Friday, March 22, 2013

Field Day

Although I spend most of my time in an office, every so often I get to head outside and help the field technician collect data for our prairie research project.  Last Wednesday was one of those days; and I could not have asked for a nicer day to be working in the prairies.  The temperature soared to +14oC, the sun was shining and aside from it being rather windy; it was the perfect day for measuring snow and preparing for the spring melt.  It might have been a work day, but we don’t’ take ourselves too seriously.  Our team definitely knows how to appreciate the first warm days of spring while working outside.  

What a beautiful day to be working outdoors!
Our research has found that throughout Rocky View County an important process in groundwater recharge is depression-focused recharge.  Depression-focused recharge occurs when the snow melts and water accumulates in the low-lying areas of a field until the water infiltrates into the ground as it thaws.  Since this process is important in groundwater recharge, our field team measures the amount of snow throughout the winter and then in spring we begin to measure the water level in the depressions.  Last Wednesday, we completed four snow survey transects, which provide us with information about the distribution of snow before the warmer weather arrives.  This information is used to understand the amount of snow in our prairie study sites each year.  The prairie sites have different crop cover, which allows us to observe the differences in snow depth and run off.  At one of our crop sites there was not much snow left on the ground, particularly in the low-lying areas.  This lack of snow allowed us to start measuring the amount of water already collecting in the depressions (see the picture below).  

Measuring the water level in a depression.
Spring time means spring runoff, which impacts stream levels and flow rate.  As part of our research, we monitor West Nose Creek to provide information on surface water changes throughout the year.  The start of our surface water monitoring season is generally just before the snow melts, which allows us to record the increase in water level and determine when peak discharge occurs in the stream.  The one obstacle we encounter every year is a layer of ice between us and the water we need to monitor.  The picture below illustrates our attempt to break through the ice using a sledge hammer in order to start monitoring stream flow. 

After a number of attempts, we walked away defeated – Ice = 1, Field team = 0!  

Trying to break through the ice on West Nose Creek - though it might have provided entertainment for people passing by, we were unsuccessful in our attempts.
At the end of the day, although defeated at West Nose Creek, we had giant smiles on our face from getting to spend one of the first nice days of the year outdoors!

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