Stanford White Mountains Geobotanical Research Group
Objectives, Methods, Staff, Acknowledgements
Publications, Reference Books, and Links

Our Questions. Which plants grow where? What determines where they grow? How important is geology? What can we learn from aerial photographs and satellite images? Our goals include description of the interelationships between vegetation and its physical setting in a portion of the White-Inyo Mountains of California, home of the westernmost groves of ancient Bristlecone Pines. We're doing this to help interpret and calibrate multispectral remote sensing images collected over the same area. Success should improve our ability to map geology and vegetation using multispectral aerial and satellite imagery, for purposes of enviromental census, assessment of changes associated with atmospheric pollution, global warming or water table changes caused by overuse of water supplies.

This site presents a partial set of photographs of plants and flowers seen at some of our field sites in the Spring. Spring comes later at high altitude, so was well under way at 8000 feet but just starting above 12000 in early July, 2000.

How Physical Setting Affects Vegetation. The species and vigor of plants depend on availability of nutrients, water, sunlight, temperature and the length of the growing season among many other variables. Nutrients are supplied by the soil and the bedrock from which it is derived. In the higher reaches of the White Mountains, water is supplied by precipitation, rain and snow. Precipitation is sparse at the base of the mountains in Owens Valley, but increases with altitude. Average temperature, the growing season, and the depth of soil that remains unfrozen during the growing season all decrease with altitude. Local microclimate temperatures, precipitation, and insolation or sunlight intensity, though, depend on exactly where we are, in a meadow, on a hillside, or atop a ridge or mountain. If we are on a slope, microclimate depends on the steepness of the slope, the geographic direction in which it faces, and whether or not it is protected by other topography. Washes and springs support more varied and more vigorous plants than the hillsides around them.

What We Do. At fifty-eight 50 x 50 m field sites chosen to represent some of the many microclimates in the White Mountains and contrasting microclimates at the same altitude, field teams annually tabulate dominant local rock types and plant species and estimate the percentage of the field site area covered by each. This is the information "seen" by aircraft or satellite spectral "cameras" or scanners that might be used to map vegetation and geology in new locations. We collect topographic information from U. S. Geological Survey maps and field observation. We compile results in GIS databases and compare results with spectral remote sensing images along flight lines decided in cooperation with NASA's AVIRIS program. In addition, larger areas adjacent to the 58 detailed sites are assessed semiquantitatively in terms of ecosystem assemblages (the most abundant trees and plants present), in order to place the detailed sites in a regional framework.

Who Are We? Gary Ernst, Principal Investigator, Chris Van de Ven, Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Stu Weiss, Research Associate, and Ron Lyon, Remote Sensing Co-Investigator, define objectives and lead the project. They and George Parks, Photographer, are all on the staff of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University. Field teams are Stanford undergraduate students aided, when possible, by interested botanists, naturalists, and geologists from Stanford or other institutions.

Who Supports Us? The White Mountain Research Station of the University of California, in generous response to formal research proposals, make their staff, field stations, and resources available. The Stanford Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education of provides partial funding for the field teams. NASA flys the transects and makes available the AVIRIS data at no cost to the project.

Reference Books and Maps, and our Publications

Hall, Clarence A., Jr., Editor (1991) Natural History of the White-Inyo Range, Eastern California. University of California Press, Berkeley. This is the bible.

AAA, (1997) Guide to the Eastern Sierra. Automobile Club of Southern California. Excellent maps, guides to campgrounds and points of interest, and hints on travel, health and safety. See links listed below for more information like this.

SWMGRG Publications

Ernst, W.G., and Hall, C.A., Jr., 1987, Geology of the Mount Barcroft- Blanco Mountain area, eastern California: Geol. Soc. Amer. Maps and Charts Ser. MCH066, scale 1:24,000.

Nelson, C.A., Hall, C.A., Jr., and Ernst, W.G., 1991, Geologic history of the White-Inyo Range: p. 42-74 in C.A. Hall, Jr. (ed.), Natural History of the White-Inyo Range, California: Univ. Calif. Nat. Hist. Guides, v. 55.

Ernst, W.G., Nelson, C.A., and Hall, C.A., Jr., 1993, Geology and metamorphic mineral assemblages of Precambrian and Cambrian rocks of the central White-Inyo Range, eastern California: Calif. Div. Mines and Geol., Map Sheet 46, scale 1:62,500, accompanying text 26 p.

Nelson, C.A., and Ernst, W.G., 1994, Bedrock geology of the Crooked Creek area, southern White Mountains, eastern California: p. 9-14 in Hall, C.A., Jr., and Widawski, B., (eds.), Crooked Creek Guidebook: Univ. Calif. White Mountain Research Station, Los Angeles.

Ernst, W.G., 1994, Metamorphic petrology of noncalcareous uppermost Precambrian and Lower Cambrian strata in the Crooked Creek area, southern White Mountains, eastern California: p. 53-61 in Hall, C.A., Jr., and Widawski, B., (eds.), Crooked Creek Guidebook: Univ. Calif. White Mountain Research Station, Los Angeles.

Russell, P., Lyon, R.J.P., and Ernst, W.G., 1994, Weathering of the Reed Dolomite as a function of elevation, White-Inyo Range: evidence from an infrared spectral study: p. 62-85 in Hall, C.A., Jr., and Widawski, B., (eds.), Crooked Creek Guidebook: Univ. Calif. White Mountain Research Station, Los Angeles.

Paylor, E. D., II, and Ernst, W. G., 1994, Structure and stratigraphy of the Reed Dolomite, central White-Inyo Range: geologic conclusions from remote-sensing investigations: p. 86-98 in Hall, C.A., Jr., and Widawski, B., (eds.), Crooked Creek Guidebook: Univ. Calif. White Mountain Research Station, Los Angeles.

Ernst, W.G., and Paylor, E.D., II, 1996, Study of the Reed Dolomite aided by remotely sensed imagery, central White-Inyo Range, easternmost California: Amer. Assoc. Petroleum Geol. Bull., v. 80, p. 1008-1026.

Ernst, W.G., 1996, Petrochemical study of regional/contact metamorphism in metaclastic strata of the central White-Inyo Range, eastern California: Geol. Soc. Amer. Bull., v. 108, p. 1528-1548.

Ernst, W. G., 1997, Metamorphism of mafic dikes from the central White-Inyo Range, eastern California: Contrib. Mineral. Petrology, v. 128, p. 30-44.

Ernst, W.G., and Nelson, C. A. (eds.), 1998, Integrated Earth and Environmental Evolution of the Southwestern United States: International Book Series, Volume 1, Geol. Soc. America, Boulder, CO, and Bellwether Publishing Ltd, Columbia, MD, 502 p.

Lyon, R. J. P., Ernst, W. G., and Van de Ven, C., 1999, Ground-sampling constraints on analysis of path-corrected AVIRIS hyperspectral data, White-Inyo Range, eastern California: Proc. 13th Int. Conf. Applied Geol. Remote Sensing (ERIM), Vancouver, B. C., Canada, p. 324-331.

Van de Ven, C., Ernst, W. G., and Lyon, R. J. P., 1999, Early mineralogical results from AVIRIS data over the White-Inyo Mountains: Jet Propulsion Laboratory AVIRIS Earth Sci. Applications Workshop, Feb. 8-11, 1999, p. 413-422.

Van de Ven, C., Ernst, W. G., Lyon, R. J. P., and Strawa, A.W., in press, Analysis of the relationships between geologic substrate and vegetation in the White-Inyo Mountains of eastern California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory AVIRIS Earth Sci. Applications Workshop, Feb. 23-25, 2000, p.--

Ernst, W. G., in review, Petrochemical contrasts in igneous rocks of the Mount Barcroft area-implications for arc evolution, central White Mountains, easternmost California: Geol. Soc. Amer. Bull., v..


The White Mountain Research Station of the University of California. Site provides description, access, travel and high altitude advice, and pictures.
The U. S. Forest Service Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Special Interest Area. Site provides description of the area, travel advice, rules and regulations, and links to many related pages and sites of interest in the Easter Sierra.

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine. This site describes the White-Inyo Mountains with particular emphasis on tree ring dating and the habitat and life cycles of the trees themselves. Good photographs, links, and advice on access and photography.

Cal Photos: Plants: The University of California's 20000-image database of plant and flower photos. The database is searchable by common or scientific name, location, color, etc. Site includes links to a similar wildlife collection.

Plant and Flower Identification
for Amateurs

Our site presents a small collection of plant and flower pictures that may help you familiarize yourself with species you see. Our collection is only a small sample of the species native to the White Mountains, however, and we concentrate on closeups of flowers.

Preparation for the field. If you have a list of plants you expect to see, it will probably help to familiarize your self with their shapes and general appearance in advance. There is a very extensive, searchable collection of flower and whole-plant photos at Cal Photos: Plants. Search terms include one or more among plant name (scientific or common), photo type (moss, fern, flower, shrub, etc.), location (continent, e.g., North America or country, state, California county), flower color, etc.

Artemesia species, for example, are ubiquitous in our area. You can retrieve a collection of 45 photos of artemisia species by searching on the general species name "artemisia" and the continent "North America", leaving all other possible entries blank. If you search on artemisia tridentata and North America, you'll retrieve six photos of that specific species. The page(s) you retrieve include thumbnail views of the plants or flower and links to more detail about the species, location, etc. Clicking a thumbnail brings up an enlargement.

Identification in the Field. Take a field manual with you. You can check identification volunteered by others by searching through the pictures or looking up common or scientific names in field guides like Hall's Natural History of the White-Inyo Range. Some popular handbooks of wildflowers, e.g., Spellenberg (1979) The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, organizes pictures and descriptions by flower color, then flower shape. This can help identify an unknown flower (not non-blooming plants), but these books omit many high altitude species, while including far more area than ours, so (I at least) check identifications made with audubon against Hall, then try to find someone to verify.

A Word to the Wise. As you'll see in our collection, we have yet to identify several species. Part of the reason is that we neglected to inspect or photograph the whole plants and/or leaves. Both are often essential.