Howdy from the staff at Chabot Space & Science Center in the Oakland Hills! Chabot works to encourage students to actively address climate issues within the Bay Area community. We’ll be dropping by ACE occasionally to share some interesting facts, zany stories, and conversations regarding climate change and how it all relates to you!
Hi ACE Friends!
My name is Eric Havel, and I’m the Education Manager here at Chabot Space & Science Center. I’ve been working at Chabot for 14 years, and I have nearly 20 years of experience in the field of informal (meaning “out-of-school time”) education. I have a degree in Environmental Science, I love camping in the redwood forest, and my career is teaching about science. So I guess all that makes me a bonafide treehugger! So it probably won’t surprise you if I share a few things here related to climate change and its potential impacts on California’s majestic redwood forest. I’d also like to tell you about a great research project that you might like to get involved in with Chabot.
You might already know that redwoods have been around for millions of years. They used to be spread throughout the entire northern hemisphere, with significant population stands on three continents – North America, Europe and Asia. Currently, though, their range is much more limited. There are three species of redwoods today: the coast redwood, the giant sequoia, and the dawn redwood. Our own golden state of California is lucky enough to be the only native home to two of these species: the coast redwood and giant sequoia. Well, okay. Technically there are a few native coast redwoods that are just barely found along the coastal southwestern border of Oregon. But we’ve got most of them!
As it turns out, there’s a native “island stand” of second and third growth coast redwoods surrounding Chabot Space & Science Center (the original giants were logged beginning in the 1850s; that’s where that term “second growth” comes from). This gives us an excellent opportunity to teach our visitors about the coast redwood ecosystem. And with Chabot’s new educational focus on climate change, we’ve started up a project to look at what the potential impacts of a changing climate might be on the very forests that surround our science center.
What we’re finding out is fascinating… and also a bit scary. This is where our research project—and you!— come in.
For the past three years, “citizen scientists” like you have been collecting data on our local redwood ecosystem. Working with folks like UC Berkeley scientists and Save the Redwoods League, Chabot’s citizen science groups have focused on measuring fronds of the Western Sword Fern: a plant commonly found throughout coast redwood ecosystems. These plants serve as “climate indicators” – they can literally tell us about the health of the overall ecosystem, because they are very sensitive to changes in climate. You might say they’re like the “canary-in-the-coal-mine” of a redwood forest! In particular, they reflect changes in moisture levels over relatively short periods of time, because their leaves, called “fronds”, will be longer and more abundant during wetter and foggier years, and shorter and lesser in number during drier years.
It’s too early in our study to draw any specific conclusions about what the ferns are telling us about climate change; however, what we do know is that California’s redwoods are in trouble. Climate models predict drastic changes in terms of the moisture we can expect in the future (like rain and fog). Our generation—your generation—has been entrusted with stewardship of what really are the last remaining native stands of redwoods, and let’s face it – so far we haven’t been doing a great job. Climate change could be a “show stopper,” wiping out the ability of coast redwoods to survive naturally in California. We need to carry on with this study for years to come, and we need your help.
So… Can we count on you? We hope so! Check out Chabot’s website for information on how you can get involved.
And check out these sites for more information on redwood conservation, citizen science and climate change: