About Field Sites
Upper Big Creek (BIGC) is an aquatic NEON field site located in central California. It is a wadeable stream on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains with a watershed size of approximately 10.9 km2 (2700 acres). BIGC spans an elevation range of 1003 - 1700 m (3290 - 5580 ft.) and passes through mixed mature cottonwood trees, short grasses, and shrubs. The BIGC catchment is entirely located in the Sierra National Forest. This site is part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Major Land Resource Area (MRLA) 22A – Sierra Nevada Mountains and is within the Southern Sierra Lower Montane Forest ecoregion. It is part of the Pacific Southwest Domain (D17), which is bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the east, and encompasses most of California. There are four other NEON field sites in D17, including three terrestrial sites and one additional aquatic site. BIGC is colocated with the NEON terrestrial site Soaproot Saddle (SOAP).  
The climate in the Big Creek (BIGC) watershed is considered Mediterranean with warm, dry summers with temperatures ranging from 14-20°C (57-68°F), and mild to moderate wet winters with temperatures ranging from 0-9°C (32-48°F). The annual mean temperature is 13.4°C (56°F). BIGC experiences a mean daily variability in air temperature of approximately 20°C. It is representative of moist sites of the Sierra Nevadas, with annual precipitation averaging 900.35 mm (35.4 in.). It is below the snow-dominated transition elevation with recently decreasing proportions of precipitation falling as snow between December and March. Precipitation is heaviest through the winter months and early spring with summer months being very dry. The bulk of precipitation at this site and elevation falls as rain.  
The Big Creek Basin lies in the Sierra Nevada batholith within the southern extent of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This batholith is comprised mainly of granodiorite and quartz monzonite and was formed approximately 200 million years ago.  
Major soil series that are mapped at the colocated terrestrial SOAP site (just south of the aquatic BIGC site) in the Soil Survey of Sierra National Forest Area, California (Giger and Schmitt, 1983) are Holland (Fine-loamy, mixed, semi-active, mesic Ultic Haploxeralfs), Chaix (Coarse-loamy, mixed, superactive, mesic Typic Dystroxerepts), Chawanakee (Loamy, mixed, active, mesic, shallow Typic Dystroxerepts), and Tollhouse (Loamy, mixed, superactive, mesic, shallow Entic Haploxerolls). The soils in the region are poorly formed due to the climate (cold winters, dry summers), the resistance of the granite to weathering, and the removal of eroded material into drainages before further weather and soil formation can occur. Therefore, soils in this region have low horizonation, clay content, and weak structure. Weathering of granite rocks results in runoff with low dissolved solid content and leads to low nutrient waters.  
The flow regime of Upper Big Creek (BIGC) is typical of snowmelt-dominated mountainous streams in the West. Base flows are lowest in the winter (November – March) and highest in the late spring (April – June). BIGC has a mean base flow of 10 liters per second in the autumn months. Snow melt begins in March and peaks in April. Discharge during the peak flow month of April is approximately 21 times greater than base flow. 
The Upper Big Creek Basin ecosystem is dominated by coniferous forest consisting of ponderosa and sugar pines (Pinus ponderosa and Pinus lambertiana), incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), and white fir (Abies concolor). The understory is primarily scrub-shrub. The riparian forest is dominated by cedar, pine, and fir with a small percentage (<1%) of California black oak (Quercus kelloggii), white alder (Alnus rhombifolia), Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia), and black and Fremont cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa and Populus fremontii), with an understory of scrub-shrub with ferns and grasses. The riparian forest floor contains much higher amounts of organic matter due to dead-fall, shading, and higher humidity. 
BIGC hosts brown trout (Salmo trutta) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Native to Europe, Africa, and Asia, brown trout was introduced to California in 1884. Rainbow trout is an anadromous species native to the Pacific coast and coastal states. Other fishes native to the Sierra Nevada include Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), California roach (Lavinia symmetricus), hardhead (Mylopharodon conocephalus), prickly sculpin (Cottus asper), and riffle sculpin (Cottus gulosus). The California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) is a federally-listed threatened species that occurs at BIGC. The western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) is a state-listed species of special concern at BIGC.     
Current Land Management and Use
Upper Big Creek (BIGC) is part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Major Land Resource Area (MRLA) 22A – Sierra Nevada mountains. The area is used for logging, grazing, and recreation, including quail, mule deer, and black bear hunting. BIGC is managed by the High Sierra Ranger Station and Blue Canyon work station, which conduct controlled burns, logging, and herbicide application to manage the forest for timber and livestock production, as well as fire suppression. The Critical Zone Observatory maintains an eddy-covariance flux tower and hydrological monitoring instruments to analyze the carbon and water balance and other atmospheric properties of the forest.  
NEON Site Establishment
Site characterization for BIGC began in January 2016 and establishment was completed in November 2017. The aquatic instrumentation system (AIS) began streaming in June 2018. The aquatic observation system (AOS) began sampling in July 2018.
 Aquatic Instrument System (AIS) Site Characterization Report: Domain 17. NEON.DOC.003536vA.
 O'Geen, A.; Safeeq, M.; Wagenbrenner, J.; Stacy, E.; Hartsough, P.; Devine, S.; Tian, Z.; Ferrell, R.; Hopmans, J.W.; and Bales, R. (2018): Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory and Kings River Experimental Watersheds: A Synthesis of Measurements, New Insights, and Future Directions. Vadose Zone Journal, 17:180081. DOI: 10.2136/vzj2018.04.0081 http://criticalzone.org/sierra/infrastructure/field-area/flux-tower-at-…
 Kunch,Theresa. (2019). NEON Site-Level Plot Summary, Soaproot Saddle (SOAP), May 2019. https://data.neonscience.org/documents/10179/2361410/SOAP_Soil_SiteSumm…)
U.S. Geological Survey, 2005, Mineral Resources Data System: U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia. https://mrdata.usgs.gov/mrds/
 PRISM Climate Group., Oregon State University, http://prism.oregonstate.edu, created 4 Feb 2004.
 NEON (National Ecological Observatory Network). 2020. Data Product DP1.20107.001, Fish electrofishing, gill netting, and fyke netting counts. Provisional data downloaded from http://data.neonscience.org on May 4, 2020.
 Fuller, P., J. Larson, A. Fusaro, T.H. Makled, and M. Neilson, 2020, Salmo trutta Linnaeus, 1758: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=931, Revision Date: 9/12/2019, Peer Review Date: 1/6/2015, Access Date: 5/4/2020
 Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 1991. A Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico. The Peterson Field Guide Series, volume 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
 Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project: Final report to Congress, vol. II, Assessments and scientific basis for management options. Davis: University of California, Centers for Water and Wildland Resources, 1996.
 NEON Domain 17 federal & state RTE species lists
 United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2006. Land Resource Regions and Major Land Resource Areas of the United States, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Basin. U.S. Department of Agriculture Handbook 296. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_050898.pdf
Remote sensing surveys of this field site collect lidar, spectrometer and high-resolution RGB camera data.
This site has a meteorological station located in the riparian area. The met station is outfitted with a subset of the same sensors used at terrestrial sites. Measurements include wind speed and direction, air temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity, shortwave radiation, and PAR.
A phenocam is pointed toward the land-water interface of the site. Here we show the images from the most recent hour. The full collection of images can be viewed on the Phenocam Gallery - click on the image below.
Field Site Data
US Forest Service
Site Access Allowed
Site Access Details
Researchers should coordinate directly with the US Forest Service for permitting and approval.
NEON Field Operations Office
Domain 17 Support Facility
NEON Field Operations Address
4727 West Shaw Avenue
Fresno, CA 93722
NEON Field Operations Phone
Mean Annual Temperature
Mean Annual Precipitation
Dominant NLCD Classes
USGS Geology Unit
USGS Geology Name
Mesozoic granitic rocks, unit 3 (Sierra Nevada, Death Valley area, Northern Mojave Desert and Transverse Ranges)
USGS Lithologic Constituents
Primarily granodiorite, tonalite, quartz monzonite, and granite
USGS Geology Age
Permian to Tertiary; most Mesozoic
Related Field Sites
Other Domain D17 Field Sites
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