HomeScienceGiant Floods Destroy and Renew Environments

Giant Floods Destroy and Renew Environments

The bosque alongside the center Rio Grande in New Mexico is the most important such cottonwood forest within the nation, stretching practically 200 miles throughout New Mexico.

Cottonwood seeds are borne on white cotton-like puffs — therefore the title — that sail by the air.

A flood in 1941 despatched an enormous quantity of sediment down the Rio Grande and created a fertile mattress for the beginnings of the bosque. However the flood additionally worn out farms and cities. Within the Sixties, development of the enormous Cochiti Dam, 50 miles north of Albuquerque, received underway to thwart the move of water and sediment down the river. It labored — at a price.

The dam additionally ended the flood pulse, which has prevented younger cottonwoods from establishing, leaving solely the eight-decade-old bushes that grew up after the flood. Craig Allen, a retired U.S.G.S. ecologist in Santa Fe, N.M., calls it a “zombie forest.”

“It’s the dwelling lifeless,” he mentioned. “The entire riparian system has been remodeled into one thing a lot drier.” Invasive fire-prone species of tree, similar to tamarisk, have moved in beneath the outdated cottonwoods. Bosque forest fires, as soon as unheard-of, are widespread.

Dams additionally reduce off the gravel, silt and different sediment that rivers carry, that are used to construct new ecological options throughout a flood. Positive sediment trapped behind the dam accommodates important vitamins “and the bottom of the meals chain is undermined,” mentioned Matt Kondolf, a professor of environmental planning on the College of California, Berkeley.

As a result of the dam additionally reduces stream move, “it simplifies the channel,” he mentioned. “So, the place earlier than you had gravel bars and swimming pools and riffles, all of that will get washed away, and also you wind up with a bowling alley geometry. If there’s a fish in there, there’s no place for them to cover, they only get washed downstream.”

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