Fog is Back

The fog is back. After thinking mostly of drought for the last few years, suddenly my focus is back to fog. It’s the ephemeral and unpredictable force of nature that I spent nearly a decade studying among the redwoods. The ferns I study are capable of surviving solely on fog water alone and this spring, they may be doing just that.

featured_purisimaIn the fourth year of California’s drought, I was surprised to find late breaking new fiddleheads in the redwood forest this week. Sword ferns at UC Santa Cruz, Redwood Regional in Oakland, and Muir Woods are pushing up unexpected new leaves. I track the health of new sword fern leaves annually and was reliably able to study the fully-formed leaves by this time of year in years past. With dry and warm weather typical of the last few springs, I’m accustomed to the ferns setting their new leaves early while winter water was still available to support their growth.  This year however, the ferns seem to be taking advantage of the unrelenting, cool and clammy weather that has dominated our Northern Californian spring.

Kyle Boelte‘s new book, The Beautiful Unseen: Variations on Fog and Forgetting, shares an intimate look on how fog has influenced his journey through life. This journey took him to the redwood forest with me several years ago to contemplate how fog feeds the ferns and fuels my research. On the day he describes so vividly in his memoir, we worked among the ferns of Samuel P. Taylor talking about how fog quenches the forest’s thirst when it blankets the woods, filtering the sunlight and dripping water to the plants waiting below the tall redwoods. One that day, I didn’t know that a historic drought was about to begin and that my ferns would depend even more on fog in the years ahead.

With my field research plans now delayed by fog as spring remarkably lingers among the redwoods, I am reminded that fog is always full of surprises and operates on its own elusive schedule. If written, my own memoir like Kyle’s, would reflect on a series of lessons the fog tries to teach me.

Learn more about League-supported research on fog here.

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About the author

Emily Burns, the League’s former Director of Science, led the research program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California, Berkeley.

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