Thursday, June 13, 2013

Geo 365: June 13, Day 164: Stunted Pine

More or less at the high point of the loop trail on the Big Obsidian Flow, there's a bench with a nice view to the south and east, and a wee bit of shade from this stunted pine. Given the size of the bench, in the lower middle, I'd guess the tree is maybe 12-15 feet high, but look how disproportionally thick its trunk is! Also, look at how many of the upper branches have died. As I indicated yesterday, this very much an outcome of the geological setting: soils have not had a chance to develop, which means moisture and nutrients are fleeting and nearly unavailable. Rather than creating a mutually protective and nurturing forest environment, individual trees stand starkly alone and unsheltered. Trees in nearby areas, areas that are climatologically identical, for all practical purposes, but with older, more weathered substrates, create large, healthy stands. Up here on the broken glass, every winter and every summer are a touch-and-go struggle for existence.

But these pioneers contribute to soil development, physically and chemically weathering the bedrock. In their annual shedding of needles, bits of bark and deadwood, and eventually through their own deaths, they contribute organic material- which means nutrients and better water retention. It's sort of mind boggling to imagine this as a snapshot of one year in a few tens of millenia- at the end of which the entire surface of this flow will be obscured under a forest and its duff. A setting in which only the geologically-minded will notice the bits of oddly dark, glassy rock peaking from under the forest litter.

Photo unmodified. August 21, 2011. FlashEarth location.

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