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From the Field: Field Work with LeAnna Warren

From the Field is an EcoPress series where we highlight the field work our scientists, graduate students and undergraduates are doing in blog posts, feature stories and on social media. This is the fourth blog post of the ongoing series.

LeAnna Warren is an undergraduate in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability. She began working with NREL senior research scientist Dr. Jill Baron during the Fall 2020 semester doing field and lab work associated with the Loch Vale Watershed.

LeAnna digging snow out of an ice auger hole on The Loch.

Rain or shine, summer or winter, on majority of Tuesdays throughout the year, you can find LeAnna up in Rocky Mountain National Park accompanying LVWS manager Tim Weinmann, graduate students Anna Shampain and Caitlin Charlton and Dr. Jill Baron for field work in the LVWS.

We asked LeAnna to give us some highlights from her year-round field work:

Q: Describe your field work in a few sentences? 

A: A typical day in the field for me and my team entails about 9 miles of hiking in the winter, often breaking trail through thick snow and trekking across a frozen lake. We collect water samples (that I partially analyze back in the lab) and gather data from our precipitation gauges. We also are part of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) so we swap out dust and AMON collectors as well. The day is usually long and often requires digging in snow to uncover our stored gear or drilling holes in the ice to get more water samples, but it is absolutely incredible work! And that’s just our winter field work!

LeAnna paddling a raft on The Loch.

Q: What is your favorite part about your field work?

A: I really enjoy being with the people I work with and learning from them. It’s also super amazing to be gaining these outdoor skills that I dreamed of having as a kid.

Q: Any crazy/fun field work stories so far?

A: Oh yes! There was a really wild day last summer! The grad student I was assisting needed to obtain another round of scans of the lake floor with her submarine robot Nessie. We’d had a long day already and we’re feeling determined to finish. Huge clouds started to loom in, with us on a boat, in the middle of an Alpine lake, above tree-line. We decided to head back and as we reached the shore marble sized hail began to pound us and lightning cracked. I’d never been above tree line during a storm before and admit I was a little nervous, but there was something that I didn’t know I had in me that came over me. It was this strange calm once I realized that the only thing to do now is get down and move with intention and deliberately cautious speed. So fear and panic would only get in the way and had to be put aside for now. So with hail pounding, lightning cracking, and rain sheeting, we packed up all of our gear and began our descent down slick rock faces toward the tree-line. It was incredible. The moment we hit tree-line the storm just disappeared like it was never there. I couldn’t help but laugh it all out in relief once we realized it was over. That honestly was one of the coolest experiences in my life and I’m so grateful I got to share it with such cool folks! 

LeAnna (left) and Tim Weinmann (right) filtering chlorophyll a samples in the field.

Q: Give us a fun fact or two about yourself outside of your field work/research.

A: I am a rock climber and am the front woman of a newly formed indie/alt band, Animal Future. I play guitar and sing! Maybe you’ll see us around FOCO!

Thank you for sharing your work with us, LeAnna!