SLAM: Scientists Love Acronyms, Man

KBS 2018 undergraduate summer researcher Emily Lindback is a junior at Franklin and Marshall College. She wrote about her Research Experiences for Undergraduates project working with mentor and LTER researcher Dr. Michael Abraha in the Robertson Lab. Lindback was funded by an NSF REU site award to the Kellogg Biological Station.    

KBS REU Emily Lindback taking albedo measurements over native grasses, photo taken by drone.

Driving into Hickory Corners, I first noticed the dense green vegetation, many marshes, huge agricultural plots, and yes, cows. Hickory Corners seemed like a biologist’s dream, the perfect spot for a biological station. I was immediately impressed with the lodging, having a kitchen, bathroom, and most importantly, a long windowsill for all my plants. I am, as most people at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) are, a plant person.

At my school, Franklin & Marshall College located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, my research focuses on the bee bee tree (Tetradium daniellii), an invasive plant species.  I study its invasive potential within a forest understory gradient, dark respiration rate, and stomatal conductance and response time. Most of my lab time is spent in the greenhouse or measuring photosynthetic rates in front of a LI-cor. Fieldwork at KBS was a whole new experience for me.

 My work at KBS centered around biogeophysical factors of land use and land conversion change (LULCC), specifically albedo. Because this was a topic that I had only learned about a month prior to the start of my Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, my first few weeks were spent familiarizing myself with the subject of albedo, designing my research project, and learning the ridiculous number of acronyms that exist in science and at KBS. 

The United States has legislation mandating an increase in biofuel production. In anticipation of increased biofuel production, it is important to assess what biofuels are the most sustainable. My project looked at albedo and foliar nitrogen content of different fertilized and unfertilized biofuel croplands to assess the global warming potential associated with converting land to biofuel cropping systems.   

KBS summer students Harry Ervin (left), Jessica Waters, Emily Lindback, and Al Nichols.

I worked at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) which is a part of the KBS Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site. Typically, mornings were designated to data analysis and stats while afternoons were all field work. I took daily point measurements of albedo in 21 spots using a CNR4 hooked up to a mast on a golf cart. Weekly, I took foliar nitrogen measurements using a SPAD (Soil-Plant Analyses Development) meter at all 21 spots. I measured leaf area index (LAI) every two weeks. My data is going to be used as the first tier of the albedo studies. Spot measurements, albedo towers, drones, and satellite imaging are all used to quantify albedo and determine global warming potential of the different biofuel croplands.

Plant growing through asphalt in Leland.

Life at KBS was not only research focused. Situated on Gull Lake, we had access to a beach, kayaks, canoes, and hiking trails. As a group, we also traveled around Michigan, showcasing the beauty of my home state. We took a weekend camping trip to my favorite state park in Michigan, Leelanau State Park. In Leelanau, on my way back from a hike with friends, in a chance glance down at the road, we noticed a plant that had pushed the asphalt aside to grow through the road. Doing an REU is inspiring, working with great scientists and intelligent peers every day, but nothing was as inspiring as this little plant, pushing through asphalt. It didn’t matter where that plant was, it was going to grow.

Working as an REU at KBS is a humbling experience. It is the chance to be one of 15 young people from all over the U.S. who want to spend 11 weeks working their hardest, researching science, and appreciating our natural world. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to spend the summer being a part of the KBS community.