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Earth Dr Reese Halter's Blog


Tag Archives: Nature Conservancy

The exposed structural roots of this ancient Great Basin bristlecone pine resemble arms like that of a giant squid. White Mtns, Calif, Earth Dr Reese Halter's root research circa 1989

The antiquitous sedimentary White Mountains of east central California are home to the world’s oldest living trees – the venerable Great Basin bristlecone pines. Some of these trees have witnessed more than 1.68 million sunrises.

It seems fitting that the oldest trees on Earth should be living on layers of rock that started as sand and mud or shells deposited on the bottom of a shallow, warm sea 600 million years ago.

The White Mountains are the second highest in California next to the Sierra Nevada’s and the third-highest peak at 14,246 feet above sea level. Being located just east of the Sierra’s means that the White Mountains are dry. Most of the scant precipitation falls as snow, the remainder comes as isolated thunderstorms. From November to April the climate is inhospitable with 100 mile per hour winds occurring frequently.

At two miles above sea level the ultraviolet radiation is extreme. July and August are the hottest months, with average temperatures rarely exceeding 50 degrees F. and precipitation is a meager 12 inches per year.

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the lodge

The red-ochre or salmon-colored coastal wolves along the Great Bear Rainforest or mid-coastline of British Columbia are unique and dependant upon intact old growth forests that provide habitat for salmon bearing streams.

Wolves, similarly to humans and a few other highly social animals, work co-operatively by utilizing a division of labor.

Over the past 300 years in North American humans of European descent have relentlessly hunted wolves. In fact, the British Columbia coastal wolf population has been drastically reduced by at least 80 percent.

Coastal wolves are the least known subspecies of gray wolves left on the planet. They live in rugged yet picturesque terrain, which receives more than 7 feet of precipitation annually.

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Sonoran Desert

Recently, I had a chance to spend a couple days exploring Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. It’s truly amazing to see how all the different animals use the desert to make a living.

The Sonoran Desert is spread across 106,000 square miles with about 40 percent of it in the U.S. and 60 percent in Mexico. It ranges in elevation from near sea level to over 3,300 feet along the eastern edge of Arizona. In Arizona it receives both winter and summer precipitation with an annual average of about 13 inches.

It is the most biologically diverse of the four big North American deserts. In fact, there are more than 1,000 species of solitary and social bees in the Sonoran Desert – more than anywhere else on the globe.

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A mass of plastic in the Pacific, increasing tenfold each decade since 1945, is now the size of France and killing everything in its wake. And recently masses of plastic likened to toxic chunky soup has been documented in both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea.

In America consume and discard 33 billion plastic disposable beverage bottles a year. Tens of millions of those bottles are now in the oceans.

Globally, 280 million metric tons of plastic are generated each year. Over 3.5 million pieces of plastic enter the oceans every year. The United Nations Environmental Program now estimates that there are 46,000 floating pieces of plastic for every square kilometer of ocean. Some of that trash circulating the globe is 95 feet deep.

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Story ran in Huffington Post July 13, 2012

Ever wonder why ice cream at the bottom of the carton is chewy and filled with frost? With U.S. sales in 2010 at over $10 billion and more than 1.5 billion gallons of U.S. ice cream produced in 2011, Nestle – the world’s largest food company wants answers.

Nestle scientists are looking to nature for help in revealing exactly which mechanism within ice crystal dynamics is responsible for taking the fun and flavor away from ice cream as it ages in home-freezer’s.

If you are now wondering about ice crystals within ice cream, it turns out that one of nature’s fiercest winter events – avalanches – hold many answers to making tastier ice cream.

Avalanches kill more than 150 people a year around the globe – mostly snow mobiliers, skiers and snow boarders. Imagine a massive slab of snow breaking loose from a mountainside, shattering like broken glass, moving in excess of 80 mph within 5 seconds, and carrying 20 football fields, 10 feet deep with snow. It’s a backcountry enthusiast’s worst nightmare.

So what causes avalanches? And why exactly would Nestle food scientists be interested in them?

Snowpacks are made up of layers of accumulated winter snow. Each layer contains ice grains constantly changing from smaller to larger crystals. Larger ice crystals are weaker because they have fewer bonds compared to smaller more rounded crystals, which are packed snuggly together (just like ice cream when it’s first made and frozen).

Avalanches occur when snowstorms or rainstorms add heavy weight causing instability within existing snowpack layers. In fact, rain in the mountains acts like a lubricant facilitating layers within a snowpack to unlock and slip-slide away.

Avalanche research over the past half century has closely examined the life history and growth of ice crystals as influenced by temperature.

The Institute for Snow & Avalanche Research in Switzerland (SLF) at Davos uses the world’s only x-ray tomography machine to time lapse study ice crystals at temperatures between 32 and minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Coincidentally, most home-freezer settings are maintained at the lower end of this range.

The dynamics of ice cream crystals are in many ways similar to the ever-changing ice crystals within mountain snowpacks. So it seemed very logical that Nestle scientists in Vevey, Switzerland should partner with their SLF brethren in Davos, and that’s exactly what they did.

Ice crystals grow because temperatures fluctuate. Home-freezer’s may be set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit but they, too, vary by a couple degrees on either side. Or, when you take the carton out of the freezer to get a few scoops, the ice cream is exposed to room temperature for a minute or so. When this occurs ice cream slightly melts then it refreezes. When ice cream ages the ice separates from the original ingredients of cream and sugar. Over time, ice cream becomes chewy because it looses water and air, or it becomes frosty (due to crystals growing larger similar to conditions in a snowpack) and harder to scoop.

The Nestle scientists are using the non-invasive x-ray tomography to investigate the shape and size of ice crystals and air bubbles in ice cream cartons under home-freezer conditions. By identifying the main mechanism for growth of crystals within ice cream, Nestle scientists will be able to slow it down by altering their receipt, thereby making yummier ice cream that lasts longer.

Coming soon in your favorite ice cream (and Vanilla still remains the most popular followed closely by Chocolate Chip Mint and Cookies & Cream) a tiny mouthful of nature’s avalanche.

Australia, Radio 1, National: Ockham’s Razor

Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are The Insatiable Bark Beetle and The Incomparable Honeybee

Contact Earth Dr Reese Halter

Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.

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Australia possesses some incredible geologic and botanical records. In the west on Mount Narryer there are four billion year old exposed zircons embedded in rocks that are 3.6 billion years old. On the west coast, the first forms of life – cyanobacteria – are found in stromatolites dating back 3.5 billion years. The southeast is home to the awesome Australian Alps, occupying 9,653 square miles (25,000 square kilometers) or 0.3 percent of the continent.

The Australian Alps are about 311 miles (500 kilometers) long and extend from the state of New South Wales through the Australian Capital Territory into the state of Victoria.

The Alps truly have a storied beginning. Five hundred million years ago the Australian Alps were beneath the ocean and made up of the sea floor mud and sand.

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Story ran in Malibu Times August 8, 2012

The next time you are walking along the seashore, take a closer look at the wave-battered coast. The beauty of this extremely brutal ecosystem is enhanced many fold by a growing understanding of how it works.

There is an intriguing collection of animal and plant life that lives along this edge. They are exposed to harsh physical elements: wind, sun and rain when the water recedes at low tide and waves breaking over them at high tide.

The area between the high and low tides is the inter-tidal zone. I cherish the time to explore this ecosystem.

Have you ever seen a starfish eat a mussel?

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