FT 11 - Karst, Caves and Quercus: Where in the Soil-Rock System Do Trees Roots Fit In?

Sunday, August 7, 2011: 7:00 AM-5:00 PM
Trinity Street Lobby Field Trip Pick Up, Austin Convention Center
Organizer: Benjamin F. Schwartz
Participants on this field trip will visit Cave Without A Name, a beautiful limestone cavern in the Texas Hill Country that is considered Texas’ best kept secret among show caves (http://www.cavewithoutaname.com/). A spiral staircase and short trail leads 24 m down to view large columns, stalactites, stalagmites, and draperies that divide the passage into four distinct sections. The speleothems include some of best rimstone dams and cave bacon in Texas. After touring the cave, participants will be introduced to an ongoing research project to examine the linkages between epikarst hydrology and the gas exchange dynamics of the species-rich forest above. Typical for the eastern Edwards Plateau, soils are exceedingly rocky and shallow in the area, and tree roots explore the epikarst, a transition zone between the soil and the bedrock bedding below. This zone is typically several meters thick and extremely heterogeneous in composition featuring fractured limestone layers, soil lenses and clay layers. Unlike the interactions between roots and soils, which are well understood, the interactions between roots and rocks are highly uncertain, including the quantification of epikarst storage capacity for water, recharge and depletion dynamics. At this site, researchers from Texas State University measure several components of the hydrological cycle, both below-ground (cave drip rates) and above-ground (sapflow rates) and use stable isotope techniques to develop more appropriate ecohydrological models for karst areas and other landscapes where root development is impeded by fractured rock layers. The trip will also highlight the public outreach component of this project, which involves the collaboration between a private enterprise and a public university to educate visitors to the cave on issues of water conservation and the ecosystem services provided by intact forests. Participants will have lunch at a nearby winery.

Registration Fee: $88

Equipment and Attire: Participants will need to be dressed for hot weather and a short walk through the forest (shoes, long pants, sunglasses and hat required).

Itinerary: 7 am departure from Austin Convention Center, 9 am arrive at Cave Without A Name. Tour of the cave and scientific presentation: 9:30 to 12:30 am. Drive to local Winery, arrive 1:00 pm. Depart 3:00, arrive back at Convention Center 5:00 pm.

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Banner photo by Flickr user greg westfall.