TREE LINES AND MICROPLASTICS—SAGE WISDOM FROM CSUCI STUDENTS
This past April and May, students from California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) showcased visual displays, graphics, and illustrations that detailed a diverse body of research from multiple disciplines. Sponsored by SAGE Publications, Inc., the 2019 research conference gave 187 undergraduate and graduate students a platform to present on an impressive scope of topics ranging from the impact of climate change on the arctic tree level to microplastic air pollution. HWF founders, Marilyn Fordney and Alex Havasi were among those in attendance and met with students whose projects were connected to the Santa Rosa Island Research Station or who had a focus on environmental issues.
This photo of the Arctic tundra is a good example of treeline advance; all of the trees in this image date to the period of rapid establishment (1925-1950). (Image: © University of Alberta)
The Arctic Tree Level
Just beyond the northernmost tree line of our world, the Arctic tundra offers an icy landscape that spans across northern Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. The plants and animals that live in the Arctic tundra face one of the Earth’s coldest, and harshest climates. Despite these severe conditions, over 1,700 types of plants and a handful of mammals such as caribou, arctic foxes, hares, squirrels, and polar bears have evolved to thrive in such a bleak environment. As global temperatures rise, the once-barren landscape is seeing an increase in shrub and tree growth which is reshaping the food sources available to arctic flora and fauna.
CSUCI Student, Glen Sprout met with HWF to tell us about his research topic “Arctic Tree Line and Global Climate Change.” Expanding on research conducted by graduate students at Berkeley University, Sprout and his colleagues set out to explore the effects of climate change on the arctic tree line. In their research, students explored how warming temperatures have aided in the expansion of shrub growth and increased the rate of tree development in the tundra. While tree-growth may sound beneficial to a world concerned with carbon reduction, denser forests and decreased tundra threatens the vulnerable caribou population that relies on the icy grounds for breeding and hunting. Ultimately, the research of Sprout and his collaborators suggests that while the spread of trees within the tundra is slow, warmer temperature predicate the impending encroachments of trees in the tundra.
Torrey Pine grove on Santa Rosa Island. (Image: Public domain)
Torrey Pine on Santa Rosa Island
While the arctic tree level can certainly provide insight to some of our planet’s changes, several CSUCI student researchers set their focus on trees a bit closer to home— the Torrey pines of Santa Rosa Island. Located just 26 miles off of the Santa Barbara coast, Santa Rosa Island Research Center is a partnership of CSUCI and the US National Park Service. The facility and its educators provide students with the opportunity to actively engage natural and cultural resource-based research. Santa Rosa Island is also home to the extremely rare Torrey Pine tree. In fact, Torrey pines are so rare that only two naturally occurring groves of Torrey Pines exist in the world!
At the 2019 SAGE conference, students Monica James, Kathryn McEachem, and Christian Rivas presented on the Torrey pines. James, who co-authored her research with McEachem, visited Santa Rosa Island five times over the course of a semester, measuring tree growth. Rivas also traveled to the island to measure growth among 20 saplings. Based on the growth rate of 1 cm/ year (highly regular), students reasoned that the Torrey pine population is stable with no indication of an immediate threat.
Monica James standing next to her presentation board about the Torrey Pines.
Microplastics, Major Problems
Ralph Diego, CSUCI student and recipient of the 2018 Cause and Tracy S. Hanna Scholarship, spent the semester studying microplastics in rainwater and the air. Diego gathered rainwater samples and examined the level of microplastics on dry days versus days when it rains, intimating that humans are facing an increase of microplastics in our air and water that could pose potential health problems for humans and animals.
Just this week, the Los Angeles Times, reported on a study of microplastics in the air and the formally pristine arctic snow. Scientists who conducted the study found up to 14,400 microplastic particles per liter of melted Arctic snow and have discovered microplastics circulating in the atmosphere in Tehran, Iran and Dongguan, China. Scientists point to overconsumption of plastic, in the realm of 380 million metric tons per year and the resistance of plastic to break down, as challenges to air, ocean, and arctic pollution. Studies like Diego’s and the one referenced in The Times are making one thing clear— if humans do not curb their use of plastics or curb their reliance on disposable goods, these behaviors will continue to affect our health in ways that may be too detrimental to cure.
Ralph Diego and his project about Microplastics
Photo from an article about micoplastics in the ocean. Click the photo to link to the study.
Other exciting topics at the SAGE Conference included “Acoustic Bat Identification on Santa Rosa Island” by Karissa Rico, Kirsty Nguegang, Patricio Ruano, and Melvin Kim; Dr. Jason Miller, mentor
Acoustic Bat project by Karissa Rico, Kirsty Nguegang, Patricio Ruano, and Melvin Kim
HWF is proud to support students of all ages on their journeys to learn more about the environment and their work toward a sustainable relationship between humans and the planet. We would like to extend a huge thank you to CSU Channel Islands and the Santa Rosa Island Research Station for allowing us to engage the brilliant minds of this generation. If you would like to know more about the work we do, please visit us at www.Havasiwf.org. Please remember, we only have one planet and the responsibility to care for it belongs to us all.