Of course, it is impossible to think back on the course without seeing it in the context of the pandemic. I was fortunate to have made it out of the country with the Oxford contingent before the borders closed, and I am especially grateful to the PFTC leadership for how well they handled and communicated the situation. Although our journey back to the UK took four days traveling through two additional countries, it was a great bonus to get to spend a day in Santiago, Chile, where we met up with my labmate Alejandra Mora-Soto. She showed us “the revolution” in her home city.
Even before the exodus, the course had provided some frustrating experiences. I was a member of the remote sensing group, and we had been plagued by equipment failure. We had a motor malfunction in one drone, software issues with another, and damaged parts in the hyperspectrometer. And my goal before the course was for smooth execution of our data collection and protocols. I had been on the same team in the previous PFTC in Svalbard, where, perhaps miraculously, we had a very successful campaign despite very little planning before the start of the course. It is almost comical to me that we had such difficulties this time around even though we had the experience from the previous course that we tried to build upon. Certainly, I learned from this experience just how unpredictable fieldwork can be, and I will make sure to always have a Plan B in mind when leading my own field campaigns. In Peru, we had devised some plans for how we could proceed and make useful measurements in our team, and I am disappointed we did not get to go through with any of them due to the pandemic.
However, when it was clear that we were going to pack up and leave, I got to spend one day with the carbon flux team, fulfilling my goal of participating with another team and learning the techniques they were employing. It was an extremely productive day in the field that was a very welcome distraction from the pandemic news. My experience making carbon flux measurements has already influenced the design of the measurements I am proposing for my PhD research measuring carbon fluxes in the Arctic.
The course confirmed for me that my passion as an environmental scientist is not in studying plants in detail, but rather at the ecosystem or landscape scale. As much as I enjoy learning about the finer elements of plant traits and physiology, I am more passionate about how measurements of plants might contribute, along with climate, disturbance, topography, etc., to understanding how the Earth system functions. Many of the instructors and students on the course try to make these connections, and I hope to continue to work with them in the future (especially as we are all experts now in working together remotely).