Saeed Waqar Ali (ESR 9) is sharing recent experiences in his research work:

While things were getting back to normal from the restrictions related to COVID-19, we managed to achieve some important developments in the project. First off, our work on the methodological evaluation of Hg in foliar samples including both sample collection and analysis was performed. We also collected foliar samples to study the seasonal variation of vegetation Hg levels in four contrasting forest sites in Slovenia and analyzed them for THg and Hg stable isotopes. Results from these works were presented at conferences this year. In addition to this, controlled mesocosm experimental plots to study Hg dynamics during litterfall degradation was also set up at the Department of Environmental Sciences, Jozef Stefan Institute and is being monitored on bi-monthly basis. In the meantime, with the help of colleagues working at the department, we are developing a dataset comprising various environment-related parameters that will be utilized for predictive modelling of vegetation Hg uptake using machine learning tools.

While I had a frequent visit to the town of Idrija, visiting the Idrija mine which is the world’s 2nd largest mercury mine in the world was a trip to remember. As part of the excursion after the conclusion of the mid-term check meeting held at Ljubljana, we visited the historic Idrija mine and got to know the extent of the mining activities during its 500 years of operation.

Just when we thought we might be able to make the most of the planned GMOS-Train events, we missed the chance to attend the winter school in-person in Grenoble. Nevertheless, the last one year has been mostly about arranging field works, preparing, and analyzing samples in the laboratory while attending virtual workshops, the best part was traveling for secondments and to attend conferences.

Between 22/05/2022 and 27/05/2022, I traveled to Vienna to attend the EGU 2022 at the Vienna Center Austria where I presented my work on the evaluation of sampling and sampling preparation methodologies for multielement analysis in foliar samples. This work was presented in the Session BG1.7 – Mercury cycling in the environment – sources, processes, impacts, and archives from local to global scales. Besides this I had the chance to interact with fellow researchers and received valuable comments on my work. Other parallel sessions were also attended of which sessions on mercury biogeochemistry, forest ecosystem dynamics and soil sciences were of relevant interest. This opportunity was valuable for exchanging research ideas with other researchers working in the related field and for getting prepared for present research outcomes in the upcoming conferences.

Next up, the international postgraduate school of Jozef Stefan institute organized a 3-day student conference in the beautiful town of Kamnik Slovenia, just half an hour drive from Ljubljana. The conference was a great opportunity to meet fellow students some of whom we met in person for the first time. Some interesting research studies were presented, and I also got plenty of feedback on the work I presented at the conference. In fact, ideas for some collaborative works were also brought up during the discussion.

The highlight of the last year was our visit to the Abisko Scientific Research Station in the arctic circle for the GMOS-Train mid-term meeting. I also accompanied ESR 8 during her visit to the permafrost sites although much of the fieldwork was constrained by COVID-19-related issues. I then extended my stay for another two weeks in Stockholm to learn the extraction and analysis of fluorescent Dissolved Organic Matter (fDOM) from soil samples at the Department of ACES, Stockholm University. fDOM was then measured using Horiba Aqualog fluorometer along with analysis of THg and MeHg in the extracts. The aim is to study the interaction between dissolved Hg fractions and DOM during litterfall degradation processes. Soil samples collected bi-monthly from the mesocosm plots will be extracted and prepared for fDOM analysis in the coming months.