Tag: Ecology

Buddles

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Stream in Soldiers Delight. I can't remember where this is. Fall 1973.

Stream in Soldiers Delight. I can’t remember exactly where this is. Fall 1973.

As a kid, my favorite thing about Soldiers Delight was playing in the streams. They were very different from all other streams I knew, which were muddy. In Baltimore County walking in a stream generally meant walking in mud. The water in Soldiers Delight streams was clear, and the stream bottoms were mostly stoney. The stream banks were also grassy and sunny. Streams elsewhere could be sunny, but even managed streams through pastures or parks were often lined with a thicket of woody plants. At Soldiers Delight long stretches of streams were lined only with tall grasses and wildflowers. Plus there were minnows and frogs and snakes. These were great streams.

Arrested development

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Entrance to the Choate mine.

Entrance to the Choate chromite mine at Soldiers Delight in Maryland. Fall 1973.

Entrance to the Choate mine.

Entrance to the Choate mine. Although trash was being removed from the area, fresh appliances had been dumped above the entrance. Fall 1973.

Soldiers Delight would be a lot less interesting to some were it not for its contribution to the economic history of Baltimore County, Maryland. Serpentine outcrops including Soldiers Delight, Bare Hills, and the State Line Barrens in Pennsylvania supplied most of the world’s chromium ore in the mid 19th century. Issac Tyson, and later his sons, owned land and operated mines at these places, shipping all the chromite to Baltimore and monopolizing the industry from the 1820s until after the Civil War. But the long term impact of this activity may have been more ecological than economic.

Stemming the tide

Below is a diagram that was never shown to me in science class. Alfred Wegener proposed his theory of continental drift in 1912, but it was not until 1960 that most scientists began to accept the new paradigm that continents move around. The idea of crust formation at mid ocean ridges came even later in 1966. So when scientists and teachers in the 1950s and 1960s presented a story about the serpentine rock underlying Soldiers Delight, they got it wrong. Serpentinite is formed in the lower oceanic crust, typically at the mid ocean spreading centers. That’s where it picks up its heavy minerals, like chromium, nickel, and magnesium, which are more abundant in the mantle and deep crust. When Africa floated over here 300 million years ago, a little bit of this oceanic rock got pushed along with it and ended up in the Appalachian Mountains, and in Soldiers Delight. Nobody knew that in 1960.

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A diagram of magma rising through the mantle and forming new oceanic crust at a mid ocean rise. This is where serpentinite is formed.

A diagram of magma rising through the mantle and forming new oceanic crust at a mid ocean rise. This is where serpentinite is formed.

Sprucing up the hills

The Fled overflies as I reel it in.

The Fled overflies as I reel it in.

It has been 14 years since we set up our first study plots south of the Alaska Range. I just returned to Fairbanks from a week-long trip to re-census the plots located above the upper forest limit at the Canyon Creek and Monahan Flats sites. There were a few scattered spruce trees and a total of a few dozen spruce seedlings marked with numbered tags in the quarter-hectare plots in 1998. The trees have not changed much, and only 8 to 10% of the seedlings have died. The surprise was the number of new spruce seedlings that have established in 14 years.
NIR/VIS KAP rig

The NIR modified and normal A495 cameras with AuRiCo controller. Synchronous, vertical photos were taken every 16 seconds.

Seedling density increased by a factor of 2.9x at Canyon Creek and 2.2x at Monahan Flats. The similarity between the two sites suggests that the seedling invasion may be widespread. These seedlings have a lot to endure before they become trees, but if similar numbers of seedlings continue to establish and many of them become trees, these plots will no longer be above treeline in 50 years.

I was able to get some aerial photos of most of the plots after I had marked each seedling with pink flagging. I flew a dual camera KAP rig with normal and infrared-modified cameras lofted by a kite. I will be experimenting with false color IR (NRG) and NDVI images which can be created with information from both cameras.

Lemon Fair

Grass fire along the Lemon Fair River, April 18, 2012. Photo by Preston Turner.

Grass fire along the Lemon Fair River, April 18, 2012. Photo by Preston Turner.

I thought I had finally done everything right. The Flowform 16 was flying steadily in a 15 mph breeze (with gusts to 20) and easily lofting the full KAP rig with Canon S95. My plan was to take vertical photos for combining into an orthophoto image of a hayfield that had been partly burned two days earlier by the farmer. Preston had posted some dramatic photos of the evening blaze advancing across the field, and the burn pattern looked impressive when I drove by the next day looking for way to get closer to it. On my return a day later, I avoided asking permission for farm road access, and just parked two miles away and walked along the Lemon Fair River. Because the good wind provided plenty of lift, I opted for the full KAP rig and radio control instead of just the camera pointed down and shooting every ten seconds. That gave me the option of also taking some oblique shots, and the 5:00 PM shadows of burr oaks and silver maples were already enticing on the new grass. Radio control also allowed me to release the shutter only when the rig was quiet between sways, and to take far fewer photos than the ten second intervalometer would have taken.

Return to the Marsh

I could see that the lens was still extended... I was the happy owner of 483 new aerial photos of Otter View Park. November 18, 2011

This time it was the dry umbels of Queen Anne’s lace that I was tossing into the air as I crossed the field.  WeatherUnderground.com was reporting only 4-7 mph winds at the golf course, but WeatherSpark.com was predicting 10 mph winds from the west which could easily loft the camera over the marsh.  This was the first sunny day in a month with a prediction of steady west winds, and it might be my last chance for above freezing weather and a shot at getting aerial photos of the entire cattail marsh at Otter View Park.  So I was disappointed with the plummeting umbels, and soon out of breath from running upwind just to watch the Levitation Delta crash in the grass.  On the second try, I ran 100 yards and got it just high enough to find a wind.

Return to the Nubble

I went over to the Adirondacks last Wednesday and came back with 1900 photos. Most of them were taken by my Gigapan imager, and half of those are duplicates that will never again see the light of day. Before I even got to New York, I took 126 handheld photos from the Lake Champlain ferry, 48 of which got stitched into the three-row panorama below of the new Crown Point Bridge, still under construction. Back on August 26, the day the central “network tied arch” was lifted into position, I came to repeat the gigapan I took of the old bridge. But the place was crawling with gawkers, and the men in hard hats would not let me get to the place from which the earlier panorama had been taken. So I left defeated. If you missed it too, you can relive the raising of the arch with the fully archived construction webcams, but you have to click through a lot of photos to get to 3:30 PM on August 26 when the action started.

NOrtho Photo

Aspen seedlings and fireweed in a burned study plot.

While in Alaska in June I visited some mountain treeline study plots we established in 1998 to describe and monitor the population of white spruce at the transition between subalpine forest and alpine tundra. I searched the plots for new spruce seedlings and remeasured the ones that had been previously located and marked. A wildfire burned through some of the plots in 2004, and a new tree species has since established where the organic soil was consumed. Thousands of seedlings of quaking aspen now grow in the plots, and I recorded their number and height in subplots. These are healthy seedlings growing in the tundra where, prior to 2004, the only trees were a few stunted spruce. This invasion will be either a short-lived experiment that ends when the aspens try to grow taller than the winter snowpack, or the start of a novel treeline community. Monitoring these plots will eventually reveal how this plays out, so in the meantime counting and measuring a few things is considered to be science.

The succession of precedence

Google has digitized the text of five million books. The old ones are in the public domain and you can read them online at http://books.google.com/. Most of the more recent ones are still protected by copyright law, but that law did not anticipate the ingenuity at Google. The individual words and phrases in all those books are now in a huge database that anyone can search. Maybe you can’t read every book online, but you can learn how book writers have used the language over the past two centuries at http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/. This allows a very new kind of literary research – answering questions without reading.  Although it turns out that some reading is still required.