Mike English: "A family-oriented research sabbatical in New Zealand - 'I'd recommend it to anyone!'"
But life was not all beer and skittles in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Rather, English used his sabbatical as an opportunity to pursue his research on how agricultural practices influence groundwater/surface water interactions. He also took along his family – wife Sherry Schiff (a geochemist at UW) and four children, aged 14 to 20.
wanted to go,” says English, and careful marshalling of Air Miles points
managed to get everybody as far as
They ended up in the city of
research station at
The 215-hectare basin at the research station has been divided into three sub-basins for research purposes. One has been returned to natural native vegetation, and subbasins of the other two have been altered in different ways to determine ways and means of reducing direct loading of nitrate into the surface streams. This includes reforesting some with fast-growing pine (maturing in just 17 years) for eventual use as biofuel and planting others with different types of crops and excluding or including sheep and cattle.
500-600 sheep at the research site and another 150-200 beef cattle, says
English. Unlike Canadian farms, where livestock are to a significant degree
penned up in barns, the gentle
Keeping the livestock out of streams is the first step in improving water quality, and establishing two-metre zones of vegetation alongside the streams is the next.
Water samples are taken, English says, to determine the proportional contributions of nitrogen moving from the sub-basins into the main stream and how it changes during a storm event.
“We are also determining the source of the nitrogen entering the stream,” he says, by examining nitrogen isotopes to see if the source is sheep, cattle, fertilizer, or occurring naturally from precipitation.
“We have 300 frozen samples to be analyzed,” he says.
no stranger to tracking nitrogen. He has been involved for some time in a
research project in the Strawberry Creek watershed near Maryhill (between
scientists live in our own caves,” he says. “The research I was involved with
“The people were also different. There was a dynamic atmosphere. We had full access to labs, to trucks. They basically said, ‘Do what you want to do’.”
English rates his New Zealand experience “10 out of 10,” and not just professionally. His 14- and 16-year-old daughters took high school courses they never would have experienced here, “like a Grade 9 Maori course,” and they made a lot of friends. “Each had several going away parties.
“There is a community spirit there you don’t have here,” he adds. “They are very laid-back people, and it was a community we could fit into reasonably easily because of our research background.
“I’d recommend it [a period of overseas research] to anyone,” English says.