Agriculture
Flush-Free Fertilizer
Middle school science adventures
Making the most of a meal
Amphibians
Poison Dart Frogs
Salamanders and Newts
Newts
Animals
Crocodile Hearts
G-Tunes with a Message
Blotchy Face, Big-Time Wasp
Behavior
The Colorful World of Synesthesia
Why Cats Nap and Whales Snooze
The Science Fair Circuit
Birds
Owls
Roadrunners
Kiwis
Chemistry and Materials
The hungry blob at the edge of the universe
The science of disappearing
The solar system's biggest junkyard
Computers
Games with a Purpose
A Light Delay
Batteries built by Viruses
Dinosaurs and Fossils
Ancient Critter Caught Shedding Its Skin
A Big, Weird Dino
Fossil Fly from Antarctica
E Learning Jamaica
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
Earth
Less Mixing Can Affect Lake's Ecosystem
In Antarctica watch the heat (and your step)
Earth's Poles in Peril
Environment
Where rivers run uphill
Hazy with a Chance of Sunshine
Plant Gas
Finding the Past
Big Woman of the Distant Past
Of Lice and Old Clothes
A Long Trek to Asia
Fish
Megamouth Sharks
Manta Rays
White Tip Sharks
Food and Nutrition
Recipe for Health
The Essence of Celery
Sponges' secret weapon
GSAT English Rules
Whoever vs. Whomever
Who vs. Whom
Capitalization Rules
GSAT Exam Preparation Jamaica
March 21-22, 2013: Over 43,000 students will take the GSAT Exam
10 Common Mistakes When Preparing for the GSAT Math Test
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
GSAT Exams Jamaica Scholarships
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
GSAT Scholarship
GSAT stars reap scholarship glory
GSAT Mathematics
Detecting True Art
Prime Time for Cicadas
Play for Science
Human Body
Don't Eat That Sandwich!
A Sour Taste in Your Mouth
Football Scrapes and Nasty Infections
Invertebrates
Hermit Crabs
Mussels
Tarantula
Mammals
Golden Retrievers
Great Danes
German Shepherds
Parents
Expert report highlights the importance to parents of reading to children!
The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes
What Not to Say to Emerging Readers
Physics
Einstein's Skateboard
Gaining a Swift Lift
Black Hole Journey
Plants
White fuzzy mold not as friendly as it looks
When Fungi and Algae Marry
Springing forward
Reptiles
Cobras
Boa Constrictors
Komodo Dragons
Space and Astronomy
Zooming In on the Wild Sun
A Dead Star's Dusty Ring
A Galaxy Far, Far, Far Away
Technology and Engineering
A Clean Getaway
Squeezing Oil from Old Wells
Reach for the Sky
The Parts of Speech
What is a Preposition?
Problems with Prepositions
Adjectives and Adverbs
Transportation
Revving Up Green Machines
Reach for the Sky
Middle school science adventures
Weather
Science loses out when ice caps melt
Arctic Melt
The Best Defense Is a Good Snow Fence
Add your Article

Watching for Wildfires in Yellowstone

I hiked for 5 hours to reach a remote mountaintop in Wyoming earlier this summer. George Henley had already been there for 22 seasons. Every summer, George spends 3 months living in a one-room cabin on top of Mt. Holmes, a 10,330-foot peak in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. By day, he looks for fires, takes weather readings, and talks to the rare hiker who makes the rigorous 9.6-mile trek to his hut. At night, he stokes a wood-burning stove and hunkers down against cold winds. Every few weeks, a helicopter delivers groceries, firewood, and propane fuel. He sometimes goes 2 or 3 weeks without seeing anyone. "It gets lonely," George says. "It's the same view I see for years and years. I get tired of it sometimes. I sit here and think, ‘I'll get out of here some day.'" Luckily, he hasn't left yet. George is an important link in a national fire and weather reporting system, says Roy Renkin, a vegetation management specialist at Yellowstone. Like George, other rangers are stationed at strategic vantage points in parks and on public lands all around the country. They keep records of wind, temperature, and humidity. They notice changes in the animals that show up from year to year. And, perhaps most important of all, at least in Yellowstone, they look for fires. "They call in these smokes very quickly, before many people have a chance to see them," Renkin says, referring to Yellowstone's three firewatchers. "With the work they do, we're able to initiate fire-management activities very soon after the fire gets observed." Wildfires flare up every summer all over the western United States. This past summer was especially dry in many areas, and numerous fires continue to blaze in California, Montana, Wyoming, and other states. Experts disagree on how best to handle the blazes. Flames destroy property. They kill plants, animals, sometimes even people. Yet research continues to show that fire is a natural part of life. Entire ecosystems, in fact, may depend on it for survival. Yellowstone wonders Ever since Yellowstone became the first U.S. national park in 1872, it has been a prime tourist destination. It's easy to see why. Old Faithful and other geysers spout water high into the air. Pungent gases bubble up through mud. Rivers of scalding hot water carve beautiful, alien landscapes that stink of sulfur. Then, there are the animals. As we drove and hiked through the park, my friend Gabe and I felt like we were on a safari. We saw grizzly bears, elk, bison, wolves, antelope, and more. We weren't the only ones impressed by Yellowstone's geology and wildlife. An 11-year-old girl named Tessa, whose family was visiting the park from Seattle, was so impressed by the steaming hot-spring pools that she was writing down their names in a notebook. "Lots of minerals!" Tessa said, when I asked her what part of the park was her favorite. Her 10-year-old brother Wesley looked bored until he started listing the animals he had seen so far—black bears, elk, deer, grasshoppers, prairie dogs—and the animals he still hoped to see: moose, wolves, jackrabbits. Wildfires large and small Fires deserve just as much attention as rocks and bears, Renkin insists. "We see the effects of fire on the landscape everywhere we look," he says. "Even when you are looking at trees that are green, they are all born from an earlier fire." Most fires are small, Renkin says. They usually burn themselves out before they cause too much damage. And even though 3 years out of every 10 are dry enough to be serious fire years, historical records show that really big fires strike the Yellowstone area only once every 200 to 400 years. "We don't get them very frequently," Renkin says. "But when we do get them, we get them very, very hot, and we get total stand replacement." The summer of 1988 was a perfect example. That year, not a single drop of rain fell in August in the northern part of the park. "In 106 years of the fire record, we don't see that anywhere," Renkin says. "That was really something." At the same time, the park was full of big trees, some more than 200 years old. Renkin's research has shown that old trees burn faster than young ones. Together, those conditions were a recipe for disaster. More than 45 fires swept through Yellowstone that summer, Renkin says. Lightning ignited most of them. People started others. Fires burned for longer than 3 months and consumed more than 34,000 acres of forest until late summer rains and snow finally put them out. "The sheer magnitude of these fires was so awesome," Renkin says. "There were miles and miles of fire front moving along." Fire's benefits Even today, 15 years later, charred logs and dead trunks litter the park. On our hike to Mt. Holmes, Gabe and I passed through barren stands of blackened timber instead of lush blankets of trees that used to cover the base of the mountain. It saddened us that so many trees and animals had died in the blaze. On a long time scale, however, the 1988 fires started a whole slew of important events. Big fires clear the way for what scientists call succession. Winds blow in new seeds that take root in the bare soil. Because heat rises, bulbs and other underground plant parts often survive and sprout again. It takes fallen logs 70 to 100 years to decompose, Renkin says. During that time, nutrients seep back into the dirt to feed future generations of plants and animals. Some plants even rely on fire to reproduce. Lodgepole pines, the most common tree in Yellowstone, have a type of pinecone that sits in the treetops for years. In order to open and release their seeds, the cones need heat from a fire to unseal the glue-like resin that keeps them shut. For all of these reasons, rangers at Yellowstone usually leave fire alone. "It kind of takes the forest back to a starting point," Renkin says, "and the whole process starts all over again." Life on a mountaintop No one is in a better position to observe this cycle of life and death than George Henley. Over the years, he has watched the decline of black bears in the park, for one thing. Bears used to be so common, he told us, that a mamma bear and her two cubs once broke into his house, when he lived in a different part of the park. George later found them sitting in the woods, eating his can of cocoa. There are also unexpected sightings. He once alerted park rangers when a rare group of mountain goats appeared near his lookout. George has become an expert at spotting fires and reading weather. After we had finished eating lunch in his hut, he showed us his equipment: thermometers to measure temperature and dew point, wooden sticks that he weighs to calculate moisture in the air, a weather vane to read wind direction, and more. He calls all his readings in to park headquarters at about 1:30 p.m. every day. I was most impressed by the Osborne Firefinder—an ancient-looking contraption that spins around and allows him to pinpoint the location of a fire on a map. The day we arrived, the viewfinder was pointed at a small blaze way down in a valley to the southwest. It had been burning for two days. "It's picking up pretty good," George noted. To pass the many hours he spends alone, George reads books, works on his ham radio, and keeps a journal. Daily journal entries cover the things that you notice when you live on a mountaintop: animals, weather, fires. On Friday, Aug. 21, 2001, for example, George wrote: "It was pleasant and sunny today, so I washed clothes." If only life could always be so simple.

Watching for Wildfires in Yellowstone
Watching for Wildfires in Yellowstone








Designed and Powered by HBJamaica.com™