Studying the famous fingers of fog

October 10, 2011 7:36:11 PM PDT
Of all the sources for water, have you ever considered fog? It contains quite a lot of water, but how much exactly? A researcher has set out to measure it and in the process, studied the consequences of climate change.

We've been told that there is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but on the day ABC7News followed him, Dan Fernandez, Ph.D., was going to great lengths and heights above Big Sur in pursuit of something even more elusive -- fog.

Fog is water that's airborne. It is wispy, capricious, mysterious, mesmerizing and on this day, so near, but also so far, far below.

"There is water in the fog," said Fernandez. When asked how much water there was, he said, "In a cubic meter, you might have about a gram. I doesn't sound like a lot, but there's a lot of cubic meters of fog out there."

Fernandez is a physicist who both teaches and does research at California State University Monterey Bay. When map fog by satellite, or put a time lapse camera on it, the stuff really does behave like water. It ebbs, it flows, it fills valleys as if they were basins, which led him to wonder if the fog could be measured and if it was possible to determine how much water is in the fog.

"Right now I'm interested in can we measure the fog? Can we determine how much water is in the fog and how much of that water is necessary for the flora and fauna along the coastal ecosystems to survive?" asked Fernandez.

To do so, he set up a series of fog catchers. When the mist does come in, it accumulates on grids, then drips down into collection areas. A heavy day might yield a couple of gallons.

One of the questions here is fundamental. With a warming world, will we even see fog along Northern California's coast in 100 years and what would the effects be?

"It is possible that the fog on the Golden Gate could disappear or else be significantly reduced," said Fernandez.

More than the visual implications, such a change could have far-reaching consequences for plants and animals that use the fog as their main source of water.

"When the fog changes, there's a possibility that certain plants and animals won't survive and that will affect us. There's a possibility that our lifestyles will change," said Fernandez.

And that raises the stakes, significantly, for this research that will span decades. Fernandez will continue to study the mystical fog, precious fog, tenuous fog along the coast.

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