Good Field Practices

Tomorrow, we have an important lab meeting with summer coming up: good field practices. We will bring together the master and PhD-students working with us to talk about the do’s and don’ts in the field, and to learn from each other experiences on how to make data collection easier.

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Good field practices are important for an ecologist. In fact, it could not only mean the difference between good science and bad science, but also between happy scientist or sad, ill, or even dead scientist

I have been spending every summer since 2014 in the wonderful landscape of northern Scandinavia, and have seen mountains, cities and oceans. I have sampled plants, soils and insects, I slept in tents, huts and even under the open sky. What I learned is this: you cannot be prepared for everything, but you can at least try: being prepared can make your life a lot safer and easier.

Our little hut in the Skjomen valley

Thinking about the location: fieldwork often takes several days and if it is in a remote location, facilities might be limited. During my masters, I spent many rainy Norwegian nights in a sad tent on a patch of grass next to the road, until we discovered this amazing little hut in the forest. Now we have a toilet hut, a campfire place ànd a stove to keep us sane even when weather is horrible.

Good field practices is a very broad topic: there is personal hygiene, energy, weather protection and first aid; there is measurement tools, data back-ups and field site documentation. There is ticks, bears, interested passers-by, suspicious land owners and police officers. There is twisted ankles, tiredness and demotivation. Some of it you can fix, some of it you can’t. But all of it goes better with a bit of thought in advance.

Snow

Weather! Somewhere close to the top of the most important things to prepare for. I have been lost in the mist (make sure you have a gps, plenty of spare batteries, an old-school compass ànd a map, for if one or the other fails you), hunted by snow storms, burned by scoarching heat and bored out by annoying drizzle, all in exactly the same mountain pass.

Measuring soil water content in the mountains

Prepare for the worst for your science as well: this soil moisture sensor gave up on us while 400 km of the field station, and we did not have a spare one. No soil moisture for us, that time!

In Good Field Practices, your personal well-being, and that of your fieldwork crew comes first (which is exactly why we are organizing this lab meeting on this critical topic). If all of that is taken care off, it is the science: thinking about what data you want to collect and what your priority order is. You will never do exactly what you planned for (sometimes more, more often less), and there is always surprises.

You see, a critical lab meeting tomorrow, and one hour is most certainly far from enough. But it is an opportunity to get us talking and thinking together, and it should get them in the field with a better picture of what lies ahead than what I had at the start.

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