Thursday, July 26, 2012

Where is the water?

As discussed earlier this week, we are not experiencing a severe drought here in Connecticut despite the suffering seen in over half of the country. However, we are maintaining a constant way above average temperature profile in our state. More rain and severe storms this week, and especially today with a high risk of very severe weather, will help us get right back on track to seeing average precipitation. So what in the heck is up with all of the reports of low water levels and drier than average conditions?

To some degree, we have been at a water deficit, but that only makes up a small portion of the problem. Back in March, I posted about what Twan and I had experienced in the Aspetuck Land Trust's Trout Brook Valley during a day of surveying vernal pools. At a date when it would not be unexpected to see snowfall in Connecticut, we had tens of pools with amphibians popping out of them and egg masses everywhere. I wrote that, "Twan knew it would be a good time to find some of them active and possibly breeding in this unbelievably warm weather and our results backed up both his optimism for the habitat and the conditions." While this made for an exciting day and some wonderful finds, there was another issue with the beautiful March weather we had:

However, there is one major problem - most of the eggs you see above of all species will likely die because the vernal pools are evaporating and drying out at a much faster rate than usual (you can see the beginning of this with the Wood Frog eggs). Twan remarked that some of the pools had water levels they normally would in June or July. Once again abnormally warm weather is to blame, and without any snow melt whatsoever or much in the way of rain lately, the majority of these will perish if we do not have substantial and sustained amounts of rain soon. Amphibians really do put all of their eggs in one basket, and they may not have another chance to breed until next spring.

Climate change alters every single system on the planet, and while we have all enjoyed lovely weather and flowers blooming a month early, it is wreaking havoc on the rest of the world around us. Not only do we have to do much more to protect sensitive vernal pool habitats and the threatened and conservation priority species that inhabit them, we have to now cope with a changing world that is throwing everything off.

All of the articles we read about needing rain so desperately often entirely ignore the fact that we only need this rain because we did not get the expected late winter snowfall, and neither did any locations to our north where snowmelt from March through May would fill waterways leading down to us. As I mentioned there, the way above average warmth dried out these vernal pools and many other water sources, from small creeks to sizable ponds, even lowering some of the larger streams and rivers in the state. They also ignore the temperature changes, as is par for the course in climate change non-denial-but-still-really-denial.

Twan was right on the mark with the pools being three to four months ahead of schedule as they dried out very quickly in many cases. After a strong May and very productive June, many species of odonates have been largely absent from many areas I would expect to find them, or are seen in greatly reduced numbers. I have often discovered only very old adults with tattered wings and discolored abdomens. Hiking through the Jump Hill and Crow Hill sections of the Trout Brook Valley Conservation area last week yielded only Ebony Jewelwing and a single Great Blue Skimmer. These areas are usually rich with vernal pools, springs, and small streams, some featuring large swampy areas favored by the latter species and many more. I found only one pool with any water in it. This - a dry vernal pool and evaporated swamp - is what I saw just about everywhere.

The lack of snowfall and warm spring season did most of the damage, and the very hot weather, still far above average, only continued the evaporation of many water sources at a faster than usual rate. The completely dry pools evaporated at least two or three months ahead of schedule remembering that Twan mentioned our March finds were typical of June or July, with pools getting lower and egg masses becoming exposed only then for the most part. As it turns out, we will need above average snowfall and rainfall in order to simply maintain the status quo considering our temperature conundrum. We are going to have to hope our seasons play out "normally" in the future, or closer to it, but that hope lies in stark contrast to the new reality we will have to accept because of climate change.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch and not to be reproduced without explicit permission

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