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Animals that live in the alpine zone survive on the razor's edge of environmental tolerances, often making them more sensitive to changes in climate than in lower elevation ecosystems. Researchers at Niwot Ridge monitor pika demography and habitat occupancy on Niwot Ridge and adjacent landscapes.
High elevation ecosystems are like water towers that store water as snow during the fall and winter and then release it as snow melt runoff in the spring and summer. The runoff provides a large quantity of high quality water, which largely drives the ecology and economy of the western US. At Niwot, we conduct an annual snow survey across the ridge, monitor snow weekly throughout the winter on the Saddle, as well as characterizing the snow profile in snowpits.
Niwot has been running meteorological stations to measure various climate parameters for decades. Sites include D1 (an alpine tundra site located 2.6 km from the Continental Divide), The Saddle (located alongside the tundra lab) and C1 (within a subalpine forest). Datasets include historical and contemporary monitoring.
Stream and Lake Chemistry
We’ve been collecting surface water samples from various locations within the Green Lakes Valley since the 1960’s. Our sites range from as high as the Airkaree glacier to the subalpine Albion townsite. We also monitor the high alpine lakes for a range of water chemistry and quality, as well as follow the the plankton who live in the lakes.
Plant abundance and productivity in the alpine tundra are strongly influenced by both abiotic factors, like climate, topography and snow distribution, and biotic factors, like neighboring plants and soil microbial communities. For over 30 years we’ve been monitoring plant productivity and community composition across alpine tundra plant community types in the Niwot Ridge Saddle.
Photo Credits: Bill Bowman, Kelly Loria, Chris Ray and Jane Smith