Thuwal, air temperature: 42 °C, water temperature: 33°C
On August 1st Ramadan has started here in Saudi Arabia (and of course in all other muslime countries). It`s the islamic month of fasting and all participating Muslims (including our staff working on the boat) are not allowed to eat or even drink during daytime. This is pretty tough when air temperature is above 40°C!
Thus, almost every restaurant at campus is closed during the day, but as soon as the sun sets, people get together to have happy Ramadan parties with a great variety of food and drinks. So luckily for our boat crew, we successfully finished our field work for the reef monitoring program yesterday. We also managed to filter all water samples, even though the ones from the near shore and land facing sites took very long because of all the high particle load in the water. We sorted all the data on our computers, named pictures and GPS tracks and exchanged all files. After that, we slept for 12 hours in a row. Tomorrow, I will already go back to Germany taking home a nice transect dataset and a great experience.
Many thanks to all people that helped and supported our work, thank you for the great time I spent at KAUST! I hope to see you again, maybe for the next year’s field trip!
Thuwal, air temperature: 40°C, water temperature: 32°C, lab temperature: freezing 18°C
After a few days busy with preparations we finally went out with the boat to sample the different reefs in the KAUST region. Usually we map one or two reefs per trip and day. At each site I snorkel equipped with a GPS and a buoy to track the 100-meter transects along which we record substrate cover for habitat characterization. At each site we deploy temperature and light loggers which will be exchanged during the next sampling period in the coming winter. On our trips we also take water samples for later microbial and nutrient analyses and we collect specimen of mushroom corals for another project. On the boat the corals are photographed, rinsed and then stored in liquid nitrogen for later analyses including symbiont counts, biomass calculations and genetic analyses.
After finishing the field work and being grilled on the boat, we put on jeans and jumpers to get the lab work done. The temperature inside the buildings on campus is usually not higher than 20°C which means a sudden temperature drop of more than 20°C! Arriving in the lab, we immediately start filtering the water samples (which sometimes takes an awfully long time), have a good coffee at the campus café and then prepare everything for the next day´s field trip. At home we digitalize all our field data, download the pictures and videos we have taken during the trips and call it a day!
Thuwal, air temperature: 39°C, water temperature: 30°C
Shortly after starting my PhD in Ecological Modelling at the ZMT, I had the chance to join Cornelia Roder, a former PhD student at the ZMT and now Postdoc at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, for an excursion to the coral reefs of the Red Sea. The project we are conducting aims to map the reefs in the University’s region in order to choose representative reefs that will be used for a long-term monitoring program in the area.
As I am experienced in GIS mapping, I am supporting the team on this part, while in exchange I learn a lot about transect and reef work for my own PhD project (which involves habitat characterization of mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs). Our field trip will take approximately 2 weeks and covers the first phase of the long-term coral reef monitoring project; by the time I leave KAUST we want to have mapped a large variety of reefs in the KAUST region and on that basis have chosen representative sites to establish permanent transects at offshore, midshore and nearshore reefs.
The KAUST university campus is huge and brand new, only founded in 2009. It’s also something new for the country of Saudi Arabia as it is the first mixed-gender university here ever. What’s great for scientists is that you can find great equipped research facilities right next to the tropical ocean. My host working group - Coral Reef Ecological Genomics in the Red Sea (CREGRS) - is led by assistant professor Christian R. Voolstra and has a main research interest in the application of Evolutionary Genomics and Systems Biology approaches to understand reef ecology and to develop conservation guidelines.
The first few days we are now busy with preparations (which actually takes up most of your research time), but I will keep you updated as to what will happen next and how everything’s going.
Maren Kruse, AG Räumliche Ökologie und Interaktionen