March 2023

Processing Nachusa Grasslands Gas Samples in the GC

Pictured here is one timepoint’s worth of gas samples from the 72 chambers we have out at Nachusa.

After our lab finished preparing our soil DNA for sequencing, we began to work on processing all the gas samples that we collected over the summer from Nachusa Grasslands. We collected over 1000 individual gas samples, so we first prioritized setting up a Bandolero xyzTek Autosampler to make the GC work automatically. After many tests, we finally have the entire system fully functional! Once we’ve run all of the gas samples, we’ll begin focusing on performing some exploratory data analysis.

Here is the autosampler system we’ve been using. After turning it on and starting the batch run on the GC, it will individually process all of the samples in the belt without needing any human interaction.

January 2023

Prepping Soil Samples for DNA Sequencing

To start off the Spring 2023 semester, our lab began processing soil samples collected from the UIC James Woodworth Prairie Preserve and Nachusa Grasslands. We used PowerLyzer kits to isolate any DNA present in our soil samples so they can be sequenced whenever we want to know the microbial makeup of a specific chamber. Determining what microbes are present in the soil could help predict if certain sites are likely to produce a designated greenhouse gas and can be used with the gas samples to explain certain trends we may see in the data.

Summer 2022

Nachusa Grasslands Project 2022

In Spring of 2022 our lab began to slowly piece together the work for the summer and fall. Our team started off by visiting our study sight in early June of 2022. With the help of Elizabeth Bach (The Nature Conservancy) and Friends of Nachusa we were able to get a good grip on the space we were working with. After the visit we went back to the lab and mapped out our locations and what type of methodologies we would use to conduct our sampling. The undergraduate students prepared 20 lids equipped with a small fan, temperature probe, and sampling port. Once the lab had the lids and our plan in place we went back in late June to install the chamber bases. In early July, we conducted our first sampling and collected over 300 gas samples! We ended up continuing this sampling process for the next three months through October of 2022. Our lab is aiming to reinstate and come back to Nachusa for next season!

Summer 2021

Cook County Forest Preserves

With the McNicol Lab still in the midst of renovations, I took the opportunity afforded by the warm (and humid!) Chicagoland summer to visit some potential field sites located within the Forest Preserves of Cook County. I was given fun and informative tours by local Forest Preserve volunteers and stewards, Jane and John Balaban, and Eileen Sutter. One goal I had was to become more familiar with the local flora and fauna, and some of the ecological restoration challenges facing the area. Read (and see) more on these two slide decks from Bunker Hill and Watersmeet Woodland.

December 2018

The Biogeochemistry of Sanitation

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Together with Rebecca Ryals (UC Merced) and Matthew Reid (Cornell University), I convened a session at the 2018 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in Washington DC focused on the biogeochemistry of sanitation. In a field historically dominated by environmental engineers, we are excited to bring together researchers interested in the ecological and biogeochemical dimensions of human waste, from water, carbon and nitrogen flows, to energy consumption – we want to understand how human sanitation systems interact with global biogeochemical cycles. Our poop-loop group had a busy Monday morning poster session at the conference, where we go to discuss sanitation with scientists, students, reporters, and development and aid agency representatives. In our research for this session we identified over 35 scientists working at the interface of sanitation and biogeochemistry and I hope we can continue to build a community around this work.

April 2018

Mountains Beyond Mountains: Ayiti to Alaska 

The defining EcoSan principles of nutrient recycling, safeguarding water resources, and waste diversion are universal, though implementation varies depending on local needs. This month, I wrote a sustainability column for a Juneau newspaper and took it as a chance to learn a little about the state of sanitation in Alaska. Despite the differences in climate, I found rural Alaskans face some of the same sanitation issues as urban Haitians, especially as related to water scarcity and health impacts on children. Read the full scoop here.

January 2018

The SOIL Met Station: Data from Year 1


The SOIL meteorology station went live on November 12, 2016 and is performing very well, recording data every minute throughout 99.97% of the first year. We now have more than one full year of temperature, rainfall, humidity, pressure, and wind data to look back at and start to investigate how local weather interacts with the composting process. Check out my latest post on SOIL Haiti’s website. Don’t miss the link to the weather almanac post which contains the data from Year 1!

July 2017

The Microbial Revolution

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The thermophilic phase of composting is key to ecological sanitation (EcoSan) and transforms pathogenic organics into sanitary compost. But what are the biogeochemical conditions that support this transformation? In the last phase of our SOIL Haiti collaboration we set up arrays of sensors to measure temperature and oxygen across our experimental piles. More information about this work can be found at the SOIL Haiti blog.

February 2017

The Climate & Compost Fellows


With a generous donation from John Wick and Peggy Rathmann of the Marin Carbon Project we started a new Stajyè Klima ak Konpòs (Climate and Compost Fellows) program as part of our research with SOIL Haiti. This new program will help support research interns and a laboratory technician at the Cap Haïtien office and composting site in northern Haiti.

The interns are fully integrated into the SOIL research team. They will be trained all our laboratory methods, participate in the field collection of greenhouse gas emissions and solid compost samples, and help us manage, analyze, and communicate the data. Read more about this new program and meet the first group of interns at the SOIL Haiti blog.

November 2016

The SOIL Met Station


Haiti has scarce coverage of reliable meteorological data, despite weather records representing a valuable knowledge resource that we often take for granted. In November 2016 we set up a weather station to start recording temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction, and atmospheric pressure at the composting site at Mouchinèt – SOIL’s offsite composting location near the northern city of Cap Haïtien.

The meteorological data collected by the station will help us understand the interaction between the tropical climate and composting processes we are studying while also capturing data on extreme weather events, seasonal anomalies, and, looking further forward, inter-annual trends. Check out the current and past weather conditions at Mouchinèt at this dedicated website.

The new station was also featured in a post by Julie Jeliazovski on the SOIL Haiti blog.

August 2016

The First Blog Post

In academic circles, we regularly discuss sustainability in the context of long-term climate, biodiversity, or other global change scenarios. My current post-doctoral research has given me the chance to join my training as an ecologist to much more immediate public health issues of sustainability in the global south. This first blog post is a vignette of the personal story behind that transition.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

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