Antarctica: microscopic animals gain global recognition

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Mar 142013

Author: Kelsey Peterson


After visiting Antarctica 42 times, Ph.D. Diana Wall, Colorado State University director for the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, has had a valley in Antarctica named after her. She earned this, along with many other honors, including national recognition from the White House, through studying the soil. Flying out to Antarctica once a year, Wall and her team take samples of soil that they wash and examine under a microscope. What they see are tiny little animals known as roundworms or nematodes. Through observing the nematodes they are able to see what has happened to the population, linking impacts to landscape and global scales. “I think we have to think about it in a bigger issue,” Wall said. “Our cars oil on [the soil] . . . we pave it over for cities and sidewalks and we don’t think that we need food. Soils are important for our food for the future. That top soil is rich and it allows forests to grow, but when we slash and burn forests in the Amazon and we get desertification . . . we’re not taking care of our soils and maintaining them.”

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In the Know: Greta Lohman Birch, Lory State Park soil study

 Features, In The Know, The Well  Comments Off on In the Know: Greta Lohman Birch, Lory State Park soil study
Sep 182012

Author: Kristin Hall

What kind of understanding do you hope to gain from this project?
“One of the goals of this project is to increase our understanding of soil processes and the mechanisms that drive several of the post-fire conditions we observe, as well as to begin to understand biochar/soil interactions in post-fire environments.  From the land management perspective, the goal is that biochar and/or natural char proves to be an effective means of restoring soil productivity, providing public land managers as well as home owners an additional option for post-fire land restoration treatments … Biochar is a charcoal-like by-product of converting biomass into biofuels. Thus, it ties into the bioenergy component of my studies as a means to utilize the expansive amount of woody biomass we have in Colorado, potentially using the beetle-kill or overcrowded biomass to create both bioenergy as well as biochar, which can then be used as a soil amendment.”
What is your role at CSU? 
“I am a Ph.D. student in Soil and Crop Sciences, and I am currently funded by a (National Science Foundation) grant through the (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) program here at CSU.  The focus of the CSU IGERT program is a multidisciplinary approach to sustainable bioenergy.”
What is your project’s relationship with Lory State Park?
“After the High Park Fire I contacted various state agencies in the hopes of establishing a project focused on soil restoration of public lands that had been affected by the fire.  The Forest and Park Managers at LSP were very open and receptive to collaborating, and, after visiting various sites around the park, we were able to establish a study site.”
What inspired you to take on this project?
“I suppose I’ve always been interested in wildfires and the ecological impacts posed by severe fires.  I grew up in the urban-wildland interface in the foothills outside of Denver, and I remember the environmental, social and economic challenges that our communities experienced as a result of wildfires.”
What are some of the biggest challenges you expect to face working on this project?
“The Colorado Parks and Wildlife and park rangers at LSP have been very helpful, so I don’t anticipate many logistical challenges.  However, as is the case with any study, one worries about the outcome.  There are many variables to consider, and this is a fairly untested restoration technique, so one challenge is to ensure that we account for as many unseen variables as possible during the design and implementation process.”
How long do you see the project taking?
“I anticipate the last data collection occurring in the fall of 2014, so about two plus years.”
What are you most proud of about being a CSU student? 
“I’m really proud to be part of such a great community. I am continually impressed by both students and faculty in terms of their academic engagement and integrity, as well as just the general kindness and compassion I see on campus.”