Bogology – a science without borders!

Peatlands, like all other ecosystems, do not respect international borders and our Bogological studies frequently take us further afield, beyond the shores of our own damp and windy isle.

The near global distribution of peat means that Bogologists all over the world are just as fascinated by the goings-on in these soggy ecosystems as we are. Bogology, like many things in life, works better when we work together, sharing information and expertise. Luckily, there are a number of ways we collaborate and interact with our international colleagues:

Conferences:

As you may have seen on our Twitter feed and Facebook page recently, Matt has been in away in San Francisco at the AGU fall meeting – the biggest meeting of earth scientists in the world! Here he presented his work from the Antarctic Peninsula. Conferences are fantastic because not only do they allow us to present our exciting results to the wider scientific community, they enable us to meet our fellow scientists, put faces to names on journal articles and generally meet lots of new people (scientists need friends too you know)! I’ll leave Matt to talk more about his experiences at conferences in a forthcoming blog though.

Fieldwork:

Many of the projects we work on would be impossible (or at least, far more difficult!) without help and assistance from other Bogologists. Take my current job for example, working on the NERC-funded PATAGON project. On our most recent fieldwork expedition in January 2013, we were joined by a group of Bogologists from France and Belgium (and did I mention one of our own team was Dutch?!). In fact, these guys weren’t just Bogologists, they were also mix of biogeochemists and geologists from EcoLab, Toulouse and the University of Ghent working on PATAGON’s sister project, PARAD, looking at dust input in peatlands.

Having been to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego many times before, these guys knew everything there was to know about how to get things done in the region. From how often the ferry is likely to be delayed by strong winds on the Strait of Magellan to how many spare tyres to pack for the treacherous road into Karukinka Natural Park!

We worked well as a team, treating each other’s fieldwork goals as our own and in the evening we would relax together with some homemade guacamole, the occasional beer (ahem) and multilingual music from some very well-travelled iPods. Between us (and I can’t take any credit for adding more than one to this total) we spoke 6 languages and who knows how many dialects – actually, can I claim Estuary English as a dialect?! Anyway, I learned a great deal from this trip, not just about the peatlands of southern South America, but also about countries a bit closer to home, just over the English Channel!

Of course it’s not just Bogologists from European countries that we work with. There are a number of people ‘on the ground’ in southern South America without whom our job would be much harder. Veronica Pancotto, based in Ushuaia, Argentina – the southernmost city in the world – has been fantastic in collecting monthly rainwater samples for our stable isotope work – something we just couldn’t do otherwise. Nelson Bahamonde has been doing a similar job for us in Chile and, on our last visit, also showed us around a new peat extraction site – a sad sight, but interesting all the same. This level of access and local knowledge provided by our friends working in the region full-time is indispensable, without question.

Laboratory visits:

By working so closely with other research teams’ projects we can share not only fieldwork brain and brawn, scientific ideas and results, but also each others laboratory facilities. I have just returned from the beautiful city of Toulouse in France where I spent a week at EcoLab utilising their equipment, scientific understanding and, out of hours, their detailed knowledge of excellent wines!

One of the worst and most monotonous jobs associated with being a Bogologist is sub-sampling – the process of chopping cores into contiguous 1 cm, sometimes thinner, slices upon which to conduct our analyses. So when I was invited down recently by François De Vleeschouwer to try out their new method of slicing peat cores, I jumped at the chance! By freezing the cores, then slicing using a band saw and a production line of peaty helpers, we were able to do the sub-sampling for four cores in just a few days rather than the few weeks it would usually take. Here is a video François and his team made of the process.

The evenings weren’t just spent drinking wine either. Together with Paul Hughes, we laid the foundation for an exciting new project over a gourmet meal prepared by our host – this is how all science should be conducted!

So being a Bogologist is a great job for many reasons. I get to study something which fascinates me and is incredibly important in the discussion of past, present and future climate change; I get to visit some incredible places like Patagonia and Alaska and I also have the privilege of meeting and working with some amazing people, from all corners of the world. Not bad, I reckon!

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