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Researching the zone where rock meets life

Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory (SSCZO) is one of ten NSF-supported observatories investigating Earth's critical zone, the outer skin of the earth's surface where rock, soil, water, air, and life interact. The critical zone ranges from the top of the tree canopy to the deepest layer of soil. Interactions between the physical, biological, and chemical processes of the critical zone are complex-- and we are still learning about them.
Learn more about the critical zone -->

Researchers collaborate on SSCZO projects from bacterial to watershed scale, quantifying evaporation by the hour and erosion by the millenium. Projects are based at a network of sites from 400 to 2700 m in elevation on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
Explore our research -->



A platform of research, infrastructure, models, and data for everyone

Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs) are resources for the scientific community, with multidisciplinary research, extensive site infrastructure, conceptual and numerical models, and thousands of data entries available for collaboration.


Investigators, students, and collaborators conduct research on a variety of topics spanning several disciplines, at multiple spatial and temporal scales:

  • hydrology
  • geochemistry
  • pedology
  • geomorphology
  • ecology
  • geophysics

>>Explore more research


Hundreds of instruments are installed and maintained at SSCZO, many continuously logging measurements through a wireless sensor network:

  • covariant eddy flux towers
  • meteorological stations
  • soil matric potential senors
  • sap flow meters
  • peizometers and wells
  • snow depth sensors

>>Explore more infrastructure


Data from instruments and other measurements are available for research analysis and modeling. Our data catalog:

  • covers a range of research disciplines
  • spans timescales of years to seconds
  • contains thousands of entries from several sites
  • provides opportunities for cross-czo comparison

>>Explore more data


SSCZO continues to develop and expand conceptual and numerical models of the critical zone covering:

  • drivers of critical zone development
  • coupled, complex critical zone processes
  • trends at multiple spatial and temporal scales
  • eco-hydrologic modeling using RHESSYS

>>Explore more models

The following are links to a local document archive at the Southern Sierra CZO

Document archive: Public || Background || Internal || Other presentations || Forms

Annual Reports (pdf): 2008 || 2009 || 2010 || 2011 || 2012 || Final for 2007-2012 grant || 2013 || 2014 + Addendum || 2015 + Additional Reporting + Figures || 2016

Work plan: 2008 || 2010 || 2014 Management Plan (including Work plan)


NEON Domain 17 site is proposed to be co-located with some SSCZO infrastructure.  The most recent Plan of Development for NEON D17 is available here.


Join our email list!

Periodic updates are sent by email to the SSCZO research team and interested parties. Emails highlight news, publications, opportunities, and events. To receive updates, please email Michelle Gilmore.

Archive: 2014-01-24  ||  2014-01-31  ||  2014-02-03  ||  2014-02-08  ||  2014-02-27  ||  2014-03-24  ||  2014-04-07  ||  2014-05-20a  ||  2014-05-20b  ||  2014-06-17  ||  2014-07-01  ||  2014-07-08  ||  2014-07-18  ||  2014-08-26  ||  2014-09-02 ||  2014-11-06  ||  2014-12-04  ||  2015-01-21  ||  2015-01-22  ||  2015-02-13  ||  2015-02-17  ||  2015-03-18  ||  2015-04-15  ||

© Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory

Warm sunlit morning at SJER this past winter. 

UC Davis students in ESM 108 work with Erin Stacy (UC Merced, SSCZO Outreach Manager) to update equipment on the mini met station in the P301 meadow. 


SSCZO - Instruments

Hundreds of instruments and sensors have been deployed in the primary SSCZO research site of the Providence Creek watershed as well as in Wolverton basin.  Additional SSCZO flux towers and instruments have also been installed at the San Joaquin Experimental Range, Soaproot Saddle, and Short Hair Creek.

Explore more photos of the intstuments and sensors used by SSCZO.

Southern Sierra CZO

Established 2007

"We investigate the critical zone across a mountainous elevation gradient, focusing on water balance, nutrient cycling, and weathering processes."

Science Questions:

  • How do regolith, or weathered bedrock, properties and soil formation processes vary over 10-­m to 100-­km scales?
  • How do physics, chemistry, and biology interact to influence critical­ zone function over instantaneous to decadal timescales?
  • How quickly do regolith properties change in response to longer-term climactic and shorter-term biologic processes?
  • How do regolith development and properties control, limit or regulate the effects of climate change and forest management, or of hydrologic, biogeochemical and ecologic disturbances?
  • What measurements of the critical zone can best advance knowledge of the critical zone, using cutting edge technology and a range of spatial and temporal scales?

SSCZO is based in the southwestern Sierra Nevada with sites ranging from oak savannah to subalpine forest, crossing the rain-snow transition zone.

Research at these sites focuses on water, nutrient, and soil fluxes; and landscape and climate changes cross space and time.