Some evening in June, July, or September, you may see a wet, tired crew of river ecologists eating burgers at The Peg Inn (Never don’t stop there!) or the Chimney Tree House in southern Humboldt. Or you may see our EoE tags along the river–The “Eyes on the Eel” is an ongoing survey of the state of river and tributary ecosystems along Eel mainstems and tributaries, one of four long term research tasks outlined for the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory. Led by Profs Stephanie Carlson and Mary Power, and graduate students Suzanne Kelson, Gabe Rossi, Phil Georgakakos, and Keith Bouma-Gregson, our Berkeley-based student crews have been, frankly, amazing at putting up with long days, hard work, wet clothes, while steadfastly documenting physical conditions, cyanobacterial and algal abundances, invertebrates, and vertebrates along 48 transects and 16 pool-riffle units in four tributaries and four mainstem sites down the South Fork and mainstem Eel River. We thank these student researchers, and to the generous land owners who have given us permission to visit their property for one day per month for our surveys. We will be working to publicize our observations in ways that will be widely accessible and informative, and, we hope, will invite collaboration and comparisons with observations of others along the Eel. For example, Eyes on the Eel, in some ways, complements the extensive snorkeling surveys of deep pool habitats performed by the Eel River Recovery Project. The rationale and methods for this effort are described in more detail under the Research section.
Angelo Academic Director, Mary Power, gave a webcast at the US Geological Survey’s Pacific Regional Colloquium on September 14, 2015. The talk was titled “The Thirsty Eel: Drough Imapcs on Salmon and Cyanobacteria in River Food Webs.” You can watch it in its entirety here: USGS webcast external link.
We were very pleased and grateful for an audio report from Berkeley undergrad Sohil story about his experience at the Angelo this summer. His grad student mentor Suzanne Kelson reports “His story was chosen by the local radio station (KOZT the coast, “I love this town”) and played Thursday, August 13. Very cool! I’m proud of Sohil”
Here’s the link to listen to the story:
Keith Bouma Gregson and Mary Power have both chatted about cyanobacteria, drought, and other river issues with Patrick Higgins, Executive Director of the Eel River Recovery Project, on KMUD’s Monday Morning Magazine. http://www.kmud.org/programs-mainmenu-11/kmud-audio-archive.html, e.g., June 1 2015.
|Jerry Schubel, Director of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach California, hosts Coastal Conversations, a monthly program that deals with major issues confronting the nation’s coastal areas—marine and in the Great Lakes. He was the lead author of a July 2014 of the National Academy of Science National Research Council entitled “Enhancing the Value and Sustainability of Field Stations and Marine Laboratories in the 21st Century”. On Feb 27, Jerry invited three authors of that report, Felicia Coleman from Florida State University’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory, Rob Plowes, from the University of Texas, Brackenridge Field Laboratory, Mary Power, from the University of California, Berkeley, Angelo Coast Range Reserve, and Peter Kareiva from The Nature Conservancy, to discuss the importance of natural history field stations for research, education, and outreach, and ways of increasing their impact and viability into the 21st century. http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/events/info/coastal_conversations|
As people who had planned to live ordinary lives face early-onset climate change, we are discovering that it not the change in average temperature or precipitation, but the extremes that will change our future. In the US alone, we are already seeing parched landscapes throughout western North America, while deluges and storm surges destroy crops and infrastructure throughout the Midwest and the East coast. Droughts and heat shocks, or deluge and super-storms, are following atmospheric and ocean warming, because, as Gregory Johnson’s haiku version of the IPCC 2014 report states,
By now, we have little ability to correct the atmospheric and ocean conditions that have triggered weird, often violent weather around the globe (although we should rapidly change our energy sources to avoid making it worse). Instead, we must turn our attention to the skin of the Earth, where life meets rock, and cycling water is received, stored, transformed, and released back to the atmosphere, or as runoff to surface waters. We call this Earth skin the Critical Zone. It extends from the top of the vegetation to weathered bedrock deep beneath our feet. The lower part of the Critical Zone is largely unobserved, but of crucial importance. It begins where fractures in bedrock give plants and microbes access to stored water, and provide flow paths feeding the springs, rivers, wetlands, lakes, and estuaries on which most terrestrial life depends. Careful stewardship of Critical Zones—the vegetation and the soil and bedrock beneathe–could help us buffer, and even ameliorate, temperature and precipitation extremes at local, regional, and, perhaps some day, global scales. But to steward something, anything, it must be understood. That is the purpose of the network of Critical Zone Observatories, funded by the US National Science Foundation.
See the Research section of this web site for reports from studies at the Eel River Critical Zone that 1) explain how uplift and drainage affect the ability of bedrock underlying Coast Range hillslopes to store and slowly release the water that keeps springs, streams and rivers flowing during drought (Rempe and Dietrich 2014); and 2) predict that temperatures in our wooded landscapes would be elevated 1-2oC if we replaced all the broad-leafed trees with conifers (Link et al. in preparation).
Elder Creek, part of the South Fork Eel River watershed, lies in the Franciscan Formation found underfoot in most of the Northern Coast Ranges of California. The rocks here were deposited in marine environments when the Farallon slab was still subducting under the North American plate at this latitude. Subsequent uplift following the passage of the Mendocino Triple Junction has elevated these rocks out of the sea.
Clastic sedimentary rocks found in Elder Creek record information about their depositional setting. Grain size, lithology, and shape all provide clues about the energy of the flow and the time spent in transit, sorting and abrading. The vast majority of the rocks in Elder Creek are turbidites, formed from turbidity currents: dense slurries of sediment sloughing off the edge of the continent, rushing off the continental slope to final resting places in deeper, still waters. These currents are thought to be triggered by earthquakes, among other things.
Turbidites contain sand and pebbles that were rounded in terrestrial rivers prior to their arrival at the ocean. They also contain small clay-sized particles that fall out of the ocean water column (the long snowfall, in Rachel Carson’s words). As numerous currents are laid down over time, they create a rhythmic sequence of grain sizes, with a fining upward sequence recording stratigraphic ‘up’ (left to right in the image from the bed of Elder Creek below.)
Sometimes turbidity currents race over clay-sized mud deposits (shale). They pick up bits of the semi-lithified shale and carry them along. These shale bits are called rip-up clasts or intra-formational clasts. They are recognized by their darker color and angular shape, and are often much larger than the terrigenous sediment that surrounds them.
Measuring water fluxes in the Eel River Watershed is extremely important. We are in the midst of a multi-year drought and demands on the water supply for agriculture and rural use are only increasing.
An ongoing project at the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory is to improve existing stage-discharge relationships, to better document the amount of water flowing through the watershed. Stage refers to the height of water in the river, and discharge refers to the volume of water that flows by in a given time.
We can measure the stage with an automated system that makes use of pressure transducers, but knowing the discharge is complicated because of the ever-changing geometry of the river bed and the turbulent nature of flowing water. The approach to this problem is to develop an empirical relationship between stage and discharge across a range of stages, from low summer baseflow to high winter floods.
Here David Dralle is demonstrating the salt dilution technique to measure discharge on the South Fork of the Eel River, just downstream from Headquarters. A known volume of salt solution is added to a turbulent stretch of the river, and the increase in electrical conductivity is measured downstream, after the salt is well mixed into the flow. The more the salt is diluted, the higher the flow.
Dan Moore has written a very helpful series of articles on the use of the technique. For more information, see the intro to the series, published in Streamline Water Management Bulletin (http://www.siferp.org/sites/default/files/publications/articles/streamline_vol7_no4_art5.pdf)
Phil Georgakakos sent these photos yesterday of two invaders–the red swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, and bullheads tentatively identified by Mary Power as black bullheads, Ictalurus melas. (It may be a brown bullhead, check out the pectoral spine-if smooth, black, if barbed, brown bullhead, I. nebulosus). Phil and I had seen red swamp crayfish in S.Fk. Eel just below its confluence with Ten Mile Creek near Laytonville last March (see previous post), and Sarah Kupferberg and I have found them upstream within the reserve later, but all the individuals we saw were dead. Phil yesterday found the first live specimen–a male (see the claspers where its belly button would be, were it a placental mammal…).
While we are concerned about these invaders harming native species in the Eel, I have to mention how cool bullheads are. These catfish know each other individually through chemical recognition–fish respond very differently when “enemy” vs “friend” water is poured into their aquarium (google John Todd’s article in Scientific American).
Mother and Dad take care of the fry (the little black guys with adorable mustaches in Phil’s photo, above.), marching them around pool bottoms in little swarms as they learn to feed. But what are they feeding on? Bill Dietrich was just wondering if they, among other reasons, may be why we no longer see little native freshwater mussels, and are so worried about their failure to recruit in rivers along the North Coast…bullheads suck up their food from the substrate, and this might include newly settled mussels in depositional pool habitats…
On June 12-14, 2015, the Angelo Reserve was the site of another wonderful Eel River Algal Foray. Algal experts Dr. Paula Furey and Professors Rex Lowe and Yvonne Vadeboncoeur came out from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio to teach our neighbors and students from the Eel, Klamath, and other North Coast watersheds how to identify the major taxa of algae in the Eel River and other rivers of the California North Coast. Paula did postdoctoral algal field research in the Eel at Angelo. Rex (her Ph.D. advisor and also a long-time Angelino), Paula, and another of Rex’s former students, Jane Marks, have taught Berkeley ecologists much of what we know about Eel River algae, which play important roles in river and coastal food webs. Rex Lowe has inspired students of algae throughout the US during his many forays and longer-term classes. For a number of years, he and Paula have led Algal Forays at the Angelo Reserve–two-day events in which we invite our Eel and Klamath River neighbors to come learn about algae by collecting it, then identifying it (with Paula and Rex’s guidance) under microscopes in the Angelo Environmental Science Center.
“The Good, the Bad, and the (other) Algae”.
Algae have been the subject of considerable concern around the Eel and Klamath rivers, because of harmful blooms. Under low summer flows, cyanobacterial blooms in the Eel River have been linked to at least eleven dog deaths. But not all algae deserve a bad rap! Yvonne Vadeboncoeur, who gave us a lecture on her work on algal grazing by cichlid fishes of the Great Lakes of Africa, has a saying: “Algae should be eaten and not seen”. We think of algae as harmful when they bloom, make a mess, deplete oxygen in water, and in some cases, produce toxins. Yet the “good” algae (those that are grazed down, so remain inconspicuous, heeding Yvonne’s admonition) supply most of the energy and nutrition that supports aquatic life in the Eel River (and other sunlit rivers and lakes worldwide). Diatoms that grow on rocks and on macro-algal streamers in the Eel are the most nutritious food available for our native frog tadpoles, snails and the grazing aquatic invertebrates that feed salmon and other fishes. Diatoms are rich in fats, synthesizing poly-unsaturated fatty acids critical to animals (like us) who need these “pufas” but can’t make them. We humans eat fish for health, but the healthy lipids actually come from diatoms and similar algae in the food chains that fueled fish growth. As Rex says, “Diatoms don’t smell fishy; fish smell diatomy”. Foray visitors and students get to learn which algae we animals need to thank (e.g. diatoms) and which algae (certain cyanobacteria) we and our livestock and pets need to avoid.
The 2015 Foray participants arrived Thursday evening. Friday, Saturday and Sunday we enjoyed discussions over meals prepared and served by Keith’s wife Lindsey, mother Wendy, and father Brian—thanks so much! Friday morning, after orientation talks in the Environmental Science Center, we collected algae from the sunny mainstem South Fork Eel, from rock pools isolated near a wide bend in this mainstem, and sites on the darker tributary, Elder Creek. We then brought our whirl paks of algae to the lab for microscopy. Newcomers can be intimidated by looking down a microscope for the first time, but within hours, Rex and Paula have new algal initiates so entranced by the beauty and diversity they find in that micro-world that it can be difficult to get them to break for beer and dinner.
This year, we had great presentations and discussions from Rex, Paula, Yvonne, Keith, and guest lectures from Eli Asarian, Mike Deas, and Pat Higgins–folks who have watching the Eel and the Klamath river ecosystems for years. Pat Higgins and the Eel River Recovery Project volunteers have made many encouraging observations suggesting that river habitats as well as populations of salmon, steelhead, and even sturgeon have begun to recover from the massive logging era. Unfortunately, this recovery is threatened by erosion, pollution, and increased summer water extraction for expanding marijuana cultivation. We need to understand how land and water use, climate, and ecological interactions can tip the Eel between cyanobacterially degraded and salmon-supporting states. Looking at the base of the food chain, at the algae that are eaten but not seen, versus those that are seen but not eaten, can guide us towards better understanding of how to keep rivers of Northern California on a trajectory towards ecological recovery.
On March 14 2015, Mary Power found a new crayfish in the South Fork Eel River, just north of the Angelo Coast Range Reserve on the eastern edge of the first pool below confluence of the South Fork Eel with Ten Mile Creek. Phil Georgakakos tentatively identified this as the non-native (invasive) red swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkii (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procambarus_clarkii). Thanks to Sarah Kupferberg’s communications network, three crayfish experts quickly weighed in, supporting Phil’s identification. Phil and I found just the head and claws of this specimen—One expert expressed the hope that this crayfish had been eaten and tossed into the river. Although a human picnic seems unlikely, given the remote site, we can only hope this was the case~! We would be interested to hear if others see this new, intensely red, rather delicate (thin clawed) crayfish—with no “signal” white spots on its claws like the well-established (and possibly native) Pasifasticus leniusculus.