In Field Research, Common Sense is Best Precaution
This summer, assistant professor Benjamin Runkle and his biological and agricultural engineering students are working in eastern Arkansas, where they have set up instruments to measure water use, soil and water chemistry and methane production from a rice field. They are seeking ways to reduce water consumption and reduce heat-trapping carbon emissions. Runkle has submitted several field notes. The field note below is written by Faye Smith, doctoral candidate in environmental dynamics.
Although much of the research in the Landscape Flux Group depends on field instruments that continuously acquire data, the data collection requires us to deploy and maintain sensitive and complex sensors in a largely uncontrollable environment. Unlike laboratory or greenhouse experiments, we must adapt to new visitors that wander into our rice research site or to sudden changes in weather.
As for some of the uninvited guests, such as the deadly Water Moccasins that wonder about our research station, the best action is avoidance and caution. When cleaning sensors or digging out ground lines, it is desirable to avoid very sudden movements until you can be reasonably sure there are no spiders or snakes that may abruptly halt the day’s field expedition.
While these creatures can be hazardous to one’s health, our research team is ready to handle any misadventure. We keep emergency contacts on hand at all times and we are within a reasonable driving distance to town. Although Mother Nature can seem deadly or unfriendly at times, the beautiful and powerful creatures that wonder into our rice fields remind me of why we must strive to promote agricultural sustainability.
No matter how hard we attempt to impose straight lines of uniform grain across our countryside, nature finds ways to sneak in. These blurred lines between agriculture and the environment, including how our agricultural management practices can affect far-away natural ecosystems, should serve as a reminder of how we must strive to find ways of coexisting.