California Heartbeat Initiative soars ahead

By Kathleen Wong, UC Natural Reserve System

A University of California project to study the availability of water in California’s ecosystems is off to a soaring start.

The California Heartbeat Initiative (CHI) uses drones, sap flow meters, and other remote sensing techniques to monitor the water status of plants across large swaths of the landscape. The project aims to interpret water status in plants, traditionally measured by hand, using drone and satellite imagery. The information gleaned will be critical for California’s ability to cope with the searing effects of climate change on water and wildlife.

The CHI team is conducting overflights and obtaining soil, climate, and plant water status information at more than a dozen sites up and down California. Most are NRS reserves, and span habitats ranging from desert to conifer forest, chaparral to coastal shorelines, mountains and oak woodlands.

NRS reserve sites in the project include:

Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center
Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center
Angelo Coast Range Reserve in Mendocino County
Santa Cruz Island Reserve
Blue Oak Ranch Reserve
Quail Ridge Reserve
Valentine Camp
Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory

Two UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Research and Extension Centers, Hopland and Sierra Foothills, are serving as CHI sites as well.

California Heartbeat Initiative soars ahead 1

CHI data will be made available to policy makers, land managers, scientists, and the general public via a central data portal.

CHI information will help people forecast likely routes and risks of wildfires, manage populations of endangered plants and at risk wildlife, and manage water resources to protect human and environmental health.

“This project was envisioned to help ensure California has a resilient environmental future in an era of major climate change,” says Peggy Fiedler, executive director of the UC Natural Reserve System.

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