Science Diary: Tundra – Clipping
Music; Ambience: clipping tundra plants
TS: “So, all we’re going to do is basically randomly sample the tundra. You just don’t want to look at what you’re sampling in advance, so I throw this little marker over my shoulder, and then, where it lands, I’m going to put my quadrat.”
JM: What’s a quadrat? Stay tuned. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Ted Schuur is an ecosystem ecologist. He’s in the Alaskan tundra, trying to learn more about the carbon cycle of the area. Tim believes that a warming of the regional climate may be significantly increasing the release of carbon dioxide from the thawing soil.
TS: “Okay, here’s my marker, and I put it down, and basically everything green in that little quadrat, that’s what I want to end up in my jar.”
JM: A quadrat is a measured square that is used to select a representative sample of vegetation.
TS: “So, the way I sample is I just clip under this tray and then kind of sort out the live and the dead leaves. So, the key here is that when we’re filling our jar with plants, you can see there’s a lot of dead leaves and dead stems mixed in, but we don’t want to put those in the jar because what we want is just live plants breathing out their carbon dioxide.”
JM: So what effect would the dead leaves have on the carbon in the jars?
TS: “It would affect the amount, but, more importantly, here it’d affect the age because you might get a leaf that died a year or two ago, and, say, bacteria are eating that and giving that off. It’ll give a different carbon date than the live plant that’s breathing out carbon that it photosynthesized last week. We’ll just stick the whole plant, leaves and all, into here. These plants are still alive even though I cut them off, and they’re breathing out carbon. We did good. Jar is totally full of little cut up plants jar number one.”
JM: Please visit our website, pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.