Measuring the change
By Chuck Pope & Ela Zawadzka / August 8, 2013 at 10:20 AM
There are dozens of arguments over publicly controversial issues like climate change. But, if we take a step back from a political discussion we’ll find that along with its anxiety-inducing effects, climate change offers an interesting opportunity to consider fascinating, interconnected processes on Earth. From the smallest to the largest components of the planet – from bacteria to volcanoes – all somehow feel the effects of a changing climate. For example, changes in temperatures may force certain animals to move to different territories and new predator-prey interactions my result. Some may vanish. Changes in carbon dioxide levels may make it easier for new plants to take over the landscape, such as more shrubs growing in the Arctic or, much closer, more algae growing in Lake Tahoe. All of these changes shake up how the ecosystem and food webs work.
Measuring the potential impacts of climate change on fragile desert ecosystems is a relatively new area of study, and the NLT is on the cutting edge of this research with an innovative partnership. Nevada Land Trust (NLT) entered into a license agreement with the Nevada Board of Regents on behalf of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) to allow construction of a weather monitoring station and environmental sensors on a small plot of land within the David Moore Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary near Baker, Nevada. The wildlife sanctuary, encompassing approximately 400 acres is owned by NLT and is located in close proximity to Great Basin National Park (GBNP).
The weather monitoring site was jointly located by DRI and NLT to meet research objectives while protecting the sensitive resource values on the wildlife sanctuary. The purpose of the station is to study the effects of regional climate change on ecological and water resources, as well as human populations. Other similar sites are being evaluated by DRI within the Basin and Range complex inside and outside GBNP. Construction of the station on NLT land was completed in 2012.
Nevada’s hydrological and climatic systems could become even more unpredictable with changes in climate, putting stress on wetland ecosystems. The rivers and streams in Nevada are mostly spring-fed or resulting from runoff from the mountains. A warmer climate would increase evaporation and shorten the snow season in the mountains (hence: shorter ski season!) resulting in earlier spring runoff and reduced summer stream flow. These threats could reduce the number and quality of wetland habitats, which are already stressed. Hotter weather also means drier soil and that could increase the frequency of wildfires. More research is needed, and NLT is excited about the opportunity to participate with in these important studies. Data derived from the instrumentation will be made available to other institutions and to the public at no cost.