The longest day is always something to relish, and this year, coincided with sampling in the Cairngorms mountains, Scotland. The UK’s sub-arctic plateaux mountains is similar in form and ecology to the Scandes Mountains; they rise from deep glens of around 2000 km2 of road-less mountain land, to rounded, undulating granite summits over 1300m above sea level. Along the elevation gradient from the glens, a rapid turnover of ecosystem types occurs: from Pinus sylvestris woodland with typical ericaceous ground cover, through scrub woodland and blanket bog, calluna-Cladonia heath on soloifluction and wind-terraces, Racomitrium ridge heaths, and open-summit Juncus trifidus systems, blasted by the cold winds, sometimes in excess of 240 kmph.
This week we checked the status of our met stations at 750 and 900m, both having survived the winter, despite some slight ‘leaning’ of the summit station after some clear frost-heave of the anchors. Moe, a summer undergrad student, and Rosanne, a PhD student working with me on alpine snowbeds, got to work on sampling mesocosm cores from the Racomitrium summit heath at our Geal Charn site. The soil is shallow, with a cryo-perturbed organic layer packed full of old, stable soil carbon. Along with our comparison sites in the much wetter, grassier western highlands, we’ll expose these mesocosms to extreme summer precipitation events, and explore the impacts on microbial functions in the moss capitula and the soil. The exchange of carbon under extreme events could be strongly impacted, with the potential to destabilise stable soil carbon from these predominantly wet soils, and we will explore this using isotopic tracer techniques. More though, there are the fundamental ecological questions about how these systems, which are exposed to such extreme environments, might exhibit considerable resistance or resilience to imposed extremes. We are interested in these characteristics, and whether key microbial groups play a role in such dynamics. More to come as we continue this work!
As we finished the sampling, we descended to the surprisingly midge-free forest, and headed for our camp spot on the flanks of cairngorm. There, we filled on pasta, watched the sunset, which left a strip of blue-grey on the horizon long in to the early hours of the morning. Aided by a small camp fire, we discussed the day and the year ahead, sleeping before catching a glimpse of sunrise on the longest day at just before 4am. A great time with great folks, and all part of working in alpine ecology at Lancaster environment centre.