Mareike loves the dry forest!!!

An epic journey during difficult times

The caseta has a solar panel now. Photo credit: Isodrones

When I started to work with Isodrones in the Laboratory, one of my first tasks was to grind some leave samples. While grinding, the leaves emitted one of the interesting and wonderful scents I ever smelled. Little did I know that a year later I’d be standing underneath these trees digging 2 m holes and singing along rather horribly at some 80s songs… Albi was already waiting for me at the airport and welcomed me when I arrived in San José. Even though we’ve only seen each other over skype once, we came along really well immediately! After the first night in the capital, we crammed all the technical equipment I brought from Germany and all the sensors and analyzers that Albi had with him in our car and drove to Horizontes on the West Coast. I was immediately amazed by the beauty, the variety and the people of Costa Rica!

Mareike learnt a lot about data loggers during her time....and digging!!! ;)
Mareike learnt a lot about data loggers during her time….and digging!!! ;)

In Horizontes we found a quite chaotic situation in the caseta and the research area. A lightning had hit the power line of the station deep frying some of the equipment… After exchanging the damaged parts, we started to install the solar panel the roof of the caseta which powers now the SAP Flow Sensors. Stubborn as I am (that’s why I’m also known as Burra (donkey) in Horizontes) I was more than convinced that the solar panel should be best exposed to the south to receive the highest amount of sun energy. Kathi made me realize that Costa Rica is very close to the Equator so the cardinal direction doesn’t matter! In the end we just attached the solar panel on the roof of the caseta :D Now with this amazing, independent power supply we started installing the SAP Flow Sensors. Tree by tree we installed the sensors until all the interesting trees were equipped! Getting the datalogger started was the last hurdle (thanks at this point to Kathi, Mati and Malle for answering our emergency calls even at 11 pm at night!). By then I spent already nearly 4 weeks in Horizontes so we were happy that now the most important sensors were installed. But it wouldn’t be field work if everything worked out that easily… After a short time, we realized that most of the SAP Flow Sensors were giving us weird values. Also, the battery of the Datalogger was drained. What was going on? In the end we figured out that it indeed doesn’t matter in which cardinal direction the solar panel was exposed. What seemed to be a bigger problem was the fact that the caseta is in the middle of the forest. And therefore, the panel was in the shadow of the canopy for too many hours of the day. So, we reinstalled the panel at a to the sun exposed water tank and afterwards the SAP Flow measurements were going strong! During that rather frustrating time Albi and I discovered digging holes as a nice stress relief! Nothing lifts up your mood like hitting volcanic soil (mmh, that sulfurous smell) and singing “Take on me” by AHA! Installing the soil moisture sensors and soil probes for the isotopic measurements turned out much easier than expected so we spend the last two weeks of my stay in Horizontes by taking soil, leave and xylem samples. Usually, after a long day of work we spend the evenings playing soccer with the Rangers or just hanging out with them. Their never-ending good mood is more than contagious and you can always hear one of them singing while working. Having said that, the Christmas holidays were more than joyful and much happier and cheerful than I know it from Germany.

All night long!
All night long!

All in all, I had an amazing stay in Horizontes. Experiencing an ecosystem so different from what I’m used to really broadened my mind and I enjoyed every day I spent there. I learned so many things that I couldn’t list them all (but using a machete is one of it). Most important lections are that theory and practice are sometimes further apart than expected and that most of the frustrating situations solve themselves when you’re just patient and resisting enough. But more than that I made great friends in Horizontes and gained so much experiences and made amazing memories in such a beautiful place. Now I’m back in the lab in Braunschweig processing all the samples Albi and I collected. And every time I open a coffee bag with some leaves their smell takes me back to Costa Rica. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of this ecosystem!