Researchers, educators, and science enthusiasts from around the world trek to this internationally-renowned location. Situated near the town of Bishop, California, WMRC is a unit of the University of California Natural Reserve System now managed by the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.
The center includes room and board, lab, and work space. The combination of facilities, geologic exposure, steep topography, high elevation, and special winter access make the WMRC exceptionally valuable for teaching and training. WMRC’s field stations are located in Owens Valley, Barcroft, and Crooked Creek. There is also a small summit station up on White Mountain Peak. These stations range in elevation from 4,000 feet in a high desert valley, to a mountain summit at 14,000 feet.
WMRC Research Scientist Jeff Holmquist commented that the most striking feature of the WMRC is that it’s not just a single location. He said, “This place is remarkable in that it provides labs, lodging, and hot meals and showers at elevations up to 12,000 feet.”
The WMRC has been supporting scientific pursuits for over 60 years. In 1949, during the post-World War II era, an eager group of University of California postdoctoral fellows and graduate students fresh from the armed services came together to conduct research in the field. Led by University of California, Berkeley Assistant Professor Nello Pace, these promising physiologists and medical professionals in training had a vision for a modern laboratory. Their intention was to create a space to conduct experiments in a practical, natural setting.
Over time the facilities evolved to serve the needs of several disciplines. There are active programs in astronomy and astrophysics, archaeology, biology, ecology and zoology, geology and geomorphology, hydrology and water use, atmospheric sciences, climate change, air pollution, and human and veterinary physiology. Studies overseen at the WMRC have led to the publication of more than a thousand scientific articles — including a Nobel Prize-winning analysis. Today the WMRC has hosted thousands of scientists, scholars, and students and resulted in over 2,000 projects and classes since 1950.
According to WMRC Director Tony Orme, “The value of WMRC lies in its environmental setting and elevation gradient, in its collective facilities, their novel locations, and the access they provide to remarkable public lands.”
Holmquist added, “The surrounding public lands are largely pristine and truly spectacular.”
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The distinctive ecosystems here are home to a variety of flora and fauna — including the oldest-known living organism, the bristlecone pine. Bristlecone pines are over 4,800 years-old and existed when the pharaohs were constructing the pyramids. Studying the landscape, and the plants and animals that inhabit this realm, can help reveal what is in store for human beings as the environment rapidly alters. The exceptional access here yields an excellent understanding of change — making the WMRC a valuable resource for California and beyond.
A significant initiative at the WMRC is the GLORIA project (Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments). A global monitoring network, GLORIA is a world-wide effort to study climate change and its impact on alpine ecosystems. Because this setting is so sensitive to climate change, it presents an incredible opportunity to study these effects and potentially provide an early-warning system for the entire planet.
Outreach activities at the White Mountain Research Center include a seminar series plus a popular annual Open House at the Barcroft station. The center also hopes to connect more with the local community and secondary schools in the region to present teaching programs. Additionally, the WMRC maintains partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and other federal, state, and local agencies.
Director Orme aims to rebuild the White Mountain Research Center into the premier field facility for environmental research in the United States. The award-winning documentary “In the Shadow of White Mountain” reflected on what makes this place so critical to scientific discovery: “Observing what is happening here offers a peek into the future and can help tell the tale of what is to come.”