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Imaggeo on Mondays: Paramo Soil

15 Sep

Paramo Soil. (Credit: Martin Mergili,via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Paramo Soil. (Credit: Martin Mergili,via imaggeo.egu.eu)

What lies between 3000m and 4800m above sea level in the mountains of the Andes? A very special place dominated by an exceptional ecosystem: The Páramo. Picture lush grasslands with a unique population of flora and fauna, some of which is found nowhere else on Earth.

Páramos stretch from Ecuador to Venezuela, across the Northern Andes and also occur at high elevation in Costa Rica. The climate here is changeable; dowsing rains can be immediately followed by clear skies and blazing sunshine. Overall, the areas experience low average temperatures and rates of evaporation but moderate amounts of precipitation. It is this changeable climate that means the Páramo is thought to be an evolutionary hot spot, where biodiversity is budding faster than at any other place on Earth.

However, were it not for the traditional Andean clothing the girl is wearing in our Imaggeo on Monday’s image, you wouldn’t immediately know this photograph was taken close to the equator. Martin Mergili visited the Páramos of Ecuador, back in 2007, as a PhD student of the University of Innsbruck (Austria) on a field trip around the South American country. Martin gives a detailed account of how the Páramo soil pictured in the image came to be:

‘Whilst 100 km to the east, in the lowlands of the Amazon rainforest, organic matter is rapidly decomposed and soils may be tens of metres deep due to extensive weathering, the reverse is the case here, 3000 m higher up. In the tropical highlands of the Páramo, the year round moist and cool regime slows decomposition and weathering. The obvious result is a rather peaty soil, rich in organic content, supporting pasture grounds used for herding sheep.’

The Páramos support the local human population by providing the main source of water in the Andean valleys whilst the grasslands provide extensive fodder for grazing cattle or sheep. To provide fresh appetising grasses farmers regularly burn the natural vegetation. To what extent the soil of the Páramos is altered as a result of this practice is not clear, but it might provide an explanation for the presence of the dark grey layer seen in the photograph.’Alternatively’, explains Martin, ‘as the area is influenced by significant volcanic activity, this layer might well be the result of ash falls.’

A further feature of interest is the sequence of undulating layers below the organic soil: still part of the soil, it represents a set of volcanic or sedimentary strata with varying resistance to weathering and erosion, probably influenced by tectonic forces. A metre below the bottom of the image, you would come across unweathered rocks.

Páramo El Ángel in Ecuador with Espeletia plants (Credit: Martin Mergili via http://www.mergili.at/worldimages/)).

Páramo El Ángel in Ecuador with Espeletia plants (Credit: Martin Mergili via http://www.mergili.at/worldimages/)

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer and Martin Mergili, BOKU University, Vienna

References

Buytaer. W., Sevink. J., De Leeuw. B., Deckers. J.:   Clay mineralogy of the soils in the south Ecuadorian paramo region, Geoderma, 127, 144-129, 2005

Hofstede. R. G.M.: The effects of grazing and burning soil and plant nutrient concentration in Colombian paramo grasslands, Plant and Soil, 173, 1, 111-132, 1995

 

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. Photos uploaded to Imaggeo can be used by scientists, the press and the public provided the original author is credited. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can submit your photos here.

Imaggeo on Mondays: A massive slump

1 Sep

One of the regions that has experienced most warming over the second half of the 20th century is the Potter Peninsula on King George Island in Antartica. It is here that Marc Oliva and his collaborators are studying what the effects of the warming conditions on the geomorphological processes prevailing in these environments.

“Permafrost is present almost down to sea level in the South Shetland Islands, in Maritime Antarctica” says Marc, “in some recent deglaciated environments in this archipelago, the presence of permafrost favours very active paraglacial processes”.

Permafrost is defined as the ground that remains frozen for periods longer than two consecutive years and constitutes a key component of the Cryosphere. However, it is not fully understood how it reacts to climate variability. In this sense, there is an on-going effort to improve our knowledge on these topics by carrying out long–term monitoring of permafrost, as well as of geomorphological processes, in order to better understand the response of the terrestrial ecosystems to recent warming trends.

This weeks’ Imaggeo on Mondays picture shows a massive slump and the exposed permafrost in the shoreline of a lake in Potter Peninsula (King George Island, Maritime Antarctica). Following the deglaciation of this ice-free area paraglacial processes are very active transferring unconsolidated sediments down-slope to the lake.

Slump-permafrost, Potter Peninsula, Antarctica. (Credit: Marc Oliva via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Slump-permafrost, Potter Peninsula, Antarctica. (Credit: Marc Oliva via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. Photos uploaded to Imaggeo can be used by scientists, the press and the public provided the original author is credited. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can submit your photos here.

Imaggeo on Mondays: The Valley of the Souls

25 Aug

Simon Gascoin captured this image of the badlands of the Palca canyon. The Palca canyon is located near the city of La Paz, Bolivia. Like much of the geology in the vicinity of La Paz, the canyon comprises mainly unconsolidated glacial formations, which are highly susceptible to wind and water erosion. The imposing spires, which can reach up to 200m in height, are fluvioglacial deposits that resulted from differential erosion of the sediments by water flow.

The canyon is 8 Km long, with a wide plain flanked on either side by the magnificent pinnacles seen in the photograph below. Bolivia’s second highest mountain, Illimani, towers over the Valley of the Souls (Valle de las Ánimas), adding to the magic of the site.

“Palca Canyon” by Simon Gascoin.  The image is distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

“Palca Canyon” by Simon Gascoin. The image is distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. Photos uploaded to Imaggeo can be used by scientists, the press and the public provided the original author is credited. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can submit your photos here.

Imaggeo On Mondays: Loch Leven

18 Aug

Over hundreds and thousands of years, glaciers reshape the landscape beneath them. As they creep forward, the combined weight of the glacier and the perpetual forward movement means the ice continuously erodes away the rock below, permanently changing the terrain.

During the last Ice Age much of Scotland and northern Britain were covered by a thick sheet of ice. Where there might have been once a stream, impenetrable masses of ice pushed their way downwards, widening and carving. As the climate warmed, 10 000 years ago, the ice slowly melted away to reveal broad U-shaped valleys.

David Tanner photographed Loch* Leven, which lies at the bottom of a beautiful U-shaped valley carved out by glaciers during the last Ice Age.

“Loch Leven” by David Tanner. This picture shows a view west along Loch Leven and is distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

“Loch Leven” by David Tanner. This picture shows a view west along Loch Leven and is distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

“The geology of the valley is very complex” describes David, “There are a series of metamorphosed sediments called the Dalradian (the Celtic name of the area is Dál Riata), which were intensely folded and deformed during the Caledonian Orogeny (in the Devonian)”. The aim of David’s work was to unravel the folding history of the rocks, because, as David explains “the deformation history of the Dalradian, compared to the rest of Scotland, is still poorly understood”. Detailed mapping revealed four different folding episodes.

*(the Celtic word for lake).

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. Photos uploaded to Imaggeo can be used by scientists, the press and the public provided the original author is credited. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can submit your photos here.

 

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