Tuesday, July 23, 2013

No, Seriously. It is my job.

I know it has been quiet around here. Life just calls for introversion sometimes, and I have quite enjoyed the private moments of creation and appreciation of my life here in Las Cruces. But now it is time for a new adventures, so I thought I would share that experience here.

I am sitting in the airport on my way to Alaska to do field work in the National Petroleum Reserve. So what exactly is it that I do?

I am part of an effort to standardize data collection on landscapes around the world. Standardized data collection (monitoring) results in common indicators* of ecosystem health which in turn provides us with meaningful information about how similar ecosystems (e.g., deserts) are changing throughout the world, what may be causing these changes, and how we can prevent dramatically altering the equilibrium of a system (think avoiding a second Dust Bowl). When we collect data in the same way around the world, we can lump and split later depending on the question at hand. As a result, a pastoralist in Kenya can garner information to enable sustainable grazing while a scientist in New Mexico can examine global trends on range lands in Kenya, Argentina, and the American west.

Data collection in Nevada

Specifically, my job focuses on enabling the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in this effort. My basic workload involves developing training materials to guide the standard data collection process, providing training to field crews (similar to the crews I have worked on in Nevada), sampling design for monitoring projects, and data analysis and interpretation. For most of our projects, I simply train crews prior to a 3-6 month data collection period. In Alaska, the field season is only a few weeks long, so the decision was made that I would work alongside the data collection crews and train in situ. I did not complain.

So here I go, off to the Arctic tundra, to preach the standard data collection gospel and explore a new ecosystem in an intimate way. Stay tuned!

*Common measurements and indicators include average plant height, amount of bare ground, the degree of soil stability, and average plant canopy cover. In Alaska we also add tundra active layer depth measurements to determine how much of the tundra melts during the summer. 

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