Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Greenhouse gases from hippo pools

Over the last few weeks, Ella has been collecting water samples from a lot of different hippo pools in order to measure how hippo pools may contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases. Hippos load a lot of carbon into pools through feces, and as that feces decomposes, it uses up the oxygen in the water and the decomposition process emits greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Ella is studying how the number of hippos and flow of the river influence the quantity of greenhouse gases being emitted. 

To collect these data, Ella has had to collect water samples from a lot of different hippo pools, which can be a... let's say... exciting adventure. Hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa, and it is particularly dangerous to get between them and the river. The easiest way to access a hippo pool in the Mara is to follow a hippo trail down to the river's edge, and crouch there while you fill your sample bottle, keeping an active lookout for hippos and crocodiles. We always hire an armed ranger and spend a lot of time scouting a hippo pool before we collect samples there, and we always make conservative decisions about which pools we feel we can sample safely, but it is still an activity that really makes you feel alive. Ella handled it like a complete pro!

Ella collecting a water sample from a hippo pool
Much of the sample processing needs to be done as soon as possible, so we take a mobile lab in our Land Rover and do a lot of chemistry in the field. However, some samples need to be analyzed later in our lab tent (affectionately called the Lady Cave, because of all the hours I have spent doing chemistry in there, it's small cave-like interior, and the tendency of bats to roost in and around it). Here's Ella busting out some serious field chemistry in the Lady Cave, late into the evening, equipped with a head lamp to see the readings. Epic!

Late night chemistry in the lady cave
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