Celebrating 30-years of Field Studies

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Celebrating 30-years of Field Studies

May 22, 2024 | all blog | Jennifer Trask

As Waterborne concludes its 30-year celebration and begins the next decade of innovation and services, we have much to celebrate and be thankful for in our Field Studies Programs. After decades in the field, we have learned a thing or two about monitoring programs! These last decades have seen us working with the most sophisticated tools, and yet sometimes, at the end of the day, make-shift MacGyver moves were the only way to successfully collect a sample. Whatever it takes!

In the early years, our focus was placed on groundwater in the form of prospective and ambient monitoring studies as well as leaching studies. Despite cut wires, battery losses, wells dug, and water extractions, our greatest challenges always dealt with finding suitable sites that would meet multi-year requirements from all perspectives – sponsors, scientists, farmers, cooperators, and regulators. The investment in resources for studies of this nature required efficiencies in preparatory environmental data review, assessment, digitization, and GIS overlays and analysis well before we could embark on field investigation for suitability.

Other study specialties included crop residue and terrestrial and aquatic dissipation studies. We have relied on our ever-growing partnerships to execute studies in different parts of the US on both land- and water-based research farms. We have learned that wild animals will likely cause instrumentation issues over a longer-term study. While some critter contributions are obvious, like chewed wires and little rodent nests, others become a mystery of the study. My favorites are random, ghost-like blurs caught on game cameras as our visitor jets through the fields, only leaving the destruction of wires and soil holes as evidence that they were there. Fortunately, our remote monitoring of real-time data systems has allowed us to find these “data absence moments” and quickly act on solutions to minimize data loss.

Waterborne has conducted runoff studies and surface water studies since opening its doors. Bolstered by our talented and innovative engineers and scientists, these studies have often involved instrumentation designs utilizing off-the-shelf core systems coupled with mechanical and software customizations to fit the study needs either on the land, water, or suspended above it.

While many studies investigate smaller-scale systems at the edge of a plot or field, we have been grateful for the 20 years spent working on a monumental watershed study across several states. My colleague,  Waterborne’s Living Legend Nathan Snyder, described this study in our March newsletter. The innovation and problem-solving necessary to keep this study’s monitoring stations sheltered from nature’s fury and the occasional passerby have educated us. Our experiences on this study have ranged from mysterious fishing lines hanging off adjacent bridge piers to cattle pulling up monitoring lines to beavers damming the streams to the more extreme events such as baseball or target practice against the solar panels and housing structures. These have all led us to develop new disguises crossed with a little hope to help preserve and extend equipment life and maintain study integrity.

While we do experience every type of weather system possible in the field, there are times a study has required man-made assistance. We have enjoyed conducting studies in the laboratory or in field plots that utilized simulated rainfall systems. Our portable small- and large-scale simulated rainfall systems support studies where natural rainfall is not an option. These give us the flexibility to test hypotheses under different environmental conditions.

Many studies involve water systems in both flowing and static systems, such as aquatic dispersion studies and rural and urban drinking water monitoring programs. These allow us to continue to evolve our instrumentation customization as well as our digital, web-based, and sample collection interface platforms. We have learned that even the best laid can be easily foiled by Mother Nature at a moment’s notice. There is nothing like deciding to sleep on the water to be able to start at first light, only to wake up and find our aquatic specimens or sampling apparatus have moved out of eyesight and downstream overnight due to weather conditions. Or pulling an all nighter to irrigate prior to application because soil moisture is at a record low and doesn’t represent “typical”.

Today’s Field Studies have many more tools and options available than those in decades past. More recently, we have expanded into parallel areas such as nutrients, soil carbon health, volatility / air quality studies including greenhouse gas emissions monitoring, and efforts supporting sustainable and climate-smart agricultural practices. As we expand our newer service offerings, we are excited to be able to embrace our learnings from the past and look forward to the future. After 30 years of Field Studies, Waterborne has learned to roll with the punches, learn from them, and take challenges as opportunities to create something new.