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Mountains are among the most fragile environments on Earth

Full of biodiversity and resources, mountains provide services that both human and ecological communities depend on. However, mountains are under immense pressure from changing biogeochemical and climate conditions. Our goal is to 1) track changes in mountain resources like snow, nitrogen, and phosphorus over time, and to 2) understand how limited resources are connected across a variable landscape.

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Photo of black sand application at one of the five manipulative the plots. (Chiara Forrester)

Photo taken A few days after initial black sand application (Chiara Forrester).

Black Sand: Extended Growing Season Experiment

In 2018, we initiated a multi-year manipulative experiment to better understand the impacts of earlier snowmelt on tundra ecosystems. At peak snow-pack each year, we apply a thin layer of inert black vitreous sand over the snow in each of 5 manipulative plots. Black sand is also added to paired control plots after snowmelt. Within this experiment, we are measuring a variety of ecological responses with methods that allow for comparisons with our long-term monitoring (e.g. plant composition and biomass, soil temperature and soil moisture).


Mesocosms: Extended Ice-free Manipulation

In 2019, we began testing how reduced flushing rates (associated with earlier ice-off on lakes) and increased dissolved organic material (DOM) (associated with encroachment of terrestrial plants in the alpine watershed) interactively affect planktonic biomass and community structure across two elevation locations (alpine/subalpine). Each site (alpine/subalpine) will include four replicates per treatment (12 tanks total; 2 sites) for 48 total mesocosms. Although mesocosms cannot capture the full complexity of biological and abiotic interactions unfolding within lakes, we use them here as one of several lines of investigation (alongside long-term data, comparative sampling over an elevation gradient, and ecosystem modeling) to specifically address interactions between phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Visualization of hypothesized effects of increased dissolved organic material and warming on aquatic communities. (Created by Kelly Loria)


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Sensor Network

We recently installed a wireless sensor network across the Saddle catchment that provides real-time field measurements of air temperature and humidity, snow depth, soil moisture and temperature, and plant productivity and phenology (phenocams). The instrumented area extends from the Saddle site into the Green Lakes Valley through subalpine forest to the saddle stream water sampling site (north of Lake Albion). These detailed measurements will help us better understand spatial variation in patterns of water- vs energy- limitation in our system, as well as provide baseline data for improved modeling of hydrology and connectivity across the landscape.