How do trees talk? We have found answers to all your questions about nature.
Curiosity is the root of adventure. You let it take you to the next switchback, next view, next trail. Likewise, it probably makes you wonder about everything from the color of the sky to why your knees are killing you. We’ve rounded up the most burning questions and spent weeks combing through manuals, deciphering diagrams and reaching out to experts to find the answers. The result? Dozens of facts that will impress even your most cultured hiking partner and leave you with a new appreciation for our world. (Here we answer questions about nature. Check out our deep dives into hiker gear and physiology.)
Most mountains form near the edges of continents or in volcanic regions. How did the Rockies appear in the middle of nowhere?
The classic answer is that an oceanic tectonic plate has been pushed very far below the west coast. According to the theory, “the slab essentially brushed the bottom of the North American plate, and much like pushing a rug across slippery ground, the plate began to ripple in front of where it was being pushed.” explains Craig Jones, professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“It’s a very good idea, but there are inconsistencies with what we see on the ground,” he said. Instead, Jones’s lab does not believe these pushing forces are what created the Rockies per se. Instead, they think the sliding plate is coupled to the upper plate as it descends. During this time, the flow of magma between the plates created strong suction forces that pulled the plates together. The sinking plate was pulled up and the top plate was pulled down, eventually leaving a depression into which masses of rock could fall. To get an idea of how this works, imagine you have a trampoline covered in tennis balls. Now if you crawl under the trampoline and pinch it in the middle and pull down, the tennis balls will roll and collect in the hollow you created. That’s what Jones thinks happened: Geological stress beneath the continent caused the plate to dip, inviting tons and tons of rock to slide inward and accumulate for millions of years. years, creating the mountain range.
Can trees really communicate?
Believe it or not, trees are real talkers. They release chemicals into the air, transmit electrochemical signals through their roots, and exchange carbon and nutrients through vast underground fungal networks. It is according to Suzanne Simard, professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia and author of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. Simard also suspects that trees send signals via the “gazillions of species” of bacteria and microbes in the soil. But what are they talking about? “There’s information in these chemical compounds that can tell nearby trees whether or not there are enemies, like a herbivore eating the leaves or a pathogen that’s affecting the tree,” says Simard. “Neighboring trees detect these compounds, and they are able to increase their own defense against any threat.” Trees are also able to sense the species and relatedness of each of their neighbors and preferentially send nutrients to their offspring. But it’s not just butterflies and rainbows: “There’s collaboration, but there’s also competition,” explains Simard. “Some communications are benevolent, and some are malevolent, just like human language.”
How long does it take for poo to decompose in a cathole?
One to three years (longer in cold or dry environments).
How is the slope formed?
The embankment is an accumulated rockfall. This is more common at higher elevations due to the violent freeze-thaw cycles: water enters rock fissures, then freezes and expands, tearing off pieces of the cliff face over time.
Why do mountain goats lick urine?
The high altitude vegetation is preciously poor in salt and other essential minerals. You know what isn’t? Pee.
How are solar cups formed?
“Suncups are those features that form on equatorial glaciers and in warmer climates. Usually you see them on glacial ice or firn, which is basically old, compacted snow. There are a few common assumptions as to how they start, but I’d say the best theory is that the dust or dirt specks are shading the snow below, so the snow around the dust speck is melting faster than the snow below. This gives you preferential melting, which can cause a scallop to form. When you get a steeper angle on these features, the sun hits the sides of the cup at an oblique angle but hits perpendicular to the divots. Thus, the divots melt faster than the walls of the cups. These can get quite extreme. I’ve guided up Mount Rainier, hacked waist-deep suncups, and it’s abhorrent. You can also see the same thing happen with large boulders – you might have a multi-ton boulder sitting on a narrow pedestal of snow due to this shading effect. It’s wild. —Max Lurie, AMGA Alpine Guide, Glacier Guide and Amateur Glaciologist
How do lichens grow on rock?
Lichens are made up of two organisms working together: an algae and a fungus. Because they are not plants (and have no roots), lichens do not need soil. Instead, they stick to rock with fleshy anchors called “rhizines” or “hold-fasts” and absorb water and nutrients through their leafy skin.
What causes alpenglow?
According to Stephen Corfidi, a meteorologist from the The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the orange-red to fluorescent pink hues that bathe the high peaks at first light are the result of the same phenomena as the beautiful sunsets. Basically, we usually perceive the sky as blue because particles in the atmosphere reflect short-wavelength light — blues and purples — back to our eyes. But at sunset and sunrise, the sun is so low in the sky that its rays travel farther before reaching us. Thus, the “filtering effect” of the atmosphere is stronger. By the time the light reaches the viewer at the far end of the horizon, all the blue disperses and only the red remains. “The mountains act like a giant cinema screen,” Corfidi explains, capturing these filtered rays.
What is a cryptobiotic soil? Does it really take 100 years to regrow after someone steps on it?
Cryptobiotic soil, also known as biological soil crust, is a hardened, bumpy layer found above ground in desert ecosystems that traps moisture and prevents erosion. For the crust to form, tiny cyanobacteria must colonize the soil and “glue it together” to establish lichens and mosses. The organisms that make up the crust only grow when it rains. According to Jayne Belnap, a researcher at the United States Geological Survey, damaged crusts can rebound after just 10 years in wet places like Idaho. As for dry Moab, Utah? Make that 70 or more. The takeaway: Stay on track. Even areas that appear barren could be at a critical stage of recovery.
Why is this patch of snow pink?
Two possible answers. The first is a species of cold-loving algae (probably Chlamydomonas nivalis) that performs photosynthesis and is pink in color. The second? Well, let’s just say you should ditch the beets.