Movement of Water Through Northern Forested Ecosystems


Nia Perron is studying the role of trees in the hydrology of northern forests. Challenged by conducting field work during a global pandemic, Nia had to adapt her sampling protocol. She collected boreal tree samples and established a laboratory in her family cottage near Fox Lake, Ontario to perform calibration experiments.

By: Nia Perron

Spruce stem segments after being used for TDP calibration

For my PhD research, I am working under the supervision of Oliver Sonnentag (Université de Montréal) and Jennifer Baltzer (Wilfrid Laurier University) to better understand the role trees play in the continuous movement of water through northern forested ecosystems.

Using several measurement techniques, we continuously monitor the water moving through trees and exiting into the atmosphere, as well as the water stored within the tree stems throughout the growing season. This data is paired with environmental data to determine what is driving potential differences in tree water use at five sites that span from the southern boreal tree line to the northern treeline in Northwestern Canada.

Nia working to cut a tamarack sample

One of the measurement techniques uses thermal dissipation probes (TDP) to quantify whole-tree water use (i.e. sap flow). The probes measure sap flow by recording the temperature difference at two points in the sapwood of a living stem. This temperature difference is used to alongside calibration values to determine the stem sap flow. For this part of the project, my goal was to generate species-specific calibration for two widely distributed boreal species: Picea mariana and Larix laricina

Given the challenges of conducting field work during a global pandemic, we were obliged to come up with some creative solutions to facilitate this calibration project. The work was done at my family cottage at Fox Lake Ontario, Canada.

Makeshift laboratory at Nia’s family’s cottage to perform calibration experiments. It included the stem stand and water column, dataloggers, filed laptop computer, power converter, scale, and TDP sensors.

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