Category Archives: California

Last Call at the Oasis: Interview series with Dr. Jay Famiglietti

I had a great opportunity to talk with Dr. Jay Famiglietti about the water concerns that we face across the United States, about his work with the GRACE satellite mission, and about the 2012 film featuring him, Last Call at the Oasis. (It’s coming out tomorrow, November 6, 2012, on DVD and BlueRay!)

Dr. Famiglietti visited UT Austin on October 26, 2012, to give his “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?” talk as part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute. Dr. Famiglietti is a Professor of Hydrology with the Earth System Sciences Department at the University of California – Irvine.

I published my video interview with Dr. Famiglietti in five parts with cool graphics from NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Click on the videos below to learn more about our water crisis that we face and ways that we, especially kids, can conserve water.

(1) Why the GRACE satellite mission is so cool

The GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellites launched in March 2002. Learn about the valuable data these twin satellites provide along with insight that hydrologic modeling brings with Dr. Famiglietti.

(2) Dramatic Water Depletion in California and the United States

California’s Central Valley and the High Plains Aquifer in the central United States show high rates of water depletion. Dr. Jay Famiglietti talks about these areas of concern and ways that we could improve measuring our water supply.

(3) Quest for More Freshwater

If we found a way to have unlimited fresh water, would there be a population boom?What technological breakthrough do we need to transform sea water to fresh water easily and affordably? Learn about the water, energy, and food nexus with Dr. Famiglietti.

(4) What Can Kids Do to Save Water?

Saving water begins with becoming aware of your water use. Learn about Dr. Famiglietti’s easy tips to help kids save water. You’ll find that saving energy also helps save water too.

(5) Last Call at the Oasis with Dr. Jay Famiglietti

Dr. Famiglietti talks about the declining snowfall on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the DVD and BlueRay release of his “Last Call at the Oasis” movie. You’ll also be surprised to learn about his favorite water sport.

My injured hand from taekwondo sparring has slowed me down 😦 , but I’m almost done with my post about the great time that I had during the Dr. Famiglietti’s Hot Science – Cool Talks event and the prelecture fun! 🙂

Thanks for the great interview, Dr. Famiglietti, and my wonderful thanks too to Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI); and Mr. Geoff Hensgen, ESI Outreach Coordinator, for the time to talk with Dr. Famiglietti!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under California Central Valley, Desalinization, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, drought, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, freshwater, Geoff Hensgen, GRACE, Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, High Plains Aquifer, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Hydrologic modeling, Jay Banner, Last Call at the Oasis, NASA, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Texas Drought, United States Geological Survey, University of Texas, USGS, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water hydrology

Giant Redwoods and Lowly Ferns Nurture an Ancient Ecosystem

It’s been a few days since my last blog post, and I wanted to assure you that I haven’t been captured by invasives. I was in California enjoying the wonderful weather and the giant Redwoods.

Hiking through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail

Loving nature, as I do, I really enjoyed hiking the trails through the Redwood trees in the Redwood National Park. I especially liked the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail because it reminded me of my home state of Texas and our wonderful Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

It’s amazing how old the Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) can get with the larger trees in the park dating back 600-700 years ago. The giant trees started growing when the Aztecs and Mayans ruled Central America, well before the first Pilgrims arrived from the Mayflower.

It’s also shocking how large they can get with some growing over 360 feet. By comparison, my arch nemesis, the Giant Reed (Arundo donax), can grow up to 20 feet. That means that it would take at least 18 of these invasive plants on top of each other to reach the top of one of the Giant Redwoods. (I guess the Giant Reed is not so giant after all!) The Redwoods are the largest trees on the planet.

When I was at the lower edge of the trail where loggers had clear cut the Redwoods many years ago, there were no large Redwoods, but there were smaller ones and other fir and hemlock trees that had grown up around the stumps of the older trees. They were starting to work together to build another ancient forest of trees. Redwoods can grow from seedings or from burls at their base.

In other areas, it was sad to see some Redwoods so badly burnt, but they were still alive. They are hardy trees, with tannin-rich bark that resists insects, and that’s why they were so coveted by people.

The Redwoods like to grow in Northern California because of the climate, the fog, and the heavy winter rains. The fog is important to the trees because they get a lot of their moisture from the fog during the dry summer months.

Ferns pioneer the way

I found the ferns that grew around the Redwoods amazing because I love pioneer plants. They’re one the first plants to come in after a fire or other disasters. There haven’t been any large fires in the Redwoods lately, but the ferns are a key part of the forest ecosystem. Ferns reproduce by spore instead of seed, and they love the foggy wet weather along the Northern California coast.

There are many kinds of ferns and without a careful eye, they can look similar to each other. At the National Park Visitor Center, I picked up a book called Pacific Coast Fern Finder by Dr. Glenn Keator and Ms. Ruth Heady.

This handy pocket book uses dichotomous keys to help identify ferns. The technique of dichotomous keys asks at least two description questions at each step to help you identify what you’re studying.

For example, here’s a simple dichotomous key to help identify birds in central Texas:

Step 1.
If the bird has a red chest, go to step 2.
If the bird is gray and white, you sighted a Mockingbird.

Step 2.
If the bird has brown wings, you found a North American Robin.
If the bird is all red, you discovered a male Cardinal.

One of the ferns that I saw was the Common Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum). Turning the leaves over, you can really see the sorus, which are clusters of sporangia that bear the spores.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under California, Common Sword Fern, dichotomous key, Giant Reed, Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Pioneer plant, Redwood National Park, Redwoods