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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wilderness50 day -1: Sevilleta science

We spent all day today at one of the NWRs we visited yesterday, Sevilleta, about 50 mi. south of Albuquerque. 
The Univ. Of NM operates a research station there, which we visited first for orientation.
Then we hit the road (dirt tracks across the grasslands, with some severe washboarding - whew!) through locked gates to see the experiment stations the UNM folks are operating. Led by Scott, a gregarious and articulate Biologist who's Deputy Director of the research station, we saw a series of large and small devices that simulate climate stress and measure the response of the ecosystem. The  results are being used for climate modeling and carbon cycle studies. One big surprise is how important the carbon storage of grasslands like these is - in part because so much of the earth's surface is covered by grasslands. 
Here's Scott explaining and automated rig to raise nighttime temperatures at the surface a few degrees, simulating the expected 50 year future climate. 
The space and distance were stunning to a northwesterner:

We didn't get to see the wolf pens on the Refuge where Mexican gray wolves are being readied for reintroduction to Gila Wilderness, but the remote canyon where this takes place was pointed out. Gila has the noteriety of being Also Leopold's original Wilderness Areas dating back to the 20s, so that's a Wilderness connection.
We crossed the eastern unit of the NWR to look at a drought simulator in the Junioer-Pine forest in the mountains. It's dry enough as it is here, but the goal is to see what survives if you take away half of the scant precip here now. The plastic troughs are spaced a few feet apart and catch half the rain, so the trees growing in the test plot experience drought 50% worse than the rest, and the results are measured. 

Now we're heading back north to the city. The official opening ceremony and reception is this evening. Then comes 3 1/2 days of sessions in the hotel. I'll miss these field trips!

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