The Eel River CZO is a multi-disciplinary research collaborative based at the University of California, Berkeley. Our research focus it to explore how biotic and abiotic factors interact in the near-surface environment (from bedrook to tree tops) and how these relationships impact environmental processes.
Surprisingly, it’s necessary to look inside hillslopes to understand variations in atmospheric moisture, the magnitude and chemistry of river flows, the dynamics of ecosystems, and, even coastal ocean productivity. These connections arise in a deep, unexplored landscape of weathered bedrock, populated by microbes, that lies beneath the hillslope surface and below the soil mantle and above a fresh bedrock boundary. Rain and snow melt can penetrate this weathered bedrock, be held as rock moisture and be exploited by trees, which return this moisture to the atmosphere through release (transpiration) from leaves.
Bedrock properties influence how much moisture is available to plants, which, in turn determines which species can persist, especially in seasonally dry environments. The water released by trees influences air humidity and temperature, and the tree type affects how much solar energy is reflected or absorbed. Collectively these feedbacks influence atmospheric energy and circulation (and momentum). Rain and snow melt also penetrate to the underlying fresh bedrock boundary where water perches and flows as groundwater to streams through the weathered bedrock. This can control the timing, magnitude, and chemistry of runoff to rivers, especially during summer low flow periods. Hence, river ecosystems and the coastal oceans (where rivers discharge) are recipients of water and nutrients derived from deep inside hillslopes. The entire zone from vegetation canopy down through the soil and weathered bedrock to the start of fresh bedrock is referred to as the “critical zone.” This zone mediates these “watershed currencies”– water, sediment, solutes (dissolved elements in water), gases, organisms, energy and momentum–that are exchanged and transformed in the course of biological and physical interactions across landscapes.
Motivated by anticipated increase in climate extremes (especially extended drought) and accelerating societal demand for water, we are focused on filling knowledge gaps about the signs of, and our ability to, forecast the magnitude of future systemic change. While, the Eel River CZO is rooted in the Heath and Marjorie Angelo Coast Range Reserve, the applicability of our findings extend to larger watershed and regional scales. We are dedicated to detecting, explaining, and predicting driving mechanisms that connect river flow, forest and river biology, and other watershed currencies to processes that operate in the critical zone. Eel River CZO scientists are building towards a capstone model, AWESOM, (Atmosphere-Watershed-Ecosystem-Stream-Ocean Model). Based in strong, quantitative empiricisms and mechanistic descriptions of how the system works, AWESOM will be used to ask “what if” questions about possible future climate and land use scenarios, and the consequences at local to regional scales for runoff regimes and ecosystem conditions.