cenvironmental history  

Top left
: Cold air vent within talus on an algific slope.
Above:  The occurrence of Canada yew is indicative of cold air vents.
Bottom left (2):  Biologist taking temperature and air flow meter readings at a cold air vent.
Below:  Golden saxifrage growing around a cold air vent.
Far bellow:  Moss cover over talus.

introduction geography geology cultures ecosystem conservation
climate change reseach project
Driftless Area

The temperatures from the cold air vents of the algific talus slopes may warm under modern global climate change conditions.  How will a warming condition affect the cold climate plant and animal community of the algific talus slope ecosystem?  Many of the species supported by algific talus slopes exist as relict populations from the Pleistocene Ice Age or as disjunct populations isolated from their main population further north in the boreal forests of Canada. 

Global climate change predictions for the Midwest call for increased storm events resulting in greater annual precipitation and with more and earlier heat waves.  A potential outcome of more rain and heat waves may be the rapid loss of ice that forms deep in the talus voids.  This may reduce the temperature or volume of cold air that helps maintain the algific talus slopes. 

The environmental factors that likely help sustain the cold climate conditions on the slopes include aspect (north facing), air residence time in the talus voids, insultation of the talus by the cover of mosses, ambient temperature of the intake air, and persistence of ice and cold rock surfaces in the talus voids.  There has not been any research to measure or model these environmental factors and then relate them to the presence and abundance of the cold climate species.  Past researchers have measured cold air vent temperatures and soil temperatures on several algific talus slopes. Observations by researchers find habitat patches of boreal plant species like the Canada yew and golden saxifrage assocaited with the Iowa Pleistocene snail at and around the cold air vents on the north or northwest facing algific slopes.

Why is all of this important to society beyond the reason of sustaining natural reources for future generations?  The ecosystem functions on planet earth provide ecological services and human uses including clean air, food, safe drinking water, medicines, shelter, recreation, recycling of nutrients, carbon cycles, and intrinsic beauty.  The biological diversity and redundancy in ecosystem functions help make are landscapes resilant to environmental change.  We may be able to detect environmental change early in places like the climate senstive algific talus slopes as an indication to what may happen to other ecosystems from global climate change.          

The research project goal is to provide perspecitve and insight for strategic habitat conservation of the biological diversity on algific talus slopes in the Midwest Driftless Area.

Objective Number 1.  Characterize the biodiversity and determine the variation in temperatures along a vertical slice of an algific talus slope. 

Objective Number 2.  Compile and describe the available sources of relevant  temperature data including regional trend data from the closest weather stations with the longest history, and the past temperature study at the Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge.

Objective Number 3.  Prepare a plan to monitor the status and long term trends of the health and integrity for the algific talus slope ecosystem.


Left:  temperature data logger on surface of soil near a cold air vent that is occupied by glacial relict land snail species.  The data loggers store temperature readings every two hours over the year.  Click on graph above for large veiw of some of the data from the temperature data loggers.


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