Mod 12: terrestrial biomes

    Huh? Terrestrial=earth vs. aquatic, having to do with ducks...

    9 Biomes are usually defined by precipitation (rain, fog, others) and temperature.
    Big Island has 8 of the 9 biomes, or in the 12 biome model, we have 11/12
    Traveling up a mountain is like crossing biomes. Check this out:
    Imagine driving from Hamakua or Hilo up to the summit of Mauna Kea: tropical rain forest to temperate (mild) rain forest to boreal (north) forest to tundra. There is even a glacier up on Mauna Kea. Cool.
    This would be like starting in the upper right corner of the diagram and moving diagonally down and to the left.

    Now check out the planet:

    Notice the horizontal bands. If you've read "Guns Germs and Steel" you know that humans migrated horizontally, so their crops and livestock would be in similar biomes. See? Migrating north to south is tough.

    Now look at this:

    These diagrams are how we describe biomes without a cool map. The blue line is the amount of rainfall, with units on the RIGHT side of the graph. The red line is the temperature, with units on the LEFT side of the graph. The shaded region in the months below (jfmamjjasond) is the growing season when temperatures are above freezing. When the precipitation line is above the temperature line, growth is limited by temperature (e.g. freezing). When the blue line is below the red line, growth is limited by precipitation (e.g. the desert).

    Start with the north: Tundra is what you'd see in Alaska. Permafrost is soon to be in the news. It is made of permanently frozen ground a few feet below the surface. Even roots cannot penetrate it, so some trees grow in a stunted fashion. It is also composed of frozen organic matter, which when it freezes will decompose, releasing CO2 and CH4 (methane), which is 20x as powerful as CO2 as a greenhouse gas.


    Note the cool temp, so growth is determined by temp, not rainfall.

    Contrast that with the boreal (north) forest:

    Note the short growing season. Any plants that survive usually have an oily sap (pine trees, evergreens) that does not freeze.

    Temperate (mild) forests are nicer, longer growing season, and rarely freeze. They are usually near the ocean, so they do not freeze (ocean is a huge heat sink). The often have lots of rain (think of Seattle).

    Temperate (mild) seasonal forest actually has seasons:
    Deciduous trees can live here, like maple and oak.

    Woodland/shrubland is like much of southern California, or the Mediterranean. Wine can grow here:

    Note it never really freezes, but growth is determined by precipitation (blue line is below the red line). This is also known as "chaparral" or the "fynbos" or "nice forest" in Afrikaans (South Africa).

    Temperate grassland/cold desert is a dry, grassy area, like Oklahoma, although it does get very cold there, so think more of Texas, or the Gobi desert. Again, growth is rain limited:

    Tropical rainforest is the rainiest of them all, and much of our island has this near the shore. Warm temperatures, and paradoxically poor soil nutrition (all of the nutrients are in the plants). On Mt. Waialeale on Kauai, the rainfall is 480 INCHES per year, 2.5 times as high as the high point on the chart below:

    Africa and Brazil hold the next biome: Savanna or tropical seasonal forest. Think of Madagascar (the film): not many large trees, room for animals to roam, lots of grass, happy lions, maybe a bossy penguin or two...
    Growth dependent on rainfall:

    Finally, the subtropical desert biome, like what you'd see in the sahara desert (another film), or most of Australia, the Atacama in Chile, the Mojave desert in California, and some of Mexico. Note the Gobi desert is not on this list-too cold.


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