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Air, Water and Aquatic Environments

Science Spotlights

Sampling streamwater in watersheds of the Hayman Fire
Severe wildfires remove vegetation and organic soil layers and expose watersheds to erosion which can transport large quantities of soil and ash to nearby rivers and streams. But once the burned areas have stabilized, do severe wildfires have any longer-lasting effects on watersheds or water quality? This study follows the Hayman Fire, 2002, Colorado, and shows that yes, there are long-term effects.
Photo of a forest fire
The number and size of large wildfires have increased dramatically in the western United States during the past three decades. Prior understanding was that the increase in fires was mainly attributable to warming temperatures and earlier snowmelt. In this study, a research team contrasted the three main hypothesized climatic drivers of recent increases in western US wildfire activity: decreased snowpack, increased temperature, and decreased...
fishing on snake river
Anyone familiar with the Columbia River’s massive salmon die-off a few summers ago might also be concerned about how climate change will affect fish habitats. The 2015 die-off killed more than 250,000 fish and was blamed on record low streamflows and high water temperatures. While coldwater fish such as salmon and trout can adjust to slightly warmer-than-normal temperatures for short periods, abnormally high temperatures for prolonged periods...
Photo of a fen with floating mat on the water. The mat has Carex limosa and Sphagnum mosses
Mountain fens (peat-accumulating wetlands) are groundwater-dependent habitats (i.e. groundwater dependent ecosystems) protected under the Clean Water Act and other federal mandates in the United States. There is increasing interest in documenting and monitoring the occurrence and characteristics of fens. In addition to supporting unusual plants, fens are sites of carbon and water storage and long-term ecological stability, since the underlying...
National Genomics Center stream water filter setup for eDNA sample collection
The National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation pioneered development of eDNA sampling of aquatic environments at their laboratory in Missoula, MT. The Center has partnered with dozens of National Forests, as well as other state, federal, tribal, and private natural resource organizations to assist in the collection and processing of eDNA samples. Thousands of eDNA samples are collected annually and constitute a rapidly growing...
Effective conservation and management decisions for habitats require information about the distribution of multiple species but such data is expensive to obtain; this often limits data collection to just a few, high-profile species. Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling can be more sensitive, and less expensive, than traditional sampling for aquatic species, and a single sample potentially contains DNA from all species present in a waterbody. Cost-...
Figure 2. Sampling the mineral soil.
Many U.S. forests contain soils with high rock content, and quantities of stored carbon and nitrogen. There is a need to calculate changes in carbon and nutrient pools in soils, but current sampling methods are not completely reliable in rocky soils. Managers and climate change researchers are using estimates of carbon pools to indicate soil productivity, alteration of biological activity, impacts from fire, or carbon storage potential. 
Mulched stands at a ponderosa pine – Douglas-fir study area, 6–9 years post-treatment.
Mulching fuels treatments have been increasingly implemented by forest managers in the western USA to reduce crown fire hazard. These treatments use heavy machinery to masticate or chip unwanted shrubs and small-diameter trees and broadcast the mulched material on the ground. Because mulching treatments are relatively novel and have no natural analog, their ecological impacts are poorly understood.  
View of the National Forest climate change maps website.
The National Forest Climate Change Maps project was developed to meet the need of National Forest managers for information on projected climate changes at a scale relevant to decision making processes, including Forest Plans. The maps use state-of-the-art science and are available for every National Forest in the contiguous United States with relevant data coverage. Currently, the map sets include variables related to precipitation, air...
More than one-sixth of the world’s population rely on seasonal snow for water. In the western U.S., nearly three-quarters of the annual streamflow that provides the water supply arrives as spring and summer melt from the mountain snowpacks. SnowEx is a science campaign that combines on-the-ground measurements with aerial and remote sensing to improve measurements and techniques for identifying the amount of water in snow. 

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