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Author Topic: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020  (Read 23749 times)

Robert

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Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« on: December 17, 2019, 05:52:28 AM »


I guess I am jumping the gun a bit.

The nature of my activities in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California have changed dramatically over the past year, so it seems appropriate to start a new thread under a new format. How climatic change is impacting plants and ecosystems within the study area will be the focus of this new thread, however there will be plenty of photographs (plants and mountain scenes) that will be of interest to all of you that enjoy gardening.

Today, 16 December 2019 was snow survey day. I can gather estimated snow totals from the Internet, however there are very good reasons for manual observations. In our technological world, manual observations are often considered obsolete – old fashion. To start this new thread I will begin with a brief discussion of the benefits and advantages of manual observations. Despite the snow, I have some nice photographs for those not interested in the discussion.

I will continue the discussion in the next few days.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

ian mcdonald

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2019, 12:33:15 PM »
A good idea Robert. I suspect that "official" figures are an average, rather than actual. I think that the plants in one area of the Cairngorm Mountains are retreating to higher ground.

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2019, 02:13:29 PM »
Hello Ian,

Fortunately I can often look at the raw data. There is a lot of economic pressure to “get things done”, so remote instruments and sensors are not checked or calibrated frequently. In addition, some instruments are not sensitive enough to measure small changes accurately. I have to deal with many of the same constraints, however frequent manual observations ameliorate much of this. In addition, with manual observations I almost always make detailed observations that provide a much more accurate assessment. Thanks to the pioneering work of Ed Lorenz, we can appreciate how small changes can result in large impacts. I am a stickler for details and accuracy. If there is going to be any hope to ameliorate the negative impacts of climate changes the significance of small ecological changes (which can turn into large changes) need to be better understood.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Hoy

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #3 on: December 18, 2019, 08:13:26 AM »
I am looking forward to your reports, Robert!

I have read that the Norwegian met. aims to develop models that can forecast the weather on every spot in the country. Now it is impossible to do this as the weather can be very different on each side of an island or in different fiord arms. The topography is too complicated!
Trond Hoy, gardening on the rainy west coast of Norway.

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2019, 05:59:59 AM »


I promised a discussion on the merits of manual observations, so here we go.

A few days ago I conducted my weekly snow survey in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Although I can view public domain data from remote sensors over the Internet often the figures are estimates and occasionally inaccurate. As an example, a storm passed through our region a day or two prior to my snow survey. I monitor Sierra Nevada snow data daily over the Internet. The Internet data indicated that no snow had fallen at one of my monitoring sites. I knew that snow levels from this storm turned out to be higher than forecasted. However, I found it hard to believe that no snow had fallen, especially near the end of the storm. Sure enough, as one can see from this photograph, 8 cm of new snow had fallen from this storm.



There are a number of seasonal seeps in this area that have characteristics somewhat similar to the vernal pools found in the Central Valley of California. A number of unique plant species (some rare) can be found growing in close association with these seeps.



Accurate and precise (or realistically, precise as possible) data recording fluctuations in snow cover, soil temperature, soil moisture content, air temperature, precipitation type and amount, solar radiation, etc. are vital in interpreting the physiological, genetic, and other adjustments plants make to fluctuating environmental conditions.



Without manual observations, I would not be able to record the specific responses plants have to various forms of stress. As just one example, populations of some plant species will respond to changing degrees of vernalization. If the change in environmental conditions persists, the population can frequently adjust becoming a unique ecotype. How a plant species responses to vernalization sometimes has an epigenetic component. How transcription factors influence gene expression, as well as subtle physiological changes in plants are very much influenced by shifts in environmental conditions. All of these observations require detailed manual observations.



I spent most of my time on this day on Telephone Ridge. Many unique plant species, as well as specific ecotypes can be found in this area. Changes in forest management are threatening some species in this area, especially unique ecotypes of species in which the type form can be very common in other locations. These ecotypes are frequently completely unnoticed for what they are and can be easily lost.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2019, 06:01:36 AM »


This time of year this seep appears completely unassuming. I have been gathering data at this site for some time now. Subtle changes in environmental conditions can have a profound impact. Without manual observations the small details are frequently missed.



This Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa, was quite alive and seemingly healthy 6 months ago. Its death would not concern me, however many trees and shrubs are now dying in this area. The range of species impacted is particularly troubling. Delayed reactions to the stresses associated to the severe drought several years ago can occur. I frequent this site and will monitor the changes closely. A number of very unique and very specialized species and ecotypes are found near this site.

So very much would go completely unnoticed and unrecorded without frequent manual observations and attention to details.

At a later date, I will update and report some of the noteworthy current climatic events. There has been very little cold weather to date and a new record is possible this year. I am also progressing on the day 8 to 14, then out 30 day forecast model. Although the model suggests the possibility of cold weather this winter, conditions in the eastern Pacific may prevent this.

More on our climate and the Sierra Nevada flora later.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2019, 10:47:57 PM »


I continued my snow survey yesterday, 20 December. This survey was conducted at higher elevations, 5,500 to 6,000 feet (1,676 to 1,829 meters).



I was shocked by the general lack of snow cover, especially on the south facing slopes. On average I recorded 30 cm of snow cover, despite the fact that precipitation amounts are running about average. I could have easily driven into the site, however I choose to walk the last 2 miles. 50 years ago, when I would visit my father’s cabin during the winter, it was never easy to walk into this site, unless drought conditions prevailed. 50 years ago snow accumulations would have been far to deep for walking except with snowshoes. Now with climate change, the situation is much different. Snow levels are rising. Over the last few years there have been periods during the winter when there has been no snow cover.



My activities on this day underscored the value of manual observations. The estimated snow cover for this area posted on the Internet was over twice the amount I observed.



This managed site is slated for a complete alteration of the ecosystem. Based on tree ring analysis this site was forested 300 years ago. About 150 years ago, livestock was grazed at this site. Over time livestock grazing ended and the site was abandoned. During the 1990’s the private owners logged off the marketable timber and sold the property to the U.S. government. As usually happens after logging, a dense overgrowth of young conifers developed. This creates a dilemma for forest managers. For the health of the forest the conifers need to be thin, however additional logging perpetuates the cycle of excessive overgrowth.

At this site another approach will be tried. Here the young conifers have been hand cut and the slash will be burned. The idea is to transform the site into a meadow. Unfortunately, there are little indications that the site was a meadow during the past 300 years, except when livestock was grazed in the area. Given the impacts of climate change and the complete alteration of the surface energy budget the successful outcome of this approach may encounter additional challenges.



At many locations there was no snow cover. Here Myriopteris gracillima can be seen growing from a rock crevice. During the past week, nights have been below freezing with temperatures reaching down to 18 F (-7.8 C).
« Last Edit: December 21, 2019, 10:55:59 PM by Robert »
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2019, 10:50:59 PM »


Sedum obtusatum ssp. obtusatum is another tough little plant that is thriving without reliable snow cover.



Eriogonum wrightii var. subscaposum may look dead, however the plants are very much alive. This species too has a strong constitution and will survive without snow cover.



Plants use anthocyanins for many purposes. When not in active growth photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) can create situations where plants are exposed to excess irradiance. As an example, the light dependent reactions of photosynthesis create a highly reductive environment within the thylakoid membrane and lumen. In such situation, anthocyanins, as well as other mechanisms, help protect plant cellular structures from damage. This mechanism is particularly helpful to plants during times of stress such as at snow melt in the spring or as in this situation where there is no snow cover during the winter. All the specimens of Eriogonum nudum I observed on this day were bright red with anthocyanins. Within the region, not all plant species are well designed to deal with irradiance stress during the winter, especially at the highest elevations.



Sunny exposed sites had very little snow cover. There were on average only 5 cm of snow cover at this site.



At the same site, there are areas with no snow cover. The plants species at this site are well designed to cope with little or no snow cover during the winter and spring. The sparse snow cover can create other stresses for plants and whole ecosystems. A thick snow cover will melt over a prolonged period of time during the spring helping the soil to retain moisture later into the growing season. With little or no snow cover late into the season a site can experience greater stress during the autumn due to insufficient moisture. Lack of a prolonged snow cover into the spring will impact the hydrology of the whole region.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #8 on: December 21, 2019, 10:53:21 PM »


A nice view of Gerle Creek.



There is a good snow pack at the higher elevations of the Crystal Range where most precipitation to date has fallen as snow. Rising snow levels are impacting the hydrology of the whole region. (Dis)Stress in the mid-elevation ecosystems can be seen everywhere. My data to date suggests that managed forest ecosystems are unstable and susceptible undesirable impacts. The data also indicates that unmanaged ecosystems are much more stable and resistant to the impacts of climate change. There is still a great deal of work to do in this regard, but progress is being made.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Hoy

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #9 on: December 22, 2019, 09:16:44 AM »
Interesting report Robert.

I think several of the trees in your photographs look stressed and/or dying. Are attacks of bark beetles or other insects a problem when the trees are stressed?


What about the soil in the areas where it is no snow cover - does the soil freeze and thaw in a daily cycle? I would think such a cycle would be worse especially for seedlings that are easily uprooted, than lack of snow cover.

In areas where the regrowth of young trees is to dense, why not just remove a few of them at a regular basis? After a few years the canopy will enclose and the germination of new seedlings will diminish.
Trond Hoy, gardening on the rainy west coast of Norway.

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #10 on: December 23, 2019, 02:43:12 PM »
Trond,

You bring up some excellent points.

> As you know, one will always find that a certain percentage of the trees in the forest are distressed. The questions are, is the percentage of distressed trees increasing, at what locations, and why?

> How mountain ecosystems are responding to winters with little or no snow cover is an interesting study. The shift to a pattern with little or no snow cover changes the dynamics in many ways. Heat fluxes in and out of the soil change dramatically. Dormant seeds are exposed to light, which in turn, with some species, may trigger untimely germination. As you mentioned, freeze – thaw cycles heave the soil and dislodge the roots of germinating seeds and young seedlings.

On the last point, I did not notice any newly germinating seeds or seedlings on my last snow survey. In xeric settings, the small seedlings that germinated from seed last spring have long deep root systems that keep the tiny plants well anchored in the soil. At the site of my previous snow survey, a number of native annual species have newly germinating seeds that have developed to the cotyledon stage. Lessingia leptoclada and Calycandenia truncata are two examples. I keep detailed phenological records linked to specific physiological characteristics and genetic markers. Currently, I do not have enough data to reach any conclusions, however I have noted how certain invasive species have a competitive advantage in certain ecological niches. As an example, Erodium cicutarium germinates immediately after the first autumn rainfall well before other native species. The seedlings are hardy to both a certain degree of cold weather and drought. They have the ability to make rapid growth under less than ideal conditions. I keep a phenological record of their progress. This species definitely is encroaching into new locations and displacing native species. At the previous location Erodium cicutarium has most likely been around for a long time, due to the decades of livestock grazing in the area. At other sites, the introduction of this species is fairly recent. Needless to say, a great of work still needs to be done.

> It is difficult for me to comment on forest management practices, since I am not involved with this and do not want to be involved. There are locations where selective thinning, as you suggested, has been done with very favorable results.

50 years ago there were still portions of the forest that had never been logged. Despite decades of fire suppression these climax forests were very stable and healthy. There were no thickets of young trees. Since this time all of these forests have been logged. Basically the logged forest was abandoned after all the large old growth timber was removed. Thickets of seedling conifers grew in the highly disturbed soil. After 50 years some of the larger timber is now being removed as well as the thickets of smaller trees. The smaller trees and slash are heaped into gigantic piles (at least 25 meters tall!) and burned. Without some type of alternative forest management this cycle will continue. In addition, there are many other undesirable impacts with this type of forest management and logging. Such practices seem illogical, however old practices seem to be entrenched. I have noticed that small, locally owned logging operations practice extremely good logging practices that ameliorate most of the undesirable impacts. What goes on with forest management is enigmatic and is something I want to stay far away from.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #11 on: December 24, 2019, 03:31:31 PM »
Just ran my dynamic forecasting model (incredibly simple  :o  ). There are strong signals that January will be a wet month with below average temperatures, and low snow levels. Precipitation looks to be above average. AR activity appears to be minimal.

This is good news for us in Northern California if this indeed pans out.

Blessings to all.  :)

Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2020, 05:20:41 AM »


Yesterday was my first weekly snow survey for the 2020 season. The weather during the past week has been dry for the most part. Only .03 inches (0.76 mm) of precipitation was recorded at the lower elevations and little or none at the higher elevations. There was only a trace of snow remaining on the ground at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). I took the opportunity to examine and record the current conditions on Peavine and Telphone Ridges. I will share some of my experiences over the next few days.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2020, 05:13:53 AM »


With the ground free of snow cover; the soil is exposed to the cold night air. In shaded locations ice crystals had formed heaving the soil. This is not a favorable environment for germinating seeds and seedlings, but the ice crystals themselves were very beautiful. The freezing temperatures are not penetrating far into the ground. During the past week soil temperatures at 10 cm have average about 40 F (4.4 C).



In an open forest with a high canopy I encountered a plentiful stand of Lilium washingtonianum ssp. washingtoninum.



The lilies had produced an abundant seed crop that was dispersing itself throughout the forest.



Eventually the forest opened at the canyon edge with excellent views of the American River canyon and the high peaks in the distance.

Precipitation totals to date are slowly falling below average. Our Sacramento home is at 78% of average to date, the farm 85%. At this mountain site the number of snow cover days stands at 24 compared to 32 days last year and fewer than 10 the previous year. It is encouraging that some of the high elevation sites still have average snow-water equivalents in the snow pack.



I spent a good portion of the day examining the flora in this andesite chaparral plant community. Many unique species and ecotypes can be found in this environment. I study the whole area in general, however I also have specific plots that I study in detail.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Robert’s Crystal Range Project – Year 2, 2020
« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2020, 07:59:45 PM »


There were large stands of Indian Manzanita, Arctostaphylos mewukka ssp. mewukka, which grew in this hot dry habitat. A similar species, A. viscida ssp. viscida, White-leaf Manzanita, was also seen frequently in this habitat.



Gold-back Fern, Pentagramma triangularis, was seen growing at the bases of many large rocks and boulders. This site is near the high elevation limit for this species.



Poa secunda ssp. secunda breaks its summer dormancy in the late autumn or early winter and makes rapid growth. Many other native perennial grasses were also coming into active growth. In addition, cool season grasses such as Bristly Dogtail Grass, Cynocurus echinatus and Cheat Grass, Bromus tectorum, both invasive species, were germinating abundantly.



Lichens grew prolifically on rocks in this harsh environment. At this stage of the project lichens are of secondary importance, but I do keep a generalized listing of the species seen.



At one location the view of the Crystal Range was quite impressive.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

 


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