Friday, December 21, 2012

Tips for Field Expeditions

Over the years I came across many tips that I have been using quite often in my algal field expeditions around the coasts. Here is a summary:

Always plan the trip with an expedition pack-list

Have a plain-text master pack-list with appropriate sections (Before Travel/Hotel Stay/General Items/Cloths/Research/Electronics/Footwear/Documents) and fine-tune with some serious brain-storming at least 5 days before you leave! Websites like Don't forget your toothbrush might help you to get started.This is a section on "Research Expedition" in my pack-list:

Binoculars (Carl Zeiss Inc Victory)
Point-and-Shoot GPS Camera (DSC-HX20V)
Ziplock bags
Permanent Marker
Gum boots
Combination carabiner
Garmin eTrex 30
Swiss army knife-Victorinox
Documents with appropriate permissions
Ice box with freeze packs
Sun glass with case
Water resistant notebook
PS: I do not carry my powerful Canon DSLR (EOS 60D) for two reasons;

  1. Camera with lens pack/tripod are indeed bulky and eats space and time from my valuable expedition. 
  2. I normally go to field trip alone with some tricks to deter thieves  so carrying an expensive and bulky camera will surely give a "steal me" signal!

Start the day with a cuppa!

Cup of tea, in addition to all the refreshment and taste, work as a basic barometer and help you forecast the weather!
"If the bubbles move to the edge of the cup rather quickly, that's a good sign. Expect clear skies for the next 12 hours. 
If the bubbles hang around in the center of the cup, get out your rain gear. You can expect rain in 12 hours. 
If the bubbles slowly move to the edge of the cup, you may get a bit of weather, but it should be clearing in a few hours. 

Principle is simple; time taken for the bubbles to move towards the edge is directly proportional to the atmospheric pressure; lower the pressure (=chances of storm), slower the bubbles move to the edge and burst.

Sock trick

Who says you can't wear sock over the shoes! That is exactly I have been doing while criss-crossing over slippery intertidal rocks. Socks provide excellent friction that the best anti-skid shoes never give. After a tip from National Geographic many years ago. Also see news from New Zealand where this is used for walking on ice.

Be a "four legged animal" with cotton glove.  

Tip from Charley on FHL Field Course 2007. If you are an intertidal ecologist, you better be "a four legged animal" (with cotton gloves) on the slippery rocks.

Using condoms as underwater camera housing

under water camera housing 00
If you have a point-and-shoot camera and want to do some (ameteur) underwater snaps on the go or just to use on "splashy zone", a tip from DIY Photography might help, putting a pair of condoms over the camera, sealing and there you go! Make sure to cover lens hood with a PVC pipe little over the zoom range if you are using a super-zoom camera (mine is 20X optical zoom, and PVC is 1.5" 10 cm). In my experience photos look a bit hazy, but worth to have some serious money savings! Housing can cost double the camera price.

Estimating directions looking at satellite dish

If your sampling points are near some  residential area, satellite dish can be of great help in guessing directions on overcast days. Here in India almost all dishes point towards east (I've checked in Tata Sky, AirTel, Dish TV and Reliance DTH). Comment here if you know any exceptions. I heard that in US it points towards South. Check out the pattern in your country!

Resurrecting wet gardgets using a bag of rice.

Testimonial: Rice Resurrects Even the Most Soaked of GadgetsIt happened to me so many times in past that some of the gadget I carry accidently slipped to the water/drenched in rain/intertidal splash; now how to resurrect them? A bag of rice helps the best, a tip from one of my favorite blogs, Lifehacker. It really works, I have checked this tip on my smartphone that has taken the entire cycle in washing machine due to my sheer negligence! Rice is an excellant dehydrating agent. Or try silica if you are back in the lab from field trip!

Estimating time till sunset using hand

Tip from Groovy Matter, it is quite possible to estimate minutes till sunset pointing your hand towards horizon.
All you need to do is extend your arm fully and count the number of finger widths between the sun and the horizon. Each finger is about 15 minutes, which means each hand width should be about an hour. Remember that this is just an estimate, so if you want to be conservative, make sure to give yourself a bit more time than you measure if you want to get home before dark.

Use clothes hanger with a ziplock bag/PET bottle as a weighing balance

Approximate the Weight of Any Item Using a Clothes Hanger
A "genius little tip" from Lifehacker; if you are working on algal biomass or just to dispatch some of your samples over express courier, use clothes hanger and other supplies available in your hotel room to estimate the weight. Hang the hanger, tie one side with the weight standard ( specific gravity of water being close to 1, equate this with volume of water, measured using easily available PET bottles!) and the other side with sample, both in similar zip-lock bags.

Any other helpful tricks that you know? Disclose them in the comments!

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