200 Sensors Find Sierra's Subsurface Water

November 13, 2015

KQED Science covers The Secret Life of a Raindrop through focusing on the interdisciplinary network of studies on the critical zone--the zone where life meets rock. 

The Critical Zone Tree helps scientists track water from the Sierra Nevada.
The Critical Zone Tree helps researchers track
water that falls in the Sierra Nevada, through
the forest and soils, to the valley. 

UC Merced professor and UC Water Director Roger Bales is also the lead Principal Investigator for the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory. His work includes 200 sensors around a tree which describe how water is moving through the forest. 

"We call this the critical zone tree because it is the most instrumented tree in the Sierra Nevada," said Bales.

There are sensors for temperature, humidity and how much water is moving up the tree and going out to the leaves and atmosphere. 

As a member of a network of Critical Zone Observatories throughout the United States, supported by the National Science Foundation, Bales' research not only provides a better understanding of the world's water cycle, but of how we can accurately measure the water people will have available after the Sierra Nevada forests use it. 

See Bales' study site near Shaver Lake, California in the KQED video