Earth Notes

Earth Notes
10:33 am
Wed December 24, 2014

Earth Notes: Photographing Climate Change

The historical photo collection at Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library will be a key tool in answering a very modern question over the coming months. Dating back to the late 1800s, the images will be used like a visual time machine to reveal the effects of changing climate – and land management – on northern Arizona’s plant communities.

Principal investigator Professor Tom Whitham says that comparing historical and contemporary photos will allow us to literally see how vegetation has changed over time.

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Earth Notes
2:48 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

Earth Notes: Nature’s Pesky Gardener

Credit National Park Service

  They’re an animal many gardeners love to hate, though they’re rarely seen. Ribbons of dirt strung across the ground, and sometimes disappearing plants, are the only sign most people will see of pocket gophers, rodents that themselves are very active gardeners.

The dirt trails are created as these small animals excavate underground tunnels where they live, store food, and bear young.

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Earth Notes
10:23 am
Wed December 10, 2014

Earth Notes: A New Window into the Verde Valley’s Past

Credit Verde Valley Archaeology Center.

 Archaeologists have long appreciated that the Southwest’s dry climate is ideal for preserving perishable goods left by past people. Cloth, basketry, wood, or plant and animal materials that have survived for nearly a thousand years are rare, exciting finds.

Such a discovery was made on a ranch near Montezuma Castle in central Arizona, and the entire collection was recently donated to the Verde Valley Archaeology Center in Camp Verde.

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Earth Notes
10:40 am
Wed December 3, 2014

Earth Note: Storing the Wind

Credit Bureau of Land Management

Electricity-generating wind turbines are a common sight these days. Yet their popularity is limited by the fact that the wind stops blowing from time to time, even on the breezy western plains. But a planned wind farm, and a set of caves, in the interior West may represent a creative solution to this problem.

The Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy project is the name for a proposed utility-scale facility that would provide Southern California with over two gigawatts of green power. That’s double the amount produced by Hoover Dam, and enough to serve over a million homes.

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Earth Notes
12:02 pm
Wed November 26, 2014

Earth Note: Yelping Gobblers

Arizona Game and Fish Department

What yelps, purrs, cackles putts, kee-kees, and gobbles? Yes, your teenagers might do all of these things, but we’re talking turkey. Turkeys yelp to call their children, while lost youngsters kee-kee piteously. Like cats, turkeys purr when they’re content. In early spring toms gobble and strut to attract hens.

After mating, the hen scratches a nest under a big pine or in a brush pile, laying one speckled egg a day until she has a clutch of ten to twelve. She’ll incubate them alone for nearly a month. Chicks are out of the nest and following mom within 24 hours of hatching.

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Earth Notes
11:55 am
Wed November 26, 2014

Earth Note: The Pinyon Nut Harvest

Utah State University

  The Colorado pinyon pine, the tree that covers millions of acres of the Colorado Plateau, bears hard-shelled, wingless seeds in stubby cones. And people in the Southwest have harvested and eaten those delicious nuts for thousands of years. 

But the pines produce nuts only every five to seven years. When there was a good crop in the fall, whole families trekked to the woodlands to gather the protein- and calorie-rich nuts, which nourished them through the winter.

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Earth Notes
2:33 pm
Wed November 19, 2014

Earth Notes: Pacific Fall Hurricanes Affect Arizona’s Ecosystems

Credit NASA/NOAA GOES Project

It’s unusual for the southwestern states to be affected by hurricanes. Most years, predominant wind patterns in the Eastern Pacific Ocean steer storms away from the region. But about once every five years – like this year – the ocean winds change direction.

And those shifting winds steer hurricanes closer to northwestern Mexico, making them more likely to head northwards and track across the southwestern U.S.

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Earth Notes
8:47 am
Wed October 8, 2014

Earth Notes: Wetlands Architect

The American beaver is an appealing animal, with dexterous paws, curious eyes and paddle-shaped tail. But, these rodents, the largest in North America, were nearly wiped out by the early 1900s as trappers sent mass quantities of the thick brown pelts back East for stylish top hats.

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Earth Notes
3:40 pm
Wed October 1, 2014

Earth Notes: A Sad Obituary for an Ancient Tree

Credit Grant Harley

Reporter John Fleck wrote an unusual obituary in the Albuquerque Journal in September – on the death of a 650-year old Douglas-fir.

Known as “Yoda,” the tree was an icon for climate scientists. Growing out of a lava flow at El Malpais National Monument and measuring barely 7 feet high, Yoda was tiny for a Douglas-fir—which can grow 150 feet tall in moist southwestern canyons. But despite its diminutive size, an annual growth ring count showed that the tree had been alive since at least 1406.

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Earth Notes
9:02 am
Wed September 24, 2014

Earth Notes: Monitoring One of North America’s Rarest Mammals

Every fall Arizona Game and Fish conducts a spotlighting event where rare black-footed ferrets are located counted, measured, tagged and vaccinated against bubonic plague near Seligman.

Arizona’s Aubrey Valley just west of Seligman is home to an animal until recently considered one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

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