Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Non-transferrable skills

I’ve been working on Lake Tanganyika for three summers now, which would normally be enough time for me to get sick of a place or a job for that matter*. But instead of field work becoming dull and monotonous, it’s been genuinely fascinating trying to figure out what makes this place work.  
I REALLY wish I had a filter for this camera, because this is NOT what it looks like while diving. Check out the adorable Mastacembalus at the bottom of the picture!
Most days, I can’t believe this is my life.
Seeing my little buddy is becoming the new normal.
Even though we are well-settled into the groove of work here, every once in a while we get to dip our toes into new aspects of lake work. Team Madison membership has stayed pretty constant over the years, but our counterparts from Ohio are down to just 2 members this season. In the interest of amassing long-term data sets, Ben, Pete, and I have picked up the slack and are adding some new procedures to an ever-growing list of non-transferrable skills**…

Case in point: PPR.  Today Ben and I took a second crack at measuring benthic primary productivity in the field, which (it turns out) is a hoot. Since no one present had ever done it before, we managed to screw it up badly on our first attempt but nailed it on Try 2. Yay, us. 
Ben doesn't think diving with a snorkel is necessary; I disagree.
One of the big mysteries of this place is how such high productivity and fish diversity (nearly 300 fish species, most of which are found NOWHERE ELSE ON EARTH) can exist in such a nutrient-scarce place***. The attached algae (periphyton) on the rocks are low in biomass but super-productive, and they form the energetic base for the entire food web in Lake Tanganyika.

So to measure that, we incubate periphyton in light (15 minutes) and dark (2+ hours) chambers, collect an initial and final water sample in a syringe from each, bring the samples to the surface, and measure the dissolved oxygen levels.
Ben and Cortney gear up for the task at hand.
Ben did most of the work, making sure there were no bubbles in the syringes, stirring the chambers, and drawing all the samples. I schlepped the sausage weights around and wrote down all the times and ID’s on my dive slate while Cortney read all the DO measurements back on the boat.
Ben pulls a sample, I note the time.
Since my tank had a good chunk of air remaining when it was all said and done, I went diving for funsies for what will likely be the last time this season. 
I fell into a school of Cyprichromis at 30ft.
And tonight after a quick trip to town for ice cream and kicking back with pineapple vodka and mango juice as I watch the sun go down, I’d have to say it’s been a pretty perfect day.  

* Up until I moved to Madison, my longest residence post college–discounting the Peace Corps and grad school—was a year. I’m told that someday I’ll want to “settle down”…but I don’t really know what that means.
** I seem to be acquiring a whole lotta skills that make me extremely adept at my current position but unemployable elsewhere. Hmmm…
*** There is almost NOTHING in this water. I know, because I’ve run and re-run and re-re-run the water samples from 4 years, and most of the time nutrient levels hold steady at about 1 PART PER BILLION. Holy moly.


  1. I would love to come visit you sometime. :)

  2. AHO, Mitakuye Oyasin. Listening to Idaho. Love to you sis.