Soil in conjunction with underlying weathered bedrock make up what is referred to as regolith, which can be thought of as the substrate that actively contributes water and nutrients to above ground biomass. As a result, regolith thickness is an important regulating factor of forest health and drought tolerance in the Sierra Nevada. Our project examined the relationships between landscape position, regolith thickness, and tree productivity within a sub watershed of the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory. We hypothesized that tree productivity will increase with increasing regolith thickness. Data was collected in the summer of 2015 at sixty-five sites within a 522-ha watershed averaging 1180m in elevation with a MAP of 80cm and a MAT of 11C. Sites were randomly selected from a grid and then stratified in the field to capture representative samples from different landscape positions. Regolith was sampled using a hand auger with attachable extensions. At each site we augered to hard bedrock or a maximum depth of 7.56 m, which ever was shallower. Biomass measurements were made for all conifer species (DBH>20cm) within a 10m radius of the primary auger hole. Tree age was measured from a representative tree for all species in the plots. Preliminary findings suggest that there is a weak correlation between landscape position/slope and regolith thickness, likely due to differences in lithology. It also appears that terrain shape can result in conflicting outcomes: 1. It can focus water to promote physical and chemical weathering and thick regolith; or, 2. water focusing can result in landscape scouring, removing soil and weathered bedrock to create shallow regolith. Productivity appears to be a function of regolith thickness, effective precipitation and landscape position. Water collecting areas in the lower watershed are shallow to bedrock, but typically receive high amounts of effective precipitation resulting in greater tree productivity. Moreover, thick regolith in uplands also supports high productivity. Future work will explore the application of terrain attributes computed from DEMs to characterize the contributions of terrain and effective precipitation. As climate change continues it will become increasingly important for land managers to evaluate forest health, productivity and drought tolerance.
Ferrell, R., Ferrell, P., Hartsough, P., O’Geen, A. (2015): Spatial Patterns between Regolith Thickness and Forest Productivity in the Southern Sierra CZO. EP31B Landscape Evolution from a Critical Zone Science Perspective I Posters, presented at 2015 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 14-18 Dec..