Halfway in a bog

Back in the USA, and back at school out East, and back doing the research that I started last summer in bogs like this one:
P1170927Peat is this partially decomposed organic material that occurs in anoxic, water saturated conditions: Bogs. This is the stuff I’m studying, because no one has really studied its chemistry and because it is an important carbon sink (people mine and burn peat because it is such a dense carbon source!). For collecting samples, I made a monolith tin (essentially a bread loaf pan without a bottom), per advice of The Bogologist. My advisor and I used it to collected the upper 50cm of peat in a few different bogs. The upper part of peat is called the acrotelm (it has taken me 3 weeks to say this word and remember it), characterized by high hydraulic conductivity and nutrient transfer, and a partially aerated, partially living soil layer.  P1170932

 Getting wet and peat-y when working in the bog is unavoidable. And often samples look like brown spongy wet unattractive blocks. But they’re my peaty samples so I think they’re adorable:P1170939 P1170942

And sometimes you actually have to get IN the peat. And I’m talking full-arm-in and legs immersed in water to grab what you need. And water is everywhere. But it’s worth it for a great sample. P1170944

This last sample isn’t really a peat-sample; it’s more organic, but it’s still worth checking out as it is on the margin of this one bog in Northampton, MA (Burt’s Pit Bog). P1170945

And it helps that bogs are beautiful, generally expansive vistas with beautiful little plants and flours and margins of cattails. It makes the hours analyzing the peat in the lab worth it. I am specifically looking at base cations (Na, sodium; Ca, calcium; Mg, magnesium; K, potassium and some aluminum and silicon). This will tell me which ions have a preference for “sticking” on the peat and at what concentration of surrounding liquid that preference changes. P1170926

I just analyzed my first batch on the ICP (Inductively Coupled plasma– basically it fires up my filtered samples and tells me the concentration of certain elements) and am playing with the data. Hopefully I’ll have more time in bogs soon!

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