Necessity is the mother of… creative solutions
If you want to be an ecologist, creativity and problem solving are two skills you’ll need on your resume. Anyone who conducts field work quickly learns that unpredictability is an unavoidable element of the job. Across our own iRON network, the culprits of mayhem at the stations have ranged from rodents eating electrical cords to trees yanking out guy wires. (When a tree falls in the forest, I get an error notification.)
Most recently, though, the trouble has been bears. All of the iRON stations transmit their data via either cell phone or satellite connection, so as soon as equipment experiences an error or a logger box fails to connect to the internet at its appointed time, an email is sent to my inbox. These notifications trigger a mixed response in my brain: part of me is excited that I have a reason for another field day in the beautiful Roaring Fork Valley, but the other part of my brain is gravely reviewing my project budget and wondering what sort of damage I might find. Last week, the notification I received was from the Glenwood Springs Station: it was failing to connect to the internet. With commandeered assistance from my coworker’s office intern, Sofia, I set out into the scrub oak. We found that someone large, most likely a bear, had been visiting the station again–the relative humidity/air temperature sensor was askew. We used some metal scraps from the tool box with zip ties, reflective tape, and some grunting and sweating to reattach the sensor in an upright position. We also inspected the logger box and found the more likely cause of the connection issue. Ice had formed inside the edges of the box. The reason for this likely relates to a prior bear incident in the spring of last year (2016).
On that occasion, the bear had removed our sign on the front of the logger box, rearranged the tipping-bucket rain gauge, neatly broken the tiniest wire in the box, and broken off the clips that hold the front door of the box in place. At the time, we fixed the rain gauge back to a parallel position with the ground, spliced the wire, and did our best to reattached the clips that hold the door closed.
Although the splice and the rain gauge fixes seem to have held, the ice we found in the box last week suggests that the clips are not sealing the door of the box as tightly as they should. Back in the office, I consulted with Onset, the box’s manufacturer, whose patient engineers have fielded numerous strange questions from me over the years. They couldn’t provide replacement clips, but they had a good suggestion that I could scavenge the clips from an old box no longer in use. We have a couple of boxes that no longer have internet capability which we keep in the office for conducting calibrations. This morning, my boss and I hammered out the pins holding the clips in place on one of the office boxes, and I neatly peeled out the foam lining from around the edge of the box door. (The Glenwood Springs box foam lining had also been damaged in the June 2016 bear visit). Tomorrow my iRON intern, Asa, I will be heading into the field again, to transplant the parts onto the box in the field, hopefully securing it for the winter. Who knows what we’ll find!
Elise Osenga is AGCI’s Research and Education Coordinator. If you are interested in learning more about the iRON or wish to support research on soil moisture and climate, you can contact her at eliseo at agci.org