by AnnaKay Kruger
“Well, that was an adventure!” says Aaron O’Connell, a UW-Plateville undergraduate, looking down at his bare feet as he steps gingerly across the gravel driveway. In one hand he carries his sodden shoes, and like me, he is covered from head-to-toe in lake grime. We have just spent the last two hours helping Tim Meinke launch a buoy into Sparkling Lake off of Highway 51 in Vilas County.
The buoy itself is an impressive device—substantial in girth, equipped with everything from weather antennae to a pressure sensor that records rainfall. A large solar panel hangs on one side, and the whole contraption is strung with a variety of complex wiring that is well beyond my expertise.
Meinke, a researcher at the Center for Limnology’s Trout Lake Station, is part of the Long-Term Ecological Research project (LTER) and the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON). Sparkling Lake is one of the LTER and GLEON research lakes, so the buoy will spend the summer collecting data on everything from water temperature to wind speed to the amount of oxygen moving in and out of the lake. But getting that buoy in the water is no small feat, which is why Meinke enlisted Aaron, Ben Kranner, a UW-Madison undergraduate, and the CFL’s IT consultant, Mark Gahler, to the cause.
While they anchored and wired the buoy, I did my best to stay out of the way and document the experience. This proved more difficult than I had anticipated, as the team hauled in various ropes and weights, gradually filling the boat with lake debris and slime (or, as we call it in scientific circles, “muck”) from the bottom. My chance to contribute to the effort came when we had to retrieve a smaller buoy from just under the surface. It was anchored by sixty pounds worth of barbells, which I hoisted into the boat, a feat that proved challenging despite my enthusiasm. With Aaron’s help, we managed to haul the buoy and weights into the boat. I was grimy and out of breath, but proud to have been of service.
The remainder of the endeavor went smoothly, until we made our way to shore and were rewarded for our efforts with a brief, but torrential, downpour. Luckily for us, we had made it on shore by that point, but all of our supplies (including my faithful backpack and hiking boots) received a thorough soaking. We were more fortunate than the Regional Lakes crew, however, who were still out on the water sampling with the rain arrived.
As Aaron and I unloaded the boat back at the station, the sudden sunshine was a stark contrast to our damp and muddy appearance. We shared a laugh at our own expense and agreed that the whole experience was actually quite fun, much preferable to staying inside all day.
I suppose that’s the right attitude when you’re working at Trout Lake Station, a field research station operated by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Limnology (CFL). No two days are the same, each one rife with opportunity to participate in science first-hand and have an adventure or two. There are a number of people here from a variety of academic institutions across the United States.
My name is AnnaKay Kruger and I’m an incoming junior at UW-Madison majoring in life sciences communication and environmental studies. I’m spending the summer at Trout Lake as the summer outreach intern.
Many of my fellow undergrads hail from UW-Madison, but other schools, including Yale, Saint Louis University, UW-Steven’s Point and UW-Platteville are also represented. They’re all assigned to specific research projects, though – I am the only person here working exclusively in communications. This affords me the opportunity to explore and report on the multitude of projects happening at the station and then share them with you.
Even in the brief time that I’ve been here, I’ve observed water sampling, chlorophyll tests, learned how to anchor a buoy, and discussed at length some of the remarkable science that my peers are participating in. Everybody here, from the faculty to the post-doctorate students to the undergraduates, brings an invaluable perspective to the research being done. There’s never a dull moment at Trout Lake Station—or, as UW-Madison undergraduate Joe Bevington, says, “Even the grunt work is super interesting.”
So, if you want to get an inside look at life on a field station, follow this blog, where I’ll be bringing you “Notes from the Northwoods” all summer long . And also check us out us on social media (we’re the “Center for Limnology” on Facebook and “WiscLimnology” on Instagram and Twitter) to learn more about Trout Lake Field Station and the University of Wisconsin Center for Limnology.