Field Work Friday #1: Fun in Forks

Summer is one of the busiest times for scientists doing field work. I get out to the field regularly during the summer, and I know I’ll continue going to the field throughout the year. Because of this, I’ve decided to start “Field Work Friday” as a recurring blog installment!

This past week, I was in Forks, Washington calibrating tipping buckets for my research project.

Me and one of the tipping buckets. We have 80 to calibrate, and I’m in charge of the naming/numbering system. And yes, the front has bird poop on it.

If you’ve read my “Research” page, you’ll know that I’m really interested in sediment (mud) transport (movement). For the sediment to move anywhere, you need some sort of driving force. In the case of my research, that driving force is WATER.

To understand the process of sediment transport, quantifying the amount of sediment and the amount of water is incredibly important. This is where the tipping buckets come in! In our field set up, the tipping buckets are placed on a platform on the hillslope below the road surface (along with a sediment tub and a turbidity tank), and water is routed through the tipping buckets so we can get a measurement of the flow.

The tipping buckets work like this:

  1. Water goes in through the top of the tipping bucket
  2. One side of the bucket is filled until it tips over
  3. The other side of the bucket is filled until it tips over
  4. Repeat


Schematic of the inside of the tipping bucket as it goes through the tipping process.

Inside the tipping bucket, we have a tip counter. We take the number of tips multiplied by the amount of water it takes to tip, and voila! We have the quantity of water we were looking for.

I spent this week calibrating the tipping buckets (i.e., determining how much water it takes for the tipping buckets to tip!) To do this, we used a fire truck (which I got to ride in!!!) with a flow meter attached to it and spent hours (and hours and hours…) counting tips, doing basic math, and lifting heavy sheet metal boxes.

An example of our setup during calibration. The fire truck feeds water through a flow meter, then through the tube that goes into the top of the tipping bucket.

Though it may sound boring and monotonous (which, honestly, it could be at times), I still firmly believe that a bad day in the field is better than any day in the office.

Happy field-working!

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