Articles from Field Dispatches

The Dry Season

January 19, 2017 - 9:27pm by Anonymous (not verified)

We’re heading into the dry season in the Mara, which generally runs from January until early-mid March when the long rains come. Geemi just sent us some pictures of the Mara River, showing how low the river is. You can actually see the river level on the real-time river gauge on the top right of our blog (under Mara River Water Level). Chris built this river gauge using low-cost Arduino sensors, and it uploads real-time data on the river every 15 minutes.

Kwaheri Mara!

November 15, 2016 - 11:11pm by Anonymous (not verified)

It’s always bittersweet leaving the Mara. This place is our second home, and we have a beautiful camp, good friends and an amazing river we hate to leave behind. On the other hand, after several months of no running water, limited solar power, and the same 4 outfits, you do start to long for modern conveniences. I usually crave salad, hot showers, a nice cappuccino, and a leisurely morning spent on my computer with the screen at full brightness.

Why we need wiper blades on our sensors

November 15, 2016 - 10:52pm by Anonymous (not verified)

It’s really important for our research to be able to measure water quality in the river on a continual basis over long periods of time. To do this, we have some pretty amazing water quality sensors made by Eureka, that can measure lots of different water quality variables and store the data for weeks or months at a time. We have had these sondes for 6 years, and we have put them into some of the most challenging conditions I can imagine, and they just keep plugging along.

Where is all the algae going?

November 15, 2016 - 10:43pm by Anonymous (not verified)

Hippos and wildebeest load a lot of nutrients into the Mara River… like, a lot. All of those nutrients should fertilize the river and produce a lot of algae. It’s what the textbooks say should happen, and it’s what research in other rivers show should happen. We see it happen in some portions of the river where there are only moderate levels of hippo inputs. However, it is not what happens where the hippo and wildebeest inputs are highest. Why not? I don’t know. 

Sundowner farewell

November 15, 2016 - 9:44pm by Anonymous (not verified)

One of the great traditions in East Africa is the sundowner, where you head out into the savanna, armed with a box of wine or a cold Tusker and some cheese and crackers if you’re lucky, and watch the sunset. It’s hard to describe the splendor of this moment, with the grassland turning golden in the last moments of light; the streaks of red, purple and gold reflecting across the wide open sky; the silhouette of elephants in the distance. It seemed the perfect way to send Ella off after a great and successful summer of field research.

Testing hypotheses in artificial streams

November 15, 2016 - 9:33pm by Anonymous (not verified)

Ella has been able to collect detailed data on gas emissions from 13 hippo pools, in addition to the 12 hippo pools we sampled last year. This will give her a nice range of hippo density and river flow level in order to test how these two factors influence gas emission levels. However, all the variability often present in the field can often make it difficult to accurately determine the influence of various factors, so Ella designed an experiment in the artificial streams to test her hypotheses more directly.

Greenhouse gases from hippo pools

November 15, 2016 - 9:17pm by Anonymous (not verified)

Over the last few weeks, Ella has been collecting water samples from a lot of different hippo pools in order to measure how hippo pools may contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases. Hippos load a lot of carbon into pools through feces, and as that feces decomposes, it uses up the oxygen in the water and the decomposition process emits greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Ella is studying how the number of hippos and flow of the river influence the quantity of greenhouse gases being emitted. 

Thank you Caitlin!

November 14, 2016 - 11:57am by Anonymous (not verified)

It’s been a really busy few weeks! James’s experiment is underway, Ella is busy collecting samples in the field and Chris is getting ready to start a big experiment. Fortunately, our friend Caitlin Staley came in to help with fieldwork this week. Caitlin is a senior in high school in Nairobi, and she is interested in pursuing a science degree in college, so we were excited to give her some field experience in ecology… and super grateful to have her help!