31st of August: Field-work and evening hike

At half past six the alarm got me awake. After a quick breakfast, Zofia and I went to sample Mountain pines at the first field-site., i.e. a Southeast facing slope at 1700 m elevation. The sampling itself was quite cumbersome, since Mountain pine forms relatively dense patches which were hard to access. By early afternoon we had managed to measure and harvest ten stems. First ring-counts in the field suggested the shrubs to be at least 60 to 70 years.

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Morning-view from my room in Kłapa research station.

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A beautiful morning in the Tatra Mountains – perfect conditions for field-work.

Left: Mountain pine stem after the sampling (diameter round-about 8 cm), age roughly estimated at 50 years by counting the rings. Right: Mountain Pine forms dense thickets which are not easily accessible.

Since by then half of the field-work was accomplished and the weather was forecasted sunny for tomorrow, we decided to leave the remaining work for the next day. Instead I used the free time to repeat a photography taken in the 1960ies which was exposed in the research station and combine this with an evening hike to a close-by mountain. It turned out that the repeat photography could not be taken in perfect match, since the spruce forest had significantly extended since the 1960ies. Nevertheless I tried to match the perspective of the two pictures, whose comparison clearly indicates an upward movement of the tree-line as well as an increasing Mountain pine abundance in the area. The subsequent hike to the Black lake (Czorny Staw) and Karb mountain pass gave me a very nice impression of the High Tatra Mountains.

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Attempting repeat photography to compare the extent of the tree-line between 1960 and today. The exactly same angle was not possible to obtain since today Norway spruce covers the perspective from the 1960ies.

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Evening panoramic view on the study-area from 2000 m elevation. The area above the tree-line is largely covered with Mountain pine (e.g. dark-green patches on the west-facing slope in the centre of the image and around the lakes in the valley).

In the late evening, Prof. Stanisław Kędzia – as Zofia also from PAN IGiPZ in Krakow – arrived at the station. He should accompany me to the second field-site next day, since Zofia had to return to Krakow because of pending work-duties.

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30th of August: Reaching the station and inspecting the sample sites

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.

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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.

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Pinus mugo – the species under investigation – in front of the Hala Gąsienicowa mountain tops.

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29th of August – travelling from Munich to Zakopane

The first day of my INTERACT TA to Kłapa research station in the High Tatra Mountains, Poland, was – compared to my earlier INTERACT trips to Finse, Norway, and Kobbefjord, Greenland – quite unspectacular: I rode by car from Freising, Germany, to Zakopane, Poland, which took me round about 12 hours including several breaks and some traffic jams. However, the trip included my first visit to Slovakia where I spotted several interesting castles along the highway as well as my first view on the Carpathians which I to date had been unfamiliar with.

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One of several Slovakian castles north of Bratislava along the way to Zakopane.

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