USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

August 3, 2011

Maintaing the Trail and Soil Lab

Filed under: Uncategorized — ancheung @ 5:59 pm
For the first half of the day, Dan and I went up the trail together. We both had different tasks, but I didn’t want to go alone because we had sighted a rattlesnake a couple days ago. Dan raked the trail while I used a better quality camera to take more pictures of the trail to put up on our poster and signs. During the later half of the day, we did lab work. We had started Tuesday’s sample around 1:37pm so we had to go back at the same time to take the 24-hour reading for the hydrometer and the thermometer. We didn’t start a new sample because we were scheduled to go to the herbarium the next day. So we wouldn’t be around to get the 24 -hour reading. Dan and I decided to take time on Saturday and Sunday to complete the soil texture analysis since our internship was winding down. We ended the day with another group meeting about signs and poster. I had contacted Envriosign, a sign company throughout the week and we had asked for an estimate for 6 signs. It turned out to be over our budget. So we were considering our options and deciding what we can get done and show as a deliverable at the same time leave behind a guideline so other people can show the trail or maintain it. We decided that it was best to at least get signs for the two trailheads, make drafts of laminated pamphlets, and complete a hiker’s guide about our trail.  Also, Miller was gone half the day to help with the Conservancy remove fennel at Howland’s landing.

Soil Texture Analysis

For more pictures, click here: Day53 Soil Analysis

August 2, 2011

Finishing Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez @ 4:00 pm

Today we had another visit from our favorite animator Lisa Cheung. She showed us her progress on the animation and it was enchanting! Last week we gave her a list of native species to include in the project (sticky monkey flower, bush mallow, toyon, lemonade berry for starters) and she included her renditions in the updated animation. It really looks great. Lisa included three scenarios into her sketch: scenario 1- leaving the fennel monoculture as is, scenario 2- mowing the fennel down, and scenario 3- removing the fennel from the root. We hope this animation will help to explain to the public the importance of proper removal and why the Conservancy has taken the time to do such labor intensive work. Our next step is choosing the music and messages for the animation. We’ve thought up some great ideas for music, and Dan is working to edit those for Lisa.

The title slide

The title slide

As part of our interpretive trail project, I am attempting to map the trail and some of the invasive fennel monocultures surrounding the trail area. We secured some small GPS units from Ellen, and Dan and I walked the trail mapping control points and the route we took. Because this data may not upload into a usable map format, our data may have to be collected with a different type of instrument. Hopefully with the help of the GIS specialist from the Conservancy, Frank Starkey, we can map the trail and create a finished product. It would be really great if we could have a route map for hikers to use a reference, and a map to map our progress for future invasive plant removal.

Alex and Miller continued working on measuring the soil texture for our samples. Hopefully this analysis will be done in the next week and we can start to discuss the results.

Click here to check out some pictures: Day 52 Animated with Lisa

August 1, 2011

Lab Time pt. II

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — drkasang @ 10:07 pm
Although our lab work has been providing us with unexpected results, such as our nitrogen samples forming a precipitate with one reagent and having no reaction with another, we are continuing to analyze our soil. Miller and Alex spent their morning on the 3rd floor finessing the pH meter in the Microbiology Lab. Meanwhile I was running around the lab bothering Lauren Czarnecki, the laboratory manager at the Wrigley Institute, trying to track down a hydrometer, and buckets to dispose of our soil, DI water and Hexamataphospate solution. I couldn’t locate the hydrometer that our advisor, Lisa had brought out, it ended up being on a different lab bench in an narrow box. 

Before we discovered this, Lauren helped me in every way possible to locate a hydrometer.  She guided me to Ellen Kelly, Assistant Director of Education, who let me look through some soil sampling equipment she had in the hope of locating a hydrometer. Meanwhile Lauren contacted main campus, and I called Naomi Martinez from the Environmental studies office and Tony Summers from the CHIRP office of the Catalina Conservancy. Lauren then had the idea to reach out to the Southern California Marine Institute, located on Terminal Island. I called Carrie Wolfe and after a quick check told me there would be a hydrometer on the Miss Christi the following morning. Everyone was so helpful that morning, we are so lucky to be working with these organizations and people.

After some computer work and an e-mail from Lisa letting me know if I looked through the lab I would find a hydrometer in a sea grant box. We started the soil texture analysis by creating a blank with 100 mL of our HMP solution and 900 mL of DI in a 1 L plastic graduated cylinder and mixing one of our samples with 800 mL of DI in a 1 L glass graduated cylinder. We covered the blank with parafilm and inverted the mixture 10 times in order to ensure it was consistent. Once we dropped in the hydrometer we realized that reading a hydrometer that only breaks the surface of the solution by a few inches would be difficult through the opaque plastic. However, we were able to get accurate readings and after taking readings at 30s, 60s and 10 minutes we inverted our soil sample 10 times and started the same process.  The glass made reading the hydrometer much easier which was necessary because the soil, water and HMP mixture foamed slightly from being inverted.

By the end of the afternoon we had recorded the specific gravity and temperature at the previously mentioned intervals and 30, 60, 90 and 120 minutes for both mixtures. We covered both cylinders with parafilm to avoid evaporation or contamination and decided the next day to use the glass graduated cylinder only, due to the ease and accuracy of reading the hydrometer. Working on an island presents certain issues, access to commodities such as lab equipment or groceries are limited. Therefore, I will appreciate the things that USC and being more connected on the mainland provide than ever before. We left the lab organized and ready to return to the following day for our 24 hour readings.



July 28, 2011

Rattlesnakes and Leopard Sharks

Filed under: Uncategorized — mzou @ 9:43 pm
Miller Zou
Today we had another volunteer day of trailwork in the morning and snorkeling and kayaking after lunch. This time we had seven volunteers from the Catalina Island Conservancy, all of whom we have either lived and/or worked with before. We had already removed a lot of the fennel from our trail on Monday with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps., so as a group we all went to the first major fennel removal site on the trail to finish what we started on Monday. The entire area was dominated by a dense fennel monoculture just weeks ago, and today we almost cleared the whole thing. After about an hour of working Dan encountered a rattlesnake hiding in the grass and casually announced its presence to the rest of us (see pic below). We all carefully inspected the snake and then continued fennel removal away from the potentially dangerous animal. The morning of work went really well; we got rid of a substantial amount of fennel and had a good time doing it. Joe, a trail intern for the Conservancy, managed to pull the fennel with the biggest taproot of the day.  It was easily three feet long and one of the largest fennel roots I have seen all summer. We worked hard until noon, and then we ate lunch in the Wrigley cafeteria.
After lunch we made our way down to the water for some snorkeling and kayaking. Everyone was able to do both since there were only ten of us and we had plenty of time. I did a lap around the cove in a kayak and then decided to get in the water and snorkel, which turned out to be a great decision. It was a beautiful sunny day and the water was warmer than usual with great visibility. In the shallow water there were countless garibaldi and calico sea bass, along with a few sea hares and sea cucumbers. This was the first time I truly felt comfortable in the water, and it allowed to me to snorkel for a much longer period of time over a greater distance. We went further out towards the middle of the cove where the sea floor drops down to 20-30 feet and saw a group of at least twenty leopard sharks. They were densely concentrated in one area and seemed to be everywhere when we got there. There were also a few bat rays nearby along with a shovelnose guitarfish. The Marine Protected Area that includes the cove has an incredible amount of biodiversity and proves how effective MPAs can be. On the way back to shore there was a five-foot-long leopard shark swimming in the shallower water not more than five feet away from us. All in all it was a very productive and rewarding day. The trail is looking great and just needs some finishing touches now.
Click here to check out some more pictures: Our First Wrigley Volunteer Day 

July 27, 2011

Soil Analysis

Filed under: Uncategorized — ancheung @ 7:45 pm

Today our professor, Lisa Collins, visited and we worked mostly on setting up the lab work for the colorimetric analysis of ammonia. We had 26 test tubes prepared, 2 for each of our 13 samples (10 soil samples plus 3 duplicates). Miller and I labeled each test tube in a systematic way (1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 2-2), I did all the 1s, while he did all the 2s. Then I used the pipette to retrieve 3.0 mL of the soil sample from the erlenmeyer flasks that we had created earlier on July 18, and inserted into the test tubes.

Sabrina prepared another tray of 24 test tubes with the stock and blank solution. For each of these 50 test tubes, we added 400μL of salicylate catalyst. We created another mixed reagent that was 1 part chlorox and 9 parts alkaline-citrate reagent, which was equivalent to 3mL of Chlorox and 27mL of alkaline-citrate reagent. This would just be enough for the 50 test tubes that each needed 600 μL of the mixed reagent.

We actually didn’t have chlorox, so Dan and Miller had to drive to Two Harbors to get it. Then we added the mixed reagent to the test tubes. However, on the first two samples, we realized something went really wrong. Immediately after adding the alkaline-citrate, the sample precipitated, which was not supposed to happen. With the samples solidifying we are unable to run the samples through spectrometer and get an accurate reading. We had to quickly resort to a new protocol. The revised plan was to add 120mL of phenol, 120mL of sodium nitroprusside, and 300mL of chlorox solution to each of the 50 samples. The team was in full gears as we all took on individual tasks: preparing the reagents, pipetting solutions, sealing the samples with parafilm, and turning the test tubes upside down. Lisa even gave us a hand. Even with all this help we were barely able to make it to lunch.

During lunch we met up with Professor Jim Haw, who is the head of the Environmental Studies department. He was also my professor in quite a few classes. We told him how we sighted a rattlesnake up on our trail, and he became quite interested on hiking it. Unfortunately, he had a meeting, so he couldn’t do it. After lunch, we debriefed with Lisa about the teams’ aims and goals for our internship. We have about 3 weeks left, and we needed to prioritize on our deliverables. Once we finished, we went back to lab. We hoped that by the time we came back from lunch, the samples would have reacted with the solutions and changed color. It did not. Without any reaction, we aren’t able to do any analysis on the experiment. So our nitrogen testing was not successful.


For more pictures, click here: Day 46 Soil Analysis

July 25, 2011

Working with the LACC

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — drkasang @ 3:53 pm
Today was going to be our first day managing a group that would be assisting us with our trail work by removing fennel. I was nervous before the boat arrived while we were putting our tools near the trail-head, we hadn’t organized a day like this before and I didn’t know whether the group would be enthusiastic. However, when I saw them getting off the boat with their LA Conservation Corps shirts, with work boots and water bottles I knew they would be ready to remove fennel. The fact that Ellen Kelley, the education coordinator for WIES, met them with us and welcomed them to the campus helped put me at ease. Also Katelyn Horn, one of the Stop the Spread coordinators from the conservancy came out and gave a talk about invasive plants and the importance of managing invasives, such as fennel, to the LACC group. We hiked up to the trail, discussed fennel removal techniques with the shovels and pulaski, then Nick Riehl and Steve Anderson separated the crew into two groups and we hit the trail. Sabrina and I were with Nick’s group which involved a longer hike to our fennel area. Along the way, we stopped in the toyon grove along our trail and Nick, who had spent time working on Catalina, talked about the toyon’s red berries and how Hollywood’s name should be Toyonwood because all of the red and dark green that was seen by the people coming to the area were actually toyons.
After this talk, and a little shade, we continued our hike, past the waterfall to an area of fennel dominance which we had decided would be a good area to work.  We started removing the fennel and everyone started pulling out fennel with vigor.  It was a hot day, but everyone had plenty of water and sunscreen, and before I knew it there were already large piles of dead fennel littering the hillside. I was having a great time, chatting with the group and getting lots of work done and pretty soon it was about time to head down for lunch. We snapped a group photo and began to gather up all the fennel, water bottles and backpacks that needed to come down. Since there was so much fennel and the hike was pretty long, some bundles of fennel that I saw people carrying down the hillside were quite impressive.  We made it down the hillside with enough time to make sure that we had gotten all of our tools and water bottles and then helped the other group clear their fennel.
We ended up having a great lunch with the conservancy, getting an opportunity to get to know them better and talk about the other work they were doing. They were really happy to get a cooked lunch as their past week had been spent camping and their meals were mostly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As a thank you for all their hard work throughout the morning, we headed down to the waterfront and gave a talk about kayak and snorkel use and asked the crew which they would want to try out. Most were interested in kayaking, a couple wanted to snorkel and a few of them wanted to get some sun and sit out on the loading ramp. Miller helped people get the kayaks and load them into the water, Sabrina was out in a kayak to lead the group, Alex was helping the people that had flipped their kayaks and I was getting the snorkelers in the water.
Even though many of the Conservancy members had not kayaked nor snorkeled before, their enthusiasm and resiliency was impressive. It seemed that no matter how many times they fell out of a kayak, just a few minutes later they were back in, trying all over again. This time at the waterfront was the highlight of my day. I fell in love with Catalina spring semester 2010 when I came out for a class. One day after class and lab a group of us decided to kayak and snorkel. I had previously been kayaking but had never snorkeled before and it was an amazing experience. Seeing all the flora and fauna that lived in the Marine Protected Area opened my eyes to a whole new world underwater. Getting the opportunity to share my love for the water was a spectacular experience. At the end of the day, we all watched them getting on the Miss Christi and waved goodbye; I was wishing the day could have gone on and on.

Check out our picture album from this day

July 19, 2011

Some Planning and Preparation

by Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez

In between preparing our lab samples, we had a meeting today with Charlie de la Rosa. Charlie is beginning his PhD in the Evolutionary Biology program at UCLA (our enemies!), so this was one of the last opportunities we had to talk with him before he leaves for school.

The focus of our meeting was the future of Deer Valley Trail. We had been discussing adding interpretive signs to our trail for some time, so it was finally time to start planning them out! We discussed many ideas for potential signs like an introduction to island biogeography, a map of all of the coves of the West End, an overview of sustainable trail design, or sign with all of the trail’s endemics on it. We also discussed the location of each sign. The goal is to have a sign at each control point, but we still weren’t sure which locations are best for which sign topics. It is also important that the trail is reversible so that hikers can begin the trail from the top of the ridge or from that bottom and have the same experience. Charlie suggested we continue to work through ideas for signs and begin drafts to help with the creation process.

We also talked about the sign design and funding. We are going to research different signs that we have seen that we like, and contact their creators. Charlie is very fond of the steel signs at Joshua Tree, so hopefully we can get in touch with them and find out how their signs are made. Unfortunately we don’t exactly have funds for the project yet. We talked about fundraising ideas and hope to coordinate with Wrigley to get money for these signs. I hope we can get through all of this red tape and have our signs completed before the end of the summer!

Next on the agenda was the a fennel removal volunteer day geared towards Conservancy employees. We discussed dates to invite Conservancy employees to help us remove fennel along the trail and then enjoy the amenities at the Wrigley waterfront, including snorkeling and kayaking. We chose the 27th and 29th for our work days. I hope that we can pull these events off! It will be a great opportunity for us to get more hands to work on the removal along our trail and teach more people about marine life at Wrigley Marine Science Center .

Before he left, Charlie invited us to a Stop the Spread event focused on educating volunteers on fennel removal in Howland’s Landing tomorrow. I hope we can all attend. Learning how the Conservancy teaches its volunteers how to remove fennel will be a really good model for us to follow when we have the LA Conservation Corps comes out on Monday.

July 18, 2011

Lab Time!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — drkasang @ 3:41 pm
Our hard work for the past week, gathering data and samples finally paid off with some time in the lab. Lisa came out for the day to help us begin to prepare our samples for the analysis we will do later in the week. The morning consisted of sieving our soil samples through 2 mm screens, allowing us to remove unwanted rocks and organic material in addition to breaking up the clumps of soil that were too large to fit through.  From our large samples, we labeled weigh trays and took 100 mg of the sample. We placed 10 samples and 3 duplicates into erlenmeyer flasks and added 50 mL of milliQ water. We also created a blank flask filled only with milliQ water and another flask with stock solution comprised of 5 mL NH4(SO4)3 with 45 mL milliQ. We added 3 grams of Potassium Persulfate to each flask, covered the flasks with aluminum foil, taped the aluminum foil on with autoclave tape, placed them into pyrex trays and then put them in the autoclave for 2 and a half hours.

While we waited for the autoclave cycle to run we prepared our analytical mixtures. We had made a good amount of our stock solution which was placed into the explosion-proof refrigerator in the Wrigley Lab.  I had the task of weighing out 39.6 g of sodium salicylate and 0.026 g of sodium nitroferricyanide (III). Sabrina and Alex set about fashioning a funnel out of waxy weigh paper and tried to get this flour-like compound into a 100 mL volumetric flask.  Miller then helped me weigh 25 g of sodium citrate and 4.6 g of sodium hydroxide which required careful funneling, as we were using weigh paper, into a 250 mL volumetric flask.  Once our mixtures were in the flasks we added milliQ water and shook, then took turns shaking and then shook more. The 250 mL solution mixed easily, but the 100 mL formed a hard pack which required the majority of our time and shaking energy to dissolve. Once they were finally a homogeneous mix, we transferred the solution from the flasks into sealable glass containers which we put into the fridge with our stock solution.  We then waited a few more minutes for our samples to finish in the autoclave, removed the samples and placed them into our designated lab space to begin our analysis on Thursday. The lab work, while not physically taxing like most of our work out here, was meticulous and time consuming, leaving me quite tired by the end of another long day.

For more pictures, check out today’s photo album: Day 37 Lab Work Part II


July 13, 2011

Transplanting and Seed Collection

Filed under: Uncategorized — ancheung @ 6:39 pm

The week so far has been extremely fun and exciting. It was packed with new activities and I really appreciated the break in the routine. We had an early start as we headed out to revisit Middle Ranch and work with Peter Dixon, the native plant nursery supervisor at the James H Ackerman Nursery. For the first half of the day, we worked on transplanting Catalina Island currants: Ribes viburnifolium, into bigger pots. These were native species in the gooseberry family. We transplanted over 100 of them, completing 6 trays. Before we started, Peter demonstrated the transplanting process. We began with filling the larger pot with soil, about 2/5 of the way. Then, we massaged the outside of the smaller pot to loosen it, and gently turned the pot over to remove the plant. Once we had the plant in our hands, we carefully “tickled” the bottom part to open up the roots. It was then time to transplant the currant into the bigger pot. We packed it into the soil. Peter advised us not to bury the plant too deep and to actually expose the root near the surface to prevent fungus disease. We continued to add more soil, compacting it around the edges and in the center, until it was firm. Then we placed the transplanted pots into a wheeling cart and watered it 3 times back and forth. It was important to get them soaked. Then we wheeled the cart into the nursery and placed the pots on the shelves. On the way back we got another tray of plants. We transplanted until we completed all 6 trays.

The second half of the day was dedicated to collecting seeds. We drove towards Avalon and stopped at two different sites to collect seeds for the purple needle grass (Nasella pulchra) and the silver lotus (Lotus argophyllus var. argenteus) respectively. We tied plastic bags on our pant loops to put the seeds in there. The purple needle grass was a fine, long brown stalk that swayed elegantly with the wind. We found them in an enclosed area where most of the seeds had already been released. Because the area belonged to the Conservancy, we could only take at most 10% of the plant. We had to leave some grass to regenerate. I had a difficult time differentiating the purple needle grass from other grasses, especially since the entire enclosed area was all grassland. I frequently got the purple needle grass confused with the ripgut grass. For me, I have to touch the seed to figure it out. The ripgut was harsher at the end; it almost felt sticky to me. Once we found a stalk with seeds, we held the stalk and pull the seeds in one quick upward moment, like a zipper action, and the seeds fell off easily.

We went further along Avalon, near the Catalina Island Marine Institute at Toyon Bay to gather the silver lotus. The site had an abundance of the plant. The silver lotus was more distinguishable than the purple needle grass. It was kind of weedy and had a yellow, brownish flower. The browner lotus meant the seed was ripe. We pulled out horn-like petals, which crumbled easily at our touch, and opened one with our nails. It was extremely difficult, but with much persistence I was able to pry it open and discover the tiniest seed I’ve ever seen. It looked similar to cricket turd. It was such an adventure going around the canyon to collect these seeds.

For more pictures, check out today’s photo album: Day 32 Nursery with Peter: Transplanting/ Seed Collection

July 12, 2011

Soil Collection Day 2: Two Harbors

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez @ 9:23 pm

Today was our second day of soil collection, and this time Lisa left us to our own devices. Our collection area today was the Two Harbors 2011 fire burn area and along Deer Valley Trail.

We started the day by gathering all of our sampling materials (spades, Ziploc bags, and transect tapes) and adding them into the “Bucket o’ Science” as Lisa lovingly calls it. We hopped in the van and drove back over to Two Harbors. I had scouted out some sampling areas the day before on my jog and proposed some ideas to the group. We decided to sample and transect an area that had burnt to a crisp, and an area in the same habitat that had not burned.

We set off up the hillside until we found a spot that was suitable, then set up the transect.

We attempted to identify some associated species of the area but it was extremely difficult. First of all, the only thing thriving in the area was invasive yellow mustard, which we had never formally identified. Secondly, all the plants that remained from the fire were grasses and were extremely difficult to identify. Instead of trying to guess each different grass, we decided to take a picture and take a sample to one of our experts and identify it later. It was a tough transect to complete and there was definitely a lot of discussion over each plant and each point.

Unidentified plants, a source of frustration

As we were laying down the tape, we had a visitor join us. It was Wilson, Two Harbors’ resident bison! We were a bit scared as he walked toward us, but it turned out he just wanted to scratch his face against a bush nearby us. There are always so many neat animal encounters in the field, you never know what is going to pop out next!

Wilson, the bison

Our next transect proved a bit easier, after a slightly treacherous hike to the sampling site. We wanted an area to contrast our burned site, so we looked for an unburned area. We climbed further up the ridge through a drainage, sort of following the road but mostly creating our own trail. Dan led the way and we found a great spot amidst some scrub oak. We completed the second transect, and took another soil sample. I really wanted another sample from the same aspect and elevation within the burn area (to have a direct comparison between burned and non-burned) so the group humored me and we hike across the hillside to the burned area to take a soil sample.

Two Harbors burn area constrasted with non burn area

After lunch, Dan, Miller, and Alex went up to our trail in Deer Valley to complete another transect and take a soil sample.

Transect through Deer Valley Trail

Once the data collection was completed, Lisa showed us how to sift the soil in the bag using a two micron sifter. Sifting the soil is going to take a while since there are a lot of sticky clay minerals in this island’s soil. Even though it will be alot of work, I am excited to see how all of our samples turn out in the lab. Overall, it’s been a great experience working in the field.

For more photos see Soil Collection and Transects Part II

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