Monday, July 28, 2014

Keeping track of all your data

It's week seven already! That means our students are collecting their last samples and surveys for a poster session at The Raw Deal in Menomonie this next tuesday. Looking back, between my group and Steve's we went through nearly a 500-count bag of 125 mL plastic Nalgene bottles.

Several hundred bottles, waiting to be acid-washed and put back into service.

Most of these bottles had water samples to test for phosphorus and chlorophyll-a. A single day out in the field might produce 25 or more samples, each of which needs to be run through a series of steps before we can actually measure what we're looking for.

Blake with 53 samples lined up, awaiting phosphorus analysis.

And then there is the data logging equipment - either sondes that you drop over the side of a boat and it records a whole bunch of parameters as you lower it to the bottom, or the pressure/temperature sensors that we've installed in several streams to record changes in stream depth and water temperature. You can record data every few minutes or even every few seconds.

All of this ends up as data. Spreadsheets full of numbers. Numbers from different sensors, numbers from different days, numbers from different sites. It can get confusing. So one of the things we try to stress to the students is the importance of maintaining organized notes, labeling sample containers before you collect the material, even using a shorthand to keep locations and instruments organized.

For this project we have about 15 temperature and pressure loggers in streams around the area. Each of these loggers comes with a serial number, but that's just another number. To keep track of the data loggers, I decided to name them. With 15 data loggers, that gives us 13 dwarfs, a wizard, and a hobbit.

And in a little bit of art-imitating-life, Kili ended up having a bad pressure sensor and was left behind...

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