Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The race to the finish has begun. Everyone is really tired, having gotten little sleep and worked very hard during the waking hours, but there is still a lot of motivation and curiosity. Ideas for new research and teaching collaborations continue to emerge.

The large boat went out sampling until the winds came up. Like yesterday, the winds came very early today.

The near-shore team spent a second morning touring the edges of the lake.

The focus of the day, however, was in the laboratories. The processing of the numerous samples gathered has reached a fever pitch. We are near the end of our adventure here, so water samples need to be filtered, soil and invertebrate samples need to be stored in a way that’s conducive to transport, etc.

Photos: students working hard to process samples in the chemistry lab

The core samples from the lake bottom also need to be processed. Alan Heyvaert (Desert Research Institute) carefully sliced the core into 1 cm sections. These sections were labeled and packed, and will be analyzed at DRI. One core will remain here in Guatemala to allow researchers and students to conduct their own analysis, which can be compared to data gathered from samples taken to the US.

Photo: Alan slicing the core sample for analysis

It’s rare enough to see a sample from a 300 meter+ deep lake, but it was exciting to see plant material in this core. According to Alan, this is very rare.

Photo: plant material found in core sample

Many of the groups have expressed surprise at how many specimens there are to process. There are many more invertebrates in these samples than there are found in samples from other lakes, for example. This is most likely due to the relative warmth of Lago de Atitlan, particularly when compared to Lake Tahoe. It will be time consuming and expensive to finish analyzing all of these samples back home, but the large quantity of data should uncover valuable information about the ecosystem of Lago de Atitlan.

We are so pleased to have Margaret Dix (Universidad del Valle) with us during this whole expedition. She and her husband, Michael Dix (who spent as much time with us as he could), arrived in Guatemala more than 35 years ago to fulfill a two year assignment. They have been here ever since! They are widely respected as environmental scientists (“famous” is a term used by locals) and are responsible for educating many of Guatemala’s natural resource decision makers through their leadership in the biology department at the Universidad del Valle del Guatemala.

Photo: Margaret and Michael Dix

Margaret Dix, Universidad del Valle

This expedition represents a rare opportunity for Guatemalan professionals and students to work with limnologists and watershed engineers on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. For our students, this is a stimulating experience both scientifically and socially. Participants include people originally from seven different countries, eight different universities, and three continents, all working together with a common goal … to contribute information that will help to guide long term management and recovery programs for the lake. We hope this will be a continuing collaborative effort nationally and internationally.