UC Berkeley professors seek to monitor climate change by studying water systems

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UC researchers received a $2.179 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to study freshwater systems, a project that will allow them to monitor climate change in California.

Todd Dawson and David Ackerly, UC Berkeley integrative biology professors, are co-investigators on the project, called California Heartbeat Initiative-Freshwater, or CHI-Freshwater. CHI-Freshwater is a project within the UC Natural Reserve System, or NRS, for which the researchers will monitor Californian reserves owned by the university.

The project will study freshwater systems in a myriad of California ecosystems and provide insight in responding to climate change, according to Becca Fenwick, the program director for the CHI-Freshwater and director of environmental technology for NRS.

“The goal of the project is to take the pulse of natural California … and provide the critical information for scientists to make forecasts,” said Kathleen Wong, principal publications coordinator for NRS.

According to its website, CHI produces predictions on California’s water status and seeks to understand swings in temperature and weather. The team, composed of UC researchers, seeks to provide farmers, water managers, politicians and the general public with critical information about water and the resource’s future.

Each UC campus has two to nine natural reserves, and the project will monitor 10 of those reserves, according to Fenwick.

Wong said she believes that with their forecasting and technological capabilities, they can inform the public of the study’s critical results.

“We have reserves with so many different kinds of ecosystems,” Wong said. “(This allows for a) more comprehensive data set for forecasting analysis than other existing climate forecasting projects.”

CHI-Freshwater plans on creating a network of wireless sensors looking under soil to show how water moves through ecosystems, Fenwick said. The project will use drones, multispectral cameras, microclimate stations and other next-generation sensors.

According to its website, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation invests in long-term Bay Area projects that “produce measurable results and lasting benefits.” Fenwick said this project is a three-year grant and is expected to be finished in 2021.

Wong said some logistics are still being worked out by the principal investigators and their colleagues, staff, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to decide the optimum ways to deploy technology and plans.

While CHI chose a variety of California ecosystems, they also hope to work with national and state parks as well as large natural land holders to develop a more comprehensive data set, according to Wong.

“If we can understand how water moves through the ecosystem now, (then we can) understand what may be available and how it may move through landscape in different climate scenarios in 10, 50, 100 years,” Fenwick said.

Contact Ella Smith at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @EllaSmithCA.