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Coring Lake Aquitania

18 January 2017

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Panoramic view of Aquitania Lake. Notice the blooming Espeletia.

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After we finished coring, our PVC and wood was taken away by a man and his horse (and his dog). I’m sure it will be put to good use.

We traveled back up to Aquitania Lake today, managing to navigate back to it without the help of Felipe. We spent the day successfully collecting the full sediment record from the lake, over 7 meters of mud.  While Mark, Jason, and Jaime did the coring, I collected plenty of surface samples from the surrounding peatland. Part way through the coring, we had a Colombian visitor who came to the lake on his horse to ask us what we were up to. He seemed amused by our activities. Not wanting to strap all the PVC and wood back onto the car, we offered it to him.  He was thrilled to take it, and we gave him rope so that he could strap it all together and then tie it to his horse.  I was really impressed with his rope tying ability, and although the horse did not seem particularly happy about the situation, it carried all the pipe and wood away.

Anyone know what kind of bird is in the video below?  A sandpiper of some sort?

A collage of some of the interesting plants observed around the margin of the lake:

After a quick dinner in Sogamoso, we returned to Finca SanPedro where Mark Brenner gave a public talk highlighting the paleoclimate work that he has conducted with Jaime, Jason, and others in Latin America.  Impressively, Mark gave the talk in both English and Spanish! I’m really going to have to learn some Spanish before my next trip to Colombia.

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Mark Brenner gives a public talk at the Finca SanPedro.

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The paramo

15 Jan 2017

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Raul Trejos of the Universidad of Caldas sinks into the peat with a smile. The water temperature was about 9 degrees C (~50 degrees F).

After breakfast at the hotel, which included fresh fruit, eggs, rice, and soup, we loaded up into two cars and drove up the winding road from Manizales toward the paramo to a site located just below Nevado del Ruiz National Park. Several other scientists, including Natalia Hoyos of the Universidad del Norte, and Felipe Vallejo, Raul Trejos, and Andres Pardo of the Universidad of Caldas, joined us. We ascended over 1000 meters in about an hour, and the driving experience was just as thrilling as it was in Bogota. Cars and motorcycles would pass other vehicles even on the very windy sections of this road. Even a public bus passed around a blind curve! The double yellow line on the road is clearly just a suggestion, and taken no more seriously than the posted speed limit is in much of the US.

As we ascended, the views of the rainforest and mountains were breathtaking, with the forest vegetation clearly changing as we progressed higher. Somewhere over about 3000 meters the trees disappeared and were replaced with tussock grasses and frailejón (pronounced fry-lay-hon-nez), which are some of the most characteristic plants of the paramo. Frailejón (Espeletia sp.) is in the Asteraceae family, which includes species with composite flowers like sunflowers, daises, and dandelions. However, other than the recognizable composite flower on the plant it is quite unique, with a thick trunk, hairy leaves, and old dead leaves that remain attached to the plant, presumably to protect it from the cold. The roots don’t apparently penetrate very deep in the soil, because it was not uncommon to see individuals toppled over.

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Frailejon (Espeletia sp.) growing in the paramo near Nevada del Ruiz National Park.

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Triunfo peatland.

Our goal for the day was to visit and collect surface samples from a peatland that was previously cored by Jaime and others.  At Lehigh University we are currently analyzing testate amoebae in this core. Testate amoebae are a subgroup of amoeba that produce a decay-resistant and morphologically distinct shell. These organisms have been used estimate past changes in the hydrology of peatlands, because different species are found in dry versus wet habitats. A major goal of this new collaboration will be to assess the potential of using testate amoebae along with other indicators to reconstruct past hydrological and ecological changes within the paramo. However, currently nothing is known about the ecology of testate amoebae in peatlands of the paramo, so we are collecting surface samples to better understand the distribution of testate amoebae today, and we will use this  information to interpret the changes that we are document in the peat core.

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Ash cloud from Nevada del Ruiz volcano.

On our short hike to the peatland we were lucky enough to observe the Nevado del Ruiz volcano venting gas and ash. Although I have seen lava flows in Hawaii, an eruption like this was a first for me. The Nevada del Ruiz has been experiencing small eruptions like this over the past several years. However, the last major eruption was in 1985 and it caused the deadliest mud and debris flows in recorded history, killing over 25,000 people and burying an entire town.

The peatland was spectacular, and we spent a productive day collecting surface samples. Jaime almost didn’t make it out, but with a little effort he managed to avoid becoming the first known bog body of the paramo.

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Jaime Escobar of the Universidad del Norte sinks into the peatland during our hike out.

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