Thursday, January 15, 2015

Water, Hot and Cold I


I recently completed work on a small project in northwestern Nevada. As one of my colleagues, a young African scholar, likes to say…the project is in the land of cowboys and Indians. The study site is a thermal wetland composed of a number of seeps and springs that flow from the earth at the base of the foothills of the massive Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. These majestic mountains tower thousands of feet above the springs and the adjacent valley to the east. The waters of the springs are heated to a very hot 38C by the fault they sit atop. My task was to develop an ecological description of the site, including the flora and fauna, describe the human impacts to the site, and suggest some remediation and restoration activities.  I had a lot of help in this project from professionals and nonprofessionals who volunteered their time to conduct plant and bird surveys and assist in other ways.  These springs are only a remnant of a much larger system, part of which has been developed into a privately owned recreation facility with hot water…water to release the pain and tensions of life from those who submerge their often aging bodies into the steamy waters. The light odor of hydrogen sulfide permeates the mists that rise into the air of the cool desert mornings.  On the adjacent coldwater slough migratory waterfowl slide onto the surface of the spreading waters of the nearby river, with their origins high among the adjacent peaks.  Wetland is probably too grand a name for this small, shallow lagoon adjacent to the slough.  At one time, however, before the resort and the levee that separates the thermal springs from the slough were constructed, it is likely that this was a much more extensive landscape feature.

Baugh, T., D. Petite, L. J. Schmidt. River Fork Ranch Thermal wetland. Natural Areas Journal 34(3): 381-384.

Baugh, T., D. Petite, and J. Woods.  (In press). Natural Areas Journal River Fork Thermal Ranch- Biota.

(Continued in the next post)