If you’re into nutrients and ecosystems and that sort of thing (and really, why wouldn’t you be?), it doesn’t take long before you come across somebody referring to “KCl’s”. By which bit of unitelligible shorthand they mean a standard method for assessing how much readily useful nitrogen is hanging around in soils. It works like this: grab some soil, dump it in tubes full of a strong salt solution (typically potassium choride, hence the KCl moniker), let that salt knock the nitrogen molecules off the soils and into the solution, extract the solution, measure the nitrogen concentrations, do the statistics, write the paper, publish the paper, do it all again, get an interview, get a job, get tenure…and eventually you too can be filling the internet with stories about how your students are now doing their own KCl’s.
In other words, it’s a rare biogeochemist – at least of those who work on land – who has not tangoed with a KCl at least once in his or her professional life. Which means lots of these soil extractions have been done, in all kinds of unexpected spots all over the planet. And yet I’m willing to bet that the pictures below are a first for Cafe Mundo, one of San Jose’s finer restaurants:
Yep, that’s Samantha, proudly displaying her KCl’s while awaiting…
a nice bottle of wine, well earned after a week of hard field work.
And still no rest for the weary – while I blog away (and thus am of no meaningful help whatsoever), Sam, Hana and Adrienne settle in back at the hotel for yet another round of KCl extractions. Such is the power and the glory of biogeochemistry.