Friday, June 5, 2015

Eco-Hydro-Geophysics through WyCEHG Training

WyCEHG hosted a summer field course from May 17-30, 2015.  This summer marked the program’s third year, its second at UW, and brought in students from historic black colleges and universities around the country to join our UW students.  Students learned about the water cycle through the combined disciplines of ecology, hydrology, and geophysics.  The two-week intensive seminar is designed to bring these concepts together and answer questions about water in interdisciplinary ways.  Above all, the course is meant to be hands-on: students used cutting-edge equipment in action, and heard lectures about mountain hydrology. 

Blair Wallace, near Vedauwoo in the Medicine Bow National Forest, was the program’s primary site.  I had the chance to accompany the students on a field trip to WyCEHG’s No Name Watershed site, where they took a tour of the high-altitude area, making stops along the way to see at the instrumentation WyCEHG uses to explore water flow in the area.    

Top: Students in WyCEHG's Field Course in the Snowy Range; Bottom Left: Students setting up a weather station at Blair-Wallis; Bottom Left: Up in the No Name Watershed looking at equipment. Photo Credit: Liz Nysson
We arrived at the No Name Watershed at mid-morning.  After strapping snowshoes to our feet, we waddled across the parking lot to the trailhead.  The day was bright and the air felt warm and fresh.  

Signs of recent WyCEHG activity were plentiful.  We saw water stations measuring wind speed, humidity, precipitation amounts, and temperature; water gauges in streambeds; specialized equipment testing the amount of sap in trees; and cameras helping to create a photographic record of snowfall from its first arrival on the mountaintop. 

Although our snowshoes came in handy, sunlit parts of the trail were slushy, and rich brown mud showed through in many places.  Snow melts bottom-up instead of top-down, as the ground thaws and the slow current of snowmelt starts to trickle downward towards valleys and rivers.  The terrain was already saturated, and cold water welled up under our feet as we made our way down the trail.  We saw bear tracks in the snow by a slow-running stream, winding back and forth over the open water. 

Beetle kill was everywhere, both in the rough yellow sap that ran down boreholes like tallow from a candle and in the dead trees crowding the living evergreens.  In many sections of the forest, most of the trees had been killed.  Single-species groves were hardest hit, while diverse stands of trees were less likely to suffer total devastation.  Second-growth was evident in many places. 

The last stop on our hike was a fen, an area where vegetation had condensed over centuries and millennia into a dense tangle of spongy undergrowth.  The role fens play in the mountain ecosystem is still being explored.  Their specialized environment may also be an especially delicate habitat for micro-organisms and flora, so the fens near No Name are protected by the Forest Service.  WyCEHG scientists are interested in the possibility of using fenland water and soil measurements to gather information about the ecological history of the mountainside.  

By the time we reached the parking lot, the sky had clouded over and a flurry of snow had begun to fall.   

WyCEHG’s EcoHydroGeophysics field course is just one way the center encourages a water resource workforce in Wyoming. To Learn more, go to

By Jess White