Find out more on the official CZO website: www.udel.edu/czo.

'Frankenstorm' Sandy bears down on Exeter Critical Zone Observatory

Just in time for Halloween, Hurricane Sandy is due to merge with two continental weather systems to form a rare ‘Perfect Storm’ of epic proportions. The storm is predicted to track directly over the Christina River Basin Critical Zone Observatory (CRB-CZO).

The Observatory is a $4.4M monitoring project that is tracking how soils and river basins evolve over timescales of years to centuries.  This represents a once-in-a-century opportunity to document how landscapes respond to the extreme weather events that can account for the majority of landscape evolution.

Exeter Graduate Student Julia Marquard is investigating how CRB-CZO soils have eroded and redeposited within streams since the initial deforestation of the landscape in Colonial times. To accomplish this she is developing new techniques using a novel suite of natural fallout radionuclides to distinguish century-scale erosion from decadal- and event-scale processes. For Julia, this storm represents an exceptional opportunity to determine how mega-storms compare with anthropogenic disturbance as orchestrators of landscape change.

Exeter Professor Rolf Aalto, co-PI for the CRB-CZO, explains: “The Critical Zone concept is to establish heavily instrumented landscapes within which one can investigate the conversion of rock to soil and then ultimately to sediment. While critical to life on Earth, soil formation and the ensuing loss has rarely been studied in such a dynamic sense, and never simultaneously over temporal scales that range from seconds to years to millenial. One of our largest scientific challenges is assessing the role of rare mega-storms that may in fact account for the majority of change within both natural and impacted watersheds. We don’t properly understand the importance of these huge storms for critical zone processes, yet long-term climate models are predicting an increasingly stormy future.”

Over the past 3 years the CRB-CZO has installed and tested millions of dollars in soil and sediment instrumentation and sampling infrastructure, and it is further instrumented with one of the highest capability meteorological networks in the USA. Marquard and Aalto have conducted field sampling campaigns and have make essential measurements back at Exeter labs to establish pre-storm baseline conditions. Over the weekend, various CZO team members installed additional samplers and checked existing infrastructure – so all systems are go for the Halloween Frankenstorm! 

The CRB-CZO is funded by the National Science Foundation and Julia’s research by a USA Philanthropist. More information is available on the official CZO website: www.udel.edu/czo.

Date: 29 October 2012

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