During the summer of 2020, my research didn’t begin in the way I initially thought. My original plan was to investigate methane gas and how it relates to thaw slumps in the Canadian Arctic, which would have required me to travel across the country. Covid-19 travel restrictions and health concerns restricted me from following through with my research objectives. Instead, I changed gears and took on another project that entailed driving an ATV locally through the woods while sampling atmospheric gas.
My new goal was to develop measurement and data analysis methods to obtain accurate greenhouse gas (GHG) measurements from an off-highway vehicle and then use the techniques to measure methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Acadian Forests of Nova Scotia. The lab’s ATV, a 2013 Can-Am Commander 800, needed to be mounted with the same equipment as the Flux Lab truck. So, Dan and I outfitted it with an anemometer, compass, GPS, temperature sensors, data logger, and a gas analyzer, all powered by a generator placed in the ATV bed.
Summer began by assessing my accuracy measuring wind speed and direction so that elevated CH4 and CO2 levels could potentially be attributed to sources. This was accomplished through multiple experiments comparing a stationary anemometer’s measurements to the ATV anemometer’s measurements, which consisted of driving the ATV around a static set-up. Research never goes as smoothly as planned on paper, and this summer was no exception. After initial testing, a huge flaw was the gas analyzer would pick up ATV and generator exhaust, which appeared as a potential CH4 source. Much time was spent trying to avoid this through physical set-up and data processing methods, but in the end, the best route was to ditch the large, power hungry Picarro analyzer and generator. Instead, I used a smaller and more rugged GHG analyzer, the LGR, and powered it with large deep cycle batteries.
The most exciting part of the project was driving the ATV through the forests of Browns Mountain, looking for methane. The surveys’ main goal was to detect excess CH4 and CO2, attribute the excess gases to ecological features, determine how repeatable the sources were, and compare night vs day emissions. With only a few weeks of summer left, I completed a total of six surveys, three during the day and three during the night. The summer finished with processing the collected data and answering the aforementioned research questions. In summary, we found that there was more excess CH4 and CO2 during the night, and most of the time, it corresponded to elevation, and that excess CH4 and CO2 had a strong correlation to water vapour. These results were expected, and more analysis is needed and will continue this semester using machine learning to help pinpoint correlations between an extensive range of variables.
Overall, the summer was packed with excellent learning experiences. One of the most significant learning curves for me was using the statistical computer programming language, R. With a lot of help from others in the lab, by the end of the summer, I felt comfortable using, modifying, and designing my own R scripts. R is a great tool that made sorting and sifting through data significantly more straightforward.
It was really enjoyable seeing the wildlife, driving through variable road conditions, and experiencing remote forests in the dead of night! The route was chosen based on forest type and variety, and it also had great scenery and large puddles, which added extra fun to the drive. During a night survey with Dave, we saw a huge bull moose dead in our path as we took a turn in the trail. Unfortunately, Dave had just set his camera down seconds before we saw the moose. It was also a very interesting experience driving in the middle of the night in such deep woods. Additionally, almost everyone in the lab was able to help me complete my project by being co-drivers for the surveys. It was enjoyable to be able to share the experience with so many people. Thank you to everyone who lent a hand, gave me advice, and guided me through this fantastic opportunity this past summer.