Category Archives: Uncategorized

In Cuatro Ciénegas, Mexico, the water is everything

Posted by Jess:  Jorge and I are back from another adventure in Cuatro Ciénegas! Unfortunately, all was not well during this trip… Over the summer, we watched as the Churince System, one of the largest springs in the valley, steadily decreased in size. June rains rejuvenated the waters and gave us hope that the spring-fed lakes might return to their former grandeur. When we arrived in early October, what we saw was dismal: the lake had become several disconnected ponds, surrounded by the footprints of turtles knowing the waters were too low for them. This system of ponds once fed an even larger lake, “Laguna Grande”, which now resembles more the famous Gypsum Dunes than an aquatic habitat. What can you do? Sign the petition to tell José Luis Luege, Director General of Mexico’s National Water Commission, and Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico, to uphold their promise to rescue and protect the waters of Cuatro Ciénegas.

Churince System
From left to right, this time series beginning in 2010 and ending with October 2011 depicts the loss of surface water in the Churince System. Photos by Ana Gutierrez.

Mendoza 3: Finally, the wine.

After Aconcagua, we made it back to Mendoza where we spent two nights in a nice B&B.  Of course, Mendoza is famous for its wine and especially its Malbec terroir.  So, we headed out to a little town nearby called Maipu where we rented some bikes.  The weather was fantastic and we had a great day riding to various bodegas and sampling el vino.  It was 90% charming – the 10% uncharming part was riding the bikes on some sections of highway way too close to passing trucks.  At the last winery we visited, our guide was a young woman who had lived in Mesa (AZ) for several years.  El mundo chico, as they say.  Full set of Mendoza pics HERE.  (Bonus pics from earlier trip to El Bolson here.)

Rigorous scientific sampling of Mendoza productivity.

You know you’re in Patagonia when …

You know you’re in Patagonia when you see flamingos.

You know you’re in Patagonia when you see guanacos.

You know you’re in Patagonia when you see an armadillo.

You know you’re in Patagonia when you see southern sea lions.

You know you’re in Patagonia when you see elephant seals.

You know you’re in Patagonia when you see Southern right whales.

You REALLY know you’re in Patagonia when you see a mara (

Well, we saw ALL of these in ONE DAY (pics below, and at link), our first full day in Patagonia exploring the Peninsula Valdés, near Puerto Madryn.  After a night in Buenos Aires, we drove (14 h!) due south to this coastal city.  Actually, our friends Esteban Balseiro and Beatriz Modenutti drove us and we arrived to PM on Friday night.  After a great seafood dinner at the normal Argentinian dinner time of 10:30 PM, we had a great meal (featuring king crab, “centolla”, and other sea food) and collapsed for a night’s sleep.

On Saturday the weather was fine and we spent the day driving the peninsula.  We spent more than an hour at beach where we saw at least a dozen Southern right whales, mothers with calves, right off the beach.  That is, about 20-30 m from shore!  Unbelievable.  During the rest of the drive we saw sea lions, dozens of guanacos, and a fleeting glimpse of an armadillo crossing the road.  Finally, we ended at Punta Norte, where there were elephant seals with pups.  (This is the only continental location in the southern hemisphere where elephant seals reproduce.)  The only thing missing were penguins (they will come to nest here later; these are Magellanic penguins, aka “jackass” penguins) and killer whales.  The latter are particularly cool here.  If you have seen videos on TV with killer whales eating penguins and seals in the surf and coming right up on the beach, then this is where they were filmed.  Alas, none were seen but maybe we will come back and try again.

Monday I gave a lecture at the Patagonian Center of CONICET (Argentinian NSF) and we tried for another trip to the beach.  But the wind was blowing steady at about 35 mph (gusting to 50 I’d say; a light breeze in Patagonia) and all the whales were hiding.  So, we spent the rest of the day shopping and resting.

The next day we left for Bariloche and after an 9-h incredible drive across a landscape that first looked like Baja México and then (within several hours) northern Arizona then Wyoming then Montana then Alaska and then like nothing else other than  the Patagonian Andes, with massive lakes and beech forests and snow and many adventures to come.  Plus some science and, of course, “buena onda” (good vibes).

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Winding down, starting up in China

Posted by Jim:  Jim is back, after a 2-week trip, and also Arianne, after a 6-week trip, to the Elser Lab research sites in China.  Jim and Arianne met up in Beijing and then flew with NIE Yonggang to Xi’an and then Foping for a week at the Foping Panda Preserve where our new collaboration with David Raubenheimer and WEI Fuwen’s group is beginning to take shape.  After a day or so considering various aspects of foliar nutrient amendments for bamboo, they headed uphill (and I do mean UPHILL) to the high elevation cabin where the station staff stay when they track panda and sample arrow bamboo during the summer season.  We spent 3 nights there. Very foggy and rainy!  Nevertheless, we were successful in seeing some takin (see photo) and, on the last day, a panda.  Hooray!

After an unexpected stay in the city of Taiyuan (our flight to Beijing was surprisingly cancelled and then diverted mid-flight due to thunderstorms), Jim and Arianne made it to the IMGERS station for a 3-day meeting of the main investigators of the biodiversity / ecosystem function expt, including Kang Le, Xinnguo Han, Jingle Wu, Bai Yongfei, Jianhui Huang, and Shahid Naeem.  This was the final “wrap-up” meeting for this mega-project.   The data are starting to come together nicely and as many as 30 manuscripts are being prepared during the coming year!  Arianne finished up her final grasshopper expts and then Jim and Arianne celebrated (a bit too much, actually) with her friends in the local village.  A great trip!

Amazing Randi comes to BIO100

Posted by Jim:   I had a great time on Friday hosting James The Amazing Randi in BIO100 class.  This version of BIO100 that I’m teaching with Andrew Hamilton especially emphasizes analysis of “weird things”, like claims of ESP, ghosts, UFO’s, alternative medicine, and the like.  James Randi is one of my biggest heroes and a great debunker of mumbo jumbo. Here’s the YouTube video of his visit, edited down to the 10-min YouTube limit.

Nitrogen cycling in Alaska

Congratulations to former lab member, Dr. Michelle McCrackin, on her National Park Service research fellowship to study permafrost thaw and nitrogen dynamics in Denali! Best of luck, Michelle!!

Finishing up at Cuatro Cienegas: desert welding & limnology

Posted by Jim:  Things are wrapping up here after a successful trip.  We were able to have the iron sampling frame constructed (welded together out at Churince) and did the first sampling.  The limno team of Laura, Brian, Jorge, Jess joined forces with the Gaby and Valeria teams to process all the samples.  See pics below of the frame after completion and after installation at the pond.

Jim congratulates the excellent work of the welders.

Turning the frame over to weld the other side. Exciting!

The ASU Limno Team and the Famous LimnoFrame