Weather & Climate

July monsoon clouds seen from Deer Trap Mesa in Los Alamos. (Photo by Craig Martin)

This week on Take It Outside, we are exploring weather and climate. Explore monsoon season, build a weather station, play in the rain, and more!

Summer Nature Challenge:

You’ll earn this weather sticker by participating in Weather & Climate Week!

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

If you don’t have a printer or prefer to work online, you can tell us about your experiences in the Google Form below or email your stories and pictures to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

 

Blog Post:

In this week’s blog post, PEEC volunteer Jean Dewart explores the science behind the monsoon season in Northern New Mexico and gives an update on outlooks for the 2020 season. Read it here.

Outdoor Challenges:

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! You can do this in the Google Form below, by writing or drawing about them on our summer challenge sheet, or by sending an email to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

 

Challenge #1 – Play in the Rain!

One of the best things about rain is to get outside and splash in it. Smell the petrichor, feel the cool drops on your skin, take off your shoes, dance, sink your fingers into the mud, and float leaves and sticks in rivulets. Be aware of traffic, lightning (stay inside if you hear thunder), and flash flooding (avoid canyons when rain is falling in the watershed).

 

PEEC volunteers Dave North and Akkana Peck installing the weather station at the Los Alamos Nature Center. (Photo by Rachel Landman)

Challenge #2 – Build a Weather Station:

There are good reasons to have your own weather station. For one thing, weather can be extremely localized. Comparing rain and other measurements with neighbors only a few blocks away can give very different results. Knowing the nearby air temperature also gives you a better idea of when to open and close windows, turn on fans, and how to employ other low-cost and energy-efficient alternatives to using heat or air conditioning.

You can craft a simple weather station with household materials using this guide from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). With it you can craft tools to measure wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, rainfall, and more at your house! 

This week, we challenge you to build at least one of these instruments and take a weather-related measurement at your house. Let us know what you record!

Did you know that we have our own weather station at the Los Alamos Nature Center? Check out its readings on Weather Underground!

Thanks to PEEC volunteer Dave North for sharing some weather station tips for this challenge!

 

Exploring the outdoors after a rain can be a great time to observe wildlife! This summer camper discovered a worm in August 2019! (Photo by Denise Matthews)

Challenge #3 – Rain and the Ecosystem:

Water is life! Observe how wildlife and plants behave after rain. Look for evidence of the following:

  • Worms emerging from the ground
  • Insect larvae hatching in stagnant water
  • Birds and other wildlife drinking from and bathing in puddles
  • Plant leaves changing from a wilted to perky appearance
  • Seeds germinating in damp soil
  • Lawns and natural areas greening over several days

 

Want to Learn More?

  • Did you know that you can get a nearly real-time professional weather readout from Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Weather Machine. Check out this page to explore the weather in Los Alamos County.
  • If you were inspired by this week’s outdoor challenge, you can purchase a weather station to set up at home for more accurate readings. According to Dave North, there’s no real need to spend top dollar. The accuracy difference — if any — between the most expensive amateur units and cheaper units is not really significant. Be sure to calibrate your machine if you decide to get one! This is an important step to get accurate readings. Learn more about personal weather stations here.
  • Check out NASA’s Climate Kids page for interactive learning about our climate.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. If you’d like this to count for the Summer Nature Challenge, be sure to include your name and email address.

Monsoon Season

Monsoon season brings heavy rains, and impressive clouds, to New Mexico. Enjoy the moisture, but be sure to head inside if there is thunder and lightning! (Photo by Craig Martin)

By Jean Dewart

During the fall, winter, and spring, precipitation is brought to New Mexico by midlatitude westerly winds. As the jet stream moves north in the late spring and early summer, Northern New Mexico typically comes under the influence of the North American Monsoon weather pattern. The word monsoon comes from the Arabic word mausim, which means weather. Owing to the yearly appearance of torrential rain in the Middle East, indicating a marked shift in weather, the concept of monsoon gradually came out of mausim.

During the summer months, the Bermuda high pressure moves west into the Gulf of Mexico and the central high plains of the United States and a low pressure area is created by the high temperatures of the Phoenix, Arizona – Las Vegas, Nevada areas. These circulations combine to bring moisture into Mexico, and produce southerly winds that bring this moisture into Arizona and New Mexico (see figure below).

Figure republished from “Arizona and the North American Monsoon System” by Michael Cummins, September 2006. (University of Arizona, republished with permission)

In 2008, the National Weather Service defined the North American Monsoon season as June 15 to September 30. Significant rainfalls that have a moisture source in Mexico typically begin during the first week in July in Los Alamos. The 1981– 2010 average monsoon precipitation in Los Alamos is 9.28 inches and has ranged from as low as 3.15 inches in 1956 to as high as 17.58 inches in 1952. The 1981 – 2010 average monsoon precipitation in White Rock is 6.46 inches and has ranged from as low as 1.66 inches in 1980 and as high as 13.33 inches in 2013.

What can we expect for our 2020 monsoon season? It has certainly gotten off to a slow start, with 0.46 inches of rainfall in Los Alamos and 0.23 inches of rainfall in White Rock, from June 15 – July 12. National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Church of the Albuquerque NWS office, has done an evaluation of this year’s monsoon season — it can be found here.

The author has looked at the impacts of equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures, planetary scale atmospheric circulations, and various model predictions from many countries. He concludes that New Mexico will have an average to slightly below average monsoon season. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for an average season!

Week 9, Day 5: The Future of Our Climate

Rendija Crack is a beautiful trail to hike anytime of year, but especially when the leaves begin to change in the fall. Today, we’re considering how climate change may impact the landscape that we know today. (Photo by Craig Martin)

During week nine of Take It Outside, we are learning about our climate! Join us on Monday as we kick off week ten of this initiative to learn more about reptiles and amphibians.

Today, we’re thinking about the future of our landscapes due to climate change and are considering some ideas for living in a more sustainable way.

Upcoming Event:

Tune in for tonight’s astronomy talk at 7 PM. PEEC volunteer Paul Arendt will take a look at what is coming up in May and June’s night skies by highlighting the planets, star patterns, nebulae, and constellations that may be readily observed. This program is perfect for beginner stargazers who want to learn more. The talk is free to watch, but registration is required. Find out more and sign up here.

Blog Post:

Los Alamos High School senior Kathryn Laintz reflects on how fire has changed our landscape and the ways in which climate change could continue to do so. Read her blog post here.

Craft:

We had an upcycled outfit making station at our Earth Day Festival in 2018! (Photo by Rachel Landman)

Buying something new is often the easiest solution, but not usually the most environmentally-friendly option. Take time to consider new products or toys you are planning to purchase. Are there ways to make these items with upcycled materials around your house? Plastic toys especially often build up and are eventually thrown out. 

Learn about some upcycling ideas here and how you can make your own fairy houses, planters, drums, and even a bubble refill station! Get instructions for these fun, upcycled crafts and more here. Let us know what you make!

 

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

We can learn a lot about living sustainably with our natural resources by observing native plants and animals that are adapted to our climate. Go outside today and look for beauty in the plants and animals that make do with the resources that nature provides.

Are there any ideas you can bring back for your own home and garden? Could you encourage more native plants in your yard? Could you be like a lizard and use the sun and shade to keep your home warm or cool?

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Turn off your screen and use nature for your entertainment! Take a walk with a family member, read a book under a tree, or do some stargazing.

While you’re out there, think of an action you can commit to that will help mitigate climate change. It could be a change you make in your personal life, like adding one meatless meal a week, or walking instead of driving. It could be something you do with an organization, like changing processes and procedures at your work or school, or it could be something at the public level, like deciding to run for office, or organizing or participating in a climate movement. Tell a friend or family member your idea, and let them help you stay accountable!

If you want, you can send your idea to us at takeitoutside@peecnature.org or by using the form below, and we can check back with you and see how you’re doing!

How You Can Help:

  • There are lots of things people of all ages and means can do to help mitigate climate change. Here are some ideas from NASA for things kids can do.
  • Here are some other ideas that adults can do. We have started doing many things differently during the coronavirus crisis, and some of them, like cutting back on travel, have positive environmental impacts. Challenge yourself to think of a change you can make permanent in your life.
  • You can increase your impact by involving your organization. Learn more about what PEEC is doing to try to be more sustainable in this Nature Notes article. We recently challenged the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce to adopt sustainability goals and practices of their own and hope they will continue to pass the challenge around town!
  • Make your voice heard! If you are eligible to vote in New Mexico, you have until May 28 to request an absentee ballot for the primary election at NMVote.org. The deadline to register to vote in the primary election has passed, but now is a good time to get registered for future elections if you aren’t registered.
  • Ensuring that you are properly recycling is an easy way to live more sustainably! If you missed the live-stream, check out our Recycling 101 presentation on our YouTube channel.
  • Some Los Alamos youths are organizing a local chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led political movement focused on stopping climate change and creating green jobs in the process. Check out Sunrise Movement Northern New Mexico on Facebook or Instagram, or email them for more information.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what you learn about our climate this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us next week to discover more about reptiles and amphibians!

Week 9, Day 4: Paleoclimates of New Mexico

Participants hold up a shark tooth that they found on a PEEC geology outing to Shark’s Tooth Ridge. (Photo by Denise Matthews)

During week nine of Take It Outside, we are learning about our climate!

New Mexico hasn’t always been home to the dry desert and mountainous landscapes that we know today. Did you know that our state was once under water? In our past, ocean creatures and dinosaurs occupied our home!

We can study paleoclimates, the climates that were prevalent in our geological past, to better understand the climates we live in today.

Upcoming Event:

Join PEEC’s Ashleigh Lusher today for our Critter Chronicles live-stream! Ashleigh will introduce Hazel, the Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail Lizard, via YouTube livestream at 11 AM. She will take questions about Hazel and our critters via the live chat.

This program will last for about 15 minutes, and will also be available to watch on our YouTube channel after the live event. Tune in here.

Blog Post:

PEEC Educator and geologist Siobhan Niklasson explores the paleoclimates of New Mexico in today’s blog post. Learn about the creatures that once roamed — or swam around — the place we now call home.

Craft:

A fossil-bearing specimen found on a PEEC geology trip to Rio Puerco. (Photo by David Schiferl)

Make a fossil today! This fun, hands-on craft can be made with cold coffee, coffee grounds, flour, and salt. Use toy dinosaurs, shells, or other small objects to make your imprint. You can also try out leaves, sticks, rocks, and other natural materials that you might find in your yard and want to preserve!

If you have a sandbox or sandy area in your yard, you can take the fossils outside once they’ve hardened and have your own paleontological dig! You can also make a small hole in the top of your fossil and hang it up in your house or use it as an ornament.

Find instructions here. The coffee adds a nice color and grittiness to the fossils, but isn’t necessary for this craft. If you don’t have coffee drinkers in your house, here are some coffee-free instructions.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Go outside and try to imagine our marine past! Read today’s blog post, then pretend you are a creature living in the Western Interior Seaway: maybe a fish, or a shark, or a long-necked plesiosaur. Maybe you are the mighty mosasaur! What do you need to survive? What do you eat? Who might eat you?

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Look for examples of the carbon cycle in action. There are reservoirs where carbon is stored, and processes that move it around. Find out more about processes in the carbon cycle here.

Go outside and look for evidence of the carbon cycle in action. For instance, plants combine carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with water to make sugars and new cells. When animals breathe, each breath moves carbon dioxide from the animal’s cells into the atmosphere. Our volcanic rocks are evidence that materials were moved from rocks out to the atmosphere, and burned forests moved carbon from trees to the atmosphere.

Think of human impacts. How do our activities, fossil fuel use, agriculture, and industry, move carbon?

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what you learn about our climate this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us tomorrow to learn about the future of our climate!

Who Roamed Our Home?

Plesiosaurs once lived in the waters that covered our state. Fossils have been found at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which is about a 3 hour drive from Los Alamos. (NPS Illustration)

By Siobhan Niklasson

We’re familiar with the climate of New Mexico as it is now, but the climate of this part of the world hasn’t always been the same!

The primary variable controlling climate on Earth is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When there’s more carbon dioxide, the atmosphere can trap more of the sun’s heat, and when there’s less carbon dioxide, more of the sun’s heat is reflected back into space. It’s like using different blankets at night: some are warmer than others.

The total amount of carbon on Earth is pretty much constant, but it’s not all in the atmosphere. Carbon can also be stored in rocks, in the ocean, or in living things. So the balance of carbon between the atmosphere and other reservoirs is what determines the warmth of our atmospheric blanket. You can think of it this way: sometimes you might have a lot of blankets on your bed, and sometimes they might be folded up and stored in the closet.

During the Cretaceous period (145 – 66 million years ago), the global climate on Earth was warmer than it is now. The supercontinent Pangea had started to break up, and the volcanic activity that accompanied this breakup moved lots of carbon from the rocks into the atmosphere. Because of the warm temperatures, the sea level was higher than it is now, and the divided land masses allowed warm ocean currents to carry heat all around the globe.

Map showing North America as it was during the late Cretaceous period. The tan is land and the blue is water. Look at the state outlines. Would your home be on the land or in the water? (Image by US Geological Survey)

In fact, during this period, a shallow sea stretched north to south across all of what is now North America. The western part of New Mexico was a low-lying coastline with huge rivers and dense jungle vegetation. The central and eastern parts of New Mexico were under water.

Imagine being right here in New Mexico during the late Cretaceous period: you’d be swimming in a warm, shallow sea, with oysters clustering on surfaces. Ammonites, spiral-shelled creatures related to octopuses, would be swimming by. A variety of bony fish and sharks shared the waters. Reptiles, including sea turtles, plesiosaurs, flying pterosaurs, and the giant apex predators, mosasaurs, swam and hunted here too. We can see examples of each of these animals in Cretaceous-age fossil finds from New Mexico.

The Cretaceous period marked the last time that New Mexico was underwater. During the Tertiary period following it (66 – 2.6 million years ago), the Rocky Mountains were uplifted, and the climate on the globe cooled significantly, as excess carbon was stored in fossil fuels and limestone rocks, and ocean currents changed to create distinct climate zones from the poles to the tropics. So our underwater past is now apparent only in the fossil record.

Currently, human activity is moving carbon from geologic storage into the atmosphere again, primarily through the excavation and burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide levels are rising in the atmosphere, and we’re seeing a rapid increase in temperature. We know from our geologic history that different climates favor different assemblages of organisms, so it remains to be seen how our natural and human communities will change in response to today’s changing climate.