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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Winter Adieu

The Berry Prairie has been dormant for a while now, as a result of cooler temperatures and very little precip (we still only have 6.86" for the year!  That's down approx. 5" from our average - learn more).

So despite the warmish weather we're experiencing (54.5 degrees F right now!), we'll bid you adieu for the winter.  Check back in the spring when plants start to awaken - are you as curious as we are to see what will survive the winter, after this hectic and stressful growing season?

Maybe the green roof will look something like this:

Hopefully the roof won't look something like this:

Though ideally, it will more likely look something like this:

Stay tuned!

Written by Brenna Wanous Marsicek


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Berry Prairie Weather

In the beginning of January 2012, we installed a weather station on the northeast corner of the Berry Prairie.  We wanted to be able to measure precipitation, wind speed, temperature, humidity, etc. so we could track this information for years to come.

Holy Data!

The data is very detailed - the weather station takes 26 types of measurements every half hour of every single day!  Those measurements include wind speed, direction and highs, temperature outside, inside, highs and lows, humidity, dew point, wind chill, heat index, precipitation, degree days, and the list goes on.  The image below is a snapshot of the spreadsheet containing all of the data.  What you see is only 83 of 28,190 rows - and that's only for 10 months!  

We're able to put this data into graphic form.  The graph below shows temperature (red line) and precipitation (blue columns) for every half hour of every day of each month since January.

Why keep weather data?

Good question.  baseline data in case someone 100 years from now wants to know what the climate in Laramie, Wyoming was like in our present times.  And it's handy for research projects done all across campus and beyond.  In fact, we're using this data for a research project studying the microclimate on the green roof compared with other sites in the area.  More on that soon!

We're happy to share our weather data - contact if you want more information!

Written by Brenna Wanous Marsicek

Friday, October 26, 2012

Winter Wonderful

Snow!  Glorious snow!  

Like most (all?) of the country, Wyoming suffered from severe drought this year, starting with very little snow this spring and even less rain this summer.  For those of you who don't live in Wyoming, we absolutely need spring snow - our ecosystems are adapted to rely on it.  

Below Average 
The weather station on the Berry Prairie registered 6.29 inches of precipitation for the year prior to this snowfall.  That's 4.29 inches below our annual precipitation average this time of year... and in a place that gets only 11.5 inches of precip a year, that's a big deal! 

But if we can't get spring snow, we will take fall snow!  As you see below, the prairie is almost buried.  We have about 6 inches, which will melt over the next week and allow the parched ground to soak up the moisture slowly.

Keep your fingers crossed that this winter we can make up some precipitation ground.  

Written by Brenna Wanous Marsicek


Friday, September 28, 2012

Prairie Dogs and Biodiversity

Today a group of 6th grade students from Wheatland Middle School (Wheatland is in southeastern Wyoming) came to the Berry Center to learn about prairie dogs.  Not just prairie dogs, but the way that prairie dogs benefit and alter their environments, what they eat and what eats them, how prairies rely on such disturbances, and the changes in prairie and prairie dog ranges over time.

Phew!  There are a lot of topics there.  But the students were broken into five groups and shuffled through five 30 minute sessions that focused on:

1. UW Museum of Vertebrates, showing students preserved prairie animals (not limited to prairie dogs) and the importance of preserving historical specimens.

2. Stable Isotope Facility, showing students how scientists can extract stories and information from tissues in animals.  For example, did you know that you can determine which species of prairie dog you have depending on the level of Nitrogen in the body?  Turns out, the white-tailed prairie dog hibernates and can't expel nitrogen-rich urine during the winter so stores it up in its body, where as the black-tailed prairie dog is active all year round?

3. Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, where students learned about keystone species, prairie dog ranges (historical and current), how prairie dogs change their environments, and more.

4. Rocky Mountain Herbarium, showing students prairie plants that were collected from the Wheatland area and preserved for research.  Some of the specimens are over 100 years old!

5. The Berry Prairie, where students learned about the prairie biodiversity (plants, herbivores, carnivores), rain shadows and why we have short-, mixed- and tall-grass prairies, above versus below ground biomass (75% of a prairie plant is underground!), and how to use a dichotomous key to identify grass species.

Jennifer Richards, a Master's student in UW Ecosystem Science and Management, explains a dichotomous key.

It was a LOT of fun, the kids were really engaged in the lessons, and I think they left with the prairie ecosystem a little closer to their hearts.  As they should.  Because prairies are fabulous.

Students imprinted grasses that they identified on photo-reactive paper, mounted an herbarium label, and took a
shadow of the prairie home with them.

Written by Brenna Wanous Marsicek

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fall 2012: Burgundy Galore!

The Berry Prairie has been back in business for about three weeks now.  It's incredible how hardy these plants are!  In fact, now that fall is here and leaves are turning, the grasses are finishing flowering, everything is going into senescence, you can't even tell it underwent a major overhaul just a month ago!

Wide view of the prairie 2012

Little Bluestem has the best fall color for grasses, check out that beautiful burgundy!

Close up view of the grasses

This same week in 2011 the prairie was much greener!  Take a look at the differences:

Wide view of the prairie 2011

There's more to explore if you stop by.  Check it out!

Written by Brenna Wanous Marsicek

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prairie Spotlight: Liatris

As summer turns to fall, only one hardy plant remains in flower on the Berry Prairie. We’ve had several good frosts already, and every morning is crisp. But Liatris, also known by the colorful names blazing star and gayfeather, hasn’t yet entirely succumbed. 

You might not guess from looking, that Liatris is member of the sunflower family (see Prairie Spotlight:The Asters). But at close range, each puffy, purple “flower” can be seen to be made up of several small flowers, each with five little petals and two long stigma branches. 

Our blazing stars are blazing out, but this one has made seeds. We’re hoping for lots of seedlings come spring!

Seeds of Liatris are called achenes (like all sunflower family seeds). The hairs are called the pappus, and assist in dispersal—just like the pappus on a dandelion seed.

There are several species of Liatris that are found across North America (two just in the Laramie Basin!)—the most common one in Wyoming is L. punctata, aka dotted blazing star (see below). This and several other species are used as ornamentals because of their good looks, their appeal to butterflies, and their tough constitution.  Their long taproots make them very drought tolerant—a trait that was especially adaptive this summer! 

L. punctata in a Missouri prairie

Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Return to Normalcy

After three full months of chaos surrounding the green roof defects (holes in the roof caused by human error, pulling up the green roof, drying out and replacing the roof layers, flood testing the layers and putting the soil back on), the plants are going back in!

The process started yesterday (Tuesday) morning.  The plants were hauled from the Jacoby Golf Course in northeastern Laramie to the Berry Center, where they were grouped by section (section indicated by the different colored tags in the plants and by tape on the railings) and identified by species (the number listed on each tag).

Then, following the original map created by the architectural firm that designed the Berry Center and the green roof, Malone Belton Abel, we arranged the plants as closely as we could to the original schematic.  This is important not only from a design standpoint, but also for Kyle's research

We spent all of yesterday and half of today just arranging plants.  Thousands and thousands of plants. 

And at 1:00 this afternoon, the crew started the last phase: plant installation!

More soon, as these plants readjust to life on a green roof before fall arrives.

Written by Brenna Wanous Marsicek

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Prairie Reconstruction

The past two days have been impressively productive on the green roof.  Once the leak monitoring system was check out (see "The Last Leak Test"), the landscape fabric, gravel, irrigation system and growing medium have been put back on, and today the pathway and boulders were reinstalled.  Take that Humpty Dumpty!

Some photos to tell the story:

The crew laid a layer of growing medium and then the drip irrigation system, to be followed by another layer of "soil."

The massive conveyor belt that moved the growing medium onto the green roof. 

The pavers are patiently awaiting reinstallation.

Pathway going back in!  The construction company followed the original blue prints to match what was in place before.

Hauling boulders to put back on the green roof.

It's starting to look like normal!

The crew is mounding up the hills again to mimic what the prairie was like before.

The plants will go back in on Tuesday, September 4!

Written by Brenna Wanous Marsicek, Berry Center


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Final Leak Test

The roof passed its first leak test with flying colors (see "Moment of truth") and its second, and its third. These last two were to find leaks in the top membrane, and were, like the first, accomplished by flooding the roof and letting the water stand for at least 24 hours.  But—how to tell if there’s a leak in the top membrane when we know there’s none in the bottom? A leak in the bottom membrane would result in water in the collection room (Oh No!), while a leak in the top membrane would only mean water between the membranes. Invisible? Yes. Undetectable? NO!

The roof was designed and built with a leak detection system specifically to pick up leaks in the top membrane BEFORE there’s a hole in the bottom membrane. 

Here’s how it works:
Between the two membranes is a screen that looks like ordinary window screening (see the screen in the photo below). A wire is attached to the screen, so that it can be electrified. Above the top membrane there are also wires—generally around the periphery, including around the drains—so that when the surface of the membrane is covered with water, and the wires are plugged in, there is a continuous electric field above the membrane. The electric fields of the screen below and the water above should be completely separate, unless there’s a hole allowing water to connect them. 

Here’s a photo of Adam (International Leak Detector) looking for leaks. The two poles are used to measure the current on the surface. Leaks cause a change in resistance, which is read on the meter around Adam’s neck. Should there be a hole, it can be pinpointed with the two poles.

The test took only about 20 minutes, as Adam walked back and forth. There was a short period of suspense when he stopped walking and poked around, but it turned out to be water running over the lip of the drain, not water running through a hole in the membrane. What a relief!     

To maintain the roof from now on, we’ll be hiring Adam’s employer now and then to re-run the test. They can do this through up to six feet (!) of material above the membrane, so long as the membrane surface is thoroughly wet. This way, we’ll never again discover a leak using the flood-the-collection-room detection system. 

Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center