Focus of the Week – Natural History’s Place in Science and Society
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Focus of the Week– Natural History Must Reclaim its Place, Experts Say
Natural history must reclaim its place, experts say
(March 26, 2014) – (see links to full article and excerpts below)
Support in developed countries for natural history — the study of the fundamental nature of organisms and how and where they live and interact with their environment — appears to be in steep decline. Yet natural history provides essential knowledge for fields as varied as human health, food security, conservation, land management, and recreation. In the April issue of BioScience, a group of scientists from institutions across North America details examples supporting their conviction that a revitalization of the practice of natural history will provide important benefits for science and society.
The 17-member group of authors, convened by Joshua J. Tewksbury of the University of Washington and the World Wide Fund for Nature’s International office, notes that 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases of humans, including avian influenza, Lyme disease, cholera, and rabies, are linked to other animals at some point in their life cycle. Control strategies rely on knowledge of these hosts’ natural history.
Sustainable agricultural practices, such as companion planting, crop rotation, and pest control, likewise rely on knowledge of natural history, much of which was, however, discarded with the Green Revolution. Effective fisheries management relies on natural history — disasters such as the collapse of the Bering Sea walleye pollock fishery might have been avoided had it been used sooner. Rigorous forest fire suppression in the western United States during much of the twentieth century was another costly mistake that might have ended sooner if natural history knowledge had been used earlier. And recreational hunting and fishing have often benefited when interest groups applied knowledge of natural history and suffered when it was ignored.
Despite this, natural history collections are not expanding, and the number of active herbaria has declined since 1990 in Europe and North America. The majority of US schools now have no natural history requirements for a biology degree, a trend that has coincided with the rise of molecular, experimental, theoretical, and other forms of biology. These types of biology may be less expensive or be more likely to attract large grants and public recognition. The stagnation could also reflect more general public disengagement with nature in developed countries.Although biological modeling has become more sophisticated, Tewksbury and his coauthors note that models must be built on field observations to usefully represent the real world. The important influence of microbes on human health and plants is a key new frontier in natural history research, the authors believe.
And they see hope for the discipline, both within and outside of traditional natural history collections, in the rise of Internet- and smart phone-based technologies that allow the growth of broad partnerships, including citizen-science initiatives. Such linkages are starting to develop, but will need established professionals to self-identify as natural historians to provide the leadership needed for natural history to reclaim its necessary role, the authors assert.
Natural History’s Place in Science and Society Bioscience March 23 2014
Joshua j. Tewksbury, John G. T. Anderson, Jonathan D. Bakker, Timothy J. Billo,Peter W. Dunwiddie, Martha J. Groom, Stephanie E. Hampton, Steven G. Herman,Douglas J. Levey, Noelle J. Machnicki, Carlos Martínez del Rio, Mary E. Power, Kirsten Rowell, Anne K. Salomon, Liam Stacey, Stephen C. Trombulak and Terry A. Wheeler
The fundamental properties of organisms—what they are, how and where they live, and the biotic and abiotic interactions that link them to communities and ecosystems—are the domain of natural history. We provide examples illustrating the vital importance of natural history knowledge to many disciplines, from human health and food security to conservation, management, and recreation. We then present several lines of evidence showing that traditional approaches to and support for natural history in developed economies has declined significantly over the past 40 years. Finally, we argue that a revitalization of the practice of natural history—one that is focused on new frontiers in a rapidly changing world and that incorporates new technologies—would provide significant benefits for both science and society.
Excerpts from the full text:
Natural history has been defined in many ways (Bartholomew 1986, Herman 2002, Greene 2005, Schmidly 2005), and no single definition will satisfy all readers. For our purposes, natural history is the observation and description of the natural world, with the study of organisms and their linkages to the environment being central. This broad definition is inherently cross-disciplinary and multiscaled, which reflects the span and potential of natural history activity. For most of the history of science, natural history was the natural sciences: “at once the beginning and the end of biological study” (Jordan 1916, p. 3).
A lot has changed since those words were written almost a century ago. The natural sciences now form one of the largest, most diverse collections of disciplines in academia. But across many fields, natural history appears to be in steep decline (Greene and Losos 1988, Noss 1996, Wilcove and Eisner 2000). A number of authors have pointed to a decline in natural history research and education (Suarez and Tsutsui 2004, Schmidly 2005, McCallum and McCallum 2006, but see Arnold 2003); in some countries, this decline may parallel a decline in public participation in nature (Balmford et al. 2009). This decline has troubling implications for science and society.
Direct knowledge of organisms—what they are, where they live, what they eat, why they behave the way they do, how they die—remains vital to science and society. This knowledge may become even more vital as the rate and extent of global change increase (Johnson et al. 2011, Lavoie 2013). Integration of this knowledge is also increasingly important for translating results obtained in cellular, molecular, and genomic studies (Ley et al. 2006); for understanding and optimizing complex human–environment interactions (Pretty et al. 2006); for advancing human health (Colwell et al. 2003); and for expanding technology and design from biomimicry to biology-inspired design (Stafford et al. 2007). The benefits of careful observation of organisms in their environment and the costs of pursuing environmental policies in which this critical component of science is ignored can be seen in human health, food security, conservation, and management. After highlighting these connections, we document the decline in traditional natural history and suggest ways in which the practice of natural history could be revitalized to better connect science and society.
Human health is dependent on our understanding of the relationships between people and other organisms. An estimated 75% of emerging infectious diseases that afflict humans are associated at some point in their life cycle with other animals (WHO 2011). …In a similar vein, understanding how organisms compete and defend themselves against predators and pathogens can reveal new pathways for pharmaceutical prospecting and can perhaps spur the development of new drugs (Coley et al. 2003). Although the importance of natural products in drug discovery is undisputed (e.g., drugs from natural products are used to treat more than 85% of current diseases; Newman et al. 2003), the screening process for bioactive compounds is often automated and largely blind to natural history…. For example, the presence of herbivores with warning color patterns feeding on tropical plants has been used to indicate plants with bioactivity against cancer cells and protistan parasites (Helson et al. 2009)….
Sustainable agriculture requires a detailed understanding of crop species’ local requirements and their long-standing interactions with co-occurring species (Pretty et al. 2006). Knowledge of growing conditions, phenology, pollinators, herbivores, weeds, and pathogens comes from natural history observations. Agricultural practices, such as companion planting, crop rotation, and pest control, are based on knowledge of local natural history. Much of this knowledge was discarded or lost with the advent of the Green Revolution, which relied heavily on the extensive use of chemicals, irrigation, and high-yield crop varieties…. The slow pace of accumulation of essential natural history knowledge for many economically important species, from fisheries to crop pests, has repeatedly hindered the development of robust, predictive policies that would benefit humanity. In many industries, this has resulted in repeated failures of sustainable management, even though these extractive systems are the very ones for which natural history knowledge should be most complete. However, where natural history approaches have been integrated into management agendas, the results have been strongly positive… has helped farmers in developing countries increase yields, save money, and reduce environmental harm by replacing pesticides with natural enemies and ecoagricultural approaches to pest management (figure 2; Pretty et al. 2006).
CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT
Forest conservation and landscape restoration owe much of their success to the inclusion of detailed natural history information. For example, knowledge of the importance of plant–fungal symbioses to the health of forest systems has led to the common restoration and forestry practice of inoculating trees and native plants with mycorrhizae (Horton and van der Heijden 2008). However, failing to incorporate natural history information has sometimes led to large-scale, costly reversals in policy. The most iconic of these reversals may be the decision to suppress forest fires in the western United States during much of the twentieth century…. Water management in the United States has also suffered from a lack of natural history knowledge. In salmon-bearing rivers of the northwestern United States, large stumps and logs were intentionally removed to increase navigability and to assist salmon migration. Only after hundreds of streams were cleared did the managers recognize that accumulations of large woody debris are essential for maintaining suitable salmon habitat (Fausch and Northcote 1992). Millions of dollars are now spent on restoration efforts, which often require helicopters in order for logs to be put back into the streams (Watanabe et al. 2005).
A case in which natural history knowledge has facilitated positive management outcomes is the restoration of tropical forest on degraded, abandoned cattle pastures. Multiple processes may create barriers to forest regeneration, including nutrient depletion, competition with pasture grasses, and a lack of seed input by animal dispersers. Restoration efforts can fail if they do not account for the relative importance of these obstacles at different stages of regeneration and in specific locations (Nepstad et al. 1990). “Legacy” trees within pastures often serve as recruitment foci for forest species (Griscom and Ashton 2011), in part because seed-dispersing birds and bats void seeds more often while perched than while in flight and also because shade from trees suppresses aggressive pasture grasses. In addition, regeneration is greater around fallen logs, which ameliorate harsh environmental conditions within pastures (Slocum 2000). These observations have led to management practices that facilitate forest regeneration, and, combined with falling cattle prices, they facilitated rapid restoration efforts in many areas of the Neotropics. Forest cover in Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica, for example, increased from 24% to 47% of the total land area between 1979 and 2005 (Calvo-Alvarado et al. 2009).
Natural history has proven vital in many efforts to conserve and responsibly manage iconic species and places—organisms and landscapes that symbolize the heritage of well-loved social–ecological systems. Shared concern over preserving these well-known species spurs social action. Reversing
declines in species such as eagles, whales, redwoods, and songbirds has repeatedly relied on an understanding of the organisms themselves. Long-term monitoring of breeding success in bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was critical in linking the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) with population declines and in determining subsequent recovery efforts (Grier 1982). The establishment of a sustainable quota for bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) hunting by the Alaskan Iñupiat was possible only because the Iñupiat people possessed detailed knowledge of whale migration routes and behavior. This information, later confirmed by acoustic and aerial surveys and stable isotope analyses (Huntington 2000), was instrumental in estimating whale abundance and spatial dynamics and provided support for a hunting quota that allows a traditional harvest to be sustained and that satisfies conservation policies.
Hunting and fishing activities provide direct connections between natural history and rural economies around the world. When they are well managed, activities from safari hunting to fly fishing combine low-impact recreation with income for guides, licensing agencies, and supporting industries in areas that often struggle to balance the protection of natural resources and economic growth (Balmford et al. 2009). … When [these interests] fail to include natural history, the results can lead to the collapse of the system that supports the industry…..
DECLINE OF NATURAL HISTORY
Despite the importance of detailed natural history information to many sectors of society, exposure and training in traditional forms of natural history have not kept pace with growth in the natural sciences over the past 50 years. One way to track the exposure and training in natural history is through changes in the gathering and curation of the natural history material contained in these collections. The general trend in natural history collections has been toward consolidation, not expansion, in spite of the increased use of specimens in global climate change research and ecoinformatics (Ward 2012, Lavoie 2013)….. Other trends suggest more general declines in exposure to natural history at the graduate and undergraduate levels. In the United States, the proportion of PhDs with degrees in natural history–related fields of biology has declined steadily over the past 50 years (figure 4b; see the supplemental material for methods). Exposure to and emphasis on natural history have also declined in undergraduate education (figure 4c).
Natural history in academia: Connecting science and society
The stature of natural history within many academic institutions will depend on its capacity to generate revenue and contribute to the academic currencies used to measure the success of individuals and programs…. Maintaining a strong natural history curriculum within higher education will require a clear articulation of the importance of the discipline, backed up by collaborative work to design and sell a twenty-first century natural history research and educational agenda to funding agencies, foundations, and the public (Winker 2004). Such an agenda must cross a series of high bars: It must recognize its connections with a wide range of other disciplines and promote new ways of doing natural history, it must embrace rapid shifts in demography and technology to engage a larger and more diverse array of participants, and it must promote an open-source community of collaboration that generates and distributes data at scales relevant to other disciplines and to society as a whole. Below, we articulate some of what we see as the major frontiers for natural history in the twenty-first century. In boxes 1–4, we offer recommendations to individuals and institutions interested in the revitalization of natural history. Our objective is to start a conversation about the future of natural history, and we invite you to join the conversation (please see the details at the end of this article).
Box 1. Revitalizing natural history within institutions: Claim the title. The vitality of natural history will depend on the willingness of professionals in the natural sciences to self-identify as natural historians, to teach natural history, and to articulate the importance of their expertise across a wide range of disciplines, through lectures, conferences, professional societies, and public talks….
Box 2. Revitalizing natural history within institutions: Avoid exclusivity, enhance connectivity, and embrace technology. The practice of natural history needs to be inclusive and adaptive to survive the twenty-first century. Its relevance will depend on the willingness of its practitioners to embrace new modes of observing the world and their capacity to recruit naturalists who use a much wider set of tools and skills than were historically associated with the study of natural history. The twenty-first century naturalist is as likely to work with a smartphone and a social network or with a scanning electron microscope and a mass spectrometer as with binoculars and a hand lens…
Box 3. Revitalizing natural history within institutions: Work collectively. Individual naturalists with isolated knowledge have little capacity to demonstrate the importance of their work, but groups that integrate and share knowledge across disciplines will flourish. Naturalists of all types need to contribute to common resources, work toward standardized formats, and move their work into the public sphere. In these open data warehouses, objects and empirical observations can be shared, used, and repurposed to meet the rapidly changing needs of society (Winker 2004, Hampton et al. 2013). Investment in naturalist partnerships can add value to a larger effort to provide common access to natural history knowledge and applications. Most institutions have begun to see the value in collaboration across these boundaries. For example, all of the major environmental nongovernmental organizations now have research and curation partnerships with multiple universities and museums, and many museums are shifting toward porous boundaries, with as much happening outside of the museum walls as inside (Sunderland et al. 2012)….
Box 4. Revitalizing natural history within institutions: Go where the people are. Many naturalists of the twentieth century were inspired by sustained contact with nature at an early age, but the pace of urbanization is fundamentally changing the way in which the next generation will interact with the natural world. Finding exciting ways to build natural history into the fabric of modern urban life is a key challenge for natural history, and there are a number of programs that are focused directly on urban natural history…
Box 5. Natural history and the digital revolution. Technology influences how we observe, organize, and share information about the natural world. Here, we highlight programs that use technology to change the way we see the world and programs that organize and standardize the collection and curation of natural history information…
Frontiers for twenty-first century natural history
Technology is expanding the reach of the naturalist, uncovering a new world of opportunities at the microbial scale. Microbial cells outnumber human cells 10:1 in the human body and contribute to defense, metabolism, and nutrition (HMPC 2012). The amount that is unknown in this field is truly vast. The rapidly growing understanding of the wide range of microbial impacts on human health comes in large part from linking knowledge of microbial natural history with details observable at the macroscopic scale (Ley et al. 2006).…. The capacity to build networks of natural history collections on a global scale has never been greater, and this capacity is only just beginning to be realized. There is now a wide range of efforts to collect and curate natural history information in a standardized manner at global scales (box 5). These programs, coupled with the widespread availability of remote-sensing technologies, allow observers to study large-scale phenomena across ecosystems in ways that were previously unimaginable….
….The current capacity of humanity to alter the planet’s natural systems has created an unprecedented need for ecological forecasting (Luo et al. 2011). Empirical information about complex natural systems is fundamental to accuracy in forecasting (Hastings and Wysham 2010), and natural history provides this essential baseline information against which to measure the reality and scope of change (Winker 2004). Although the capacity of scientists to model complex systems is now greater than during any period in history, the collection and organization of basic information needed to parameterize these increasingly complex models have not kept pace (Botkin et al. 2007). As a result, a lack of basic natural history knowledge is often the limiting factor in the development of predictive ecological theory. The behavior of complex environmental systems cannot be predicted with simple models, and complex models cannot be built without empirical knowledge of organisms under realistic conditions. Meeting this challenge requires a greater investment in the organization, integration, and dissemination of current natural history knowledge within and outside of traditional collections (Suarez and Tsutsui 2004, Winker 2004, Hampton et al. 2013). Identifying and filling critical gaps in that knowledge will likely be a multiscaled effort involving both historical and contemporary natural history…..
…The rapid spread of consumer technologies—most notably, the rise of smartphones—is expanding opportunities for participation in biodiversity science, allowing broad partnerships through social networks, collective species discovery, and the real-time mapping of species and communities (see box 5 for examples). The vitality of natural history will depend on its capacity to build broad collaborative efforts using technological advances to lower the barriers associated with collecting, analyzing, and sharing natural history knowledge. The rapid growth in citizen science has the potential to yield a large increase in the number of people helping to build natural history knowledge, and this ethos of collaboration and public participation needs to permeate natural history research, outreach, and education. An outstanding example of the potential for this approach is provided by eBird, a Web-based program developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that has capitalized on the widespread interest in and appeal of birds. The program has witnessed a rapid, global increase in data contributors and users, which has enabled both researchers and the general public to benefit in diverse ways from technologies for the collection, organization, and dissemination of vast numbers of bird observations. Successful programs on other taxa, such as eButterfly and the Lost Ladybug Project, illustrate that birds are not unique in their ability to engage the public in documenting and compiling natural history data.
A renewed focus on the natural history of organisms is central to the growth of basic and use-inspired research and is also a critical step toward sustainable management and toward providing increased predictive capacities and improved outcomes across disciplines as diverse as health, agriculture, and conservation. However, natural history in the twenty-first century will look different from that of the nineteenth as this fundamental knowledge is applied to new frontiers and as new technologies are used in the practice of natural history. Despite these differences, however, the importance of natural history to science and society remains timeless.
The supplemental material is available online at http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1093/biosci/biu032/-/DC1. AIBS has also made available for a limited time a moderated discussion forum at www.access.aibs.org/group/overview.
Rebuilding the Natural World: A Shift in Ecological Restoration
From forests in Queens to wetlands in China, planners and scientists are promoting a new approach that incorporates experiments into landscape restoration projects to determine what works to the long-term benefit of nature and what does not.
Richard Conniff Environment 360 March 17, 2014
Restoring degraded ecosystems — or creating new ones — has become a huge global business. China, for instance, is planting 90 million acres of forest in a swath across its northern provinces. And in North America, just in the past two decades, restoration projects costing $70 billion have attempted to restore or re-create 7.4 million acres of marsh, peatland, floodplain, mangrove, and other wetlands. This patchwork movement to rebuild the natural world ought to be good news. Such projects are, moreover, likely to become far more common as the world rapidly urbanizes and as cities, new and old, turn to green infrastructure to address problems like climate change, flood control, and pollution of nearby waterways. But hardly anyone does a proper job of measuring the results, and when they do, it generally turns out that ecological restorations seldom function as intended.
A 2012 study in PLOS Biology, for instance, looked at 621 wetland projects and found most had failed to deliver promised results, or match the performance of natural systems, even decades after completion. Likewise, an upcoming study by Margaret A. Palmer at the University of Maryland reports that more than 75 percent of river and stream restorations failed to meet their own minimal performance targets. “They may be pretty projects,” says Palmer, “but they don’t provide ecological benefits.” Hence the increasing interest in what Alexander Felson, an urban ecologist and landscape architect at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, calls “designed experiments” — that is, experiments designed by ecologists and incorporated into development and landscape restoration projects to test which alternative approaches work best — or whether a particular approach works at all. The idea is both to improve the project at hand, says Felson, and also to provide a scientific basis for making subsequent projects more successful. At first glance, the designed experiment idea might seem to echo practices that already exist. Environmental consultants have been a part of most development projects for decades. But they almost never do long-term research on a project, says Felson. “Adaptive management,” the idea of continually monitoring environmental projects and making steady improvements over time — or “learning by doing” — has also been around in ecological circles since the 1970s. But a recent survey in Biological Conservation found “surprisingly few practical, on-ground examples of adaptive management.” In part, that’s because “long-term investigations are notoriously difficult to establish and maintain.”…
Historic “Pulse Flow” Brings Water to Parched Colorado River Delta
Binational agreement brings life to delta after five decades of water withdrawal.
The Colorado River Delta in Mexico cuts through the Sonoran Desert, and was formerly host to lush wetlands.
By Brian Clark Howard, National Geographic PUBLISHED MARCH 22, 2014
Thanks to a landmark agreement between the United States and Mexico, the parched Colorado River Delta will get a rejuvenating shot of water this spring for one of the first times in five decades, just in time for World Water Day on March 22. On March 23, 2014, the gates of Morelos Dam on the Arizona-Mexico border will be lifted to allow a “pulse flow” of water into the final stretch of the Colorado River. Officials and scientists hope the water will help restore a landscape that has long been arid but that once supported a rich diversity of life….
Tidal and seasonal effects on survival of the endangered California clapper rail: does invasive Spartina facilitate greater survival in a dynamic environment?
Overton, CT, ML Casazza, JY Takekawa, DR Strong, M Holyoak. 2014. Tidal and seasonal effects on survival of the endangered California clapper rail: does invasive Spartina facilitate greater survival in a dynamic environment? Biological Invasions. doi: 10.1007/s10530-013-0634-5 USGS WERC
Invasive species frequently degrade habitats, disturb ecosystem processes, and can increase the likelihood of extinction of imperiled populations. However, novel or enhanced functions provided by invading species may reduce the impact of processes that limit populations. It is important to recognize how invasive species benefit endangered species to determine overall effects on sensitive ecosystems. For example, since the 1990s, hybrid Spartina (Spartina foliosa × alterniflora) has expanded throughout South San Francisco Bay, USA, supplanting native vegetation and invading mudflats. The endangered California clapper rail (Rallus longirostris obsoletus) uses the tall, dense hybrid Spartina for cover and nesting, but the effects of hybrid Spartina on clapper rail survival was unknown. We estimated survival rates of 108 radio-marked California clapper rails in South San Francisco Bay from January 2007 to March 2010, a period of extensive hybrid Spartina eradication, with Kaplan–Meier product limit estimators. Clapper rail survival patterns were consistent with hybrid Spartina providing increased refuge cover from predators during tidal extremes which flood native vegetation, particularly during the winter when the vegetation senesces. Model averaged annual survival rates within hybrid Spartina dominated marshes before eradication (Ŝ = 0.466) were greater than the same marshes posttreatment (Ŝ = 0.275) and a marsh dominated by native vegetation (Ŝ = 0.272). However, models with and without marsh treatment as explanatory factor for survival rates had nearly equivalent support in the observed data, lending ambiguity as to whether hybrid Spartina facilitated greater survival rates than native marshland. Conservation actions to aid in recovery of this endangered species should recognize the importance of available of high tide refugia, particularly in light of invasive species eradication programs and projections of future sea-level rise.
Deepwater Horizon oil left tuna, other species with heart defects likely to …
– March 25, 2014
When scientists re-created the conditions of the spill in a lab, exposing tuna and amberjack in the developmental stage to an oil slick, they observed “a slowing of their heartbeats,” said Barbara Block, a biology professor at Stanford University who …
Targeting enforcement where needed most in Africa’s heart of biodiversity
March 26, 2014 Wildlife Conservation Society
Scientists seeking a more efficient way of protecting the heart of Africa’s wildlife — the Greater Virunga Landscape — have developed a method to make the most of limited enforcement resources, according to a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the University of Queensland, Imperial College London, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. By channeling data on wildlife sightings and park guard patrolling routes into spatial planning software, conservationists have devised a cost-effective method for maximizing the deterrence effect of patrolling to protect Africa’s threatened wildlife from poaching and other illegal activities…. The authors of the study conducted their analysis by first determining the distribution of key species and habitats. Data on the distribution of threats was then added, followed by estimates of current patrol effort and the cost of patrolling parks, protected areas, and other wildlife-rich regions effectively. All data layers were then used to conduct a spatial prioritization to minimize the cost of patrols and maximize the protection of wildlife species. What the authors found was that only 22 percent of the Greater Virunga Landscape is being effectively patrolled at present. “The key problem is trying to ascertain where to send patrols to make them effective,” said Dr. James Watson, who holds a joint WCS-University of Queensland position. “Our research has shown that existing patrols are not frequent enough to be effective at deterring poaching and other illegal activities beyond 3 kilometers from a patrol post.” “We discovered that careful planning of patrol activity can increase its effectiveness while reducing costs by up to 63 percent,” added Prof. Hugh Possingham, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions….In addition to helping wildlife managers and park authorities to redirect enforcement efforts into areas requiring protection, the method — the authors say — will also help reduce the cost of achieving conservation goals….
Andrew J. Plumptre et al. Efficiently targeting resources to deter illegal activities in protected areas. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12227
This March 2007 photo provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shows a male lesser prairie chicken in a mating stature in the Texas panhandle…..(AP Photo/Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Jon McRoberts)
Lesser prairie chicken listed as threatened species, 5 states affected
By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press March 27, 2014 WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration announced Thursday it is placing the lesser prairie chicken on a list of threatened species, a move that could affect oil and gas drilling, wind farms and other activities in five central and southwestern states. The decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service is a step below “endangered” status and allows for more flexibility in how protections for the bird will be carried out under the Endangered Species Act. Dan Ashe, the agency’s director, said he knows the decision will be unpopular with governors in the five affected states — Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico — but said the agency was following the best science available. “The lesser prairie-chicken is in dire straits,” Ashe said in an interview. “The bird is in decline and has been in decline for more than a decade.” The prairie chicken, a type of grouse known for its colorful feathers and stout build, has lost more than 80 percent of its traditional habitat, mostly because of human activity such as oil and gas drilling, ranching and construction of power lines and wind turbines, Ashe said. The bird, which weighs from 1-1/2 to 2 pounds, has also been severely impacted by the region’s ongoing drought. Biologists say a major problem is that prairie chickens fear tall structures, where predators such as hawks can perch and spot them. Wind turbines, electricity transmission towers and drilling rigs are generally the tallest objects on the plains…..
…Fish and Wildlife officials had refused nearly two years ago to list the species as threatened, and efforts across the region have brought about conservation agreements and habitat protection plans from landowners, the oil and gas industry and those aiming to increase the prairie chicken’s numbers.
The listing decision, which will take effect around May 1, includes a special rule that Ashe said will allow officials and private landowners in the five affected states to manage conservation efforts. The rule, which Ashe called unprecedented, specifies that activities such as oil and gas drilling and utility line maintenance that are covered under a five-state conservation plan adopted last year will be allowed to continue. The plan, developed by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, establishes that conservation practices carried out through usual agricultural and energy development are not subject to further regulation under the Endangered Species Act…
Oil and gas companies, ranchers and other landowners have pledged to devote more than 3 million acres in the five states toward conserving the bird’s habitat. Most of the acreage was set aside with the aim to prevent the bird from being given federal protection as a threatened species, but Ashe said states and private landowners will play a significant role after the listing decision. “The key thing is, states will remain in the driver’s seat in management and conservation of this bird,” he said.
Environmental groups hailed new federal protections, but said the wildlife agency had created a loophole that allows continued oil and gas drilling in exchange for voluntary conservation plans that are virtually unenforceable….
A right whale. Credit: © Eduardo Rivero / Fotolia
Biologists use sound to identify breeding grounds of endangered whales
March 25, 2014 Syracuse University
Remote acoustic monitoring among endangered whales is the subject of a major article by two doctoral students in The College of Arts and Sciences.
Leanna Matthews and Jessica McCordic, members of the Parks Lab in the Department of Biology, have co-authored “Remote Acoustic Monitoring of North Atlantic Right Whales Reveals Seasonal and Diel Variations in Acoustic Behavior.” The article appears in the current issue of PLOS ONE, an inclusive, peer-reviewed, open-access resource from the Public Library of Science in San Francisco.
Susan Parks, assistant professor of biology for whom the lab is named, says the article confirms what many conservationists fear — that Roseway Basin, a heavily traveled shipping lane, off the coast of Nova Scotia, is a vital habitat area for the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
“Remote acoustic monitoring is an important tool for understanding patterns in animal communication, and studies on the seasonality of context-specific acoustic signals allow inferences to be made about the behavior and habitat use of certain species,” says Parks, an expert in behavioral ecology, acoustic communication and marine science. “Our results support the hypothesis that the North Atlantic right whale’s breeding season occurs mostly from August to November and that this basin is a widely used habitat area.”
More than 30 percent of all right whales use Roseway Basin, part of a larger geological formation called the Scotian Shelf, throughout the year. With only 400-500 in existence, these whales, says Parks, must congregate in the basin to feed and find mates.
Already, the U.S. and Canadian governments have taken steps to redirect shipping traffic, in response to several fatal collisions with right whales….
Crows understand water displacement at the level of a small child. Credit: Sarah Jelbert; CC-BY
Crows understand water displacement at the level of a small child: Show causal understanding of a 5- to 7-year-old child
(March 26, 2014) — New Caledonian crows may understand how to displace water to receive a reward, with the causal understanding level of a 5- to 7-year-old child. Understanding causal relationships between actions is a key feature of human cognition. However, the extent to which non-human animals are capable of understanding causal relationships is not well understood. Scientists used the Aesop’s fable riddle — in which subjects drop stones into water to raise the water level and obtain an out-of reach-reward — to assess New Caledonian crows’ causal understanding of water displacement. … > full story
Male mallard duck. University of Akron researchers discovered leptin in the mallard duck, peregrine falcon and zebra finch, marking the first time the hormone has been found in birds.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Akron
Missing hormone in birds: Leptin found in mallard duck, peregrine falcon and zebra finch
March 24, 2014 University of Akron
How does the Arctic tern (a sea bird) fly more than 80,000 miles in its roundtrip North Pole-to-South Pole migration? How does the Emperor penguin incubate eggs for months during the Antarctic winter without eating? How does the Rufous hummingbird, which weighs less than a nickel, migrate from British Columbia to Mexico? These physiological gymnastics would usually be influenced by leptin, the hormone that regulates body fat storage, metabolism and appetite. However, leptin has gone missing in birds — until now.
University of Akron researchers have discovered leptin in birds, In their “Discovery of the Elusive Leptin in Birds: Identification of Several ‘Missing Links’ in the Evolution of Leptin and its Receptor,” published March 24, 2014, in the journal PLOS ONE, UA researchers reveal their findings of leptin in the peregrine falcon, mallard duck and zebra finch. UA Professor of Biology R. Joel Duff made the initial discovery by comparing ancient fish and reptile leptins to predict the bird sequence. Duff, along with undergraduate students Cameron Schmidt and Donald Gasper, identified the sequence in multiple bird genomes and found that the genomic region where leptin was found is similar to that of other vertebrates. Jeremy Prokop, a former UA Integrated Bioscience doctoral student who initiated the project, then constructed computer models of the bird leptin’s three-dimensional structure and performed bench experiments to show that the bird leptin can bind to a bird leptin receptor….
Male Eurasian jays know that their female partners’ desires can differ from their own
(March 25, 2014) — Researchers investigated the extent to which males could disengage from their own current desires to feed the female what she wants. The behavior suggests the potential for ‘state-attribution’ in these birds — the ability to recognize and understand the internal life and psychological states of others. … > full story
Biased sex ratios predict more promiscuity, polygamy and ‘divorce’ in birds
(March 24, 2014) — More birds break pair bonds or ‘divorce’ in populations where there are more females, according to new research. Researchers also found that short-term infidelity increases in male-dominated environments. The research has some striking parallels in human societies. … > full story
Convulsing sea lions along coast may hold clues to epilepsy
Peter Fimrite SF Chronicle Updated 11:02 pm, Sunday, March 23, 2014
Sea lion Blarney McCresty recuperates at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. Photo: Lacy Atkins, The Chronicle
Sick and confused sea lions convulsing with seizures are being found in increasing numbers along the California coast, suffering from what Stanford University scientists say is a form of epilepsy similar to the kind that attacks humans. The culprit is a neurotoxin found in algae blooms, also known as red tides, that have proliferated lately along the coast for unknown reasons, scientists at Stanford University and the Marine Mammal Center in Marin announced last week in a study published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology. Besides harming and killing wildlife, the oceanic phenomenon puts humans at risk. As troubling as that may be, medical researchers believe the new findings may help them root out the causes and improve treatments for human epilepsy, according to the study published March 19. “We found there was a loss of neurons in specific patterns that closely matched what is found in people,” said Paul Buckmaster, a professor of comparative medicine at Stanford. “And there is synaptic reorganization – a rewiring of surviving neurons. This also matches what is found in humans with temporal lobe epilepsy.”…
Pesticides make the life of earthworms miserable
(March 25, 2014) — Pesticides are sprayed on crops to help them grow, but the effect on earthworms living in the soil under the plants is devastating, new research reveals. The worms only grow to half their normal weight and they do not reproduce as well as worms in fields that are not sprayed, a research team reports after having studied earthworms that were exposed to pesticides over generations. … > full story
WERC Center Director Steven Schwarzbach Retires
MONDAY MAR 03 2014
Steven Schwarzbach, Center Director of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center, has retired from federal service.
WERC Deputy Center Director Dr. Keith Miles will serve as Acting Center Director in the interim. Best known as an ecologist and an administrator, Schwarzbach’s roots were in education. He obtained a M.A. in Education from San Francisco State University in 1983, and went on to teach 7th and 8th grade science and 5th and 6th grade in Placerville, Calif. in the early 1980’s. There, he also developed a K-8 environmental education curriculum. His deep passion was science, however, having worked early stints with the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service. He returned to ecology, receiving his PhD from UC Davis in 1989. His thesis: “Metabolism and storage of the miticide dicofol in ring neck doves (Streptopelia risoria) and American kestrels (Falco sparverius): relationships to dicofol induced eggshell thinning”…..
CA BLM WILDLIFE TRIVIA QUESTION of the WEEK
Desert iguanas are most common in the Mojave and Colorado deserts of California. One special trait gives them an advantage over other animals in their range. What is it?
(a.) They are the most heat-tolerant reptiles in North America, so they have little competition while locating food in midday heat.
(b.) They need much less water than other desert species, so they can travel over a wider range and can escape predators into more remote areas.
(c.) They can digest even the woodiest fibers of various types of cactus, so they can find more nutrition in a smaller area than other animals.
(d.) They are more resistant to snake venom than other reptiles, so they can seek food in more areas than other desert animals.
(e.) They know the words to hundreds of camp songs, passed down by ancestors who lurked outside prospector’s campsites –so they can better put up with the long distance travel and solitude that are part of living in the desert.
See answer – and more information at the end.
- CLIMATE CHANGE AND EXTREME EVENTS
Boulder scientists report record-early high CO2 readings at key site
400 parts per million at Mauna Loa reached two months ahead of 2013
By Charlie Brennan, Boulder Camera Staff Writer Posted: 03/22/2014
Carbon dioxide readings at Mauna Loa Observatory
- Tuesday: 401.18 ppm
- Wednesday: 401.28 ppm
- Thursday: 400.87 ppm
Carbon dioxide levels at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii and analyzed in Boulder have reached a disturbing benchmark earlier than last year and have done so for several days running, scientists said. The readings hit 400 parts per million for CO2 every day from Sunday through Thursday. That is a level recorded at that observatory for the first time only last year — and in 2013, it was not reached until May 19. The levels of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere move in seasonal swings, typically peaking in May and hitting their low point in September.
“Each year it creeps up,” said Jim Butler, director of the global monitoring division at NOAA. “Eventually, we’ll see where it isn’t below 400 parts per million anywhere in the world. We’re on our way to doing that.” Pieter Tans, chief scientist in NOAA’s global monitoring division, said, “This problem could become much worse. The climate change we see at this point is just beginning.”….
The Pacific Ocean Is Turning Sour Much Faster Than Expected, Study Shows
By Emily Atkin on March 28, 2014 at 11:31 am
A Norwegin coral reef with gorgonian and stony corals in Norway. CREDIT: AP Photo/GEOMAR, Karen Hissmann
It’s common knowledge among the scientific community that climate change will eventually acidify the oceans and turn them sour. What’s less common knowledge is when exactly it will happen. In the tropical Pacific Ocean, however, the answers are getting a little clearer — and they’re not pretty. According to a study released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and University of Washington scientists on Wednesday, the amount of carbon dioxide in the tropical Pacific has increased much faster than expected over the past 14 years, making that part of the ocean much more acidic than previously believed. “We assume that most of the carbon dioxide increase [in the tropical Pacific] is due to anthropogenic CO2,” Adrienne Sutton, a research scientist with NOAA’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington, told E&E News. In other words, scientists say their results show that much of the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations can be attributed to human-caused climate change. This is because, while the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increases at a rate of about 2 parts per million (ppm) per year, parts of the tropical Pacific saw an increase in CO2 concentrations of up to 3.3 ppm per year. NOAA’s study monitored CO2 levels at seven buoys in the tropical Pacific, starting in 1998. “It was a big surprise. We were not expecting to see rates that strong,” Sutton told E&E….
A more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, methane emissions will leap as Earth warms
(March 27, 2014)
— While carbon dioxide is typically painted as the bad boy of greenhouse gases, methane is roughly 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas. New research in the journal Nature indicates that for each degree that Earth’s temperature rises, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere from microorganisms dwelling in lake sediment and freshwater wetlands — the primary sources of the gas — will increase several times. As temperatures rise, the relative increase of methane emissions will outpace that of carbon dioxide from these sources, the researchers report. The findings condense the complex and varied process by which methane — currently the third most prevalent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and water vapor — enters the atmosphere into a measurement scientists can use, explained co-author Cristian Gudasz, a visiting postdoctoral research associate in Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. In freshwater systems, methane is produced as microorganisms digest organic matter, a process known as “methanogenesis.” This process hinges on a slew of temperature, chemical, physical and ecological factors that can bedevil scientists working to model how Earth’s systems will contribute, and respond, to a hotter future. The researchers’ findings suggest that methane emissions from freshwater systems will likely rise with the global temperature, Gudasz said. But to not know the extent of methane contribution from such a widely dispersed ecosystem that includes lakes, swamps, marshes and rice paddies leaves a glaring hole in climate projections. “The freshwater systems we talk about in our paper are an important component to the climate system,” Gudasz said. “There is more and more evidence that they have a contribution to the methane emissions. Methane produced from natural or humanmade freshwater systems will increase with temperature.”
To provide a simple and accurate way for climate modelers to account for methanogenesis, Gudasz and his co-authors analyzed nearly 1,600 measurements of temperature and methane emissions from 127 freshwater ecosystems across the globe. The researchers found that a common effect emerged from those studies: freshwater methane generation very much thrives on high temperatures. Methane emissions at 0 degrees Celsius would rise 57 times higher when the temperature reached 30 degrees Celsius, the researchers report. For those inclined to model it, the researchers’ results translated to a temperature dependence of 0.96 electron volts (eV), an indication of the temperature-sensitivity of the methane-emitting ecosystems.”We all want to make predictions about greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on global warming,” Gudasz said. “Looking across these scales and constraining them as we have in this paper will allow us to make better predictions.” … > full story
Gabriel Yvon-Durocher et al. Methane fluxes show consistent temperature dependence across microbial to ecosystem scales. Nature, 2014; 507 (7493): 488 DOI: 10.1038/nature13164
Is A Super El Niño Coming That Will Shatter Extreme Weather And Global Temperature Records?
By Joe Romm on March 26, 2014
Signs are increasingly pointing to the formation of an El Niño in the next few months, possibly a very strong one. When combined with the long-term global warming trend, a super El Niño means 2015 (and possibly even 2014) is likely to become the hottest year on record….Remember that 2010, a moderate El Niño, is the hottest year on record so far. And 2010 saw a stunning 20 countries set all-time record highs, including “Asia’s hottest reliably measured temperature of all-time, the remarkable 128.3°F (53.5°C) in Pakistan in May 2010.” Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters said 2010 was “the planet’s most extraordinary year for extreme weather since reliable global upper-air data began in the late 1940s.” Given that the “Earth’s Rate Of Global Warming Is 400,000 Hiroshima Bombs A Day,” the planet is half a billion Hiroshimas warmer than it was in 2010. So even a moderate El Niño will cause record-setting temperature and weather extremes. But a strong one, let alone a super El Niño, should shatter records.
Peru’s official El Niño commission said last week that they are expecting an El Niño to start as soon as April. Peru tracks this closely because “El Nino threatens to batter the fishmeal industry by scaring away abundant schools of cold-water anchovy.” To be clear, an El Niño is not a sure thing at this point. Some forecasters put the chances at about 60 percent, but one recent study put the chances at 75 percent. Mashable’s Andrew Freedman (formerly of Climate Central) reports “some scientists think this event may even rival the record El Niño event of 1997-1998.” He cites meteorology professor Paul Roundy: Roundy said the chances of an unusually strong El Niño event “Are much higher than average, it’s difficult to put a kind of probability of it … I’ve suggested somewhere around 80%.” “The conditions of the Pacific ocean right now are as favorable for a major event as they were in March of 1997. That’s no major guarantee that a major event develops but clearly it would increase the likelihood of a major event occurring,” Roundy says….
Deep ocean current may slow due to climate change
(March 21, 2014) — Far beneath the surface of the ocean, deep currents act as conveyer belts, channeling heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients around the globe. A new has found that recent climate change may be acting to slow down one of these conveyer belts, with potentially serious consequences for the future of the planet’s climate. … > full story
A satellite image of Pine Island Glacier shows an 18-mile-long crack across the glacier. Researchers used cracks and other physical features on the glaciers to calculate glacier acceleration by comparing image data from year to year to see how far the cracks traveled. Credit: NASA
Major increase in West Antarctic glacial loss
(March 26, 2014) — Six massive glaciers in West Antarctica are moving faster than they did 40 years ago, causing more ice to discharge into the ocean and global sea level to rise, according to new research…. The researchers studied the Pine Island, Thwaites, Haynes, Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers, all of which discharge ice into a vast bay known as the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica. The amount of ice released by these six glaciers each year is comparable to the amount of ice draining from the entire Greenland Ice Sheet annually, Mouginot said. If melted completely, the glaciers’ disappearance would raise sea levels another 1.2 meters (four feet), according to co-author and UC-Irvine Professor Eric Rignot. The decades of increasing speeds and ice loss are “a strong indication of a major, long-term leakage of ice into the ocean from that sector of Antarctica,” noted Rignot. “This region is considered the potential leak point for Antarctica because of the low seabed. The only thing holding it in is the ice shelf,” said Robert Thomas, a glaciologist at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, in Wallops Island, Va., who was not involved in the study. Ice shelves are platforms of permanent floating ice that form where glaciers meet the sea. In West Antarctica, ice shelves prevent the glaciers investigated in the study from slipping more rapidly into the ocean. … > full story
Permafrost thaw exacerbates climate change
(March 21, 2014) — Growing season gains do not offset carbon emissions from permafrost thaw, new research shows. Permafrost contains three to seven times the amount of carbon sequestered in tropical forests. The warming climate threatens to thaw permafrost, which will result in the release of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere creating feedbacks to climate change — more warming and greater permafrost thaw. … > full story
Seasonal Arctic summer ice extent still hard to forecast, study says
(March 27, 2014) — Scientists analyzed 300 summer Arctic sea ice forecasts from 2008 to 2013 and found that forecasts are quite accurate when sea ice conditions are close to the downward trend that has been observed in Arctic sea ice for the last 30 years. However, forecasts are not so accurate when sea ice conditions are unusually higher or lower compared to this trend. … > full story
FOOD WEB Dynamics behind Arctic ecosystems revealed
(March 27, 2014) — Species such as the musk ox, Arctic fox and lemming live in the harsh, cold and deserted tundra environment. However, they have often been in the spotlight when researchers have studied the impact of a warmer climate on the countryside in the north. Until now, the focus has been concentrated on individual species, but an international team of biologists has now published an important study of entire food-web dynamics in the journal Nature Climate Change. Field studies covering three continents show that temperature has an unexpectedly important effect on food-web structure, while the relationship between predator and prey is crucial for the food-web dynamics and thereby the entire ecosystem.
….The researchers have evidenced that temperature is of decisive importance for which elements form part of the food chain, thus permitting them to predict how climate changes may impact whole food chains — and not just the conditions for the individual species.
Temperature regulates which organisms interact with each other in the far north arctic nature. However, the present study also shows that predation, i.e. the interactions between predators and prey, is the factor regulating the energy flows in ecosystems and, with that, the function of the ecosystem. ‘Our results show that predators are the most important items of the tundra food chains, except in the High Arctic. The intensity varies with the body size of the herbivores (plant eaters) of the chains. For example, the musk ox is far more likely to avoid being eaten by predatory animals than the lemming,’ Niels Martin Schmidt explains. Researchers have previously revealed similar patterns for the food chains of the African savannas. The researchers behind the present recently published study therefore believe that we may possibly be one step closer to proposing a general principle for how terrestrial ecosystems are structured. … > full story
P. Legagneux et al. Arctic ecosystem structure and functioning shaped by climate and herbivore body size. Nature Climate Change, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2168
Geographical limits to species-range shifts are suggested by climate velocity
Michael T. Burrows et al Nature 507, 492–495 (27 March 2014) doi:10.1038/nature12976 Received 13 September 2013 Accepted 30 December 2013 Published online 09 February 2014 Corrected online 26 March 2014
The reorganization of patterns of species diversity driven by anthropogenic climate change, and the consequences for humans1, are not yet fully understood or appreciated2, 3. Nevertheless, changes in climate conditions are useful for predicting shifts in species distributions at global4 and local scales5. Here we use the velocity of climate change6, 7 to derive spatial trajectories for climatic niches from 1960 to 2009 (ref. 7) and from 2006 to 2100, and use the properties of these trajectories to infer changes in species distributions. Coastlines act as barriers and locally cooler areas act as attractors for trajectories, creating source and sink areas for local climatic conditions. Climate source areas indicate where locally novel conditions are not connected to areas where similar climates previously occurred, and are thereby inaccessible to climate migrants tracking isotherms: 16% of global surface area for 1960 to 2009, and 34% of ocean for the ‘business as usual’ climate scenario (representative concentration pathway (RCP) 8.5)8 representing continued use of fossil fuels without mitigation. Climate sink areas are where climate conditions locally disappear, potentially blocking the movement of climate migrants. Sink areas comprise 1.0% of ocean area and 3.6% of land and are prevalent on coasts and high ground. Using this approach to infer shifts in species distributions gives global and regional maps of the expected direction and rate of shifts of climate migrants, and suggests areas of potential loss of species richness.
In Ranchers Vs. Weeds, Climate Change Gives Weeds An Edge
by Luke Runyon March 25, 2014 4:03 PM NPR
A tall, rubbery weed with golden flowers Dalmatian toadflax is encroaching on grasslands in 32 U.S. states. Most climate models paint a bleak picture of the Great Plains a century from now as a hot region besieged by heavy rainstorms and flooding. And new studies suggest that climate change may bring farmers another headache: more invasive plants. Ask most Midwestern and Rocky Mountain ranchers about the weeds they pull their hair out over and be prepared for a long list . There’s cheat grass in Nebraska, red brome in Utah and yellow star thistle in California. And they can’t count on cattle to gobble them up. Depending on the plant, most cattle either don’t want to eat it or could get sick if they do. “You kinda have to teach them about a new plant,” says Ellen Nelson, a rancher in north-central Colorado who has a weed problem. “I’ve gotten some of them to eat some, but in general, that’s a hard one.” As climate change takes hold, it’s likely to only get worse, not just for Nelson, but for ranchers across the country. In 2005, U.S. Department of Agriculture research ecologist Dana Blumenthal set out to find out just how it will get worse. Specifically, he wanted to know what effect climate change will have on a noxious weed called Dalmatian Toadflax that’s encroached on grasslands in 32 U.S. states. For about eight years Blumenthal and his team one possible future climate in the Wyoming grassland. They used a heating apparatus to keep test plots warmer than normal, and pumped carbon dioxide into the air surrounding the toadflax. The warming and CO2 weren’t set at doomsday levels, but rather conservative levels Blumenthal says the Plains could see within a century. Under those conditions, Dalmatian toadflax flourished, growing in size 13-fold and producing more seeds….
Invasive Species in Waterways on Rise Due to Climate Change
Mar. 26, 2014 — One of the most serious threats to global biodiversity and the leisure and tourism industries is set to increase with climate change according to new research. Researchers have found that certain … full story
Model now capable of street-level storm-tide predictions
(March 25, 2014) — A new modeling study demonstrates the ability to predict a hurricane’s storm tide at a much finer scale than current operational methods. The water that surged into the intersection of New York City’s Canal and Hudson streets during Hurricane Sandy — to choose just one flood-ravaged locale — was ultimately driven ashore by forces swirling hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic. That simple fact shows not only the scale and power of a tropical cyclone, but the difficulty of modeling and forecasting its potential for coastal flooding on the fine scale needed to most effectively prepare a response. … > full story
Predicting climate: Researchers test seasonal-to-decadal prediction
(March 25, 2014) — Researchers are exploring the potential for seasonal to decadal climate prediction. Seasonal-to-decadal prediction is now being tested with an advanced initialization method that has proven successful in weather forecasting and operational oceanography. … > full story
Climate change will improve survival rates of British bird – the long-tailed tit.Credit: Image courtesy of University of Sheffield
Climate change will improve survival rates of British bird — the long-tailed tit
(March 24, 2014) — Climate change may be bad news for billions, but scientists have discovered one unlikely winner — a tiny British bird, the long-tailed tit. Like other small animals that live for only two or three years, these birds had until now been thought to die in large numbers during cold winters. But new research suggests that warm weather during spring instead holds the key to their survival. Like other small animals that live for only two or three years, these birds had until now been thought to die in large numbers during cold winters. But new research suggests that warm weather during spring instead holds the key to their survival.
The findings come from a 20-year study of long-tailed tits run by Professor Ben Hatchwell at the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences. The recent work is led by PhD student Philippa Gullett and Dr Karl Evans from Sheffield, in collaboration with Rob Robinson from the British Trust for Ornithology.
“During spring, birds must work their socks off to raise their chicks,” said Philippa Gullett. “For most small birds that live for only two or three years, not raising any chicks one year is a disaster. They might only get one more chance, so they can’t afford to fail.”
No surprise then that these birds are willing to invest everything and risk death if it means their young survive. The surprise is that weather makes all the difference. The research discovered that birds trying to breed in warm and dry springs have much better chances of surviving to the next year — a novel result that counters common assumptions about the cause of death for small birds. “What seems to be going on is that the tits try to raise their chicks at any cost,” added Ms Gullett.
“If it’s cold and wet in spring, that makes their job much tougher. Food is harder to find; eggs and chicks are at risk of getting cold. The result is that by the end of the breeding season, the adult birds are exhausted.” The study found no real effect of winter weather in recent years on adult survival, however cold and wet autumns were associated with a higher death rate. “We’re not saying that birds never die in winter — in harsh years there are bound to be some fatalities,” explained Dr Karl Evans. “However, it seems that in most years autumn weather plays a bigger role, perhaps acting as a filter that weeds out weaker birds before the real winter hits.” Although autumns may get wetter in the coming years, any increase in mortality is likely to be offset by the benefits of warmer breeding seasons, when more benign conditions reduce the costs of breeding. Dr Evans added: “Looking ahead to the future, our data suggests that every single plausible climate change scenario will lead to a further increase in long-tailed survival rates. While many species struggle to adjust to climate change, these delightful birds seem likely to be winners.” … > full story
Philippa Gullett, Karl L. Evans, Robert A. Robinson, Ben J. Hatchwell. Climate change and annual survival in a temperate passerine: partitioning seasonal effects and predicting future patterns. Oikos, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2013.00620.x
A researcher bags a red backed salamander, Plethodon cenereus, prior to swabbing it, measuring it, and releasing it. Next, researchers will study whether smaller size is a useful adaptation to climate change, or is related to population declines. Credit: Nicholas M. Caruso
Salamanders shrinking as their mountain havens heat up
(March 25, 2014) — Salamanders in some of North America’s best habitat are shrinking fast as their surroundings get warmer and drier, forcing them to burn more energy. A new article examines specimens caught in the Appalachian Mountains from 1957 to 2007 and wild salamanders caught at the same sites in 2011-2012. Animals measured after 1980 averaged 8 percent smaller — one of the fastest rates of changing body size ever recorded. … > full story
Nicholas M. Caruso, Michael W. Sears, Dean C. Adams, Karen R. Lips. Widespread rapid reductions in body size of adult salamanders in response to climate change. Global Change Biology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12550
Dust in the wind drove iron fertilization during ice age
(March 21, 2014) — A longstanding hypothesis that wind-borne dust carried iron to the region of the globe north of Antarctica, driving plankton growth and eventually leading to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been confirmed by researchers. Plankton remove the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere during growth and transfer it to the deep ocean when their remains sink to the bottom. … > full story
Lots of carbon dioxide equivalents from aquatic environments
(March 24, 2014) — Large amounts of carbon dioxide equivalents taken up by plants on land are returned to the atmosphere from aquatic environments. The findings were that emissions of carbon dioxide equivalents (as methane and carbon dioxide) from lakes, running water, dams, ponds, and wells correspond to on an average 42% of the expected natural carbon sink in India. This carbon sink may therefore be smaller than expected, illustrating that we do not have full knowledge on the natural greenhouse gas balance. … > full story
Net primary productivity of subalpine meadows in Yosemite National Park in relation to climate variability
Moore, PE, JW van Wagtendonk, JL Yee, MP McClaran, DN Cole, NK McDougald, ML Brooks. 2013. Net primary productivity of subalpine meadows in Yosemite National Park in relation to climate variability. Western North American Naturalist 73:4: 409-418. doi: 10.3398/064.073.0410 USGS WERC
Subalpine meadows are some of the most ecologically important components of mountain landscapes, and primary productivity is important to the maintenance of meadow functions. Understanding how changes in primary productivity are associated with variability in moisture and temperature will become increasingly important with current and anticipated changes in climate. Our objective was to describe patterns and variability in aboveground live vascular plant biomass in relation to climatic factors. We harvested aboveground biomass at peak growth from four 64-m2 plots each in xeric, mesic, and hydric meadows annually from 1994 to 2000. Data from nearby weather stations provided independent variables of spring snow water content, snow-free date, and thawing degree days for a cumulative index of available energy. We assembled these climatic variables into a set of mixed effects analysis of covariance models to evaluate their relationships with annual aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), and we used an information theoretic approach to compare the quality of fit among candidate models. ANPP in the xeric meadow was negatively related to snow water content and thawing degree days and in the mesic meadow was negatively related to snow water content. Relationships between ANPP and these 2 covariates in the hydric meadow were not significant. Increasing snow water content may limit ANPP in these meadows if anaerobic conditions delay microbial activity and nutrient availability. Increased thawing degree days may limit ANPP in xeric meadows by prematurely depleting soil moisture. Large within-year variation of ANPP in the hydric meadow limited sensitivity to the climatic variables. These relationships suggest that, under projected warmer and drier conditions, ANPP will increase in mesic meadows but remain unchanged in xeric meadows because declines associated with increased temperatures would offset the increases from decreased snow water content.
Climate Change May Make Terrible Mudslides More Common
By Eric Holthaus March 24 2014 12:54 PM
An aerial view of the deadly mudslide in Washington Photo by Washington State Dept of Transportation via Getty Images
The death toll from this weekend’s mudslide through Oso, Wash., is still climbing, with more than 100 still listed as missing. The stories emerging are the definition of heart-rending. Here’s one, from the Seattle Times: One volunteer firefighter who had stopped working around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night said many tragic stories have yet to be told. He watched one rescuer find his own front door, but nothing else—not his home, his wife or his child. They’re in the “missing” category along with many it is feared will eventually be listed as dead. “It’s much worse than everyone’s been saying,” said the firefighter, who did not want to be named. “The slide is about a mile wide. Entire neighborhoods are just gone. When the slide hit the river, it was like a tsunami.” The most immediate cause of the mudslide is a near-record pace of rainfall for the area so far in the month of March.
Rainfall so far during the month of March has been 200-300 percent above normal across parts of western Washington State, site of this weekend’s tragic mudslide. Image: National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service
The Pacific Northwest has had an exceptionally wet finish to its rainy season, as storms that historically would have hit California were re-routed northward by a semi-permanent dome of high pressure that’s been mostly responsible for the intensifying drought there. This particular mudslide wasn’t just a freak event brought about by heavy rain, although this month’s deluge surely speeded the process. Another mudslide happened on this very same hillside just eight years ago. In fact, the State of Washington recently completed a project aimed at preventing future mudslides, just short distance away from the site of this weekend’s deadly tragedy. Only problem is? It was on the other side of the river. Again, from the Seattle Times: Sixteen months ago, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) completed a $13.3 million project, called the Skaglund Hill Permanent Slide Repair, to secure an area just west of Saturday’s slide, on the opposite side of the Stillaguamish River. That project covered about a half-mile stretch of Highway 530, from mile marker 36.25 to 36.67. It secured a hill south of the river. Saturday’s slide collapsed a hill north of the river and sent mud crashing into the Stillaguamish and across Highway 530 between mile markers 37 and 38, according to WSDOT. This weekend’s tragedy reminds me of a similar pair of mudslides that occurred in 1995 and 2005 along the coast of California, in the tiny town of La Conchita. In 2005, heavy rains caused groundwater levels to rise, re-mobilizing the previous debris flow and creating a repeat tragedy. Like in La Conchita, this weekend’s disaster occurred in an area known for its landslides. There are surely other, more remote areas where this process happens with less tragic results.
One of the most well-forecast and consequential components of human-caused climate change is the tendency for rainstorms to become more intense as the planet warms. As the effect becomes more pronounced, that will make follow-on events like flooding and landslides more common.
But we don’t have to wait for the future. This is already happening. Here’s an explainer, from the Union of Concerned Scientists: As average global temperatures rise, the warmer atmosphere can also hold more moisture, about 4 percent more per degree Fahrenheit temperature increase. Thus, when storms occur there is more water vapor available in the atmosphere to fall as rain, snow or hail. Worldwide, water vapor over oceans has increased by about 4 percent since 1970 according to the 2007 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, its most recent.
It only takes a small change in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere to have a major effect. That’s because storms can draw upon water vapor from regions 10 to 25 times larger than the specific area where the rain or snow actually falls. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s (USGCRP) most recent report, scientists have observed less rain falling in light precipitation events and more rain falling in the heaviest precipitation events across the United States. From 1958 to 2007, the amount of rainfall in the heaviest 1 percent of storms increased 31 percent, on average, in the Midwest and 20 percent in the Southeast. The United States Geological Survey maintains a database and monitoring program dedicated to identifying other places like La Conchita and Oso that may be at risk of future mudslides….
Why Listening To Scientists Could’ve Minimized The Tragic Impact Of The Washington Mudslide
By Ari Phillips on March 27, 2014
As rescue crews and search dogs continue to scour day and night for survivors, it’s worth a moment to reflect on the importance of accurately communicating science in a situation like this.
10853 out of 10855 scientists agree: Global warming is happening, and humans …
In an update to his ongoing project of reviewing the literature on global warming, Powell went through every scientific study published in a peer-review journal during the calendar year 2013, finding 10,855 in total (more on his methodology here).
Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land: Facing Rising Seas, Bangladesh Confronts the Consequences of Climate Change
By GARDINER HARRISMARCH 28, 2014
Bangladesh, with its low elevation and severe tropical storms, is among the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, though it has contributed little to the emissions that are driving it. Credit Kadir van Lohuizen for The New York Times
DAKOPE, Bangladesh — When a powerful storm destroyed her riverside home in 2009, Jahanara Khatun lost more than the modest roof over her head. In the aftermath, her husband died and she became so destitute that she sold her son and daughter into bonded servitude. And she may lose yet more.
Ms. Khatun now lives in a bamboo shack that sits below sea level about 50 yards from a sagging berm. She spends her days collecting cow dung for fuel and struggling to grow vegetables in soil poisoned by salt water. Climate scientists predict that this area will be inundated as sea levels rise and storm surges increase, and a cyclone or another disaster could easily wipe away her rebuilt life. But Ms. Khatun is trying to hold out at least for a while — one of millions living on borrowed time in this vast landscape of river islands, bamboo huts, heartbreaking choices and impossible hopes.
Like many of her neighbors, Nasrin Khatun, unrelated to Jahanara Khatun, navigates daily life in a disappearing landscape. As the world’s top scientists meet in Yokohama, Japan, this week, at the top of the agenda is the prediction that global sea levels could rise as much as three feet by 2100. Higher seas and warmer weather will cause profound changes.
Climate scientists have concluded that widespread burning of fossil fuels is releasing heat-trapping gases that are warming the planet. While this will produce a host of effects, the most worrisome may be the melting of much of the earth’s ice, which is likely to raise sea levels and flood coastal regions.
Such a rise will be uneven because of gravitational effects and human intervention, so predicting its outcome in any one place is difficult. But island nations like the Maldives, Kiribati and Fiji may lose much of their land area, and millions of Bangladeshis will be displaced.”There are a lot of places in the world at risk from rising sea levels, but Bangladesh is at the top of everybody’s list,” said Rafael Reuveny, a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University at Bloomington. “And the world is not ready to cope with the problems.”
The effects of climate change have led to a growing sense of outrage in developing nations, many of which have contributed little to the pollution that is linked to rising temperatures and sea levels but will suffer the most from the consequences….
California drought: Central Valley [southern San Joaquin Valley] farmland on its last legs
Carolyn Lochhead SF Chronicle March 24, 2014
Jack Mitchell sold about 3,000 acres of his Tulare County ranch a decade ago to federal officials trying to find out whether imperiled farmland could be returned to nature. Studies point to the need to retire more acreage. Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle
Even before the drought, the southern San Joaquin Valley was in big trouble. Decades of irrigation have leached salts and toxic minerals from the soil that have nowhere to go, threatening crops and wildlife. Aquifers are being drained at an alarming pace. More than 95 percent of the area’s native habitat has been destroyed by cultivation or urban expansion, leaving more endangered bird, mammal and other species in the southern San Joaquin than anywhere in the continental U.S. Federal studies long ago concluded that the only sensible solution is to retire hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. Some farming interests have reached the same conclusion, even as they publicly blamed an endangered minnow to the north, known as the delta smelt, for the water restrictions that have forced them to fallow their fields. The 600,000-acre Westlands Water District, representing farmers on the west side of the valley, has already removed tens of thousands of acres from irrigation and proposed converting damaged cropland to solar farms. Many experts said if farmers don’t retire the land, nature eventually will do it for them. “We can make the decision now, when we actually have the choice about how to rationally back out of that bad situation and make landowners whole,” said Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist for the Bay Institute, an environmental group. “Or we can just wait until the worst is upon us, we’ve driven the species extinct, we’ve plowed under the last bit of naturalized landscape in the area, and then we’re going to retire these lands anyway.”…. The district now has on its website a proposal for a “Westlands Solar Park” to build solar power panels on 24,000 acres of farmland. In some areas of the valley, salt has crystallized on the surface, covering fields with what is known as “California snow,” rendering the ground useless not just for crops but also for any vegetation at all. Retiring lands before they reach that point “has just got to be the highest priority for California,” said Tom Stokely, a water policy analyst for California Water Impact Network, an environmental group. “We don’t have the water to be irrigating these poisoned lands. We’re having a hard enough time keeping the good lands in production.”
DROUGHT: Lack of water threatens desert tortoise
Desert tortoises can survive in areas where ground temperatures exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but they are not as well-suited to the arid climate as many people think. They are at risk of extinction due to drought, among other factors, experts say. ROBB HANNAWACKER/NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
BY JANET ZIMMERMAN STAFF WRITER March 21, 2014; 12:22 PM
It’s early in the season, but some desert tortoises are setting about their springtime ritual, emerging from their burrows in search of bright yellow desert dandelions and other favorite forage. When the animals find such a feast, it leaves their beaks smeared bright green from chlorophyll in the plants….. — an encouraging sign to wildlife experts. Trackers of the long-lived and elusive animals say it appears that late February rains sparked enough germination of annual wildflowers and other plants to draw tortoises from their deep burrows, if temperatures are warm enough. Whether it’s enough to sustain this struggling population remains to be seen. “If the weather gets real hot and windy and the green-up dries out before the tortoises can take full advantage, they could have trouble this spring,” said Jeffrey Lovich, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southwest Biological Science Center in Flagstaff, Ariz. The Mojave Desert’s largest reptile is surprisingly susceptible to the effects of drought, and the past couple of years have been dry. Experts already have seen some changes….
California drought: How water crisis is worse for almonds
Peter Fimrite SF Chronicle March 23, 2014
Humberto Hernandez uses an excavator to place a dead almond tree into a wood chipper as the sun rises March 14, 2014 on a former block of almond trees on the land of Baker Farming in Firebaugh, Calif. Barry Baker decided late last year to pull up 1,000 acres of his almond trees to save water during the drought. Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle
Atwater, Merced County — A huge shift away from annual crops to nut trees has transformed the California farm belt over the past two decades and left farmers perilously vulnerable to the severe drought that is currently gripping the state. California farmers have spent past years busily ripping out lettuce, tomatoes and other annual crops in an attempt to sate the nation’s growing appetite for almonds, pistachios and other nuts. The delicious perennials are lucrative, but the vast orchards that have been planted throughout the Central Valley require decades-long investments, year-round watering and a commitment from Mother Nature that she is evidently unwilling to make. The crisis is a matter of crop flexibility. During droughts, farmers can fallow fields of lettuce and other crops, then replant them years later, picking up pretty much where they left off. That’s not an option for nut trees, which need 10 years of growing and a steady supply of water before they yield enough to pay for themselves. “These orchards are more profitable, which is why the farmers do it,” said Jay Lund, the director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. “It brings more money into California so there are a lot of good things about it, but the farmers have to be careful because a drought can be very tough on them.”
The result is that about one-third of California’s agricultural land is, Lund said, “very hard to fallow.”
Farmers are scrounging for every drop of water they can find – digging wells, tapping aquifers and finding alternative sources. But some are coming to the stark realization that, no matter what they do, there won’t be enough water to keep their trees alive. Barry Baker has decided to sacrifice 1,000 acres of his Fresno County almond orchard so that he can keep the remaining 4,000 acres alive. “It’s a huge economic loss,” said Baker, who looked on forlornly this past week as workers felled his beloved trees. “That’s probably $10 million in revenue I lost right there, but with the price of water today, up to $2,500 per acre-foot, there is no way I could have found the water this year.” ….The switchover from annual crops to nuts has, by all accounts, been highly profitable. Nut production in California brings in $7 billion in sales every year, with almonds by far the biggest money maker, at $4.35 billion. Only grapes, which generated $4.45 billion, sold more. The growth is, at least in part, because of the popularity of the Mediterranean diet, which may also explain why U.S. consumption of olive oil has tripled over the past twenty years. The average American eats 1.8 pounds of almonds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s a 36 percent increase since 2008. Consumption of walnuts, pistachios and pecans has also increased.
Most of the orchards have been planted in areas suffering from what meteorologists call “extreme drought.” “An increase in the planting of permanent crops since California’s last drought episode in 2009 is one reason we have concerns that this drought has the potential to be significantly worse,” said Steve Lyle, the spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. About 3 million of the 9 million or so acres of irrigated agriculture in California are now orchards and vineyards, according to the experts. The Golden State is the nation’s top producer of tree nuts, with almonds far outpacing everything else…. There are more than 800,000 acres of almonds in California compared with 418,000 acres in 1995. Production also doubled, from 912 million pounds in 2006 to 1.88 billion in 2013. California produces 82 percent of the world’s almonds, which are neck and neck with grapes as the highest valued crop in the United States.
Meanwhile, most field crops have been cut back. There was, for instance, 1.5 million acres of cotton in California 25 or 30 years ago. Now there is only 300,000 to 400,000 acres, said Daniel Sumner, of the Agricultural Issues Center at the University of California at Davis. The situation is also bad for dairy farmers and ranchers, according to Pete Craig, who owns a large cattle ranch near Lake Berryessa. He said the planting of almond orchards has taken thousands of acres of grazing land away from ranchers, many of whom are selling cattle because of a lack of feed. “My company has lost over 8,000 acres of grasslands that I leased for cattle grazing to almonds in the last year alone,” said Craig, who believes it is bad for the environment to replace California’s diverse grassland ecosystem with a monoculture. “It is impossible to compete against a very realistic $5,000 acre net return for a tree farmer, versus a $15 acre return on native rangeland, and perhaps a $100 acre return on irrigated ground to a cattle rancher. If you were a landowner, what would you do?”
….An almond tree must get 3 to 4 acre-feet of water per year or nut production will decrease for an extended period of time. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land in a foot of water. … And it could actually get worse before it gets better. “Another year of this and you will see even the people who planned ahead getting hurt really bad,” said Baker, the farmer who cut down 1,000 acres of orchard just so he could stay afloat another year. “It will really be a disaster next year.”
California drought puts spotlight on water theft
By Matt Weiser The Sacramento Bee March 22, 2014
It’s amazingly easy to steal water from a California stream. Even in this epic drought, the state has no way of monitoring exactly who is tapping into its freshwater supplies and how much they take.
And those who do get caught taking water they have no right to often are allowed to keep taking it for years just by promising to obtain a permit. Nearly 30,000 entities in the state hold valid water diversion permits, including individual property owners, farmers and water utilities. Some have meters or gauges to measure their diversions, but the state has no ability of its own to monitor those gauges in real-time. People and entities with water rights are required to regularly report their water use to the state, but many don’t, and the state has no way of knowing whether their accounts —self-reported — are truthful. In average water years, many of these issues don’t matter much. But the weaknesses are expected to complicate matters this year as the state struggles to stretch limited water supplies during the worst drought in 40 years. This spring, it is likely the State Water Resources Control Board will order some water rights holders to divert less water to ensure enough flow for cities and wildlife, something that has not been done since the drought of 1976-77. The state’s ability to enforce such curtailment orders will be sorely tested…..
UN climate science report will highlight ‘limits to adaptation’
Focus on limits to adaptation within the new IPCC report could sharpen focus on loss and damage within UN talks
Last updated on 26 March 2014, 8:32 am By Sophie Yeo
Humans will struggle to adapt to dangerous levels of climate change indefinitely, a UN science report is expected to announce next week. It will warn that there are barriers to man’s ability to adapt to projected floods, droughts and other extreme weather events, which means that the world will inevitably endure a certain amount of pain within the next century. The two volume report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is set to be released on March 31 in Yokohama, Japan. “The question of defining whether there are limits and what those limits might be is a new thing that we’ve uncovered in the IPCC, and I think it’s really interesting,” Frans Berkhout, lead author on the chapter on constraints to adaptation, told RTCC. “We can’t adapt our way out of this problem.”
Loss and damage
The findings will be particularly relevant to countries that are pushing for the controversial issue of ‘loss and damage’ to be recognised in a UN treaty to stop climate change, due to be signed off in Paris in 2015. ‘Loss and damage’ means that countries accept that damage as a result of climate change is inevitable, and that they must prepare themselves accordingly. This could take place in the form of research, insurance, or compensation payments from the rich countries historically responsible for climate change to those now suffering its consequences. But the notion that rich countries like the US should take the blame for climate change and pay out accordingly means that the issue is one of the most controversial at the UN climate negotiations. The fiercely political debate surrounding the issue means that the policy neutral IPCC is likely to steer clear of the phrase ‘loss and damage’ itself, but it’s there in all but name, says Saleemul Huq, an expert on the topic at the IIED, and a lead author on the IPCC report. “Chapter 16 is about the limits and barriers to adaptation. That’s effectively what happens when we fail to sufficiently adapt,” he told RTCC. “They may not use the words loss and damage, but substantively it’s there….
Governments reject IPCC economist’s ‘meaningless’ climate costs estimate The Guardian March 28, 2014
UK-based Richard Tol, who has criticised overall report, accused of underestimating costs of climate change in economics section
Britain has dismissed as “completely meaningless” a key economic finding cited in part of the draft United Nations climate report from a dissenting author who went public on Thursday with criticisms of the report, the Guardian has learned. Scientists and government officials are gathered this week in Yokohama, Japan, to agree on the exact wording of a final summary of the UN report – seen as the authoritative account of climate change science – before its release on Monday. Britain and other governments have been severely critical of a finding from Richard Tol, a Dutch economics professor at Sussex University, according to documents made available to the Guardian. The summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the impact of global warming cites research by Tol on global economic losses due to climate change, which he put at between 0.2% and 2% of income. That is far lower than estimates of the costs of climate change by the economist Nicholas Stern. Britain and other governments rejected the finding as an underestimate when the draft was first circulated to officials last December, noting that Tol did not include the potential for catastrophic damages due to climate change. “This statement … risks being deeply misleading,” British officials wrote….
Democrats plan big ad campaign in challenge to Koch brothers.
Senate Majority PAC, an outside group that supports Senate Democrats, is preparing a $3 million ad campaign against Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, the libertarian-minded billionaire brothers who support conservative causes and have already poured millions of dollars into the 2014 midterm elections.
California Water Policy eNews March 26, 2014
This week’s Water Plan eNews includes:
- Biodiversity council will focus on improving agency alignment
- ARB opens comment period for scoping plan’s draft environmental analysis
- New report details stakeholder input on strategic plan for IRWM in California
- Collaborative approaches for the Delta Plan on agenda for DSC
- LAO looks at management of groundwater resources, offers recommendation
- Central Valley Project report looks at strategies for dealing with climate change
Bad News For Polluters: EPA Moves To Better Protect Streams And Wetlands
By Joanna M. Foster on March 27, 2014
The hope is that these new rules will restore protection for about 20 million wetland acres and two million miles of streams whose legal status was thrown into uncertainty during the Bush era.
New York City Disposable Bag Ban Takes A Step Forward
By Joanna M. Foster on March 27, 2014
The New York City Council introduced legislation Wednesday that would charge customers 10 cents for plastic or paper bags at most city stores.
Senator Feinstein and Valley Congressmembers call on Administration to take immediate action to capture water from latest storm
March 28 2014 by Maven
Senator Feinstein, along with Congressmembers Ken Calvert, Jim Costa, Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes and David Valadao have written a letter to Secretary Sally Jewell and Secretary Penny Pritzker, backing the exchange contractors request and asking them to evaluate the operating criteria for the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project in order to capture the maximum amount of runoff possible from this week’s storm that is passing through. The extremely low water allocations to agriculture will have severe imapcts, while so far, the numbers of take of listed species at the pumps are 0 or minimal, the letter states. “These numbers show that existing protections for endangered fish are more than adequate. On the other hand, our constituents’ farms and communities are facing potential devastation. From our view, it is apparent that there is significant imbalance of regulatory burdens,” the letter says. A disaster of great magnitude has been unfolding in our communities, the letter says. Since the state’s drought declaration, there have been only two major storms, and based on historical weather patterns, these storms could be the last chance.
“We understand that your Departments have to consider other factors, such as salinity levels in the Delta and the need for pulse flows. Still, this latest data strongly suggests that there is significant leeway for the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service to alter current water operations to benefit water users without risking jeopardy to protected species,” the letter says. “This latest rain storm is occurring as we speak. You have authority under the law and, we assert, the obligation, to immediately take advantage of the rare, and likely the last, opportunity this year to capture and move water to bring relief to millions of Californians, and to mitigate the large-scale drought disaster that has struck our State. We urge you in the strongest terms to take action without delay,” the legislators say.
Read the full letter here: California Lawmakers Call on Administration to Take Immediate Action to Capture Water from Latest Storm
California drought: So many water bonds, so little time
By Jessica Calefati Posted: 03/22/2014 SACRAMENTO — As California’s drought drags on, more farmers are being forced to fallow fields and a growing number of small towns run out of water. So Republicans and Democrats here finally agree on something: They need to spend billions of dollars to fix California’s broken water system. But that doesn’t mean getting a water bond on November’s ballot that voters will approve is a sure thing. Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t even decided whether he supports the idea, while the Legislature has come up with seven different schemes aimed at making the next drought a lot less painful. Republicans want to build new dams and reservoirs, Democrats want to fund conservation and recycling projects. And the Bay Area, Southern California and the Central Valley all have competing interests. Still, longtime Capitol observers see some hope for a grand compromise. “It would be a political missed opportunity if we don’t see a water bond on the ballot this fall,” said Jack Pitney, a political-science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “As Rahm Emanuel says, ‘Never let a crisis go to waste.'” Since 1970, California voters have approved 15 of the 16 water bonds they’ve considered, though most of the money has gone to water conservation and recycling, as opposed to water storage. The last time a water bond passed was 2006, when voters approved Proposition 84, authorizing $5.4 billion in spending on water projects…. Wolk’s blueprint includes $2.9 billion for watershed and ecosystem improvements, $2 billion for regional water-infrastructure projects, $1 billion for groundwater and surface storage upgrades and $900 million to expand access to safe drinking water, especially in disadvantaged communities.
But everyone seems to want more, she said…..
Will power dry up this summer too? Hanford Sentinel March 27 2014
Recent focus on groundwater overdraft amid punishing drought has spurred yet another spin-off discussion: Will power companies run out of electricity in the hot summer months? The issue goes beyond the possibility that your air conditioner or swamp cooler might shut off. It extends to growers who are dependent on electric well pumps to keep their crops alive. With so little available water, there’s little margin for error….
The Expanding Impact of California’s Drought
Download audio (MP3)
California Report, KQED March 22, 2013
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Empty boat docks at the Folsom Lake Marina sit on the dry lakebed of Folsom Lake on March 20, 2014.
Spring officially arrived this week, and with it a reminder that the rainy season — such as it was — is quickly coming to an end. The lack of rain was the focus of a very heated Congressional hearing in Fresno this week, and of policy changes from California’s superintendent of schools. Host Scott Shafer talks about the drought and its expanding impact with KQED Science Editor Craig Miller.
SCOTT SHAFER: Craig, there were a number of drought-related things that happened this week. Help us, if you would, to put them in context.
CRAIG MILLER: Scott, you know, the impacts of this drought — and we’re only just seeing the start of them — can almost be divided into the predictable and the unpredictable. And the congressional hearing in the Valley that you just referred to is kind of in the predictable category. It’s Valley Republicans decrying what they like to call the “man-made drought” or the “regulatory drought,” meaning that environmental regulations designed to protect the delta and protect fish are to blame substantially for the lack of water. Here’s Devin Nunes, a Republican who represents a district around Fresno:
NUNES: These extremists won’t uproot themselves from their comfortable homes in San Francisco and other coastal cities, but they’re more than willing to use the Central Valley communities as a guinea pig to see if our lands can be restored to some mystical state of nature. You see the results of their relentless fight in the new Dust Bowl that has overtaken the Valley.
MILLER: So this is framing the drought as farms versus fish. It’s an old drumbeat and it’s one that I think a lot of observers would say is a bit simplistic, given California’s complex water picture.
SHAFER: A very much less predictable or anticipated impact of the drought this week played out with state School Superintendent Tom Torlakson touring the Central Valley and some of the school districts there. Describe what he was there to talk about.
MILLER: Yeah. So this is an example of the unpredictable, I think. Who would’ve thought, I mean obviously if you’re close to the situation you see it happening, but who would’ve thought that the drought would have such a direct impact on public schools of all things? But as hundreds of thousands of acres go fallow, which will be happening this year — that means acreage not put into production — farmworker families will leave the towns where they’ve been.
SHAFER: And maybe leave California.
MILLER: And maybe leave California altogether for greener pastures, so to speak. Baldomero Hernandez, he’s certainly given it a lot of thought. He’s superintendent of the Westside Elementary School District down there. Here’s how he frames it:
HERNANDEZ: Within a year or two my school district will be closed. Bottom line. With a zero allocation of water, that means next year 80 percent of the workforce out there in my area is laid off. It’s gone. They’re gonna leave.
MILLER: And when they leave, that impacts the school districts directly because their state funding is tied directly to attendance.
SHAFER: And so what can the state, what will the state do about it?
MILLER: Well, they’re working on a plan right now that would allow school districts to maintain their funding at a certain level for a limited period of time even if students leave. But it’s just a temporary fix…..
Heads Up: National Wildlife Refuge Association
Keep an eye out for these upcoming events:
- April 10– Public Witness Day & Deadline to Submit Written Testimony to the House Interior Appropriations Subcommitee (Instructions)
- April 22- Earth Day
- May 10– International Migratory Bird Day
- May 23– Deadline to submit written testimony to the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommitee (Instructions)
- RENEWABLES, ENERGY AND RELATED
Texas oil spill threatens shorebird habitat
Associated Press Published 10:34 pm, Saturday, March 22, 2014
A barge sits partly submerged after a collision caused it to spill an unknown amount of fuel oil. Photo: PO3 Manda Emery, Associated Press
McAllen, Texas —
Crews armed with infrared cameras planned to work through the night after a barge carrying nearly a million gallons of especially thick, sticky oil collided with a ship in Galveston Bay on Saturday, leaking an unknown amount of the fuel into the popular bird habitat as the peak of the migratory shorebird season was approaching. Booms were brought in to try to contain the spill, which the Coast Guard said was reported at around 12:30 p.m. by the captain of the 585-foot ship, Summer Wind. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Kristopher Kidd said the spill hadn’t been contained as of late Saturday, and that the collision was still being investigated. The ship collided with a barge carrying 924,000 gallons of marine fuel oil, also known as special bunker, which was being towed by the vessel Miss Susan, the Coast Guard said. It didn’t give an estimate of how much fuel had spilled into the bay, but there was a visible sheen of oil at the scene. Officials believe only one of the barge’s tanks was breached, but that tank had a capacity of 168,000 gallons….
Galveston Oil Spill Threatening Crucial Bird Refuge
– March 24, 2014
A barge that spilled 168,000 gallons (635,000 liters) of oil Saturday into Galveston Bay is threatening a refuge that’s crucial habitat for thousands of birds, experts say. The spill occurred when the barge collided with a ship in the Houston Ship …
Why electric utilities should struggle to sleep at night. Washington Post March 26, 2014
What’s good news for those concerned with climate change, and bad news for electric utilities? That’s grid parity, which is sometimes called socket parity. It exists when an alternative energy source generates electricity at a cost matching the price of power from the electric grid…
Permian Basin: America’s newest fracking boom where there’s not much water
Emily Guerin | Mar 19, 2014 10:40 PM High Country News
In the early 1980s, it wasn’t so uncommon for a visitor to Midland, Texas, to saunter off his private jet and into a Rolls Royce dealership. Eight Midland oil barons made it onto Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, “an amazing statistic considering that the city’s population was only 70,000,” notes Texas Monthly writer Skip Hollandsworth. It was the height of the oil boom in the Permian Basin, a geologic formation that underlies southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. The Permian was a place where newly drilled oil wells spurted into the sky, producing 600 or more barrels of oil a day. But by 1983, the 10-year energy crisis had ended, Saudi Arabia amped up production and the price of oil dropped. West Texas emptied out, and since then, oil production in the Permian has sputtered. Now, thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – the same technology that turned quiet western North Dakota towns into congested cities teeming with roughnecks – the Permian is on its way to another boom. The region’s aging, under-producing vertical rigs are being replaced by new, horizontal drilling operations that can suck crude from hard to reach places…..
In the past five years, horizontal drilling in the Permian has exploded: the number of rigs has increased fivefold. Since 2011 alone, companies have drilled over 9,300 new wells. The federal Energy Information Administration expects Permian oil production to surge to over 1.3 million barrels per day in 2014, from just 800,000 barrels in 2007. The basin is now the country’s largest oil producer.
Water is one of the key ingredients facilitating the boom. In the Permian Basin, like many other oil and gas producing regions, water is scarce and over allocated. A new report by Ceres, a Boston-based environmental non-profit focused on sustainable investing and business, found that more than 70 percent of the Permian’s oil wells are in areas of extreme water stress, which means over 80 percent of surface water and shallow groundwater is already allocated.
In the Permian, 1.1 million gallons are needed to frack each well – which isn’t much compared to other parts of the country (wells in the Bakken use twice as much, and in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale each well averages over 4.4 million gallons). But the sheer number of wells in the Permian means the gallons add up, and with more wells biting into the shale every day, Ceres projects water use in the Permian to double by 2020. Only two percent of fracking water is recycled in the Permian, says Brooke Barton, the water program manager at Ceres. That’s because Texas, like 32 other states, gives companies a cheaper, easier solution: injecting wastewater into a deep underground well. “Some companies have tried to do recycling, but they stopped doing it because it costs more money than using a disposal well,” says JP Nicot, a research scientist who studies water consumption in the oil and gas industry for the Bureau of Economic Geology at University of Texas-Austin. “If it’s not sustainable, they’ll stop doing it.” Still, there is at least one oil company operating in the Permian that’s trying to cut its water use. Apache Corporation recycles fracking water and supplements it with brackish water pumped from aquifers, reducing its consumption of fresh groundwater. But there’s a catch: in some parts of the Permian Basin, there is
no fresh water to be found. “Using brackish water looks good on paper, but there is no other choice,” Nicot says. “They could use fresh water, but they’d have to ship it from 15 miles away. So it doesn’t make sense.”…
Engineered bacteria produce biofuel alternative for high-energy rocket fuel
(March 26, 2014) — Researchers have engineered a bacterium to synthesize pinene, a hydrocarbon produced by trees that could potentially replace high-energy fuels, such as JP-10, in missiles and other aerospace applications. By inserting enzymes from trees into the bacterium scientists have boosted pinene production six-fold over earlier bioengineering efforts. … > full story
Could a toilet reinvention help save $260 billion worldwide?
By Katy Daigle, Associated Press 03/22/2014 07:13:36 PM MDT
An exhibitor demonstrates the use of a toilet tap where water is recycled and reused, during Reinvent The Toilet Fair in New Delhi, India. Scientists who accepted the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundationâ s challenge to reinvent the toilet showcased their inventions in the Indian capital Saturday with the primary goal to sanitize waste, use minimal water or electricity, and produce a usable product at low cost. (Tsering Topgyal/AP Photo)
NEW DELHI — Who would have expected a toilet to one day filter water, charge a cellphone or create charcoal to combat climate change? These are lofty ambitions beyond what most of the world’s 2.5 billion people with no access to modern sanitation would expect. Yet, scientists and toilet innovators around the world say these are exactly the sort of goals needed to improve global public health amid challenges such as poverty, water scarcity and urban growth. Scientists who accepted the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s challenge to reinvent the toilet showcased their inventions in the Indian capital Saturday. The primary goal: to sanitize waste, use minimal water or electricity, and produce a usable product at low cost. The World Bank estimates the annual global cost of poor sanitation at $260 billion, including loss of life, missed work, medical bills and other related factors. India alone accounts for $54 billion — more than the entire GDP of Kenya or Costa Rica. India is by far the worst culprit, with more than 640 million people defecating in the open and producing a stunning 72,000 tons of human waste each day — the equivalent weight of almost 10 Eiffel Towers or 1,800 humpback whales….
- RESOURCES and REFERENCES
CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife Climate College Resources and Upcoming Classes
Class #2: March 10, 2014, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Climate impacts on California’s marine waters (PDF)
Nate Mantua, NOAA/Southwest Fisheries Science Center
Class #3: April 3, 2014, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Climate Change Impacts: Winds/Upwelling and California Current/Counter Currents.
For participants outside of CDFW, please use the Outside CDFW Enrollment Form – Lecture #3
Location: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Pacific Forum, 7700 Sandholdt Rd, Moss Landing, CA
- Arthur Miller, Ph.D., Research Oceanographer. Scripps Institution of Oceanography
- Francisco Chavez, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT 2014 Conference
North (SF) Bay Watershed Association Friday, April 11, 2014 NOVATO, CA 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM PDT
The conference will bring together key participants from around the North Bay to focus on how we can work together to manage our water resources.
- Mark Cowin, Director, CA Department of Water Resources
- Jared Huffman, U.S. Congressman, California 2nd District
- Felicia Marcus, Chair, State Water Resources Control Board
For more information or questions contact: Elizabeth Preim-Rohtla North Bay Watershed Association email@example.com 415-945-1475
EARTH DAY 2014
Stanford experts from a range of disciplines will discuss the interconnections and interactions among humanity’s need for and use of climate, energy, food, water, and environmental resources…..
Southern Sierra Fire and Hydroclimate Workshop
April 22-24, 2014 Yosemite Valley, CA
This workshop is focused on developing an integrated view of the physical landscape, climate effects, hydrology and fire regimes of the Sierra Nevada.
Sanctuary Currents Symposium; Marine Debris: How do you pitch in?
Saturday April 26, 2014, University Center, California State University Monterey Bay
Research Posters: Call for abstracts will occur in January. Visit the Sanctuary Currents Symposium website for updates and information: Sanctuary Currents Symposium
US EPA Climate Showcase Communities Replication Workshop
April 30, 2014—Hotel Monaco, Baltimore, MD
US EPA’s Climate Showcase Communities program is hosting a free, 1-day workshop highlighting successful local and tribal government climate and energy strategies that can be replicated in communities across the US. Panel themes will include:
· Engaging the Community and Changing Behavior
· Big Opportunities for Small Communities
· Innovative Green Business Solutions
· Leveraging Partnerships and Opportunities
Please register for the workshop by April 15, 2014 at the conference registration website. For more information about the Climate Showcase Communities program, including a list of grantees and project descriptions, visit the Climate Showcase Communities website. To view a short video overview of past CSC Workshops, please visit our YouTube channel. Please contact Andrea Denny with any questions.
Scenario Planning toward Climate Change Adaptation (pdf) WORKSHOP May 6-8, 2014 NCTC, Shepherdstown, West Virginia
This overview course will introduce the core elements of scenario planning and expose participants to a diversity of approaches and specific scenario development techniques that incorporate both qualitative and quantitative components.
Headwaters to Ocean “H20” Conference
May 27-29, 2014 San Diego, CA
Ecosystems, Economy and Society: How large-scale restoration can stimulate sustainable development (in DC)
29 – 30 MAY 2014 U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, USA
North America Congress for Conservation Biology Meeting. July 13-16, Missoula, MT. The biennial NACCB provides a forum for presenting and discussing new research and developments in conservation science and practice for addressing today’s conservation challenges.
July 21-23, Washington, DC.
First Stewards will hold their 2nd annual symposium at the National Museum of the American Indian. This year’s theme is
“United Indigenous Voices Address Sustainability: Climate Change and Traditional Places“
99th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America
Sacramento, California August 10-15, 2014 http://www.esa.org/sacramento
California Adaptation Forum
August 19-20, 2014. SACRAMENTO, CA
This two-day forum will build off a successful National Adaptation Forum held in Colorado in 2013. The attendance of many California leaders there underscored the need for a California-focused event, which will be held every other year to complement the biennial national conference. To register go to: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/886364449
Call for Session Proposals — Due: March 20, 2014
This forum is designed to create a network of climate adaptation leaders who have a strong commitment to addressing climate risks.
Proposal session categories include:
3) Implementation Strategies
4) Monitoring and Evaluation
5) Innovation and Technology
6) Communication and Stakeholder Engagement
7) Funding, Financing and the Economics of Adaptation
Click here for more information.
International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE) World Congress meeting, July 9th 2015
Coming to Portland, Oregon July 5-10, 2015! The symposium, which is held every four years, brings scientists and practitioners from around the globe together to discuss and share landscape ecology work and information. The theme of the 2015 meeting is Crossing Scales, Crossing Borders: Global Approaches to Complex Challenges.
JOBS (apologies for any duplication; thanks for passing along)
POINT BLUE CONSERVATION SCIENCE
Point Blue Conservation Science, founded as Point Reyes Bird Observatory and based in Petaluma, California, is a growing and internationally renowned nonprofit with over 140 staff and seasonal scientists. Our highest priority is to reduce the impacts of accelerating changes in climate, land-use and the ocean on wildlife and people while promoting climate-smart conservation for a healthy, blue planet. Point Blue advances conservation of nature for wildlife and people through science, partnerships and outreach. Our scientists work hand-in-hand with wildlife managers, private land owners, ranchers, farmers, other scientists, major conservation groups, and federal, state, and local government agencies and officials. Point Blue has tripled in size over the past 12 years in response to the ever–increasing demand for sound science to assess and guide conservation investments in our rapidly changing world. At the core of our work is innovative, collaborative science.
Studying birds and other environmental indicators, we evaluate natural and human-driven change over time and guide our partners in adaptive management for improved conservation outcomes. We publish in peer-reviewed journals and contribute to the “conservation commons” of open access scientific knowledge. We also store, manage and interpret over 800 million bird and ecosystem observations from across North America and create sophisticated, yet accessible, decision support tools to improve conservation today and for an uncertain future.
This is a pivotal moment in the history of life on our planet requiring unprecedented actions to ensure that wildlife and people continue to thrive in the decades to come. Working from the Sierra to the sea and as far away as the Ross Sea (Antarctica), Point Blue is collaboratively implementing climate-smart conservation. Read more at www.pointblue.org.
- OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST
Plane search hampered by ocean garbage problem
By Tom Cohen, CNN updated 3:39 PM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
(CNN) — Another debris field, another new and so-far futile focus in the search for Flight MH370. Two weeks after the Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared, one thing has been made clear: the ocean is full of garbage, literally. “It isn’t like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Conservation International senior scientist M. Sanjayan said of the difficulty in finding the Boeing 777 aircraft. “It’s like looking for a needle in a needle factory. It is one piece of debris among billions floating in the ocean.” Environmentalists like Sanjayan have warned for years that human abuse of the planet’s largest ecosystem causes major problems for ocean life and people that depend on it. With the world’s eyes now scouring Asian waters for any trace of the plane that was more than 240 feet long and weighed more than 700,000 pounds, the magnitude of the ocean debris problem has become evident….No definitive records exist, but estimates for how many containers go overboard range from about 700 to as many as 10,000 of the roughly 100 million that the World Shipping Council says get shipped each year. Lost containers are only a minor part of the problem. While ship waste also adds to ocean pollution, most of the garbage comes from land, Sanjayan said. More than a third of the world’s 7 billion people live within 60 miles of an ocean coast, and their waste inevitably reaches the water — either deliberately or indirectly. Estimates from various sources, including the Japanese government, indicate that more than 10 million tons of debris — including houses, tires, trees and appliances — washed into the sea in the 2011 tsunami….
Lessons From the Little Ice Age
By GEOFFREY PARKER MARCH 22, 2014 NY Times
COLUMBUS, Ohio — CLIMATOLOGISTS call it the Little Ice Age; historians, the General Crisis.
During the 17th century, longer winters and cooler summers disrupted growing seasons and destroyed harvests across Europe. It was the coldest century in a period of glacial expansion that lasted from the early 14th century until the mid-19th century. …. What happened in the 17th century suggests that altered weather conditions can have catastrophic political and social consequences. Today, the nation’s intelligence agencies have warned of similar repercussions as the planet warms — including more frequent but unpredictable crises involving water, food, energy supply chains and public health. States could fail, famine could overtake large populations and flood or disease could cross borders and lead to internal instability or international conflict. …..Britain’s chief scientific officer has warned, for instance, that in the face of a seemingly inexorable rise in sea levels, “We must either invest more in sustainable approaches to flood and coastal management or learn to live with increased flooding.” In short, we have only two choices: pay to prepare now — or prepare to pay much more later. The experience of Somalia provides a terrible reminder of the consequences of inaction. Drought in the region between 2010 and 2012 created local famine, exacerbated by civil war that discouraged and disrupted relief efforts and killed some 250,000 people, half of them under the age of 5. In the 17th century, the fatal synergy of weather, wars and rebellions killed millions. A natural catastrophe of analogous proportions today — whether or not humans are to blame — could kill billions. It would also produce dislocation and violence, and compromise international security, sustainability and cooperation. So while we procrastinate over whether human activities cause climate change, let us remember the range of climate-induced catastrophes that history shows are inevitable — and prepare accordingly.
Elizabeth Kolbert INTERVIEW– on How Tech Can — And Can’t — Tackle Climate Change and Extinction
March 23, 2014, 8:00 AM PDT By James Temple
Somewhere around two hundred thousand years ago, a new primate emerges on Earth. “The members of the species are not particularly swift or strong or fertile,” the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert writes in her new book, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” “They are, however, singularly resourceful.” It is, of course, us — big-brained, small-browed genetic mutants clever enough to outcompete animals ten times our size and gradually fan out across the globe…..
The Ecological Creed of Craft Beer
A time-honored artisanal endeavor is quietly articulating a 21st century version of industrial production
By James McWilliams March 2014 Conservation
From the outside, the New Belgium Brewery, located on 50 acres near downtown Fort Collins, Colorado, appears to be an environmentalist’s dreamscape. Company-issued bicycles surround the facility. A parking lot next to the brew house has an electric car charging station. Solar panels layer the roof of the bottling plant. A well-worn biking path snakes across the property. This tableau of eco-correctness is impressive. So impressive, in fact, that I found myself feeling skeptical as I watched the brewery come to life on a cold January morning. After all, there’s a lot of what Robert Engelman of Worldwatch Institute calls “sustainababble” out there. Brewing is a quintessential artifact of rust-belt industrialism, so it is hardly the first place I’d think to look for environmental inspiration….
Climate Change Art: That Sinking Feeling
By ANDREW C. REVKIN NY Times March 25, 2014
A sculptor’s view of politicians yammering in the face of rising seas and a warming climate.
What Famous Old Paintings Can Tell Us About Climate Change
The Atlantic Cities
March 25, 2014
To study climate change, scientists often must travel to extremely remote places. Clues are stored in fossils on the ocean floor, under the bark of Alaskan trees, and inside air bubbles trapped deep in the Antarctic ice. Christos Zerefos, an atmospheric researcher at the Academy of Athens in Greece, has a shorter commute. When he wants to investigate the climate, he stares at landscapes executed by some of Britain’s most esteemed painters, like this circa-1829 piece by J. M. W. Turner:
Whereas the casual viewer of “The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks” might spy a transcendent panorama from one of Romanticism’s leading artists, Zerefos notices something different. He sees the sky: a hazy, almost angry-looking blob of dirty-yellow sunlight. To him, the strange colors are evidence that something was happening to alter the atmosphere, and that it was big and violent enough that painters years apart would capture it on their canvases. After studying hundreds of landscapes made between 1500 and 2000, Zerefos and fellow researchers in Germany believe that these spectacular scenes were the result of volcanic air pollution. More than 80 major eruptions occurred during that 500-year period, they say in a new study in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Some, like the 1815 Tambora explosion in Indonesia, spewed aerosols like ash and sulfates over much of the planet. That created a situation known as high “aerosol optical depth“—basically, there was so much junk floating around that it scattered the sunlight, producing brilliant red-and-orange sunsets that lasted as long as three years after an eruption….
Secret to cutting sugary drink use by teens found by new study
(March 26, 2014) — A new study shows that teenagers can be persuaded to cut back on sugary soft drinks — especially with a little help from their friends. A 30-day challenge encouraging teens to reduce sugar-sweetened drink use lowered their overall consumption substantially and increased by two-thirds the percentage of high-school students who shunned sugary drinks altogether.
… > full story
- IMAGES OF THE WEEK
MIND OVER MECHANICS—youtube video
Technology is exciting! Someday you will control it by thinking it. Turn up sound, watch full screen and ponder the future potential….
CA BLM WILDLIFE TRIVIA ANSWER and related information
Desert iguanas are most common in the Mojave and Colorado deserts of California. One special trait gives them an advantage over other animals in their range. What is it?
(a.) They are the most heat-tolerant reptiles in North America, so they have little competition while locating food in midday heat.
SOURCE: “Desert iguana – Dipsosaurus dorsalis” (BLM California wildlife database)
These lizards are the most heat-tolerant reptiles in North America. They can remain active in temperatures up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (this temperature would kill most other reptiles). Most desert reptiles avoid the extreme heat of mid-afternoon, so with all of the other species hidden in shady areas, desert iguanas have very little competition for food.http://ow.ly/v0zhC
PHOTO: One of Amboy Crater’s Desert Iguanas by Jennifer Dickson
(The Wilderness Society, Jennifer’s Blog)
Make a pit stop for critters at California’s Amboy Crater. http://ow.ly/v0zNG
Ellie Cohen, President and CEO
Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO)
3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11, Petaluma, CA 94954
www.pointblue.org | Follow Point Blue on Facebook!
Point Blue—Conservation science for a healthy planet.