What’s Blooming in the Cold Air Pool?

by Future Park Leaders of Emerging Change intern Sophia Chau, Michigan State University
Intern holding equipment next to mountain stream
Climate change is leading to earlier spring snowmelt, drought, and shifting species ranges and phenology in the Sierra Nevada. Climate scientists are investigating the potential of cold air pools—temperature inversions where cold, dense air concentrates in areas of high topographic variation—to maintain refugia that are buffered from climate change and enable the persistence of valued resources. The cooler and moister conditions in cold air pools may help maintain biodiverse areas such as wet meadows and riparian habitats. Although much is known about the physical dynamics of cold air pools, an understanding of the ecological response to them is lacking.

During my summer internship I linked plant phenology to temperature at Devils Postpile National Monument to inform efforts to manage the monument as a potential climate change refuge. My supervisor, Monica Buhler, and other interns joined me in the field to monitor phenology in and out of the cold air pool. Our team also downloaded temperature data from iButtons, monitors the size of a thumbnail.
Lodgepole pine cones on branch
The number of male pollen cones on a lodgepole pine is one trait used to monitor phenology throughout the season
Additionally, I developed a pilot Plant Phenology Monitoring Citizen Science Program for the monument by creating outreach materials, instruction booklets, and providing a set of recommended next steps. I prepared a report summarizing our phenology observations and the temperature dynamics in the cold air pool, e.g., its intensity and frequency. I then collaborated with park staff and scientists to develop climate change adaptation strategies for the monument.

My internship allowed me to experience firsthand how science can inform natural resource management, particularly climate change adaptation strategies, and vice versa. I am so grateful to everyone at Devils Postpile for their support and providing me with the opportunity to work and learn in a beautiful landscape!
Learn more about the Future Park Leader of Emerging Change (FPL) program.