Director’s Letter March 2021

Reaching for the Stars

RMBL is reaching for the stars.  Or to be more precise, the lower atmosphere.  For the next two years our bug hunters and wildflower counters will be joined by snowflake measurers and scientists who track storms.  Led by Berkeley Lab climate modeler Dr. Dan Feldman a whole posse of atmospheric scientists will be descending on RMBL as part of the Surface Atmosphere Integrated Laboratory (SAIL) campaign (see related article).

Atmospheric scientists are coming to Gothic because mountains are hard to understand.  As a refugee from the vertically challenged state of Kansas, I can attest that while each wheatfield might not be exactly the same, you don’t need to see too many before you get the general idea.  Models of how the earth works are challenged, however, by the complexity of mountains.

Getting mountains right matters.  Not only do they cover 25% of the world’s land surface but they are also important sources of water for drinking and agriculture.  The Colorado River, fed in significant part by the Gunnison River flowing out of the valleys around Gothic, supports 16 million jobs and has an economic value of more than $1 trillion.  As part of getting mountains right, visitors will notice radars, weather balloons, and other atmospheric sensors popping up in the research meadow just south of Gothic and at other odd locations throughout the valley.  We will welcome technicians living year-round onsite who will be responsible for maintaining the instrumentation.

A biology laboratory hosting atmospheric scientists is not as strange as it sounds.  RMBL was incorporated in 1928 to support research into biology and related subjects.  It is hard to think of a topic more related to life than water.  Dr. Ken Williams, also with the Berkeley Lab, has been operating the Watershed Function Scientific Focus Area (SFA) out of Gothic, with the goal of building a predictive understanding of water quality, quantity, and associated biogeochemical cycling.  The advantage of conducting the SFA in the vicinity of Gothic is that it can build upon, and contribute to, RMBL’s long-standing ecological and evolutionary field research.  The arrival of SAIL, by improving weather models and our understanding of snow and water, will help link climate to ecology and evolution.

A critical element of RMBL’s science strategy is that knowledge catalyzes discovery.  The revelation of fundamental ecological and earth system processes by one group of scientists attracts, and serves as a platform for discovery, by the next group of scientists.  The more research we support, the more attractive we are to new scientists and the more opportunities we offer for discoveries driven by synergies emerging across research groups.

We will be operating the Visitor  Center again this summer so if you have a chance, stop by.  We will be giving tours and you will have an opportunity to see what atmospherics research looks like.  And by supporting RMBL, you will be supporting an integrated and unparalleled peek into the systems that support life on earth!

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL