A new chapter

In October 2021, I began my professional life with my first job since completing my PhD at the University of Exeter. My new job is working as a Postdoctoral Researcher at Umeå University in Sweden. I will be working on a project that aims to understand how tropical montane cloud forests are affected by changes in fog and precipitation regimes.

In this project, I will use the cloud curtain experiment located in the high altitude cloud forests of Peru. Here, an ambitious fog exclusion experiment has been set up, whereby a giant curtain prevents the lateral inflow of fog to a small research plot. Meanwhile, two nearby plots have been set up to exclude throughfall (rainfall that falls through the canopy to the forest floor) and groundwater (underground flows of water). The aim of the project is to understand the relative importance of the different sources of water to the forest ecosystem. My focus will be on understanding how the carbon budget of the forest and the physiology of trees are affected by the different treatments.

To start my new position, I made a trip to Umeå in Northern Sweden, where I got to know my new department and meet my new supervisor – Dan Metcalfe. It was my first trip this far north, so it was interesting to see how different the landscape was. I was intrigued by the boreal forest and its three species of tree – spruce, pine and birch. It was amazing to see how easy it could be to identify the tree species in these forests, when tropical forests can have over 1000 species in <1km2. The harsh cold winter environment was clearly a reason why fewer species survive close to the poles.

Much of Sweden is covered in boreal forest, as I learnt from hours of driving past thousands of trees on a fieldwork day trip with Dan and his PhD student Johan Eckdahl. But I also learnt that not all of the forest was intact. Much of the forest has been planted and is cut on 80 year logging cycles. Moreover, the forest is vulnerable to forest fires that can burn through the hot, dry summer season. The aim of the fieldwork was to locate the burnt forests and to collect soil samples to identify how fire might alter carbon storage and fertility of the soil in these forests.

Burnt boreal forest.

My trip to Sweden only lasted for 3 weeks this time, but I managed to experience a lot of what Umeå has to offer. I enjoyed hikes around two of the Sweden’s endless lakes, saw the Northern lights and felt the rapid change of seasons from Autumn to the early stages of winter and early snowfall in October. For now I will return to Exeter to begin development of some new sensors that will be installed at the cloud curtain experiment. I look forward though to returning to Sweden over the next few years and to experience more of what this Scandinavian country has to offer.

Exploring the beautiful lakes and river in and around Umeå.

My first experience of the aurora borealis.

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