Breath of Clarity

Ecology Discussion #6: A

Impact of Climate Change

The biodiversity at my chosen study site, the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, faces impact from climate change.

Specifically, the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park was the epicenter of the San Francisco earthquake of 1989. The bottom line is sea surface temperature is a major driver of hurricane activity and storm intensification (McGuire 2016). The reduced atmospheric pressure that characterizes powerful hurricanes is sufficient to allow earthquake faults deep within the crust to move more easily and release accumulated strain (McGuire 2016). The 1989 earthquake was triggered by a slip along the San Andreas Fault (Brittanica 2020). Shaking from the earthquake created numerous surface ruptures and slumps that are still largely evident today.

Additionally, many trees fell during the 1989 earthquake, and whole groves of trees have bent trunks from having adjusted themselves back to a vertical direction after the ground surface rotated in areas of deep-seated slumps.

Three earthquake faults—San Andreas, San Gregorio, and Zayante— influence the park’s geology and bring susceptibility to future disasters (The Forest of Nisene Marks 2003). Moreover, earthquakes have ancient sea floor sedimentary rocks which are found in the park’s Aptos and Bridge creekbeds. The park’s unstable sandy and loamy soil is susceptible to landslides (The Forest of Nisene Marks 2003). Landslides can bury animals and destroy breeding spots.

Lastly, the park is well-renowned for its presence of redwood trees. The remaining range of coast redwood is limited to the Pacific Coast fog belt between Oregon and the Big Sur coast. Scientists fear that climate change, with decreasing fog and increasing temperatures, will result in even more redwood habitat loss.

Change in Development Planning

My development planning would be focused on landslide prevention. Firstly, I would recommend construction of retaining walls at the base of slopes. Other techniques are to avoid removing material from the base of slopes and avoid adding material to the top of slopes. An additional strategy is to plant ground cover with deep roots on the slopes because erosion can lead to flash flooding and additional landslides in the near future.


Brittanica. 2020. “San Francisco earthquake of 1989”. Accessed October 21 2020. to an external site.

McGuire, Bill. 2016. “How climate change triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes”. The Guardian. Accessed October 21 2020. Links to an external site.

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. 2003. “Preliminary General Plan”. Accessed September 21, 2020.

Comment by Professor Fenton Kay:

Very interesting, Mary. The top photo sort of looks like the Great Dismal Swamp. I’m not sure how to factor the low pressures associated with hurricanes into earthquakes in Cali. Can you clarify that a bit?



My Response:

Hi Fenton,

Thanks for the inquiry. The relationship between low pressures associated with hurricanes and earthquakes is illustrated by a piece of research published in the journal Nature in 2009 by Chi-Ching Liu of the Institute of Earth Sciences at Taipei’s Academia Sinica. In the paper, Liu and his colleagues provided evidence for a link between typhoons barrelling across Taiwan and the timing of small earthquakes beneath the island (McGuire 2016). Their take on the connection is that the reduced atmospheric pressure that characterizes these powerful Pacific equivalents of hurricanes is sufficient to allow earthquake faults deep within the crust to move more easily and release accumulated strain (McGuire 2016). I thought the interplay between hurricanes and earthquakes was intriguing. Since it mentioned the Pacific, I figured it would be applicable to the California coast. Although, maybe the authors are just talking about how the relationship impacts other areas such as Taiwan. Either way, that is a clarification of my original train of thought when writing the initial post.


McGuire, Bill. 2016. “How climate change triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes”. The Guardian. Accessed October 21 2020.

Comment by Jenny Murphy:


I love that you included pictures so we can really see what is happening in your study area. The Big Slump Trail sounds really interesting. It basically created a wetland area which is beneficial to the environment, but the quake itself must have been really terrifying.

Also, I have never heard of/seen the bent trunk phenomenon due to an earthquake. I have seen posts from hikers that warn of trees on hillsides with bent trunks having a potential to be a precursor to a land slide. I am assuming the events are very similar although caused by different reasons. There is also a place near the Washington coast called the Ghost Forest of Copalis where a 9.0 earthquake struck the the year 1700. The land dropped 6 feet and the tsunami caused slat water to flood the area. A marsh was created and the trees could not survive the harsh conditions. Although the only record of the event was through oral history, when the dead forest was discovered, scientists were able to confirm the event. to an external site.

My Comment #1:

Original Post by Ed Piersa:

The likely impact of climate change on my local ecosystem’s biodiversity is already being witnessed in some ways. Specifically, in the form of wildfires. As Helsel (2020) explains, “A Colorado wildfire, fueled by high winds, grew by more than 22,000 acres Wednesday to become the largest in state history. The Cameron Peak Fire burning in the mountains west of Fort Collins had grown to 158,300 acres by Wednesday evening.”

This impact of wildfires on biodiversity can be devastating. As the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (n.d.) explains, “Atypically large patches of high-severity fire can hinder the ability of an ecosystem to recover, potentially undermining conservation of native biodiversity by long-term or permanent loss of native vegetation, expansion of non-native, invasive species, and long-term or permanent loss of essential habitat for native fauna.”

As an environmental manager, a development planning change that I might recommend to clients to buffer our local ecosystem against climate change and biodiversity loss is prescribed fires. Prescribed fires are planned fires which are “one of the most important tools used to manage fire today. A scientific prescription for each fire, prepared in advance, describes its objectives, fuels, size, the precise environmental conditions under which it will burn, and conditions under which it may be suppressed. The fire may be designed to create a mosaic of diverse habitats for plants and animals, to help endangered species recover, or to reduce fuels and thereby prevent a destructive fire” (National Park Service, n.d.).


California Department of Fish and Wildlife. n.d. “Science: Wildlife Impacts.” Accessed October 17, 2020.

Helsel, Phil. 2020. “Largest Wildfire Colorado Has Ever Seen Burning Now Near Fort Collins.” NBC News, October 15, 2020.

National Park Service. n.d. “Wildland Fire: What is a Prescribed Fire?” Accessed October 17, 2020.

My Comment:

Hi Ed,

Nearby wildfires also prompted The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection San Mateo Santa Cruz Unit, in cooperation with California State Parks, to implement prescribed burns at the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. The burn is part of a long-term strategy to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire and to maintain chaparral habitat as it relies on fire to maintain its unique assemblage of species (Benito Link 2020). Indigenous populations have been using prescribed burns for generations. In terms of protecting biodiversity, how may environmental managers have revised, or weakened, the prescribed burn technique overtime?


Benito Link. 2020. “Prescribed burns planned in Forest of Nisene Marks State Park”. Accessed October 19 2020.

Response by Ed Piersa:

Mary –

That is a great question regarding how have prescribed fire techniques been modified over time. One example is the Public Sphere Dispenser (PSD) which “can be used to ignite prescribed fire” (National Park Service, n.d.).

The PSD device is “sometimes called a ‘ping pong ball device’ [which] can be installed in a helicopter to ignite areas that are too remote or hard to reach for other ignition methods, or as a faster and possibly safer way of igniting the unit as needed to meet the operational objectives” (National Park Service, n.d.). The PSD “device injects glycol in a plastic sphere containing potassium permanganate, which is then expelled from the machine and aircraft. A few seconds later, an exothermic reaction results in ignition of fuels on the ground for prescribed fire or wildland fire applications” (National Park Service, n.d.).

As we all know, much of human technology destroys the environment. Fortunately, the PSD technology “destroys” the environment with long-term ecosystem benefits in mind.


National Park Service. n.d. “Wildland Fire: What is a Prescribed Fire?” Accessed October 20, 2020.

Comment #2:

Original Post by Michael Muehlberger:

One of the major impacts of climate change in my ecosystem will be an increase in flooding. Under current circumstances the area I’m studying does have the occasional flood after heavier rainfall, and generally there is a very tiny amount of stagnant water at the very bottom of the slope in my ecosystem. However, after a major rain event, like a hurricane, the area tends to flood a few feet up the slope. Since these events aren’t as common the local animal population doesn’t face much of a negative impact, and even when it floods the plants under the water usually survive since it drains after a day or two. Also, the edge of the ecosystem is a creek, so the native wildlife is accustomed to water being in the area.

Unfortunately, due to climate change it is likely that major storms will occur a lot more frequently, and more intensely, than they do now. Also rising sea levels resulting from the melting of polar ice will add to the increased flooding events, especially in coastal regions like Florida. If the area becomes permanently flooded it would drastically alter the animal populations in the area. Aquatic species would probably have a population increase, while the terrestrial species would face a decline due to either a lack of suitable habitat or from being forced closer to a human dominated area. Plant species populations would also experience a noticeable change from terrestrial or wetland species to predominately aquatic species.

If I had to make a recommendation to protect the ecosystem from these climate induced issues it would probably have two tiers. On one level I would suggest an increase in environmental awareness education opportunities for the general public to help explain the impacts of climate change, and also to showcase different ways to help mitigate our impact on these issues (reduce emissions, stricter regulations, etc.). The other recommendation would be directed more towards planning committees and land developers. With these groups the focus would center on developing drainage systems that won’t add to an already inundated area or creating strategies to protect local wetland habitat. Obviously, the ultimate recommendation would be to completely stop greenhouse gas emissions, but starting on a smaller, local scale is slightly more feasible.


Chapin III, F. Stuart, Pamela A. Matson, and Peter M. Vitousek. 2012. Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Springer.

My Comment:

Hi Michael,

It is interesting to consider the severe impact a hurricane can have on a space that is already having trouble with flooding after heavy rainfall. Great point in highlighting the ecosystems already relatively unstable are going to be hit the hardest by climate change. I figure the resiliency of this ecosystem’s plants amidst flooding may be a result of adaptation. That said, perhaps there were plants living there before that could not handle the flooding and no longer exist in the present scenario. Also, since it only takes a day or two to drain, it makes sense the plants are able to recover. I wonder the precise impact the length of water draining time has on the type of plants in this ecosystem. Phenomenal point in distinguishing the different impact flooding would have on aquatic versus terrestrial species.