Directed Research: It's All Uphill From Here

Posted: December 16, 2015

As students pour over their research papers and the semester begins to wrap up, we are reflecting over the past few months which have been chock-full of memories, adventures, and opportunities.

Over the semester students learned about methods for managing natural resources, the impact of environmental issues on social and economic factors, and local tropical ecology using Costa Rica as a case study, with a comparative week spent in Nicaragua, which you read about earlier. Lately students have been divided into groups to delve deeper into more specific topics through professor-led Directed Research.

As interns we accompanied one of the three student groups with Professor Achim Hager and local botanist/tree guru Augustine Contraras Arias to work in a local forest as well as a pasture with trees to investigate the carbon storage levels by sampling soil content, and measuring and identifying trees to derive carbon storage.

Students had the opportunity to create transect maps of both of the forest and pasture sites using QGIS programming and then translated the transect points into the field using GPS and measuring out the straight lines, which took a lot longer than on paper. We traipsed through creeks, slopes, forest gaps filled with vines and bushes, and even ravines, to mark the transected lines. Students later went through each marked area to identify and measure each tree to cross reference with carbon storage level formulas learned earlier in statistics class. We also helped take soil samples at different depths across each landscape in order to test the carbon levels at each site.

Many times we were faced with challenges of wildlife, physical barriers and exhaustion, often high levels of heat, and the ever-present gravity, pressing on in the name of science!

The time seemingly flew by, and though it was quite a challenge, it proved to be fun, interesting, and rewarding. I am interested to see the information compiled by the students during their upcoming symposium presentations, and even more excited for them to go on, either back to university or into careers having this hands-on field and research experience.

→ Sustainable Development Studies Semester Program in Costa Rica