Networking – Finnish style – in the time of COVID

“Frank is coming to town next week – he would like to meet you.  Perhaps we can do a walk over lunch and have some sausages at a fireplace?”

My host Jukka Pumpanen proposed this to me last week.  Frank Berninger is a colleague at UEF Joennsu who does biogeochemical modeling.  I had met Frank over meetings on zoom before we left.  After being here a week and getting oriented, this meeting will officially serve as a kick off point to my work.  Networking and meeting colleagues is an integral part of the Finnish experience.  COVID restrictions has made that harder, but meeting outside is an appropriate way to network.

I was also excited for the opportunity to take a hike around Kuopio. The city has a well-defined network of outdoor fireplaces for public use , so this was an opportunity to explore more.

The best laid plans, unfortunately.  A low pressure system was moving across the country – and the winds were quite strong.

The ideal? conditions for an outside, socially-distanced meeting?

Rather than cancel, or move over zoom, we carried on by tapping into our own sisu.  It felt like we were hiking in the Boundary Waters, although we were only a few miles from the town.  (Apologies for the fuzzy pictures – I had to take off my mittens for the photos and it was cold!).  At the fireplace there was a little cabin full of wood and an axe to make kindling.  We were able to quickly get a fire started and cook the sausages.  Unfortunately we didn’t spend too much time (we got cold quickly to a point of it being unhealthy).  We walked back and carried on the meeting back at the office (wearing masks).  If the wind wasn’t as strong driving the windchill to the single digits it would have been quite pleasant.  I really liked the opportunity to experience both the outdoors, talk science, and see more of the city.

Today I was able to join in on a group meeting for the Biogeochemistry Research Group – I haven’t been part of one of those since graduate school – which was revitalizing intellectually!

Onto the project.  Jukka’s group has conducted a study along a fire chronosequence in the Yukon, Canada.  Basically there are three different sites that have burned from forest fires at different times (3 years ago, 25 years ago, or 100 years ago).  At each site they examined how the site has recovered since being burned in a series of papers.  My task is to build biologically-based mathematical models for soil carbon cycling that corroborate with their measurements.  (Here are some links to papers:

  • Aaltonen, H., K. et al (2019a), LINK 
  • Aaltonen, H., M. et al (2019b), LINK
  • Köster, E., K. et al (2017), LINK
  •  Zhou, X., H. et al (2019), LINK

To do this work I need to build models for soil temperature and the snowpack (they are located in the far north).  I’ve been doing some reading on possibilities for a spatial (depth) model.  It is fun to work with this modeling, and stretching my skills in coding in R.  I really appreciate the time for some deep thinking and focus on one project – I am paying more attention up front to the design of the code and how to make it work.  I’ll need to do some additional work to think about building a carbon model, but I might even incorporate some work that I had done way back in my first year of graduate school.  LINK  (That was my first ever graduate school research project, so it feels like coming full circle …)

More later.  It is going to be pretty cold the next few days (the high tomorrow is -12F) – so we will be staying inside.  This brief intrusion of cold air lasts for a few days.  20F is going to feel positively balmy!

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