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Drinking the Clouds

Team Describes Unique Desert Cloud Forest:

Trees that live in an odd desert forest in Oman have found an unusual way to water themselves by extracting moisture from low-lying clouds, MIT scientists report.

In an area that is characterized mostly by desert, the trees have preserved an ecological niche because they exploit a wispy-thin source of water that only occurs seasonally, said Elfatih A.B. Eltahir, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and former MIT graduate student Anke Hildebrandt.

After studying the Oman site, they also expressed concern that the unusual forest could be driven into extinction if hungry camels continue eating too much of the foliage. As the greenery disappears it’s possible the trees will lose the ability to pull water from the mist and recharge underground reservoirs.

Comments

  1. #1 SkookumPlanet
    September 20, 2006

    The forest may be unique given all it’s parameters, especially it’s existence in such a blistering arid region. But the method of collecting moisture isn’t so unusual. The entire northern California coast, the extreme western flank of the coast ranges, has multiple species that do this. The most famous are the coastal redwoods that get about 40% of their annual water from fog condensation.

    We have a wet, cool winter-dry, hot summer seasonality and the central valley summer heat pulls fog in all along the coast. One can hike the coastal forests in late summer and find circles, often thirty or forty feet across, of wet, on a trail often muddy, ground under redwoods, Douglas fir, and other large trees. I think of them as fog collectors. Tall, branchless, straight trunks that hold a forest of antenna-branches high up into the low clouds where millions of tiny needles, condensation surfaces, drip all day. If you stop awhile you can hear clouds falling onto dry-needle beds and mud.