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A Long Journey

A Long Journey
I found a slug when we were out doing fieldwork in the East Woods

These past few weeks, dear readers, have been an exercise in persistence. I’ve spent the better part of my time recently doing intensely repetitive work.

In my previous blog post I described the permanent plots in the East Woods that I am studying this summer. In addition to those four plots, I also set up six smaller temporary plots. Across the 3,100 square meter area that these plots cover, I have over 100 trees to collect data from!

These data are in the form of tree cores which are collected using a special hollow-hand drill called an increment borer. The idea is similar to stabbing a straw into a watermelon and retrieving the cylinder of fruit from inside the straw.

The tree cores are stored in paper straws for transport from the field to the lab. Once the cores are dry they need to be mounted on a block of wood to stabilize them. Each core then needs to be sanded, starting with a very coarse grit of 80 and progressively working towards finer grits, with the finest being 1500. When this has been done, a microscope can be used to measure the tree rings to an accuracy of .001 millimeters!

Since I collected at least two cores from each tree, I had a total of 225 tree cores, all which needed to be cored, mounted, sanded, dated, and measured. Coring alone took eight days and that was with the help of six other people. There were times when the work seemed endless, but despite that it is definitely worth it and I can't wait to see where the data leads.

A T-shaped hand drill partially embedded in the bark of a tree
An increment borer in the process of coring a tree
 
A box filled with labeled straws
All of the tree cores being stored in straws to dry out
 
A sliver of wood mounted on a labeled block; the wood is sanded so the tree rings are apparent
These cores have been mounted and sanded so the rings can be easily seen
 
 
About the Author
My name is Sierra Lopezalles. I am a rising sophomore at the California Institute of Technology double majoring in Biology and History. I am a 2017 summer undergraduate research intern at The Morton Arboretum working in the forest ecology lab with Dr. Christy Rollinson. My project is to study how different regimes of prescribed burning effects the mature trees of the Morton East Woods.