Mud Masks from 22 Feet Underground

Undergraduate Willis Perley donning a mud mask after a peat sampling demonstration
Undergraduate Willis Perley donning a mud mask after a peat sampling demonstration at weekly seminar

by Meredith Smalley
Here at Trout Lake Station, the bog walk is a revered and cherished opportunity. Any chance to tromp around in our boots is a welcome break from the bogged-down schedule of daily routine.
Beginning with a jaunt to Crystal Bog, I tagged along with a group of graduate students from UW-Madison as they followed professor emeritus in soil science, Fred Madison, into the field.
Holding part of the peat sample at Crystal Bog, with Tim Kratz, Fred Madison and his graduate students
Holding part of the peat sample at Crystal Bog, with Tim Kratz, Fred Madison and his graduate students

Madison has taught this three-week summer course since the 1980’s, and says he doesn’t mind that the university can’t find anyone to take his place teaching the intensive, hands-on course. As part of his journey throughout northern Wisconsin, Madison brings his students to Crystal Bog for a peat sampling demonstration with Tim Kratz, director of UW Trout Lake Station.
Fred Madison and a graduate student preparing to catch the gouge auger in Crystal Bog
Fred Madison and a graduate student preparing to catch the peat sampler in Crystal Bog

“Catch the end! Hurry, it’s coming down!” said Madison to one of his students as a towering metal rod full of a peat sample came falling to the ground. A peat sampler is a long, semi-cylindrical chamber used to bring soil from underground to the surface for a closer look.
Once the collecting cylinder has been pushed into the peaty soil of the bog, metal rods are added to the end, extending the depth of the cylinder’s reach. Madison matched his young student in arm strength, carrying out the process up to an impressive 22 feet underground.
 
 
A graduate student shows off our last peat sample for the day, at 7m underground
A graduate student shows off our last peat sample for the day, at 7m underground

The surface soil of our first sample was shockingly different in consistency compared to the peat we pulled up from our last, and deepest sample. As we got deeper into the bog’s soil with each sample, a squeeze test showed the color of the water seeping out of the peat getting darker.
A few hours later, I piled into the station trucks with fellow undergraduates and staff for our weekly seminar field trip for yet another peat coring demonstration at Wynot Bog…because why not?
Although an undergraduate absent-mindedly misplaced the tip of our sampler in their excitement to jump around on the trampoline-like peat carpet, we made it to our sampling site and squished some more soil between our fingers. Soil-flinging ensued and some students left the site with mud covering their faces – mud masks from 22 feet underground. But we also all left with a little more knowledge about what we’re stepping on during those pleasantly soggy bog walks.
Tim Kratz talks peat sampling during weekly seminar at Wynot Bog
Tim Kratz talks peat sampling during weekly seminar at Wynot Bog

 

All photos and text by Meredith Smalley, a UW-Madison undergrad serving as Trout Lake Station’s summer outreach intern this field season.

1 thought on “Mud Masks from 22 Feet Underground”

  1. Glad to see the the peat is an annual repeat…
    I’m back in steamy St. Louis with fond memories of the coolness of Trout & Loon Lakes, sushi and beef liver….
    Many thanks to John Havel, Elizabeth and Adrienne for their help with my sampling gear needs this summer. Best Wishes to all for a successful research season!

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