have a hard time adapting under warming. What we do not know however, is how they will affect their ecosystem.

Other than the amazing research opportunities here at the forest, there are also some great activities happening on the weekends. The most memorable weekend activity I've had was skydiving. My alarm vibrates loudly under my pillow at 6:30 a.m. What a rude awakening I immediately think, however the annoyance is soon replaced with anxiety as I slowly remember what I am waking up for. Jumping out of a perfectly good plane, as my dad says. I quickly get dressed and meet up with the 4 other crazies who would be joining me. My nervousness grows as we talk more about it, and it gets unbearable whilst the beautifully mustached man explains the safety concerns and we sign our lives away.

Well.. all the nervousness I had faded after the 5 hours of waiting for "good clouds." Apparently, the pilot can only drop divers off in an unclouded area 1 mile long. So,finally, we got suited up, still not nervous. Got in the plane, still fine. Reached 15,000 feet, still fine. It wasn't until I was standing half out of the airplanes door, the mustached man yelling "READY?", when my nervousness came back. By then it was too late, and we were falling, falling, falling.

It was a feeling like no other. The struggle to breathe with so much air whipping around, the gorgeous scenery, the puffy clouds enveloping the blue skies, the stressful thought of "what does that hand signal mean? Pull the parachute or put your arms up?" I pulled the parachute and we shot up then began slowly drifting down, like the maple helicopters I played with as a child, lilting slowly back and forth closer and closer to the earth. Landing on safely on the ground within 7 minutes of getting into the plane, sky diving being a distant, quick, but amazing memory. 

Justine Kaseman

Quirky Q&A with Justine

What's your favorite board game?

My favorite board game is Clue. I used to like to pretend I was a detective when I was little, and my friends were never really that good at it so I always beat them.

Which is your wish that is not yet fulfilled?

Finding a genie to grant me unlimited wishes. And fulfilling world peace. And world hunger. And teaching younguns how to read and write.

What was your favorite treat when you were a kid?

Since I was such a sugar glutton (and still am) I would always sneak cookies. I thought I was so stealthy... but my mom always caught me.

What's the ultimate road trip?

Going on a trip from Ohio (where I'm from) to California. Stopping at anything and everything cool and random on the way, trying to hike every national park we cross, and not be worried about time or direction. Perfect music and companions required. 


what an amazing adventure....

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