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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

My First Fieldwork in University - Forest

What a beautiful morning for fieldwork.
Finally we got to do what a future environmental scientist will do which is getting close to the Nature and get our hands dirty! Of course fieldwork will not always be pleasant. We might have to hike, climb, lift heavy things, deal with insects, wild 'things' etc and all those labour work to collect samples and data. So this was our first time during last two weeks where we went into the forest for our first hands-on practical in the Nature.

Our fieldwork location.
This forest which was being replanted locates somewhere near the Faculty of Veterinary and Faculty of Medicine and Health Science. It is going to be developed by the IOI company and at the end all the trees will be chopped down despite the efforts of our lecturers to protect that piece of land for conservation and preservation purpose. Hence before the developer gets rid of all the trees, our Biology lecturers, Prof. Dr. Makmom and Dr. Normala take us to the forest to carry out 'destructive sampling' where we took down the whole trees and brought back for further analysis besides doing some in-situ measurements. Although deforestation is strongly not encouraged as trees are important asset of Nature, it does sound 'cool' to 'take down' trees, haha. We had to chop down one tree per group, in total there were 12 trees of different sizes. Our group was lucky enough to get a smaller tree which was 10m in height and with a circumference that you could hold with both your hands.

Me and Erika. As the location is quite isolated, there was a hardly-noticable sign to remind us that that is the place, haha. We cycled to our faculty early in the morning and waited for the bus to go to the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and walked for about 500m along the roadside to reach the destination. Phew~
Into the wild! (In fact it is just a reforested forest, haha)
This fieldwork was carried out for two separated days in two weeks. For the first day, two groups were combined and given a 5m x 5m plot to measure the diameter of each tree within the plot at breast height. To measure the diameter we faced some problems. For trees with very small diameter we should use vernier callipers and we forgot how to use it!!! No one knew!!! But finally we figured it out and managed to get the readings. Secondly we did not realise the real purpose of the 'diameter tape' until the second day of fieldwork. It should be a very easy measuring tape to be used but silly us, haha. By using it the way we measure the circumference of the tree trunk, we can straight away know the diameter of the tree without any calculation. It's awesome, right? We also measured the chlorophyll content of leaves there using a very unique and convenient electronic device which I couldn't recall its name (I found that most devices we used in analysis and measurement for the environmental parameters are really cool, haha)! Besides, we measured the light intensity under the canopy which required the cooperation of many groups to collect the most precise data. The process was quite hard to describe here and as I was not involved so I can't really tell you how it works. What I know is just the theory.

My fellow group members under Dr. Normala. From the left: Zira, Erika, Verma, Fatin and me.
Working with another group under Prof. Makmom.
With the help of lab assistants (or do we call them science officers? I am not sure), we learnt a lot in doing the fieldwork that time and it's really eye-opening. I realised that cooperation is very important in a team to get the job done correctly and efficiently. So the leader who gives order should make everything very clear so that there is minimum misunderstanding which would affect the whole progress for the fieldwork. For labour work like this, more hands make lighter work and of course, good communication is the key to ensure everything goes smoothly. The collection of data must be done systematically too as we are having lots of data and it could be a big trouble if we mix up any of the information. So it is really a knowledge and experience and skill in doing fieldwork (don't look down on people working in Nature, kay?)
The leaf castle of these red furious-looking red ants! They are really tough and will do anything to protect their home. If you disturb them with a stick they cramp their jaws on the stick and will not let go. You can even feel their force pulling the stick between you and them. Horrible~ Imagine if they bite your finger.
Crunchy leaves after weeks without rain. When we were walking on the forest floor all we could hear is the crunchy and crispy sound of dry leaves and branches. There was no way to move soundlessly there.
Thanks to the thick canopy. We were free from the scorching sun.
It was so thick that you couldn't see the road outside the forest.
Our chopping-down-the-tree work was on the second day of the fieldwork. I guess it was the most interesting part in the fieldwork as all of us had never cut down trees that tall in our life. After measuring the diameter at breast height, we chopped the tree at its bottom and brought it down. Then we measured the diameter of tree trunks just bellow the first branch we encountered from the bottom of the tree. Then we chopped the tree in half and measured the length above the chopped part. It was a coincidence that we actually cut the tree in half equally. As it was impossible to drag the whole tree back to our laboratory. So we chose tree branches, counted the diameter and number of leaves, next picked 10 leaves from each branch. The leaves and branches were then weighed to get the wet mass and were put into paper bags to be brought back to the laboratory.

This was the tree we were going to chop down, I mean, take down (playing with words so that what we did sounds cooler, hahahahahaha...)
This was the thorny vine that coiled around the selected tree. It was so so dangerous! (Ok maybe this is just a hyperbola but it was really painful when we accidentally grabbed it, boohoo...)
I feel sorry to the residents of the forest including these tiny ants as their habitat was being removed. (cannot see the ants? Watch closely and you will see their shiny butts, haha)
This is Mr. Monday who helped us in chopping down the tree using a Parang. TIMBER!!! (Yeah yeah, the tree looks small, I know, but still it was not an easy job!)
Our lab work was held today for getting the dry mass of the samples and the surface areas of the leaves. It took us three hours to put all the samples into the oven as we had to cut the samples into chips for easier drying. Oh yea, the electronic device used for measuring the surface area of leaf is awesomely invented! We do not have to count the boxes on the graph papers anymore! Just trace the device along the outline of the leaf drawn on a piece of paper and we can immediately obtain the results. Less work! Yay!
The victim of our group.
Can you see the difference between these leaves with the last last week's? Yes they were moist after the rain! No more sound when walking on them!
The tree stump.
We call this 'cookie', sounds cute right? It is actually part of the trunk that we collect to bring it back to the laboratory.
I think that's all for my 'report' for our first fieldwork. I have been busy lately with all sorts of non-academic stuffs. How I wish I could spend more time and energy on environmental studies which I really enjoy. Hopefully after March I can fully get back to be a full-time undergraduate student, haha. All the best for all my teammates!

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