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Bert Hölldobler: Why Term 'Superorganism' Should Be Limited in Use

A velevety tree ant touches the antenna of a honey bee in this photo taken on lavender blossoms in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Superorganism: It's a term that should be limited in use, says Pulitzer-Prize winner Bert Hölldobler, one of the world's leading ant experts. Bert Hölldobler, an evolutionary biologist based at Arizona State University who researches the...

A velevety tree ant touches the antenna of a honey bee in this photo taken on lavender blossoms in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A velevety tree ant touches the antenna of a honey bee in this photo taken on lavender blossoms in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A velevety tree ant touches the antenna of a honey bee in this photo taken on lavender blossoms in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Headwaters

I have the privilege of engaging California's communities with the aspiration of safeguarding the sustenance and well-being that its oak-woodland watersheds and the people that are a part of them provide. This millennia-long integrated relationship of humans and land has parallel histories in other Mediterranean parts of the world. The following blog is the first of occasional installments about working Mediterranean landscapes in California and around the globe. Combined they will explore the concepts of watershed functions, working landscapes and Mediterranean climate, vegetation and management. Join me in experiencing these settings, growing our appreciation for the integrated nature of these landscapes and people, and gaining understanding and tools for our tenure as stewards. - David Lewis, director, UC Cooperative Extension, Marin County

Ghost pines, live oaks, black oaks and madrones, among other trees, make their stand interspersed with annual and perennial grasses at the headwaters of a California watershed. (Photo: David Lewis)

I am standing where stream flow begins, in a nameless tributary of the Russian River to the east of Hopland, Calif. This particular spot and location has been a grazing livestock ranch, primarily sheep, going back more than 100 years (learn more). This is one of thousands of spots in a watershed where water comes to the surface, joins in a channel and starts its path downstream. Many of us have stood at a confluence of two rivers or an estuary where a watershed's outfall meets an ocean. These locations are the stream's or river's end, their terminus. Where I am standing, is the headwaters of a stream system, where water is initially released and visible as a thin, shallow bouncing band.

Watersheds collect, store, and transport water. The transport function is performed by streams and rivers. These are dynamic, pervious channel networks each with a beginning and an end. At any part of the network, the channel is that lowest point in the landscape, stretching from one stream bank to the other, and generally widening in the downstream direction, until the stream mouth empties into another water body. 

At the other end of a network is the channel head, where the channel begins. This is where I am standing. Channel heads are found in small, intimate folds in the landscape. These depressions are referred to by many names — draws, bowls, hollows — the place in hills where the slopes become shallow and coalesce.

Like an amphitheater, the surrounding hillslopes rise around me. Reaching out at shoulder height, I can almost touch these slopes. The mixed oak woodland and interspersed grasslands are in attendance across these slopes. Ghost pines, live oaks, black oaks and madrones, among other trees, make their stand interspersed with annual and perennial grasses blanketing the ground. This mosaic of vegetation is hosted and sustained by the complex mix of marine sediments that have been pushed up, forming these hills, and erosion carving the stream channel. Below the surface are soils one to three feet deep that have developed from the underlying geology.  

It's March 3, 2019, and on the cusp of spring. Between the light breezes, the stream water sings its way downstream. I think back to the intense storms that moved across this part of California the week before and the resulting floods in the lower portion of the Russian River. Those and earlier winter storms soaked into the soil until the soil reached its capacity to hold water. Once the soils were primed, water was released to the channel network. That water is still being released now, days later, and will be for several more months into May or even June. Rainfall for this area and most of California has been substantial, matching amounts not seen since 1983, and definitively ending the nearly five-year drought. This contrast in extremes is the norm for California, meaning the next drought or next flood is only a year away.  

Downstream the Russian River is perennial, flowing year-round. But here at the channel head, flow is intermittent on an annual cycle. Rains begin in the fall, with headwater surface flows starting in late fall or early winter, once soils are saturated. This wetting up process reverses in the spring, until the channel head is dry.  

At some point this year flow in the headwaters will stop. Saturated soils releasing water laterally below the ground surface, will gradually release less and less water to the channel. Trees and grasses will demand more and more water as they leaf out and grow. As soils pores empty of free water, the remaining moisture is held more tightly to soil particles and plant root surfaces through a physical tension. Eventually the channel head will run dry.

While you may not have the opportunity to visit a channel head and experience the place where stream flow starts and stops each year, you are often closer to one than you think. Driving a rural road or hiking in a favorite park or open space will invariably find you crossing one of these unnamed headwater streams. As you do, give a look upstream, from where the water going past you has come. Up the channel into the bowl is one of the channel heads and headwaters for the watershed you are in.

I don't know when I will get to this channel head again. However, this place where surface flow is initiated will be close in my mind, particularly, as I visit the confluences and estuary of the Russian River, during the wet and dry periods and high and low rainfall years to come.

To learn more about these specific watersheds and research conducted in them this article is suggested. If interested in learning how stream flow is generated in California oak woodland watersheds you may want to read this article

Posted on Monday, April 15, 2019 at 9:38 AM
  • Author: David Lewis
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

Falling levels of air pollution drove decline in California’s tule fog

Reposted from the UC Berkeley News

Cranes fly through the fog over a marsh

Cranes glide through the tule fog at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Steve Corey via Flickr)

The Central Valley's heavy wintertime tule fog – known for snarling traffic and closing schools — has been on the decline over the past 30 years, and falling levels of air pollution are the cause, says a new study by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tule fog, named for a sedge grass that populates California's wetlands, is a thick ground fog that periodically blankets the Central Valley during the winter months.

To find out why the fog is fading, the researchers analyzed meteorological and air pollution data from the Central Valley reaching back to 1930. They found that while yearly fluctuations in fog frequency could be explained by changes in annual weather patterns, the long-term trends matched those of pollutants in the air.

The results help explain the puzzling decades-long rise and fall in the number of “fog days” affecting the region, which increased 85 percent between 1930 to 1970 and then decreased 76 percent between 1980 to 2016. This up-and-down pattern follows trends in air pollution in the valley, which rose during the first half of the century, when the region was increasingly farmed and industrialized, and then dropped off after the enactment of air pollution regulations in the 1970s.

A satellite image of the Central Valley of California, showing thick white clouds in the valley

NASA's Terra – MODIS satellite captures a thick blanket of fog covering California's Central Valley. (NASA photo by Jeff Schmaltz)

“That increase and then decrease in fog frequency can't be explained by the rising temperatures due to climate change that we've seen in recent decades, and that's what really motivated our interest in looking at trends in air pollution,” said Ellyn Gray, a graduate student in environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley and first author on the paper, which appears online in The Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. “When we looked at the long-term trends, we found a strong correlation between the trend in fog frequency and the trend in air pollutant emissions.”

The link between air pollution and fog also explains why southern parts of the valley — where higher temperatures should suppress the formation of fog — actually have a higher occurrence of fog than northern parts of the valley.

“We have a lot more fog in the southern part of the valley, which is also where we have the highest air pollution concentrations,” Gray said.

And it makes sense, given what we know about how clouds and fog form, Gray says. Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) react with ammonia to form ammonium nitrate particles, which help trigger water vapor to condense into small fog droplets. Emissions of NOx have declined dramatically since the 1980s, resulting in a decrease in ammonium nitrate aerosols and fog.

“In order to get fog to form, not only do you need the temperature to go down, but there has to be some sort of seed for water to condense around, similar to how you would have a cloud seed in the atmosphere,” Gray said. “Ammonium nitrate happens to make very good fog seeds — water is very attracted to it.”

As a next step, the team plans to take a close look at the association between air pollution, tule fog and traffic safety in the valley.

“When I was growing up in California in the 1970s and early 1980s, tule fog was a major story that we would hear about on the nightly news,” said Allen Goldstein, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, and in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley and senior author on the paper. “These tule fogs were associated with very damaging multi-vehicle accidents on freeways in the Central Valley resulting from the low visibility. Today, those kind of fog events and associated major accidents are comparatively rare.”

Co-authors of the paper include S. Gilardoni and Maria Cristina Facchini of the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate in Italy; Dennis Baldocchi of UC Berkeley, and Brian C. McDonald of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder.

This research was supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Fellowship, the California Agricultural Experiment Station and McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Research Council of Italy.

Posted on Friday, April 12, 2019 at 5:46 PM
  • Author: Kara Manke

Honey, Let's Go Taste Honey!

Graduate student Yao Cai (right) serves honey at the 2018 Picnic Day activities in Briggs Hall. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey, let's go taste honey! Yes, you can do just that at Briggs Hall during the UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 13. It's free and family friendly. And one of the crowd favorites, meadowfoam, will be offered. Honey enthusiasts say it tastes like...

Graduate student Yao Cai (right) serves honey at the 2018 Picnic Day activities in Briggs Hall. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Graduate student Yao Cai (right) serves honey at the 2018 Picnic Day activities in Briggs Hall. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Graduate student Yao Cai (right) serves honey at the 2018 Picnic Day activities in Briggs Hall. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Want to see honey bees near the honey tasting? Check out the Biological Orchard and Gardens (BOG), located by the Mann Lab, in back of Parking Lot 26.  Here a honey bee is nectaring on five-spot flowers, Nemophila maculata.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Want to see honey bees near the honey tasting? Check out the Biological Orchard and Gardens (BOG), located by the Mann Lab, in back of Parking Lot 26. Here a honey bee is nectaring on five-spot flowers, Nemophila maculata. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Want to see honey bees near the honey tasting? Check out the Biological Orchard and Gardens (BOG), located by the Mann Lab, in back of Parking Lot 26. Here a honey bee is nectaring on five-spot flowers, Nemophila maculata. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bugs Reign Supreme at UC Davis Picnic Day

UC Davis medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo holds one of his images, a tsete fly. He does research on the fly. He also will be showcasing his other images of vectors on UC Davis Picnic Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

What's a picnic without bugs? When the 105th annual UC Davis Picnic Day takes place Saturday, April 13, thousands of visitors will explore the campus. It promises to be informative, educational and entertaining. But over at Briggs Hall, home of the UC...

UC Davis medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo holds one of his images, a tsete fly. He does research on the fly. He also will be showcasing his other images of vectors on UC Davis Picnic Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
UC Davis medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo holds one of his images, a tsete fly. He does research on the fly. He also will be showcasing his other images of vectors on UC Davis Picnic Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

UC Davis medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo holds one of his images, a tsete fly. He does research on the fly. He also will be showcasing his other images of vectors on UC Davis Picnic Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

These are the new t-shirts to be offered by the Entomology Graduate Student Association on UC Davis Picnic Day. From left are artists/scientists Ivana Li, Corwin Parker and Jill Oberski. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
These are the new t-shirts to be offered by the Entomology Graduate Student Association on UC Davis Picnic Day. From left are artists/scientists Ivana Li, Corwin Parker and Jill Oberski. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

These are the new t-shirts to be offered by the Entomology Graduate Student Association on UC Davis Picnic Day. From left are artists/scientists Ivana Li, Corwin Parker and Jill Oberski. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

You know how loud cicadas are? Well, doctoral student/nematologist Corwin Parker drew this prize-winning sketch for a EGSA t-shirt: a cicada plugged into an amp.
You know how loud cicadas are? Well, doctoral student/nematologist Corwin Parker drew this prize-winning sketch for a EGSA t-shirt: a cicada plugged into an amp.

You know how loud cicadas are? Well, doctoral student/nematologist Corwin Parker drew this prize-winning sketch for a EGSA t-shirt: a cicada plugged into an amp.

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