Today I hiked from Zakopane to Hala Gąsienicowa, where Kłapa research station is located. Although the difference in elevation was only about 600 m, the hike was tiring, since I was carrying a 20 kg heavy backpack containing food, tools for field-work, rags, and my laptop. After four hours I reached a relatively old and cosy wooden hut – Kłapa research station which provides scientists with a well-equipped base-camp for studies. Moreover the station has recorded meteorological observations since 1917. Prof. Zofia Raczkovska – the station manager from the Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow (PAN IGiPZ) – gave me a warm welcome. After a short break and a cup of tea, we started discussing field-work and identified potential field-sites which were inspected in the afternoon. The general idea was to sample each ten Mountain pine (Pinus mugo ssp. mugo) specimens at two different micro-sites for dendroecological analyses. Thankfully, the local conditions were very supportive to this approach and we finally decided to investigate the effect of opposing slope exposition (SE vs. NW) on the growth of Mountain Pine. Alternatively we could have studied the effect of differing elevation but from my personal, ecological point of view the effect of exposition appeared more interesting.
First view on Hala Gąsienicowa.
In the field, Zofia provided me with some background information about the history of the study area: the valley experienced heavy timber logging in the 19th century to support an ironwork in Zakopane, then was reforested but continuously grazed by sheep until the 1970ies. In 1954 the High Tatra Mountains were declared a national park to conserve its unique nature. Nowadays, the area experiences a high pressure from massive touriusm (2-3 million visitors a year) and climate change, of which the latter visualizes in the prominent die-back of Norway spruce in course of drought and bark-beetle attacks.
I really enjoyed these first impressions from the field-site due to wonderful weather conditions and the magnificent view on the mountain tops surrounding Hala Gąsienicowa. Also, since the intended sampling design seemed to work out (you never know for sure what to expect before you’ve seen a particular field-site) and the weather forecast was good, I was quite confident about my research stay at Kłapa. After a long day I went outside the research station to watch the stars of a clear sky to finally fall asleep in curious expectation of the field-work next day.
Pinus mugo – the species under investigation – in front of the Hala Gąsienicowa mountain tops.