Thursday, 18 August 2016

Blink and you'll miss it

Whoops, it's August and there hasn't been an entry since February. This just reflects high levels of busy-ness and also sometimes feeling that it wouldn't be appropriate to blog about some of the administrative things I was dealing with (which possibly makes things sound more exciting or contentious than they ever are!)

In May I was in Nantes for my first ever SETAC EU conference. The conference kicked off with some traditional dancing and music which was very much like the bagpipes.

Traditional dancing opened SETAC EU in Nantes plus loud pipes

I was there because there was a special session on microplastics in the environment which was relevant to some work we're doing (read about our preparation for the experiment here) which I've learnt is testing the trojan horse or vector hypothesis, i.e. can plastics adsorb pollutants which are then passed on to what ever organism eats the plastic. A whole bunch of York people were there including:
Jo Witton with her poster on pesticide heterogeneity
Mohd Firdaus Mohd Anuar with his poster on nanopesticides
Delegates looking at posters in Nantes
It was my first SETAC EU meeting and I quite enjoyed it, there were a few very entertaining talks but I fear it will be remembered in SETAC folklore for the very long lunch queues (which I forgot to photograph).

In June I was at the Mineralogical Society Environmental Mineralogy Group Research in Progress meeting hosted by Bristol Earth Sciences department and admirably organised by Oliver Moore and colleagues. Lots of good student talks but here the most memorable thing was that the hotel the organisers recommended that I stay in had complementary sherry in the room. I'm not a sherry drinker so I didn't try it but it seemed rather odd to me, and I almost knocked the decanter over!

Free sherry in all rooms at the Berkeley Square hotel, Bristol

July brought two earthworm events at the Leeds univerrsity farm as part of our SoilBioHedge project. On the 19th July we were recording for a BBC York radio programme - Yorkshire Farming - hosted by Gareth Barlow. You can hear our episode here at least for a while. Apparently the worms bit is on after about 40 minutes. I've got an MP3 file of the programme but I don't know how to upload it to this blog site which only does videos. The most bizarre sight was the pink gazaboes that Richard Grayson and Joe Holden were using to keep the sun off their infiltrometers which they use to measure the pore distribution in the soils.
Jonathan Leake and Gareth recording

A pink Frozen gazebo - hi tech field gear
The infiltrometer below the gazebo

Later in July we were back at the University farm sampling earthworms, or at least searching for earthworms. As part of the SoilBioHedge project we're sampling earthworms throughout the year to get temporal trends of earthworm distributions as well as the spatial distributions which are the main aim of the project. Earthworms are about 90% water and in the summer when it is very dry they either aestivate (a bit like hibernation), burrow very deep or (I'm afraid) dry out and die. So, typically you have very few earthworms in the summer. So it was a bit odd, going out to sample in the knowledge that there wouldn't be many earthworms there. To make matters worse, the soil was rather solid, though interestingly more solid in the arable than pasture fields - an important scientific observation related to compaction of arable fields. In the end we were using hammers to break up the arable soil after sampling it with the aid of a pic axe to get through the upper hard layer. We did find some earthworms but not that many.

A slightly pixilated aestivating earthworm. They create a void, line it with mucus and then coil up and wait for moister conditions.

This is one of the pasture fields. You can see it is more overgrown than on previous sampling trips (December 2015)

 The crops strips have grown as well.
Martin digging pits in a crop strip whilst Josh and Miranda sort soil. You can see how the crop strips are well developed compared to in December 2015.

Jamal, Josh, Martin and Miranda sorting through soil next to a crop strip

The full arable fields posed a more entertaining prospect for digging pits....
Jamal, Miranda and Martin deciding where to sample in an arable field. You can see the crops are far better developed than in October last year.

Where as the full grown hedge was less fun....
Jamal digging a pit in the hedge for sampling

Despite the hot weather and baked soil it still managed to rain a bit so there was also sampling in the Diary building (which is where the hammer was used - no squashed earthworms though!).
Sorting through soil in the Diary building during a rain storm
So that brings things almost up to date. I'm off to Nanjing on Monday for another project meeting follwoing winning funding after that meeting in April 2015.

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