Friday, June 27, 2008

Geography Girl

Geography Girl
Originally uploaded by brentdanley.
The notes and comments on this flickr page make me ridiculously happy!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Losing California

From Science Daily:
The native plants unique to California are so vulnerable to global climate change that two-thirds of these "endemics" could suffer more than an 80 percent reduction in geographic range by the end of the century, according to a new University of California, Berkeley, study.

Because endemic species -- native species not found outside the state -- make up nearly half of all California's native plants, a changing climate will have a major impact on the state's unparalleled plant diversity, the researchers warn.

(There's much more at that link.)

The illustration they use for this story is a range map for the California Bay tree, Umbellaria californica, one of those trees of my childhood about which I get emotional. I was delighted when Botany Photo of the Day published some of my photos of local bay trees. You can see, in the illustration, how California's island ecology can shape an organism's range. In this case, the deserts of southeast and northeast California and the Sierra Nevada keep the California Bay (which is also called Bay Laurel or Pepperwood in various parts of its range) up against the coast and in the foothills around the valley. That map seems to suggest that with dispersal over the course of climate change (and how would that happen? people?) the range can remain perhaps large, even as range is lost due to change.

In my own head, I've been pondering the future, and whether it makes sense to simply watch some of the endemic organisms of California die off as climate changes, being as it's so much harder for anything to adapt than it used to be -- where will they go? we've fragmented habitat such that animals and annual plants can't move as they used to, and trees shift range slowly even in good circumstances -- or whether they should have human help, being as they'd mostly be displacing or joining organisms who will also need to move as their own climates change. Does it make sense to help move California bay, redwood, douglas iris, valley oaks, and other California-adapted organisms into more hospitable locations for them? Will failing to do so decrease biodiversity across the ranges of what lives in California and Oregon now? What's happening now will affect biodiversity in both areas anyway. The lands north of us will either lose or need to help move its endemic life. Regardless, the richness will become less rich.

Monday, June 23, 2008

California's a little hot right now

The Firefighter Blog links to a June 23 satellite image showing smoke from fires all over Northern California. This blogger says that the remnants of the Wild Fire along the Napa/Solano County line is visible; I can't see it. But I can see columns of smoke rising in Mendocino, Shasta, Monterey, Butte, and Trinity Counties, at the very least. Anywhere structures, people, farms, etc. aren't threatened, the fires are being left to burn, which makes a lot of sense given how California's ecosystems evolved to be healthier in the presence of fire. After this last weekend of dry thunder storms, most of the fires are lightning-started, but at least one of the big fires this past week was an arson fire.

Aside from the alpine and northwest corner rainforest ecosystems, California's endemic plant life is fire-adapted. Once manzanita is 15 or 20 years old, it's unhealthy. When fire approaches, it bursts into flame; after a fire, the manzanita regrows, healthy and young, from the rootstock. Bishop pine cones open properly only in real heat. I once took part in a seedling-count for a study of plant regeneration after the Vision Fire on Point Reyes. There were many times -- in places, ten times or more -- more Bishop seedlings under burned trees than in unburned areas, in April, because Bishop pine cones open in heat, open when fire is burning under them. In fact, on the whole, the burned out areas are healthier than ever. Redwood trees seed on bare mineral soil, but shed a lot of duff. Their seeds sprout best on soil that's been brought to bare dirt by flood or fire. We need to burn here. But with so many people in wooded and brushy areas, now, we can't let every fire burn, and some of our wildlands have had fire suppressed for so long that when they finally burn, it will be with devastating heat and height.

California's a beautiful place, but here, nature seems to like to remind us we're not in charge, and only sometimes know what we're doing.

Loma Prieta Earthquake Epicenter

Joe found this sign (and didn't photograph it, but found a pic on flickr) while out hiking yesterday. Someone has corrected the originally reported intensity, and Richter measurement, 7.1, to the Moment Magnitude measurement, 6.9.

He pinged me in IM: "That wasn't you, right?"

No. That wasn't me. :)