A Spring that Lasts Forever

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When I lived in Alaska springtime was so short that you missed it if you blinked, I wrote about that last week. In Madison I don’t remember spring being that spectacular, other than the Magnolia outside my work blooming. And maybe that was one of the reasons but I also think spring came very late to Madison and Wisconsin last year.

April 28th 2018, Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin:

When we first got here to NYC I was actually quite surprised by all the trees and green space almost everywhere on Manhattan (I mean, not including Central Park of course). Madison also has a huge amount of green space, even more than NYC, and in Alaska you basically lived in the forest so. NYC Parks also has this collaboration with the community called Green Thumb as I mentioned earlier, and the community gardens are always so pretty. There are quite a lot of them around Harlem. We also have quite a few large parks nearby. Randall Island is an island in the East River, then we have Marcus Garvey Park and Morningside Park here in Harlem and around Columbia.

March 26th 2019, Morningside Park:

April 1st 2019, Washington Square Park:

April 3rd 2019, Central Park:

We went to Colorado last weekend and the cherries on the west side of Onassis reservoir had just started to bloom. Once I got back I was unsure how much would still be blooming, and to my surprise it still was. Yesterday we walked by the cherry trees on the west side of the reservoir again and those trees are on their way out. But there are a ton of other cherry trees (I think they are) still waiting to bloom, and on the east side of the reservoir there are trees blooming too.

April 3rd 2019, Central Park:

Another thing I am quite surprised about are all the apps and scripts and just about anything that has been created for users who are interested in NYC and everything you could possibly think of. For instance I found this guide from the Central Park Conservancy which guides you through all the spring blooming of Central Park. According to the guide there are Yoshino Cherry trees on the east side, and Kwanzan trees on the west side of the reservoir. The west side cherries are more pink, if those are what I have been seeing, while the Yoshino are more white (at least if you stand on the west side looking across the reservoir and the east side cherry trees). You can also visit the bloom guide for the most popular flowers on their website, and you can also head to NYC parks where they list what trees and flowers have started to bloom.

Around Columbia Cherry trees and Magnolias are in full bloom or at least reaching full bloom. I am used to Magnolia having a full bloom for a few days before it starts to taper off. But that all also depends on temperature and rain of course.

You'll Bleed to Death Before We would Ever Get Back

Flashback Friday

Fieldwork in Nome, Alaska

July 2018

I was lucky enough to help out with some fieldwork in Alaska again, and what a whirlwind the days before that was. We pretty much packed up all of our belongings and put them in a big container, to be shipped to NYC (well Actually, New Jersey) at a later date. We scrubbed and cleaned our place from top to bottom. Not that it was super dirty, but that is how I am, I want to leave it all clean. It was also because our friends were going to move in after us. Luckily we arrived in NYC and Manhattan, East Harlem on one of the hottest weekend, we reached 104F or so….. First, we struggled to find parking. After that we made a lot of trips back and forth to the car, until we finally were done. The apartment wasn’t that cool either, but it had AC’s, which we quickly turned on as we tried to survive this heatwave. As we sat down in the living room with a beer that evening I saw a mouse in our house. Two days later I was watching mountains and glaciers from an airplane window on my way back to Alaska and this time Nome, where the temperature was looming around 50F. It did reach 70F just in time for my birthday.

Summers in Alaska are almost like a fairytale. The endless nights will keep you up longer than you should, but come morning you still have enough energy to last through the day, and night again, and again and again. We spent an hour or so in the truck every morning to get out to the field site. Away from the ocean and the small town, towards the mountains and the wilderness, and the end of the road. The only way to get to Nome in the summertime is by plane, or boat I suppose. In the wintertime you can mush, snow mobile, ski, walk or bike as well. It’s strange to think about, a place in the wilderness isolated from the rest of the world. And out there in the mountains you are really isolated from the world. It makes it even more important to think about safety. If you hurt yourself out here, breaking a leg or god forbid cut yourself in the thigh you are in trouble. Almost everyone I know cary a pocket knife, or knife of some sort when they are out in the field. You need to to cut zip ties, or anything else you probably would never have thought of before. But it is important to know where and on what surface you are cutting something. It almost comes natural to place things in your lap and fix them, but if you slip with your knife on your thigh you’ll bleed to death before you could ever get back to cell service and the hospital out here. There is a reason why it’s a really good idea to have the wilderness first responder class in your backpack. I do not have that, but I have taken a couple of short classes about general safety in the field. Those are far from the deep knowledge you will get from the NOLS class though. Have you taken any safety classes focused on adventures in the wilderness? I am going to try to take one of those classes next time the opportunity comes up.

A Tale of Fires and Ghost Logs - Fieldwork in Yellowstone Pt. 3

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt
— John Muir

Adventure Tuesday

That summer of Dreams

A lot of different things happened during the summer of 2017. I went to Montana and Yellowstone not only once, but twice. I got to go to Puerto Rico for fieldwork and spent almost two weeks in the rain forest. I went on a roadtrip with dad through Badlands National Park, Beartooth Highway and then eventually through Yellowstone. We got married, well technically we were already, outside Butte on a fiery afternoon. After that we went camping with friends before we headed back towards Wisconsin. Once there we packed for yet another wedding and headed out to a summer camp. But what do we really do when I say fieldwork? If you have been reading my blog since it started way back when, you know I used to roam around in the interior of Alaska, studying fires, stream water chemistry, climate change and the list goes on. W also studies fires and we have helped each other doing field work through the years. So 2017 I spent part of my vacation by flying to Jackson, Wyoming to spend a couple of weeks with W and his advisors field crew.

The Start of the Large Fire Era

1988 one of the largest forest fires raged through Yellowstone National Park, and many people probably wondered if anything would be left after that large fire. 35% of Yellowstone National Park burned that summer, and that fire marked the beginning of a new era, the large fire era in the west. One of the many questions that fire overall poses in the north west, not only in the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone, but also in Alaska is: What will happen if and when fires become so frequent that there is not enough time for trees to regenerate. The normal fire return interval is every 100-300 years, and the area we worked at in 2017 was burned in the 1988 fire and then again in 2016.

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I have seen burned areas in Alaska before, but nothing quite like the the area I saw that summer. Everything was basically gone. Everything was black. Even though we still could see vegetation already growing in the black soil. We counted tree seedlings (Douglas fir and Lodge pole pine) , downed wood, logs and ghost logs. Ghost logs are basically a line in the ground that indicates that a log once laid there, but has completely been burned up. Those logs were most likely leftover from the 1988 fires.

The ghost logs can be seen as the light lines in the black soil above

The ghost logs can be seen as the light lines in the black soil above

Fires in the Rocky Mountains and Alaska are very different. The fires we see in Yellowstone are mostly crown fires, while the fires in Alaska are mostly surface fires. In Alaska the thick organic layer, which also serves as an insulator to permafrost, is a good indicator for how intense the fire has been. Often there is still a large portion of the organic layer left after a fire has gone through, and you will also see this patchiness of the thick moss on the ground. One thing the fires in Alaska and the Rockies have in common though is that when it burns it burns, and it can spread extremely fast if the conditions are perfect.

Smoke in the field and the after math of fires in Alaska:

The ground was completely bare when we arrived at the Maple Fire in Yellowstone National Park. The temperature was in the 90’s and the black soil didn’t make it cooler. We used measuring tape and compass directions to set up sampling plots. Large portions of this fieldwork was to count how many tree seedling we could see growing in the bare soil, and we did see quite a few. We also recorded signs of ghost logs, tree stumps and dead standing trees within all the plots. This work is sometimes hard on you, it’s hot, you’re on your knees and you are also high up in elevation. On top of that you have to hike, sometimes also carrying heavy equipment. You’ll get sunburned real easy and have to make sure you carry and drink enough water.

The Maple Fire in the Cougar Meadow:

Many tree species are evolutionary adapted to regenerate after fire, they produce cones that are serotinous, because the cones need heat to open up and release its seeds. But to regenerate the tree needs energy, and time to develop enough seeds, and on top of that they need to be lucky. Anyone who has planted a seed probably know that sometimes the seed germinate, and sometimes it doesn’t. This is the reason why this questions is so relevant, how successful are coniferous trees to regenerate throughout the Rockies and Alaska if the fire return interval gets shorter? The other problem is the local climate. Will it become drier or wetter, how warm will it get? These are factors that also play a role in the tree regeneration.