California Heartbeat Initiative

California Heartbeat Initiative

October 7, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


We’re on the precipice of setting up a very cool monitoring network for the state of California. So the California Heartbeat Initiative is an all-encompassing environmental monitoring system looking at the health of the state. The goal is to look at freshwater resources in natural landscapes and to try to understand how
they might change with climate change. Our water resources are swinging back and forth in their availability like they never have done before in
recorded history. We want to be able to quantify how the vegetation and the streams and the groundwater is responding to that kind
of climatic variation. That’s going to help us eventually better manage our water resources. That, of course, is very important
for everybody in California. We’re doing this research at 12 sites up and down California. And nine of these sites are protected by the University of California’s Natural Reserve System. We’ve got places where fog is actually a main contributor to the soil moisture. We’ve got places in the desert, and places up north where it rains a lot. Using some really cool
technology innovations for actually tracking water resources on and in the landscape. We are using ground-based environmental sensors that are measuring precipitation and temperature, the amount of sunlight, various other things. And then pairing
that with drone based measurements. So we put the sensors on the ground, fly the drones over the top of them, and then coordinate the data sets. And that will give us insight into how the ecosystem is working So if the chemistry of a leaf changes because it’s feeling water stress that might change the way that light interacts with that leaf and the drone will see that. We’re building this bridge
between what a drone sees and what a plant felt. The drones, when they fly, they take a series of photographs at different frequencies. We stitch those
together to give us a much bigger picture of all of these thousands of photos put together to tease apart the topographic influences on the environment. Now we don’t just look at individual trees but we look at the whole forest. We’re putting in soil moisture sensors at different depths so that throughout the year when it rains we can watch how water moves into the soil, and into the bedrock that’s weathered and that can hold it. Soils are actually
a natural reservoir for the water of the state. So understanding how the soil retains moisture and how it supports the vegetation and therefore the wildlife throughout the year in more detail is really important. By showing us where the
vegetation is comparatively drier, this project can help predict the path of
wildfires. It can also tell us where grazing livestock will cause more severe erosion. And it can help predict where crops and wildlife can survive in the future. If we can do more of this work, then yeah, you could be sitting at your
computer and looking at a Google Earth image of California and understand the water percentage of a given region just by clicking a button. These data collected by the California Heartbeat Initiative are exactly the kinds of
information that we need in order to make science-based,
wise, conservation decisions about California’s future.