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NRES Student Visited 33 Wetland Sites for National Survey

Julia AntonsonBy Julia Antonson:
This past summer I had an amazing opportunity to work for the Illinois Natural History Survey as a Wetland Field Technician. As a technician, I was part of the Illinois Crew for the 2016 National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA) and went to 33 wetland sites in Illinois and Indiana. NWCA is a national survey conducted to test the chemical, biological, and physical integrity of our wetlands through various indicators. At each wetland, water, plant, and soil specimens were collected and sent to labs to add to the database. This survey was previous completed in 2011 so it will be interesting to compare this year’s data to 2011.

My job specifically was to be the undergraduate soil scientist and look at the soil horizons at each of the 33 sites. Before the field season began, our crew had a one-week training session in Wisconsin to go over field method sampling. It was there that I was trained by soil scientists from the National Resource Conservation Society about proper sampling methods and looking at soil horizons when in the field. This was a great learning experience for me because after taking NRES 201 Introductory Soils in the spring, I felt confident in my soil knowledge to some extent. Looking at soil horizons in the lab can be different from looking at the soil in the field when it isn’t laid out on a lab bench for you. Thankfully, with the help of NRCS soil scientists, I left the training with full confidence.

Our typical day involved waking up at 6am in order to get to the site early and beat the 95-degree Fahrenheit summer weather. After setting up the sample plot, I would dig a one-meter deep pit, which is typically up to your belly button. Then I would look at the soil horizons and determine moisture content, soil color, texture, and if there were any oxidative properties in the soil. This would all be filled out on a provided form. After this soil would be collected from each horizon for bulk density and chemical properties. When the soil pit was completed, I would assist another member in describing the buffer zones around the sample plot while other members completed vegetative surveys. Each week, we would complete four sites leaving Tuesday morning and arriving back late on Friday.

I am very glad to have gotten this opportunity because it allowed me to gain field experience as an undergrad. At first, I was not sure if I wanted a career that was heavily field work intensive. Even though I did face ticks and a multitude of chigger bites, this was an experience that I would never forget. There is something about being deep in the woods for eight hours that I really appreciated. It was incredible to go to sites that probably haven’t been crossed by people before. In addition, it told me the importance of building relationships with landowners because they were the determining factor if we could sample at a certain site. Overall, I am very happy to have had this opportunity and would like to thank the NRES Department for giving me such great resources this summer.

Thanks to Dr. Jeff Matthews, Bridgette Moen, Greg Spyreas, and everyone else on the Illinois Crew for an amazing summer!