Low Tide in the Fog

This morning we went down to the science center for a brief talk followed up by beach walk. The talk focused on possible effects of climate change on intertidal life, highlighting some of the results seen during the speaker’s PhD research in California. The speaker is one of two resident fellows (SIRF) at the science center along with her husband.

Fog persisted into the morning, and as we walked down to the beach around 9am, we could only barely make out the large cruise ship anchored in the bay, and everything beyond was flat gray. Shortly thereafter, parts of the sky became brighter and the fog lifted a bit. It appeared that blue sky might reach us as the clouds dissipated, however it was not to be – they hung over town throughout the day.

Down at the beach I investigated a bit more closely the sea grasses, and noted a patch of surf grass (Phyllospadix serratulus) at the base of Sage Rock. For some reason I hadn’t previously noted that, as it presumably (in my mind) just blended in with extensive eel grass (Zostera marina) beds.

It seemed like Connor and (especially) Rowan enjoyed having some other kids down there to look around with, and I certainly had some interesting conversations about intertidal life and some of the mysteries there.

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Getting Back to It

It’s taking me a while to settle back in after back to back trips at the end of June into the first week of July, but it seems like it’s time to get back into the posting habit. I have several days of back-posting to get taken care of (at this point, it’s been long enough they will probably mostly just be the photos) and of course an ever increasing set of single subject posts to get queued up.

Weather so far this July has trended toward the wet side of things with over 3 inches of rain falling over this past week, but it has been reasonably warm.

Today clouds hung around 200 feet or so for most of the day, dropping even lower as they settled in to an evening fog. The forecast for the next few days calls for partly cloudy and a little warmer, so perhaps we’ll get a chance to dry out.

Other highlights (that won’t show up in pictures) from the past few days include the opportunity to sit in on meetings of fluent Tlingit speakers with a visiting linguist.

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Weather Visualizer

Wind and total precipatable water map for 11pm (local time) 12 July 2014.  Blue to white indicates higher levels of water, black to yellows are regions of less moisture.  Lines indicate wind

Wind and total precipatable water map for 11pm (local time) 12 July 2014. Blue to white indicates higher levels of water.

I was recently made aware of an interesting weather conditions visualizer that I’ve had some fun exploring over the past few days. You can find it at http://earth.nullschool.net/. It wasn’t obvious to me, but if you click on the “earth” at the lower left, you can play with several different settings. The photo above is a screen capture where I had displayed total precipitable water along with the 1000 hPa wind (which, if I am understanding it correctly, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 meters above the surface). A couple of prominent features stand out – the low pressure (note winds are swirling in counter clockwise) at the end of the Alaska Peninsula and a plume of greater precipitable water extending up from the lower latitudes to Southeast Alaska. This shows where the rain has been coming from over the past couple of days at least.

In any case, I’ve had fun checking out different settings and have hopes that it will help me understand the bigger picture of how our local weather connects in with broader scale happenings.

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Possible Blueberry Patch Die-off

Earlier this summer I had a chance to visit Blue Lake Creek valley and was interested to find an fairly extensive patch of blueberries (probably Vaccinium ovalifolium) that appeared to be pretty much dead. I did break a stem on one and found it to be a little bit green, but as there was no evidence of new growth (despite being into early summer), so I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. There were a few blueberry bushes in the area that seemed alive, and plenty of other species that looked fine. The patch was also well protected under a canopy of large conifers. These facts made it harder come up with a plausible weather/cold event that might have killed them back. Perhaps it was warm enough there in January that they broke dormancy and subsequently had trouble with the cold and dry weather of February and March. Blueberries don’t seem to have much trouble tolerating browsing, but these didn’t seem to have been subject to especially heavy browse.

Questions:

  • Are the plants dead, or will they grow out again (perhaps from the base, or maybe from the branches)?
  • Are there diseases that might have caused a die-off (or pattern of non-growth) like I observed?
  • What is the typical life span of a blueberry bush (assuming it doesn’t get overgrown by other plants)?
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Sea Cauliflower (Leathesia marina)

Sea Cauliflower (Leathesia marina) seems to be a relatively easy to identify seaweed with relatively thick flesh growing in lumpy masses. It was abundant at John Brown’s beach early this summer, though I’ve not been familiar with it long enough to have a sense of how common it is more generally in the area. The Seaweeds of Alaska book indicates it is an annual species.

Questions:

  • What process allows a spore to stick to the rocks even though waves are consistently washing over?
  • How far do spores of this algae disperse?
  • When it is growing, is each of the lumps starting from an individual starting spore, or do they spread into multiple lumps?

Sea Cauliflower on Natural History wiki

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New Breakwater

While at John Brown’s Beach during a recent low tide series, I noticed a distinct contrast between the new addition to the breakwater and that which had been there a while. I guess I am not surprised that there are differences, but it was interesting to see just how easy it was to see them.

Questions:

  • Is green algae on the new breakwater the full compliment of green algae expected at those intertidal levels, or is it a reduced (or maybe even completely different) set of early colonizers that give way others that colonize later but are ultimately more competitive?
  • What factors effect how/when different seaweeds to colonize a new area?
  • Do early colonizers in some way ‘prepare’ the substrate for later arrivals?
  • What role does the fauna play in the establishment and/or maintenance of various species of marine algae?
  • What is a typical (if there is one) successional sequence for new intertidal habitat?
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