Things don’t always go as expected during field work. There are unexpected challenges at every step, and help from unexpected quarters as well.
Before coming here I had NO idea that the roads around here will pose such a challenge to my little Honda Fit. Most roads we need to take to reach the sample locations are unpaved. After one of the regular thundershowers we have been experiencing pretty much every afternoon, those roads can be impassable even with 4WD vehicles. But we managed to gain the assistance of two very knowledgeable people, Hannan and Kathryn “Kat” Converse, who took us around the rez along roads that are slightly better than two tire tracks. Without them driving us around, we would not have been able to collect any sample at all.
We had to take this road for yesterday's field work
Check out the ruts in the road we had to take while we were searching for natural springs and spring-fed ponds yesterday. Cat actually measured this rut… it was more than 5 inches deep.
Let me talk a little bit about Kat here. She is the hydrologist with the Oglala Sioux Tribe Natural Resources Regulatory Agency. Hannan introduced us to Kat, and she has been kind enough to drive us around in the Natural Resources truck and even in her personal jeep. It has been extremely helpful to have her with us in the field… without her we could not access any of the sampling sites for our project.
Kat has been very helpful in other ways too… she is the only one among us with any background in hydrology, so she has been guiding us through the sample collecting protocol. That was a HUGE help.
The other challenge we did not expect was the intricate process of obtaining permission for getting water samples. The land owned by the tribe is a complex patchwork… often the groundwater we need to collect will be within privately owned land and we could not get to it. Kat shared the GIS layers showing the locations of the tribal lands and areas where we could collect samples, plus introduced us to the people in the land management office where we got the updated map of the rez and possible locations of springs.
Today was a highly productive day. Kat took us to a farm where the owner was highly interested in our work. He let us sample a natural spring on his property, the well water he uses for drinking, another well within his field, plus an ephemeral stream. His farm is very close to the White Clay Fault, and these samples will help us see whether the fault has any influence on the uranium content of nearby well and springs.
Kat Converse collecting water sample from Alkali Creek
Kat is seriously thinking about getting the members of the local community take an active part in water resources stewardship. I am so excited to be involved in such a project.
Cat collecting surface water sample
Cat has gained a LOT of confidence in herself. It is a pleasure to watch her plan out her sample collection strategy, and then simply go about collecting samples, taking notes and doing what needs to be done.
This is the best part of being a mentor, to watch a student grow into his or her full potential as a scientist. I’m lovin’ it (Sorry, McDonald’s)