Melinda Martinez, I Was A Kid

More about Melinda Martinez @ I Was A Kid

Wetland ecologist Melinda’s science notebook was just one piece of equipment she lugged into the hot, muggy swamps she studies, specifically “ghost forests”, where rising sea level (due to climate change) brings salt into what once were fresh-water woods.  She describes attaching gas analysis equipment to dead trees and taking measurements of the gases they emit, often aided by a student taking notes. 

“When you asked for a sample, I had to pick a notebook where the writing wasn’t too bad, because sometimes when you’re in field you have nothing to write on. So writing neatly is already difficult, but this is the best one I could find. This is from my work for my dissertation doing field work out in North Carolina. 

“Whenever I start field work, I always start off with location and date, which is what you see at the top: Palmetto. And of course, you know, people won’t know where Palmetto is, but if you look up North Carolina and Palmetto, and Pear Tree, that’s where I was doing the research work. You’d be able to find the location. Southwest Quarter is another national wildlife refuge, also in North Carolina. 

“So the first thing that you see at the top are all the parameters that I was measuring. You have the location, the temperature, and the time when each parameter was measured, all in am/pm type. So you can remember. Temperature is recorded in degrees Celsius; humidity is relative humidity as a percentage; wind speed, I can’t remember the units but I can get back to you, and then barometric pressure. And then these are the gas concentrations that I was looking at: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor.” 

While Melinda is concerned with individual trees, her effort is more to get a sense of what is happening at the overall site. 

 “We measure ten trees at each site, and then that usually takes a long time because moving between tress is a little bit difficult. Just because it’s very mushy. Sometimes you sink to your knees and so wading through these swamps is kind of difficult. It takes a whole day to do ten trees.”

Like others working in wet areas in the field, Melinda uses a weatherproof notebook. As you can see, her book shows the signs of the environment in which she was working.

“It was a white page and there’s just so much dirt. With wetlands there’s just a lot of water everywhere. Sometimes it’s sweat, sometimes it’s bugs. I mean, if you see our field notebooks from the Everglades, where there’s so many mosquitoes. Sometimes I would just go like this [claps notebook together] and then I would just leave them in there. And then whenever other people open these pages, they’re there. There are the mosquitoes!” 

Melinda’s notebooks today are more useful to her than when she first began doing research. “I’ve done like ten years of fieldwork at this point. I remember my first notebooks were just a mess. I wasn’t taking as much detail as possible, because in my mind I was thinking, “I’m not going to forget that. 

No! You always forget. So write as much detail as possible. Say if was cloudy, if it was sunny. The more detail the better, and pictures are always great also. It’s very easy to forget, even after just a few days. That’s why it’s important to keep a lot of details.”