Tuesday, March 28, 2017

China Helped the Giant Sequoia Trees Get So Large - Science

Scientists call the Sierra Nevada Mountains a phosphorus-poor environment but phosphorus is vital for plant growth.  The Giant Sequoias are enormous trees and logically there shouldn't be enough phosphorus in the soil for them to get so large.  The trees can be three-hundred feet tall so the researchers wanted to know where they get the phosphorus and the way they discovered it shows some highly cool sciencing.  (Science Daily: Asian dust providing key nutrients for California's giant sequoias)

The observation:

The scientists found that dust from the Gobi Desert and the Central Valley of California contributed more phosphorus for plants in the Sierra Nevadas than bedrock weathering, which is breaking down of rock buried beneath the soil. Phosophorus is one of the basic elements that plants need to survive, and the Sierra Nevadas are considered a phosphorus-limited ecosystem.

- SD

The way the researchers found the proof of their hypothesis about Gobi Desert dust is novel.  If this looks like something cobbled together from kitchen tools, there's a reason for that.

Researchers made this device with a bundt pan and marbles to capture dust

Credit: Chelsea Carey

There you go.  Measure mountain dust or bake bundt cakes.  This is some flexible kit.

Little is known about the role of dust in mountainous forest ecosystems, such as the Sierra Nevadas. To change that, the researchers quantified the relative importance of dust and bedrock in ecosystem nutrient supply across four sites of increasing elevation, from about 1,300 to 8,800 feet, in the Sierra Nevadas, just east of Merced.

They then combined dust they collected with existing erosion data at the same location. They captured the dust using homemade dust collectors, which consisted of non-stick bundt pans filled with glass marbles to keep the dust from blowing out. The pans were attached to 6-foot poles to prevent dust kicked up by the researchers from entering the pans.

- SD

If you don't have the kit you need then make it yourself.  Well.

The researchers studied the isotopic signatures in several elements in the dust to determine the place of origin of the dust. The isotopes act a fingerprint for source of origin.

The percentage of Asian dust ranged from 20 percent on average at the lowest elevation, to 45 percent on average at the highest elevation. The percentages were higher at the higher elevation sites because dust tends to travel high in the air stream and not fall unless it hits an object, such as a mountain.

- SD

Everyone loves the Giant Sequoias and hopes to make a pilgrimage to commune with them someday so it's interesting to see how they got the fuel to get so large but the part which struck me is how much the researchers put into finding the result of this testing.

Think of the meeting as they were putting it together.  One of them says, you know, we need a pan for a bundt cake and maybe some clear marbles.  Then we need to put the whole shebang up on a pole.  And then ...

The Rockhouse thinks that's some damn cool sciencing and even cooler since it worked in acquiring the scientific information they wanted.

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