Friday, April 6, 2012

Keji and holidays in Canada

After our data session and lunch we headed off to Keji again to do the seaside trail and hopefully see some porcupines. Dr. Newman was confident we would see some, but as you can see, I did not get either pictures or even a glimpse of one. We did see some seals out on the rocks. The beach at Keji looks almost tropical from a distance, but it was cold and windy! I took some pictures of the seals but it was so cold and my hands were shaking so much holding the camera, they look fuzzy.
On our way back, Dr. Newman had promised the group he'd stop at the dollar store for them--but the mall and everything else was completely closed. In Canada they take their holidays seriously and stores don't stay open. I actually think that is a great idea so that retail employees can spend time with their families on holidays. What do you think?

camera traps

These are some pictures from the camera traps.

5th graders: I've got your answer!

When we were skyping Wednesday, you asked me a great question that I could not answer but I promised to asked the scientists. You asked if the climate change was affecting plant life. Chris tell me that yes, it does affect plant life. As the climate warms, the deciduous tress (hardwood trees like oak , maples,etc) would be advantage over the conifers (pines, balsam, furs). However, people are intervening to keep planting the conifers. do you know why? It has to do with economics. Those quick growing conifers are sold for lumber, pulp, etc., and generate dollars faster than the hardwoods.


Today we are spending the morning looking at data! Scientists use mathematics to interpret data--in fact I've heard math referred to as the language of science! I am always surprised at how useful math can be to tell us about our daily lives. When you think about it you're using math and estimating almost constantly as you estimate how much time it will take to get from the computer lab to your locker and then to class in the morning (without being tardy!). Math also helps (a lot!) when you are trying to buy something at the best price. But if you're going to be a scientist, math is a must and not just adding and subtracting, but algebra, too! I don't think anyone would ever say algebra is useless if they could see how if helps create formulas to understand animal distribution and make predictions. Today we'll find out how to figure out abundance and distribution over time of the animal population.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Survival Skills

I certainly hope none of us ever get lost, stranded or have to try to survive on our own. Minnesotans are usually pretty savvy about being prepared with adequate clothing and never setting out without letting someone know your destination and ETA (estimated time of arrival). However, I thought you might want to see some of the survival skills Chris showed us--here he is setting a trap to catch a small animal--this time for dinner not research.

This evening we went to a pond near Chris and Christina's home and sat on cushions, at the edge of the pond, watching for beaver.

taking in the traps--and one last mouse!

Today we took in the traps--whew! That meant up and down the hills several times, then we spent an hour building habitat piles. Our traps were productive--here I am holding a mouse, and the video shows the process of carefully removing a vole from the trap. After lunch Chris taught us some survival skills. He told us to remember "PLAN": Protection, Location, Acquisition and Navigation. That is what you need to consider if you get lost or stranded (of course if you have a cell phone, and you can get a signal, you'll probably be fine).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

fun skyping with you today--I am very proud of you!

It was great to skype with you today and you guys totally rock!! I often hear that Americans don't know anything about geography but you knew where I am, where Nova Scotia is and could even tell me what surrounds Nova Scotia! Awesome!
I was also so impressed with how many of you are concerned about the environment and climate change and your proactive approach. The conservation measures you are taking do make a difference. It is going to be important to share your ideas with the entire school community. I just read Mr. Schollmeier's latest comment and as usual he is right on and ahead of the curve! The frac sand controversy in our area is a great (an unfortunate) example of resource depletion and the cost of trying to secure cheap energy.

What we can expect from climate change

I think it is very natural to wonder what we can expect from climate change. Maybe you are wondering if our southern Minnesota climate will change so much that we can look forward to tropical winters! We won't see that in our lifetime--or even several hundred lifetimes most likely--but what we will see from climate change is more energy in the atmosphere, and that means more extreme weather and weather events like tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. We have broken weather record after weather record in the last decade and seen more occurances of random weather events.

Small mammals and climate change

I really appreciated Mr. Schollmeier's comments form Mar. 29:

Voles! Something so small telling us about what's happening with the whole planet. Why not a reptile, bird, or some marine life? I'm guessing access and ease of observation, on our own "turf" so to speak. Could it be that mammals, who survived the great dinosaur extinction, have gone through multiple evolutionary changes during each of the preceding warmings? Is it possible to identify a warming associated with human evolution? Then could we say that either extinction or evolution are the next phase for human life?

He is "right on" with his comments and observations! The small mammals succeeded (avoided extinction) and the dinosaurs didn't because the small mammals breed so quickly and prolifically that their offspring had a chance to adapt to the changing climate. As the climate changed, those babies better suited survived , reproduced and passed on the successful traits. The dinos had fewer offspring and a longer gestation period. Their offspring just did not have a chance to adapt.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

4/3/2012 Back in the field

Today was another day of checking traps and building habitat piles of the dead branches in the forest. By stacking up tree limbs and smaller brush, we create shelters for small mammals.
Our traps were not particularly productive, but we did trap a white footed mouse and a red backed vole. Here I am weighing the vole.

Climate change--what influences public opinion?

Has the recent "hot spell" in the middle of our usual snowy Minnesota Spring made you think about climate change? I was reading a recent article in Science Scope (March 2012)about how much public concern about climate change has varied over the years. For instance, in 2004, 26% of the public said they were "worried a great deal". By 2007, that figure had risen to 41%. But in 2010, it had dropped to 28%. Why?
A study was done to examine five factors which might influence U.S. public concern about climate change. These factors were: extreme weather conditions/events, public access to accurate scientific information, media coverage, advocacy groups, and economic factors. The study found that media coverage does exert an important influence, but it in itself is largely a function of advocacy group cues and economic factors. Weather extremely (like the one we're having in Minnesota!) have no effect on public opinion, and providing accurate scientific information to the public on climate change has minimal effect. The political mobilization by advocacy groups (like Sierra Club) seems to have the most influence overall.
All of this reminded me of how critical it is to make sure you are getting information from a reliable source. Just like the sixth graders in Mrs. Penrod's class were discovering, not everything on the internet is reliable or true!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The managed forest

Today we visited a managed forest used by Kevin. He has really diversified his operation, incorporating a Christmas tree far, beef cattle and lumbering, all using sustainable farming practices. We learned that the difference between the old growth forest of Hemlocks we visited and the secondary growth (after clear cutting) on Cooks Farm (where we have been setting the small mammal traps) compared with the managed forest is that there is planned regeneration and sustainability.
Later we returned to Cooks Farm to set out 100 more small mammal traps.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kejimkujik National Park - April 1, 2012

Today we visited Kejimkujik National Park. Here are some of the pictures. Above is the trail into the forest area, and a dramatic scene of rushing water. There was still snow on the ground.
How many of you have heard of the Hemlock tree? There is a quite a large forest of Hemlock trees in the Kejimkujik National Park. In the upper left had corner you can see me holding a piece of the Hemlock. The boardwalk we were walking on is made of Hemlock. It tends to be resistant to rot and insects. The boardwalk is not built for the convenience of hikers but to protect the Hemlock tree roots from further erosion.

Kejimkujik National Park

Today we are going to Kejimkujik National Park. The weather is sunny. did you recall the title of the famous novel about pirates? It's Treasure Island. There are at least two movies made from the novel and several versions of the story. We have copies of it in our WMS library.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday in Halifax

Today we went into Halifax for a day of sightseeing. I visited the Farmer's Market for lunch and then went to the Maritime Museum. They had a Titanic exhibit of course, since it is the 100anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and they also had an exhibit on the Halifax Explosion of Dec 1917 that did extensive damage to the town. The museum had one of the few remaining original Titanic deckchairs (see above). The crew of the Titanic threw the deckchairs overboard in the hopes that they would float and help people survive in the chilly Atlantic. I sat in a replica.
The Maritime Museum also had a parrot in a cage for visitors to enjoy. Parrots are always associated with pirates, although there are not any historical records to that effect. Do you now why our image of a pirate captain is that of a one with an eye patch and a parrot? I'll give you a hint: it comes from a famous book by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Today we will bring the small animal traps in from the field. The weather prediction is for a high of 41 degrees, but with a possibility of rain. It is 32 degrees now, and that is about average for this time of year in this part of Nova Scotia. I am sure some of you are wondering why our research is taking place in Nova Scotia. Chris' lecture yesterday answered that. Nova Scotia is the center of the geological world. Our earth went through billions of years of changes, and when the land mass split into continents, Nova Scotia was near the center of this activity. A longer geological record is here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Our snowy afternoon 3/29/2012

The picture on the left is of our team plus Christina.
This afternoon we heard a great geology lecture from Chris and I found my college geology still served me well. I enjoyed skyping with my teaching partner Paul and the class and hope to do more tomorrow. I can't thank Earthwatch and The Henry Greenewalt Fellowship Program enough for this wonderful opportunity to learn and give back to society and the environment.

Our snow day walk

Because we had a "snow day" today, Paula and I decided to set out on a walk. I know that this does not look like much snow to Minnesotans, but remember we are on the coast and they got much more snow inland where we do the research. The picture on the left is the "accommodation",as our primary investigators call it--it is where we stay and do our blogs, skyping and hear the lectures. Paula and I set out on our walk to find the beach and as you can see we did. Because I had a skyping session scheduled, I had to turn back to return to the accommodation--and there is Paula setting out on the beach trek.
It was great to talk to Mr. Schollmeier and the sixth graders. I am excited that you're thinking about the difference between conservation and sustainability and looking forward to your thoughts and questions. It was also interesting to me that Mr. Schollmeier had just been to the frac sand discussion the previous evening, and learned that a more realistic estimate of when we might run out of natural gas is 26 years, not one hundred. Does 26 years sound like a lot of years to you? Believe me--it isn't! As I said, I think water may end up being a bigger challenge or a more critical shortage than energy, but either would require major adaptations from us as a species.
I am looking forward to skyping with you again tomorrow!


We had a great presentation from Chris on climate change last night, but afterwards I was just too tired to blog. This morning I got up to two inches of snow on the ground--and it is still falling! I am worried that I won't be able to find all of my small mammal traps, but Christina assured us they have plenty of food to manage for even 36 hours. She also told us we have a "snow day"--we aren't going out today. It is 31 degrees right now and light rain is predicted later. It doesn't sound like it would be one of our best days in the field.
Yesterday was an exciting day as one of my traps caught a vole. We saw three traps that had been sprung, possibly by shrews, which are small enough to escape through the "escape hatch" we leave for them. Because shrews have such high metabolism and not much body fat (insulation), we don't want them to spend the night in one of the traps. Sadly, the one trap which had been repaired and the escape hatch taped shut, did catch a shrew, which froze to death overnight. I was very happy that our vole looked healthy. I am holding her by the scruff of her neck the way a mother cat holds her kittens. This does not hurt the vole--actually her skin is loose enough that she can often turn around in her own skin. Christina told us her cat often catches voles but they are able to turn and bite the cat's nose so the cat drops them and they run off. We released the vole at the trap site and replaced the food in the trap. The food we are using now is oats, which is less yummy than the horse food (coated in molasses) that Christina originally brought us. Still, with the current snow cover, I imagine it will look enticing. I am happy now that we built some "habitats" yesterday. We gathered up fallen and cut tree branches, piled them together to make a home or burrow for small animals. It was hard work, but I'll bet those habitats look good to animals on a snowy morning. It is hard to believe that yesterday noon we were sitting in warm sun!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

3/28/2012 Checking the traps

We are headed back to Cook's Lake today to check the traps and also count hare and deer droppings. This is definitely one of the least glamorous things scientists do, but it will give us an idea of the mammal population.
Here's another member of our team: Lycos (which means "wolf" in Greek. Does he look like a wolf to you? One of our team members says he does.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Today we set out to set our small mammal traps for the first time. To our surprise, it started to snow. The snow, combined with a bitterly cold wind, made it the coldest (according to the scientists) that anyone on the team had ever had to spend setting traps. We worked from a quadrant and set rows of ten traps in five rows fairly evenly spaced. We may not catch very many small animals because of the cold (they will still be in their burrows). Nonetheless, this data in itself will be important to the scientists as they study the small mammal population. From now on we will check the traps twice a day. The small mammals cannot survive very long in the Longworth traps. The type and number of small mammals in a given area tells the scientists in what ways the environment and climate might be changing and becoming more or less hospitable to certain species.
Today we were talking about the difference between conservation and sustainability. I know that you have heard about "conserving our natural resources", but have you heard the word "sustainability" used before? Look up each in the dictionary. How would you describe the difference?
In these pictures I am gathering dried grass for small animal bedding in the traps, and in the picture above I am placing one of the traps. To find the right place for the trap, we say we have to "think like a mouse". Where would the mouse go?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cook's Lake tomorrow

Nova Scotia is a peninsula, so most of the water I see is ocean, but we will head to Cook's Lake tomorrow to set small mammal traps. I am not sure what we will catch, but we are setting one hundred traps and someone is bound to come up with something. We set the traps to study the mammals, and great care is taken not to hurt any of them. And yes, we do let them go to return to the wild! We have to check them twice a day since the small mammals can't be outside that long!
Did anyone guess what was munching on the tree bark? It was a porcupine! We don't see many of those outside a zoo, but I hope to see one here.
Can you guess why climate change could badly affect the mammal population?

This morning was classroom time. We heard a great lecture from Christina and then in the afternoon went out into the field to orient ourselves. Our four mile hike covered rocky ground, sandy ground, some road and very challenging streches of beach that had extremely slippery (and stinky) seaweed washed up on the beach. It was windy of course by the beach and we even had some snow showers. Do you know what stripped the bark off these branches?
I met my teammates last night. Five women and one man are joining me on this research expedition. All of us are teachers except Paula, a physiologist and veteran of thirteen expeditions. This morning Paula and I took an exploratory walk to the harbour side. It was misty and damp but invigorating! The weather most days is around 30 degrees, and we did have snow showers last night. We will learn more about our research duties today.

Friday, March 23, 2012


These are the bluff surrounding my middle school. Notice the trees budding and all the green grass. This is so unusual for mid to late March. We have had 70 and even 80 degree weather for the past several days.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I am really excited about my upcoming Earthwatch, "Mammals of Nova Scotia"! This project is run by Dr. Christina Buesching and Dr. Chris Newman, senior research associates with the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University. Their aim is to undertake original research to understand the implications of environmental change on terrestrial mammal communities in temperate ecosystems. I am excited to think that I will actually be doing research in the field that will be recorded somewhere other than my own field journal (not that that is not also important)! Mrs. Claus and I did a Minnesota-based waterways project a few years ago (that is where the stream tables came from), but this is quite a bit more ambitious.

I want this blog to be a two way conversation, and some of the things I would like you, as students to be thinking about are stewardship of the environment and sustainability. Please look up the word "sustain" and tell me how you've used it in other contexts besides the environment. What does sustainability mean and how would you think it applies to the environment.