Saturday, April 17, 2010

Emily Carlson, UC Davis

Tina showed up, and I am glad to have the help. Now that more samples are coming in daily, we have some catching up to do. The students have all been great; they are quick learners and are eager for any task. A large group went out last night for a night cruise, despite the pouring rain and lightning. Thankfully the storm had abated by the time they got the boat loaded and shoved off. I can't wait to hear how the overnight cruise went - they'll be bringing me back tons of samples to process. Our days in the chem lab will be full from here on out! But I couldn't have picked a better local to set up a lab in a hotel, that's for sure!

Marion Wittmann, UC, Davis

Alan Heyvaert (DRI) and his wife, Ellen Levy , and I arrived at Lago de Atitlan a few days after everyone else and what we found when we arrived was incredible. There is a world here that is powered by the sheer energy and motivation of ~50 of the most amazing and dedicated people I have ever been around. First time in my life I have been immersed in such a positive and truly fantastic place. It is good.

We came to the Reserva on Thursday April 15, where we found at least 30 of our teammates sitting around a table discussing the day’s activities and plans for tomorrow. It was clear that energies were very high and also very positive despite how tired everyone was—3-4 hours of sleep per night seemed to be an optimistic average! Everyone had been working quite hard for some days now, to set up the laboratory, to get the field sampling started, to get logistics sorted out. The Guatemalan students have been a huge part of all of this—interested, engaged, hard working. I have never seen such a group of people who are so upbeat, and so genuine about pursuing this science, inspired by conservation. It’s really emotional for me to see this. And really uplifting.

So the day after we arrived we went out for the paleo-limnology portion of the field sampling. This is Alan Heyvaert’s expertise, and so he showed us all how to put together a sediment core and to collect materials from the bottom of the lake. We travelled out to the deepest part of the lake and were able to successfully grab 3 cores from approximately 310 m depth. I have never done anything like this, so it was great to learn the technique and to have success in the first run! It is exciting because there are diatom and cyanobacteria researchers here from the Czech Republic—colleagues and friends of Eliska. They have interest in these cores, and are now pursuing communications and ties between DRI (Alan) and their university. VERY INTERNATIONAL! And VERY COOL.

I also cannot begin to describe the science powerhouse we have here. We have world experts in multiple fields that are completely engaging in their work on this lake. It’s like an all star team. Every time I sit down for a meal, I am sitting down next to someone who is intensely smart, and who truly loves what they do. I feel like we should all have team jerseys…Team Atitlan, or as Bob says, The Army of Atitlan! Woot!

This lake is very interesting in the sense that the afternoon winds, or chocomil, come up like clockwork…about 2 pm every day and it’s time to get off the lake because of this. It is pretty wild to see a different style of lake—there are fishermen, small boats, large boats, but all is very casual in comparison to Lake Tahoe. More on this later. I still am in the process of soaking it all in.

One cool thing is being able to be out on the lake with Bob Richards…a legend from Tahoe—the former boat captain for the Tahoe Research Group, and the namesake for the research vessel that I have gained my “lake legs” on, and I, and all the students here are getting the chance to learn from him. Amazing.

Photo: Bob Richards (right) on the boat with Javier (who, like Bob, seems to be happy all the time!)

Off the lake, yesterday was a very important day for our research leaders—there were three major events—a meeting with the teachers of the area, a meeting with the ambassador’s office, and also a meeting with local NGO’s and other government representatives. From all accounts, it sounds like everything went fabulously! Our respective teams worked their magic on all fronts. From what I hear, there were 100 teachers, all broken up into five groups where they were able to talk limnology, ecology and voice general concerns about the state of Lake Atitlan, this watershed and how they can help. I think it’s so amazing that local community leaders are ready to jump to action. I think that it is this kind of spirit that helped Lake Tahoe, and it is certainly alive and well here. The meetings with the government officials, NGO’s and other local groups also seemed to have gone really well. I caught the tail end of one of them, where Sudeep was communicating ideas about what works and what doesn’t work in terms of lake management, ecology, and the link of these issues to human and social needs. He was encouraging the consideration of ecology, the community, and impacts that these thoughts will have on future generations. What he said was well received, and I think it made an impression.

The team was recently out night sampling. We wished them off at 10 pm last night, and this morning I watched their boat (Mariner’s wife style) from the balconies at the Hotel Atitlan. They are scheduled to arrive back at noon! At which point we will relieve them and retrieve the experiments they had placed last night. There were five different collections and experiments being conducted between about 20-25 people on the boat! PPr, a bioassay, another experiment that Jessica (ASU) was running, ammonia, and other water quality sampling on behalf of Margeret Dix and her husband Michael Dix.

I am worried about the group because they were attempting to set a few lines, by mooring them on the bottom—these lines must stay out for four days for Jess’ experiment. They are using pingers in case the lines get carried away by the infamous chocomil. Our luck has been so great since we’ve arrived, that I’d bet that the lines will stay! Fingers crossed.

One last thing…we are staying in the most amazing hotel I’ve ever been to. Cheers to Alberto Rivera for supporting our group in such a luxurious way. How would we make this work without the kindness of so many people?