Focus of the Week – New studies on nature slowing impacts of climate change
2–CLIMATE CHANGE AND EXTREME EVENTS with special DROUGHT section
3– ADAPTATION and HOPE
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Focus of the Week– New studies on nature slowing impacts of climate change
African Savannah. An international study shows that semi-arid ecosystems–savannahs and shrublands–play an extremely important role in controlling carbon sinks and the climate-mitigating ecosystem service they represent. Credit: © tellmemore / Fotolia
Posted: 21 May 2015 11:41 AM PDT
Tropical rainforests have long been considered the Earth’s lungs, sequestering large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thereby slowing down the increasing greenhouse effect and associated human-made climate change. Scientists in a global research project now show that the vast extensions of semi-arid landscapes occupying the transition zone between rainforest and desert dominate the ongoing increase in carbon sequestration by ecosystems globally, as well as large fluctuations between wet and dry years. This is a major rearrangement of planetary functions.
An international study released this week, led by Anders Ahlström, researcher at Lund University and Stanford University, shows that semi-arid ecosystems–savannahs and shrublands–play an extremely important role in controlling carbon sinks and the climate-mitigating ecosystem service they represent. “Understanding the processes responsible for trends and variability of the carbon cycle, and where they occur, provides insight into the future evolution of the carbon sink in a warmer world and the vital role natural ecosystems may play in accelerating or slowing down human-induced climate change,” says Anders Ahlström. Tropical rainforests are highly productive, and this means that they take up a lot of carbon dioxide, but rainforests are crowded places with little room to fit in more plants to do more photosynthesis and to store carbon. In addition, the typical moist, hot weather conditions are ideal for growth and do not change much from year to year. In savannahs it is different. As productivity increases there is room to fit in more trees whose growing biomass provides a sink, or store, for carbon sequestered from the atmosphere. In addition, savannahs spring to life in wetter years, causing large fluctuations in carbon dioxide uptake between wet and dry years. Large enough, Ahlström and colleagues show, to control the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“There has been an increase in the uptake of carbon dioxide over time, and land ecosystems have together absorbed almost one third of all carbon dioxide emissions from human activity since the 1960s. What is perhaps even more surprising is that this trend is also dominated by the semi-arid lands,” Anders Ahlström says. We have long known that we need to protect the rainforests but, with this study, the researchers show that a heightened effort is needed to manage and protect the semi-arid regions of the world as well….
Ning Zeng et al. The dominant role of semi-arid ecosystems in the trend and variability of the land CO2 sink. Science, May 2015 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1668
Earthworm in soil (stock image). “In disturbed environments, where soil animals are not present, the feedback between climate change and microbial carbon production was strong,” said the lead author of the study. “Meanwhile, when the soil community is healthy and diverse, we saw that animals feed on the microorganisms, limiting the feedback effects.”
Credit: © Henrik Larsson / Fotolia
Posted: 19 May 2015 10:28 AM PDT
Small soil animals can limit the effects of climate change, a team of researchers has shown through a long-term study. In the same way that Yellowstone’s wolves regulate plant diversity by controlling the number of grazing elk, the researchers found that insects, worms and other small creatures can play a similar regulatory role in soil ecosystems by feeding on the microbes that can trigger increased carbon emissions. In a long-term study, researchers showed that small soil animals can limit the effects of climate change, which would otherwise stimulate the loss of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere. The study provides key new insights into how the interactions between organisms in the soil are likely to be critical for controlling the changes in carbon cycling under current and future climate scenarios.
The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Decomposition of dead plant and animal material by soil microorganisms generates an annual global release of 50 to 75 petagrams of carbon — in the form of carbon dioxide and methane — into the atmosphere (1 petagram equals 1 billion metric tons). This amounts to almost ten times the greenhouse gas production of humans worldwide. Scientists have known for a long time that warming has the potential to accelerate this process, leading to increased carbon emissions that will accelerate climate change through a dangerous feedback cycle. However, until now, little has been known about which ecosystems will be most affected and why. The study — an international collaboration between researchers at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), the University of Helsinki, the Institute of Microbiology of the ASCR in the Czech Republic, and the University of New Hampshire — was designed to shed light on this issue. “In disturbed environments, where soil animals are not present, the feedback between climate change and microbial carbon production was strong,” said Thomas Crowther, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale F&ES and lead author of the study. “Meanwhile, when the soil community is healthy and diverse, we saw that animals feed on the microorganisms, limiting the feedback effects.”…. Crowther said. “As a result of climate change, there’s going to be more nitrogen deposition, it’s going to be warmer — many of the things that limit fungal growth are going to be alleviated,” he said. “And by stimulating microbial activity it will trigger higher carbon emissions. So when those ‘bottom up’ limitations are gone, the grazing animals become even more important.”… “Our current understanding of carbon cycle feedbacks to climate change stem mostly from the physical sciences; this study shows that precise global predictions can be achieved only if we understand the interactions between organisms,” he said.
Thomas W. Crowther, Stephen M. Thomas, Daniel S. Maynard, Petr Baldrian, Kristofer Covey, Serita D. Frey, Linda T. A. van Diepen, Mark A. Bradford. Biotic interactions mediate soil microbial feedbacks to climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201502956 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1502956112
Scientists aboard the Tara Oceans vessel use plankton nets to strain microbes from seawater in this undated handout photo provided by the University of Arizona, May 21, 2015. Reuters/Melissa Duhaime/Journal Science/Handout via Reuters
WASHINGTON | By Will Dunham May 22, 2015 Reuters
Scientists on Thursday unveiled the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of the world’s ocean plankton, the tiny organisms that serve as food for marine creatures such as the blue whale, but also provide half the oxygen we breathe.
The researchers spent 3-1/2 years aboard the schooner Tara, taking 35,000 samples of plankton from 210 sites globally, determining the distribution of the organisms, tracking how they interact with one another and carrying out genetic analyses.
Plankton include microscopic plants and animals, fish larvae, bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that drift in the oceans. “Plankton are much more than just food for the whales,” said Chris Bowler, a research director at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, and one of the scientists involved in the study published in the journal Science. Although tiny, these organisms are a vital part of the Earth’s life support system, providing half of the oxygen generated each year on Earth by photosynthesis and lying at the base of marine food chains on which all other ocean life depends.”
The scientists conducted the largest DNA sequencing effort ever done in ocean science, pinpointing around 40 million plankton genes, most previously unknown. Much of the plankton was more genetically diverse than previously known. However, the genetic diversity of marine viruses was much lower than anticipated. By removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it into organic carbon via photosynthesis, plankton provide a buffer against the increased carbon dioxide being generated by the burning of fossil fuels, Bowler said….
Posted: 11 May 2015 10:49 AM PDT
Beginning on May 11, Forest Service scientists will plant different combinations of tree and shrub species in four riparian areas on the Finger Lakes National Forest in New York and monitor the success of these different treatments for improving carbon and nitrogen ratios in the soil as well as plant, insect and wildlife biodiversity. Another purpose of the research is to evaluate whether degraded stream corridors are suitable habitats for reintroduction of a forest icon, the American elm….
Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina). Credit: © belizar / Fotolia
Posted: 19 May 2015 06:02 PM PDT
Noise from pile driving during offshore wind turbine construction could be damaging the hearing of harbour seals around the UK, researchers have found. They say more research is needed on how noise affects marine mammals’ hearing and into engineering solutions to reduce noise levels. The study is published today in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology. There are currently 1,184 offshore wind turbines around the coast of the UK, between them generating around 4GW of power. The next round of construction, which began in 2014, will see hundreds more turbines installed to generate a further 31GW, yet we know little about the impact of construction noise on sea mammals’ hearing…..
You have entered bat airspace, turn back now
By Mary Beth Griggs Posted May 12, 2015
There are wildlife refuges in all 50 states and territories protecting animals both on the land and in the water. But what about up in the sky? Plenty of birds, bats, and other flying creatures die every year either by slamming into buildings or getting hit by turbines and plane engines. Collisions between nature’s aviators and human machines led three scientists to write an article in Science, encouraging the creation of wildlife refuges in the sky to protect habitats in the air–not just on the ground. The researchers are worried about buildings, turbines, power lines, antennae, aircrafts, helicopters, and drones. Wind turbines can be a particular problem for bats, as the animals confuse the large structures for trees and get whacked by the spinning blades. Birds, on the other hand, face threats like getting vaporized by solar farms and being sucked into plane engines. But before we can create a safe haven for birds and bats in the sky, scientists have to figure out where they are flying. Migratory patterns are pretty well-known for many species; everyday flying patterns, where birds are just going about their normal routine, are less documented. Once we figure out which areas of airspace are most useful to these animals, conservation groups can better draw up guidelines for where to build (or not build) structures that pose a threat to the flying critters. “If you know all the species that use that area before you build an airport or a building or a wind farm, you will probably be able to reduce a lot of the conflicts,” Sergio Lambertucci, an author of the Science paper, told the BBC. As for flying threats, like drones, the answer could be a no-fly zone over sensitive areas. A recent study showed that birds don’t mind drones that keep their distance and don’t approach them from directly overhead. But as Fast Company
points out soon there could be more than a million drone flights over the United States every day as retailers figure out how to utilize the technology. (Gryzzlbox anybody?) There’s no guarantee that all drone operators will be respectful of the animals in the sky. The National Park Service already has a ban in place forbidding the use of drones over national park land, citing in part, the safety and comfort of wildlife.
Posted: 12 May 2015 03:50 PM PDT
Wetlands created 20 years ago between tile-drained agricultural fields and the Embarras River were recently revisited for a new two-year research project. Results show an overall 62 percent nitrate removal rate and little emission of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.
Posted: 21 May 2015 05:16 AM PDT
A cartwheeling spider, a bird-like dinosaur and a fish that wriggles around on the sea floor to create a circular nesting site are among the species identified as the Top 10 New Species for 2015. Two animals — a frog that gives birth to tadpoles and a wasp that uses dead ants to protect its nest — are unusual because of their parenting practices. Also on the list are an animal that might surpass the new species distinction to be an entirely new phylum, a 9-inch walking stick and a photogenic sea slug. Rounding out the top 10 are a coral plant described as endangered almost as soon as it was discovered and a red-and-green plant used during Christmas celebrations in Mexico.
Posted: 13 May 2015 05:36 AM PDT
Projects that stimulate sustainable fishing in developing countries often get no further than good intentions. Thus, some of the imported fish sold in European and North American shops may be less sustainably caught than claims suggest. To prevent the MSC quality label for sustainable fish catches being undermined, the requirements for market access should be made more exacting, argue experts.
Posted: 12 May 2015 07:35 AM PDT
In a study that compared three sites within the Dja Conservation Complex in Cameroon, Africa, investigators found that the presence of a conservation research project acts as a deterrent to chimpanzee and gorilla poachers, and community awareness and involvement in research lead to an increased value of apes and intact forests to local people, thus limiting hunting practices. The results provide evidence that the mere existence of research programs exerts a positive impact on the conservation of wildlife in their natural habitats.
– May 13, 2015
The annual contribution of seven ecosystem services to the economy of Limburg, the southernmost province of the Netherlands, can be estimated at around €112 million. This was the conclusion of a study conducted by Roy Remme, Matthias Schröter and Lars Hein of Wageningen University, in collaboration with Bram Edens. The aim of the study was to develop knowledge about the monetary contribution of ecosystems to the regional economy. The study has been published in the journal Ecological Economics. … The researchers modelled and valued seven ecosystem services: crop production, fodder production, drinking water production, air quality regulation, carbon sequestration, nature tourism and hunting… The study provides insight into the valuation methods that can be used for ecosystem accounting. Monetary valuation for ecosystem accounting takes into account economic production and consumption; it therefore differs from a welfare-based valuation approach, which also accounts for the values that people assign to certain services. Moreover, some ecosystem services, such as experiential value, are still difficult to value in ecosystem accounting. The outcome of the study should therefore not be interpreted as the total monetary value of ecosystem services in Limburg province. The study signals that investments are required to collect the ecosystem service data that is used to develop monetary accounts for all ecosystem services. In combination with physical accounting, monetary accounting can provide a good picture of the contribution of ecosystems to economic activities, and how changes in ecosystems will affect the economy. Ecosystem accounting can provide relevant information for policy-makers in land-use planning and spatial planning. It can also act as an early warning system to signal the loss of ecosystem services and their possible consequences.
New Point Blue and partners’ paper:
Dettling MD, Seavy NE, Howell CA, Gardali T (2015) Current Status of Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo along the Sacramento and Feather Rivers, California. (PDF) PLoS ONE 10(4): e0125198. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0125198
Global temperatures in April vs. 1951-1980 average. Via NASA.
You Just Lived Through The Earth’s Hottest January-April Since We Started Keeping Records
by Joe Romm Posted on May 14, 2015 at 11:11 am climateprogress.org
It’s increasingly likely that 2015 will be the hottest year on record, possibly by a wide margin. NASA reported Wednesday that this was the hottest four-month start (January to April) of any year on record. This was also the second-warmest April on record in NASA’s dataset. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has just predicted a 90 percent chance that the El Niño it declared in March will last through the summer and “a greater than 80 percent chance it will last through 2015.” El Niños generally lead to global temperature records, as the short-term El Niño warming adds to the underlying long-term global warming trend.
And in fact, with April, we have once again broken the record for the hottest 12 months on record: May 2014 – April 2015. The previous record was April 2014 – March 2015, set last month. The record before that was March 2014 – February 2015. And the equally short-lived record before that was February 2014 – January 2015.
As we keep breaking records in 2015, our headlines are going to sound like a … broken record. May has already started out hot, and it is quite likely next month we will report “The Hottest 5-Month Start Of Any Year On Record,” and that June 2014 – May 2015 will become hottest 12 months on record.
This chart uses a 12-month moving average, so we can “see the march of temperature change over time,” rather than just once every calendar year, as science writer Greg Laden puts it.
The global warming trend that made 2014 the hottest calendar year on record is continuing. Some climate scientists have said it’s likely we’re witnessing the start of the long-awaited jump in global temperatures — a jump that could be as much as as 0.5°F.
April was warm across the country and most of the world. That’s clear in the NASA global map below for April temperatures, whose upper range extends to 6.9°C (12.4°F) above the 1951-1980 average.
Once again, it was quite warm last month in Siberia, where the permafrost is fast becoming the perma-melt. The permafrost contains twice as much carbon as is currently in the entire atmosphere. The faster it turns into a significant source of carbon dioxide and methane emissions, the more humanity will be penalized for delaying climate action. The defrosting may add as much as 1.5°F to total global warming by 2100 — something that is not factored into any current climate models.
Published: May 19th, 2015 By Andrea Thompson Climate Central
April capped a 12-month period that tied the warmest such stretch on record, according to data released Tuesday. That period, going back to May 2014, tied the previous record holder, the 12 months from April 2014 to March 2015. Of the 10 warmest 12-month periods on record, nine occurred in the past two years, most of them in back-to-back stretches. The clustering of such warm periods is a marker of how much global temperatures have risen thanks to the human-driven buildup of heat-trapping gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. April’s heat also ensured that 2015 is still the warmest year-to-date on record. And with a healthy looking El Nino that could further intensify in the coming months, the chances that the year as a whole could best last year’s record-breaking temperature are boosted. Data released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ranked this April as the fourth-warmest April in the past 136 years, with an average global temperature 1.33°F above the 20th century average. NASA’s similar database put the month tied for the third-warmest April; each agency treats global temperature data in slightly different ways, creating small differences, but overall broad agreement. The reason April dipped slightly in the monthly rankings compared to the winter months, which all ranked as the warmest or second warmest such months, is because of cooler land surface temperatures, Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist with ERT, Inc., at the NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information, said. In Australia, for example, a March that ranked as the eighth warmest was followed by an April that was 88th warmest. “While there were a lot of warm areas, we didn’t see as much widespread record warmth,” Blunden said in an email….
Posted: 11 May 2015 01:29 PM PDT
Scientists have pinpointed the climate pattern that likely sets the stage for boreal bird irruptions in which vast numbers of northern birds migrate far south of their usual winter range. The discovery could make it possible to predict the events more than a year in advance.… The researchers found that persistent shifts in rainfall and temperature drive boom-and-bust cycles in forest seed production, which in turn drive the mass migrations of pine siskins, the most widespread and visible of the irruptive migrants. “It’s a chain reaction from climate to seeds to birds,” says atmospheric scientist Court Strong, an assistant professor at the University of Utah and lead author of the study. Many seed-eating boreal species are subject to irruptions, including Bohemian and cedar waxwings, boreal chickadees, red and white-winged crossbills, purple finches, pine and evening grosbeaks, red-breasted nuthatches, and common and hoary redpolls. The authors focused on the pine siskin, a species featured prominently in earlier work on irruptive migrations….To resolve the question, the scientists turned to a remarkable trove of data gathered by backyard birders as part of Project FeederWatch, a citizen science initiative run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. FeederWatcher volunteers systematically record bird sightings from November through early April and they gave the scientists more than two million observations of pine siskins since 1989. The crowd-sourced data makes it possible to track the movement of bird populations at a continent-wide scale. “…..
As expected, they found that extremely cold winters tend to drive birds south during the irruption year. More surprisingly, the researchers found a teeter-tottering pattern between the north and south that influences bird migrations two to three years later. When the prevailing weather is wet and cold and unfavorable to seed production in one region, it tends to be warmer and drier and favorable to seed production in the other region. This climate “dipole” tends to push and pull bird migrations across the continent.
The heaviness of seed production in a given year depends on how favorable the climate was during the two or three previous years required to set and ripen seeds. That means that, in principle, it might be possible to predict irruptions up to two years in advance. The finding also raises a question about the impact of global climate change: could the perturbation by massive carbon dioxide emissions disrupt the coupling between north and south such that unfavorable conditions unfold simultaneously, leaving birds with poor seed supplies everywhere in some years? The answer is unknown. “The boreal forest is the world’s largest terrestrial biome and is home to more than half of North America’s bird species,” says co-author Benjamin Zuckerberg, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It is likely that these irruptions, driven by climate, are a critical indicator of how climate change will affect northern forests and their dependent species.”
Courtenay Strong, Benjamin Zuckerberg, Julio L. Betancourt, and Walter D. Koenig. Climatic dipoles drive two principal modes of North American boreal bird irruption. PNAS, 2015 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1418414112
Posted: 21 May 2015 05:24 AM PDT
A new study focusing on the birds of the Ice Age has shed light on the long term response of birds to climate change.
Antarctic glacier from the melting Larsen B iceshelf. CREDIT: Shutterstock
Posted: 13 May 2015 05:37 AM PDT
A decade-long scientific debate about what’s causing the thinning of one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves is settled this week with the publication of an international study in the journal The Cryosphere…. “If this vast ice shelf — which is over two and a half times the size of Wales and 10 times bigger than Larsen B — was to collapse, it would allow the tributary glaciers behind it to flow faster into the sea. This would then contribute to sea-level rise.” The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming regions on Earth, with a temperature rise of 2.5°C over the last 50 years. The team, who continue to monitor the ice shelf closely, predict that a collapse could occur within a century, although maybe sooner and with little warning. A crack is forming in the ice which could cause it to retreat back further than previously observed. The ice shelf appears also to be detaching from a small island called Bawden Ice Rise at its northern edge. Professor David Vaughan, glaciologist and Director of Science at BAS, says: “When Larsen A and B were lost, the glaciers behind them accelerated and they are now contributing a significant fraction of the sea-level rise from the whole of Antarctica. Larsen C is bigger and if it were to be lost in the next few decades then it would actually add to the projections of sea-level rise by 2100. “We expect that sea-level rise around the world will be something in excess of 50 cm higher by 2100 than it is at present and that will cause problems for coastal and low-lying cities. Understanding and counting up these small contributions from Larsen C and all the glaciers around the world is very important if we are to project, with confidence, the rate of sea-level rise into the future.”…
P. R. Holland, A. Brisbourne, H. F. J. Corr, D. McGrath, K. Purdon, J. Paden, H. A. Fricker, F. S. Paolo, A. H. Fleming. Oceanic and atmospheric forcing of Larsen C Ice-Shelf thinning. The Cryosphere, 2015; 9 (3): 1005 DOI: 10.5194/tc-9-1005-2015‘
by Natasha Geiling Posted on May 15, 2015 at 1:08 pm
An Antarctic ice shelf roughly half the size of Rhode Island will disintegrate completely within the next few years, according to a NASA study released Thursday. In 2002, two-thirds of the Larsen B Ice Shelf — which had been intact for more than 10,000 years — broke up in less than six weeks. The remaining portion of the ice shelf covers about 625 square miles along the Antarctic Peninsula, extending toward the southern tip of South America. Using data collected from airborne surveys and radar, a team led by Ala Khazendar at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, found that the remaining portion of Larsen B is weakening very quickly, which is causing the shelf to become increasingly fragmented. Two of its tributary glaciers are also flowing faster and thinning more rapidly, according to NASA.
This was the first study to look comprehensively at the health of the Larsen B remnant and its tributary glaciers, and analysis of the data puts the remnant shelf’s future in question. An increasingly widening rift will eventually split along the entire shelf, the study found, shattering the remnant sheet into hundreds of icebergs that will drift away from the continent’s edge. According to Khazendar, the Larsen B remnant will completely disintegrate by 2020, allowing Antarctic glaciers to flow unimpeded into the ocean. “These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating,” Khazendar said in a statement to NASA. “Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone.”
Antarctica’s ice shelves are like cliffs of ice that extend from the shelf of the continent out into the ocean. Without ice shelves to impede their movement, Antarctic glaciers flow into the ocean at much faster rates, accelerating global sea level rise. Antarctica has several ice shelves of varying size that hang over the edge of the continent — the Ross Ice Shelf, which is the largest, is about the size of France. The NASA study supports previous research suggesting that Antarctica’s ice shelves are melting at a rate much faster than previously anticipated. In March, research published in Science highlighted the accelerating loss of ice from most of Antarctica’s ice shelves. The melting was most pronounced in the West Antarctic, where losses increased by nearly 70 percent in the last decade. If all the ice that sits on the West Antarctic bedrock is allowed to flow into the ocean, global sea level could rise by nine feet — something that scientists don’t think is likely to happen, though they also aren’t sure how much grounded ice will eventually melt. That will be determined, they say, not only by how much the Earth warms, but by local conditions in Antarctica, including how wind patterns divert warm or cold water to various parts of the continent…
Ala Khazendara, , , Christopher P. Borstada, 1, Bernd Scheuchlb, Eric Rignotb, a, Helene Seroussia, The evolving instability of the remnant Larsen B Ice Shelf and its tributary glaciers. Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Posted: 21 May 2015 11:39 AM PDT
Scientists have observed a sudden increase of ice loss in a previously stable region of Antarctica. The ice loss in the region is so large that it causes small changes in the gravity field of the Earth.
A new study finds that processes related to global warming are weakening several Antarctic ice shelves surprisingly quickly – causing glaciers to lose large amounts of ice.
By Pete Spotts, Staff writer May 21, 2015
A new study has recorded a sudden and rapid thinning of once-stable glaciers along the southern Antarctic Peninsula, demonstrating that significant changes in glacier mass can occur surprisingly quickly as ocean and air temperatures rise. The findings support what researchers have been seeing in other parts of Antarctica, with scientists warning last year that four key glaciers on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appear to be on the verge of wholesale retreat with nothing to stop them. The new study points to a common cause among the glaciers it studied: Warm water is melting away the underside of the glaciers where they meet the sea floor, weakening the ice shelves that slow the glaciers’ slide the ocean. The researchers “observe a relatively strong [common] response across multiple glacier systems that clearly points to changing ocean condition as the main culprit,” says Alex Gardner, a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., who was not a part of the study, in an e-mail
Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
A new study applies a well-established principle of fluid flow to identify which types of trees could be winners and losers as global warming progresses.
By Pete Spotts, Staff writer May 19, 2015
As global warming progresses, look for increasing expanses of majestic forests worldwide to become short and scrubby. That is the implication of a new study that applies a well-established principle of fluid flow to the inner workings of vegetation.
The analysis doesn’t attempt to specify timing or specific locations where such shifts in vegetation would occur. Instead, it uses the principle known as Darcy’s law to explore the general types of vegetation most likely and least likely to survive rising temperatures and extreme drought. Among the most vulnerable types of trees, the study finds, are conifers around the world, particularly the tallest specimens in old-growth forests. Their loss would have “ominous implications” for the natural carbon storage that these forests perform, the study suggests….
Manú National Park in Peru, where research on warming’s impact on tropical birds is taking place.
Scientists have theorized that tropical birds in mountainous regions will move uphill as the climate warms. But new research in the Peruvian Andes suggests that the birds will stay put and face a new threat — predator snakes that will climb into their territory to escape the heat.
BY DANIEL GROSSMAN 12 MAY 2015
Gustavo Londoño squats motionlessly under a rainforest canopy in Peru’s Manú National Park, staring into the dense undergrowth. A dove coos somewhere. An oropendola bird warbles. Birds must be out there amid the tree crooks, upturned roots, and underground cavities. But where? Londoño, a Colombian biologist, has been searching painstakingly to find their nests. He’s located hundreds of them here on the Amazon flank of the Andes, though it’s taken him eight years. He has rigged each one with monitoring gear to collect data that will help him better understand how tropical birds will respond to global warming. Climate change is expected to warm this region about 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit in this century. Researchers have predicted that the warmer temperatures would force birds uphill, wreaking havoc on them and their ecosystems. But Londoño thinks they’ll stay put — and face a different kind of existential threat. Now a professor at Universidad ICESI in Colombia, Londoño began these studies in 2007, while in graduate school at the University of Florida. He set off then to Peru to study an issue that has intrigued scientists at least since the 18th century, when pioneering biologist Carl Linnaeus published his 1781 treatise On the Increase of the Habitable Earth: Why do plants and animals segregate themselves by altitude? Linnaeus believed that species had spread from mountaintops to lowlands after the biblical flood receded. Modern scientists discarded this theory long ago, but they are still groping for a completely satisfactory alternative. This segregation by altitude is especially noticeable in mountainous regions, such as Manú National Park, where Peru’s national bird, the cock-of-the-rock, lives between 3,000 and 7,500 feet above sea level, and nowhere else. The hooded mountain tanager lives only at between 7,900 and 10,500 feet. Indeed, this Connecticut-sized mountainous region is home to more species of birds than all of the contiguous United States, many sorted in band-like territories. ….Peru’s highland birds also live on an island — an island made by elevation, not water. They also probably lack snake defenses, says Londoño. He has discovered that low-elevation eggs hatch and fledge in half the time of their high-altitude counterparts, possibly as an anti-predation strategy. In a study published in the January 2015 issue of The American Naturalist — the same journal that published Janzen’s paper on the temperature sensitivity of tropical species — Londoño reported a never-seen-before trick practiced by lowland species to fool predators. Chicks of the cinereous mourner disguise themselves in a suit of fuzzy orange hair and creep in motions reminiscent of a poisonous caterpillar. Janzen, who isn’t involved in Londoño’s research, says he has no doubt that snakes will outpace birds ascending the Andes as temperatures rise. In the mountains of Costa Rica, were he does his field work, he’s observed many species of ants, also ectotherms, move their range upward by more than 500 feet in elevation. He suspects that ground-nest birds in territories that have been invaded may be at risk. But Janzen is not going to study the question. With climate change, he says, “The problem is not more research. The problem is that people don’t want to take the hit to do something about it.”
White Beach, Philippines. A hot spot has been measured in the atmosphere above the tropics. Photograph: Alamy
The temperature in the tropical atmosphere is rising roughly 80% faster than at the Earth’s surface
John Abraham Friday 15 May 2015 10.35 EDT Last modified on Monday 18 May 2015 12.27 EDT
A new study, just published in Environmental Research Letters by Steven Sherwood and Nidhi Nashant, has answered a number of questions about the rate at which the Earth is warming. Once again, the mainstream science regarding warming of the atmosphere is shown to be correct.
This new study also helps to answer a debate amongst a number of scientists about temperature variations throughout different parts of the atmosphere. When someone says “The Earth is warming”, the first questions to ask are (1) what parts of the Earth? and (2) over what time period? The Earth’s climate system is large; it includes oceans, the atmosphere, land surface, ice areas, etc. When scientists use the phrase “global warming” they are often talking about increases to the amount of energy stored in oceans or increases to the temperature of the atmosphere closest to the ground. By either of these measures, climate change has led to a progressive increase in temperatures over the past four decades. But what about other parts of the climate system? What is happening to them?
One important area to consider is the troposphere. It is the bottom portion of the atmosphere where most weather occurs. ….The authors develop a new method to account for natural variability, long-term trends, and instruments in the temperature measurement. They make three conclusions. First, warming of the atmosphere in the tropical regions of the globe hasn’t changed much since the late 1950s. Temperatures have increased smoothly and follow what is called the moist-adiabatic rate (temperature decrease of humid air with elevation). This result is in very close agreement with climate computer models and it contradicts the view that there is a slowdown in climate change. Second, the vertical height of the tropics that has warmed is a bit smaller than the models predict. Finally, there is a change in observed cooling in the stratosphere – the layer of the atmosphere above the troposphere. Taken together, these results show that the tropospheric warming has continued as predicted by scientists years ago.
Embedded in this research is a conclusion about the so-called “tropospheric hot spot“. This “hot spot” refers to expectations that as global warming progresses, the troposphere will warm faster than the Earth surface. The hot spot is really hard to detect; it requires high quality measurements at both the surface and throughout the troposphere. Past studies which could not detect a hot spot were often used by climate contrarians to call into question our simulation models and even our basic understanding of the atmosphere. But this new study finds a clear signal of the hotspot. In fact, the temperature in the troposphere is rising roughly 80% faster than the temperature at the Earth’s surface (within the tropics region). This finding agrees very well with climate models which predicted a 64% difference…..
Posted: 13 May 2015 10:26 AM PDT
River transport of carbon to the ocean is not on a scale that will solve our carbon dioxide problem, but we haven’t known how much carbon the world’s rivers routinely flush into the ocean, until now. Scientists calculated the first direct estimate of how much and in what form organic carbon is exported by rivers. The estimate will help modelers predict how this export may shift as Earth’s climate changes.
Posted: 11 May 2015 08:23 AM PDT
Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have already caused large-scale physiological responses of European forests. In particular, the efficiency of water-use of trees, which is coupled to the uptake of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis of leaves and needles has changed significantly. According to the study of a large, interdisciplinary team of researchers, European broadleaf and coniferous trees have increased their water-use efficiency since the beginning of the 20th century by 14% and 22%, respectively.… “Assuming that the trees demand for CO2 does not change, they can reduce the aperture of the stomates of their leaves and needles under increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. This should lower the rates of transpiration and minimize the tree’s water loss,” says Gerhard Helle at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, co-author of the study. “Nevertheless, a 5% increase in European forest transpiration was calculated over the twentieth century. This can likely be attributed to a lengthened growing season, increased transpiration due to a warmer environment, and an enhanced leaf area.” The results are important for better estimates of the impact of forests on climate, improved model scenarios of future climate development and more reliable assessment of the global water cycle. Furthermore, ecological consequences might evolve because of the significantly different responses to increased atmospheric CO2 of broadleaf and needleleafed species…
Posted: 08 May 2015 06:16 AM PDT
The most populated areas of Puget Sound have experienced striking shifts in marine species, with declines in herring and smelt that have long provided food for other marine life and big increases in the catch of jellyfish, which contribute far less to the food chain, according to new research that tracks species over the last 40 years.…
The parallel trends of rising human population and declining forage fish such as herring and smelt indicate that human influences such as pollution and development may be eroding species that long dominated Puget Sound. In particular, the rise of jellyfish blooms may divert energy away from highly-productive forage species that provide food for larger fish and predators such as salmon, seabirds and marine mammals. The research by scientists from NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center, the University of Washington and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was published in April in Marine Ecology Progress Series. “On land people see the changes that come with human population increases, but underwater the changes are much harder to discern,” said Correigh Greene, a research fisheries biologist at NWFSC and lead author of the new research. “What this tells us is that when you look over time, you can see that the underwater landscape of Puget Sound is changing too.”… Harvest of forage fish may open new opportunities for jellyfish by reducing competition from other species and human-driven changes in habitat may reduce the productivity of forage fish, scientists suggest. Polluted runoff may also shift prey towards types that jellyfish favor. The research may also help resolve the mystery of why juvenile salmon survival has declined sharply in Puget Sound. While forage fish may compete with salmon in some circumstances, they also serve as prey for salmon and can help absorb some pressure from predators such as seals that might otherwise consume young salmon. The parallel declines of forage fish and juvenile salmon survival suggests the loss of forage fish may also affect salmon….
C Greene, L Kuehne, C Rice, K Fresh, D Penttila. Forty years of change in forage fish and jellyfish abundance across greater Puget Sound, Washington (USA): anthropogenic and climate associations. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 2015; 525: 153 DOI: 10.3354/meps11251
Posted: 11 May 2015 12:49 PM PDT
New research has questioned the role played by ocean acidification, produced by the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs, in the extinction of ammonites and other planktonic calcifiers 66 million years ago.…
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy trapped in the ice at sea off Antarctica in 2013. Photograph: Andrew Peacock/AFP/Getty Images
Scientists are in Tasmania for workshops on how to accurately forecast sea ice levels in the polar region, aiming to ease access and reduce shipping costs
Michael Safi Monday 11 May 2015 03.57 EDT Last modified on Monday 11 May 2015 04.42 EDT
Sea ice around Antarctica is currently at record levels for May, part of a trend of increasing ice around the frozen continent making it harder to resupply and refuel research stations. More than 50 scientists are gathering in Hobart in Tasmania this week for a series of workshops on techniques to more accurately forecast sea ice levels in the polar region, aiming to save millions of dollars in shipping costs. They will also hope to avoid a repeat of the problems suffered by the Akademik Shokalskiy, the research vessel caught in a sudden freeze in December 2013. Rod Wooding, from the Australian Antarctic Division, said last year ships “couldn’t get anywhere near” the Australian research site, Mawson station, requiring a year’s worth of supplies and fuel to be flown in by helicopter. “[That] is inadequate for the long-term sustainability of the station,” Wooding said. “Other national programs have had similar problems, the French in particular, the Japanese also.” Scientists were initially puzzled by the increasing sea ice around the continent, which reached record levels in September 2014, but have concluded it is “very largely driven by changes in wind”, Tony Worby, the chief executive of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre said. “Those changes of wind are driven by the depletion of ozone in the stratosphere and the increasing greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. The El Nino phenomenon, too, “drives changes in pressure which drives changes in wind which drives changes in sea ice”, he said. Antarctica is also surrounded by ocean, leaving sea ice “completely free to expand however it wants to”, in contrast to the Arctic region, which is landlocked by Russia, Greenland and northern Canada. Australia is tendering to replace its icebreaking vessel, the 25-year-old Aurora Australis. Worby said more accurate forecasts would help to understand what level of “ice breaking capability” would be needed in the future. “It’s quite hard to forecast but whatever effort we put in to improving our ability to forecast sea ice will ultimately pay dividends in terms of savings for national programs,” he said. The workshops will continue until Wednesday.
FILE – ….The combination of global warming and people moving south and west means that by mid-century four to six times more Americans will be sweating through days with extreme heat than just 15 years ago, a new study says. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)
By SETH BORENSTEIN
May 18 2015
WASHINGTON (AP) — The combination of global warming and shifting population means that by mid-century, there will be a huge increase in the number of Americans sweating through days that are extremely hot, a new study says. People are migrating into areas — especially in the South — where the heat is likely to increase more, said the authors of a study published Monday by the journal Nature Climate Change. The study highlighted the Houston-Dallas-San Antonio and Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh corridors as the places where the double whammy looks to be the biggest. “It’s not just the climate that is changing in the future,” said study co-author Linda Mearns, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “It is many things: how many people and where people are that affects their exposure to climate changes.” In a unique study looking at the interplay of projected changes in climate and population, scientists tried to characterize the number of people who will feel temperatures of 95 degrees or higher and how often they will feel it. They used a figure called person days for the extreme heat to reflect both the length of time heat waves continued and how many people felt it by multiplying people affected by how many days they felt the heat.
Between 1970 and 2000, the U.S. averaged about 2.3 billion person days of extreme heat each year. But between 2040 and 2070 that number will be between 10 and 14 billion person days a year, according to the study. The biggest projected increases in person days is the Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas census region where by mid-century heat exposure will increase by 2.7 billion person days. Right behind is south Atlantic region of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C., where heat exposure is projected to increase by 2.2 billion person days. New England gets off the easiest with an increase of only 71 million person days.
The scientists used 11 different climate models based on current trends of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions and matched those with demographic trends. Both the increased heat and population shifts had about equal effects but together they made matters even worse, said lead author Bryan Jones, a population geographer at the City University of New York. The question is, will be people adapt by changing their lifestyle, such as staying indoors and using more air conditioning, or will they move to cooler climates. Jones said it is unlikely that people will move to cooler areas to escape the heat, saying historically people tend to move away from colder areas and into warmer areas like Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. The scientists chose a threshold of 95 degrees because “at 95 people really, really start feeling it,” Mearns said. “Even in a dry climate and I’m sitting here in Boulder, Colorado.” Several outside scientists praised the study. University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd said the problem is likely even worse when you take into consideration the fact that cities get hotter than rural areas.
Online: Nature Climate Change: http://www.nature.com/nclimate
The Really Awful Truth About Climate Change
[a must read]
by Joe Romm Posted on May 18, 2015 at 8:26 am
So Vox ran a story Friday, “The awful truth about climate change no one wants to admit” by former Grist columnist Dave Roberts. While I’m a longtime fan of Roberts, the piece is filled with inaccurate and misleading statements, historical revisionism, and a fatally flawed premise…… No, the really awful truth about climate change is that while climate scientists, the International Energy Agency, and many others have been increasingly blunt about how dire our situation is — and what needs to be done ASAP to avoid catastrophe — much of the so-called intelligentsia keep ignoring them. The most recent example comes in a report out earlier this month from 70 leading climate experts (click here). The parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (aka the world’s leading nations) set up a “structured expert dialogue” from 2013 to 2015 to review the adequacy of the 2°C target. Early this month, the experts reported back. Thoughtfully, they simplified their key conclusions into 10 core messages. Among them:
- Message 1: “Parties to the Convention agreed on an upper limit for global warming of 2°C, and science has provided a wealth of information to support the use of that goal.” Incorporating concerns about ocean acidification and sea level rise, “only reinforces the basic finding emerging from the analysis of the temperature limit, namely that we need to take urgent and strong action to reduce GHG emissions” (emphasis in original).
- Message 2 (again, original emphasis): “Limiting global warming to below 2°C necessitates a radical transition (deep decarbonization now and going forward), not merely a fine tuning of current trends.”
- Message 4: “Significant climate impacts are already occurring at the current level of global warming” (which is about 0.85°C) and so additional “warming will only increase the risk of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts. Therefore, the ‘guardrail’ concept, which implies a warming limit that guarantees full protection from dangerous anthropogenic interference, no longer works.”
- Message 5: “The 2°C limit should be seen as a defence line … that needs to be stringently defended, while less warming would be preferable.”
- Message 6 (from the 2014 IPCC mitigation report): “Limiting global warming to below 2 °C is still feasible and will bring about many co-benefits, but poses substantial technological, economic and institutional challenges.” I reviewed all the literature in my January post, “It’s Not Too Late To Stop Climate Change, And It’ll Be Super-Cheap.”
Again, no one is saying it would be easy, but it is straightforward, and the literature couldn’t be clearer on how low-cost it is…Geden asserts, “The climate policy mantra — that time is running out for 2 °C but we can still make it if we act now — is a scientific nonsense.” Even Roberts points out, “No. It may be a nonsense, but it’s not a scientific nonsense. No branch of science, certainly not climatology, can tell us what the humans of 2050 are capable of.” Almost. Thank goodness these pundits weren’t around when we had to do something really difficult, like suffer millions of casualties and remake our entire economy almost overnight to win World War II….
….Over the next 15 years, the Chinese will build enough clean electricity to power America. So how exactly is it “nonsense” to think the U.S., EU, or even India could not do the same over, say, twice as much time? Answer: It isn’t. Here’s:
- Message 8 from the world’s leading climate experts: “The world is not on track to achieve the long-term global goal, but successful mitigation policies are known and must be scaled up urgently.”
…There are, however, two specific and synergistic reasons why scientists became increasingly concerned during the 2000s. First, in that decade, Chinese emissions soared, taking us off of more moderate pathways that scientists had been anticipating. …Second, at the very end of the 2000s, the world community finally settled on 2°C as the threshold for dangerous warming, which meant CO2 levels in the air needed to be stabilized below 450 parts per million. That consensus, as many; have explained, solidified with the IPCC’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. That’s why, for instance, in 2004, when Princeton Professors published a landmark paper in Science, “Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies,” they wrote: “Proposals to limit atmospheric CO2 to a concentration that would prevent most damaging climate change have focused on a goal of 500 +/- 50 parts per million (ppm).” So it was only around late 2007 that people paying very close attention, like climate scientists, could see that 1) emissions were veering onto a worse case scenario track 2) just as a scientific and political consensus was forming around the need to set the bar at 2°C, which was now starting to look like a best-case scenario. That’s why in 2010, a previously reticent Lonnie Thompson explained why previously reticent climatologists had begun speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.” It’s why, when I launched Climate Progress nine years ago, I created a category called “uncharacteristically blunt scientists.”….
Besides climate scientists, many other climate advisers were becoming increasingly blunt, such as the International Energy Agency, which warned in 2009 “The world will have to spend an extra $500 billion to cut carbon emissions for each year it delays implementing a major assault on global warming.”
Their 2011 World Energy Outlook [WEO] release should have ended once and for any notion that climate advisors were pulling their punches. The U.K. Guardian’s
(misleading) headline captured the urgency: “World headed for irreversible climate change in five years, IEA warns … If fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed, the world will ‘lose for ever’ the chance to avoid dangerous climate change. Half right. Yes, rapid change is needed. But the IEA did not say the climate change would be irreversible in five years. They wrote: If internationally co-ordinated action is not taken by 2017, we project that all permissible emissions in the 450 Scenario would come from the infrastructure then existing, so that all new infrastructure from then until 2035 would need to be zero-carbon, unless emitting infrastructure is retired before the end of its economic lifetime to make headroom for new investment. This would theoretically be possible at very high cost, but is probably not practicable politically….
Illustration by Lisk Feng
By Andy Skuce Posted May 14, 2015
Active misinformation campaigns by those seeking to oppose or delay climate policy has created a persistent “consensus gap.” In 2004, science historian Naomi Oreskes published a short paper in the journal Science concluding there was an overwhelming consensus in the scientific literature that global warming was caused by humans. After the paper’s release, there was some unexpectedly hostile reaction. This prompted Oreskes and her colleague Erik Conway to go even deeper with their research, leading to the publication of the book Merchants of Doubt. It documents how a small group of scientists with links to industry were able to sow doubt about the scientific consensus and delay effective policy on DDT, tobacco, acid rain and, now, global warming. Fast forward to two years ago: a team of volunteer researchers (myself included) associated with the website Skeptical Science decide to update and extend Oreskes’ research. Led by University of Queensland researcher John Cook, we analyzed the abstracts of about 12,000 scientific papers extracted from a large database of articles, using the search terms “global warming” and “global climate change.” The articles had been published over a 21-year period, from 1991 to 2011. As an independent check on our results, we also sent emails to the more than 8,500 scientist authors of these articles. (These were the scientists whose e-mail addresses we were able to track down). We asked them to rate their own papers for endorsement or rejection of man-made global warming. Both approaches yielded a very similar result: 97 per cent of the scientific literature that expresses an opinion on climate change endorses the expert consensus view that it is man-made. The results were published in May 2013 in the journal Environmental Research Letters….
“I believe it is crucial to inform people that the individual household decisions they make, even on a garden or driveway, cumulatively can have a huge impact on surface water flooding and subsequent costs to the local authority. This area is poorly understood and consequently managed in a planning policy context. Yet if we were to encourage people to keep their gardens green let’s think about the multiple benefits to us all that such actions might deliver.”
Gino Celli inspects wheat nearing harvest on his farm near Stockton, California. Photograph: Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Drought-stricken state accepts voluntary offer from several hundred farmers under threat of mandatory state cuts
Associated Press in Sacramento Friday 22 May 2015 16.27 EDT Last modified on Friday 22 May 2015 16.36 EDT
California regulators have accepted a historic offer by farmers to make a 25% voluntary water cut to avoid deeper mandatory losses during the drought. Officials with the state water resources control board made the announcement on Friday involving farmers in the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers who hold some of California’s strongest water rights. The several hundred farmers made the offer after state officials warned they were days away from ordering some of the first cuts in more than 30 years to the senior water rights holders. California water law is built around preserving the water claims of those rights holders. The threat of state cuts is a sign of the worsening impacts of the four-year drought. The state already has mandated 25% conservation by cities and towns and curtailed water deliveries to many farmers and communities.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images A sign referencing the drought is posted on the side of the road on April 24, 2015 in Firebaugh, California.
Wetter season for the Golden State “on the table,” NOAA official says
The El Niño weather phenomenon is expected to be stronger and last longer in the Northern Hemisphere than originally anticipated, U.S. weather forecasters said Thursday — raising the possibility that it could bring much-needed rain to drought-stricken California. The cyclical weather event has an 80% chance of continuing in the Northern Hemisphere through the end of the year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). El Niño usually lasts several years, beginning with warming in the Pacific Ocean and affecting weather patterns across the globe. “We’ve seen continued evolution toward a stronger event,” NOAA official Mike Halpert told TIME. “Last month we were calling it weak, now we’re calling it borderline weak to moderate.” The new prediction make it likelier that El Niño could provide California some relief from its devastating, years-long drought. Five out of six times there’s been a strong El Niño, Northern California has been wetter than average. But forecasters hesitated to say for certain whether it would last long enough to make a difference. “While that’s certainly on the table as a possible outcome we just don’t have enough confidence,” Halpert said. Australian authorities predicted a “substantial” El Niño event earlier this week. But while a strong El Niño has the potential to improve drought conditions in the U.S. the opposite is true in Australia. Authorities worry that unusual weather patterns caused by the phenomenon would exacerbate the country’s own severe drought with below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures. “Stronger El Niños interrupt tropical rainfalls. That rain fall shifts and Indonesia and Austrailia become drier than average,” explained Halpert. “They’re not looking forward to El Niño shutting the tap off.”…
Posted: 15 May 2015 09:59 AM PDT
California and other parts of the western U.S. are experiencing extended severe drought conditions. The Santa Clara Valley in California underwent extensive groundwater development from the early 1900s through the mid-1960s. This development caused groundwater level declines of more than 200 feet.…
The Western Governors Association (WGA), established in 1984, represents the governors of 19 western states and the U.S. flag islands. The WGA works to develop and promote consensus-based policy solutions, to exchange information and identify best practices, to collect data and perform quality research, and to educate the public and other policy makers.
In the spring of 2015, the WGA held a series of webinars addressing the issues and impacts surround drought in the West. This webinar, Managing Forest Health for Water Resources, explored the latest science on forest management practices that may increase water availability and add security to water portfolios. The panelists were Alan Hook, Project Manager, Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Management Plan and Water Resources Coordinator, City of Santa Fe; Marcos Robles, Conservation Science Specialist, The Nature Conservancy; and Don Boucher, Project Manager, Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project, United States Forest Service. The moderator was Ken Pimlott, California State Forester and Director of CAL FIRE. Here’s what they had to say … [You can also watch the webinar on YouTube]…
Ken Pimlott began by noting that the West has over 26 million acres of forested land, almost half of the nation’s forested area. “The primary trends and threats facing western forests, and quite frankly forests across the nation, include changing ownership patterns, increased wildland urban interface, wildland fire, invasive species, and elevated levels of insect and disease mortality, and these trends affect all lands regardless of ownership,” he said. “Similarly, they affect all people, threatening the basic assets we need and often take for granted, such as clean air, abundant water, safe communities, open spaces and economic opportunities.”
The impacts of sustained drought threaten all of these values and assets, and in particular, the threat of fire continues to grow, he said. “The average length of the fire season has increased significantly across the west, and in some areas, fire season is really year around,” he said. “The total acreage burned and the numbers of large fires are increasing in most western states. Montana, for example, has experienced of 4 million acres of forestland burning in uncharacteristic wildfire over the last decade. And in California, over half of the state’s 20 largest fires have occurred just since 2002.”…
“The relentless drought has left vegetation parched and ripe to burn again in 2015. These at risk forested landscapes have a direct impact on water storage and quality, which is now a precious and scarce commodity across the west,” he said. “As the threat to forests and watersheds increase across the West, it is more important than ever not to work in silos. We must collaborate at all levels of government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, tribal communities, utilities, academia, and a variety of community based groups. We must leverage all of our resources to be most effective in those endeavors.” Today we will hear three presentations involving innovative and collaborative efforts to address forest cover and watershed management…
ALAN HOOK, Project Manager, Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Management Plan and Water Resources Coordinator
Alan Hook began by presenting a map of the Santa Fe watershed. “We are in the Rio Grande basin,” he said. “The Santa Fe River itself starts in the headwaters, about 11,500 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Santa Fe River runs through the city of Santa Fe and heads west, and then meets up with the Rio Grande.” ….The Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Plan has four main components: Vegetation management, water management, outreach and education, and financial management. “The unique thing of our watershed management plan is the Santa Fe National Forest basically has a 50/50 cost share collection agreement which really allows us a lot of flexibility on treatments, both thinning and prescribed burn at different times of the year, so if the funds are not available from the forest service, we the City match those funds,” Mr. Hook said. “The ongoing project costs are paid for by our water utility customers within their utility bill for each month, because the community felt like they would be the beneficiaries of this plan.” The City of Santa Fe has dedicated about $5 million in our budget for the next 20 years, he said. “Over 5000 acres have been treated since 2002, and we hope to be continuing the treatments into the future with the commitment of the public and our water rate payers,” he said. “We’ve also started an Environmental Assessment into the wilderness area. We’re looking at some of the treatments to mitigate wildfire from having effects on our two reservoirs within our municipal watershed. That would be in the Pecos Wilderness Area, which again, wilderness area, you can’t do mechanical thinning, there’s a different set of rules, but we’ve started the EA process on that…..”Just to emphasize, the watershed management program is unique because it includes our utility ratepayers and it’s also a collaborative effort between the forest service, the city of Santa Fe, both our water division and fire department,” he said. “The Nature Conservancy was the group really spearheading this effort, and again the Santa Fe Watershed Association on a lot of our outreach and education.”….
DON BOUCHER, Project Manager, Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project, United States Forest Service
…. “The City of Ashland, the Nature Conservancy, the US Forest Service, and the Lomakatski Restoration Project, all non-profit groups under the stewardship authority, came together and identified roles to implement the project,” Mr. Boucher said. “The Forest Service came with the funding and the oversight of the project. The City of Ashland had done some work on the lands and had technical expertise to offer; a huge part of their effort revolved around the community engagement, going out and speaking with the community and getting feedback. The Nature Conservancy is responsible for the multi-party aspect of it, and so they put together all the interested stakeholders and developed a very rigorous monitoring plan which has been implemented over the first five years of the project, and has been really able to help us tell the story of how we’re changing the fuel profile,” Mr. Boucher said. “The Lomakatsi Restoration Project is a non-profit stewardship group that brought the contracting and workforce element to the partnership.” In order to engage the community, they have had over 50 either events, tours, and field trips; there is a website and a Facebook page for folks to provide comments; and volunteer group put up some interpretive signs, he said.
Mr. Boucher said that the multi-party monitoring plan was stakeholder driven. “In other words, we asked folks, what is it that we need to know about the treatment, and the result has collected a large amount of information so far that is continuing,” he said. “We have been in this project for five years now, it’s a partnership, we have another five to go and we’re working to get more funding for that to accomplish additional work. The monitoring and the community engagement have created a key role in that.” He said that over the last two years, the city has contributed $350,000 for work on forest service land, in addition to providing city employees to help with the project. …Probably the biggest issue that we face right now is the ability to use prescribed fire, it’s very limited windows for burning, and a lot of area that we would like to implement fire on,” he said….
MARCOS ROBLES, Conservation Science Specialist, The Nature Conservancy
Marcos Robles then discussed a scientific study he and his colleagues recently completed that looked at the connection between larger scale forest restoration and water and runoft… “Overall, our main result is that all the scenarios that we ran led to about a 20% increase in runoff in the headwater watersheds where thinning would occur,” he said. …”Another way to answer that is the increases in water yields in and of themselves are probably not enough to warrant the level of investment that would be required to reach the scale that’s needed to see those runoff benefits,” he said. “However when you package it with the reduced fire risk and erosion and sedimentation and the cost of cleanup, etc., it’s hard to argue that doing this large scale forest restoration is not only needed but also can be beneficial for multiple services that the forests provide.”…
A worker stands in a bean field last year in drought-ravaged Huron, Calif. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Agriculture Department announces $21 million in drought aid for farmers, ranchers in California, other states
May 18, 2015
A branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide $21 million to help farmers and ranchers in California and other states install new irrigation systems, plant cover crops and implement other water conservation practices, officials said Monday.
The funds, made possible by the 2014 farm bill, will be distributed to the most severely drought-stricken areas of eight states, as determined by the U.S. Drought Monitor. It is not clear how much of the money will go to California, but in a call with reporters, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the state has already received more than $27 million from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for drought management practices this fiscal year. Between 2012 and 2014, the service spent more than $1.5 billion to help farmers implement conservation practices, officials said. The latest funding is meant to help farmers and ranchers launch projects that can increase irrigation efficiency, improve soil health and productivity and ensure reliable water sources for livestock, officials said. “We’re very anxious to get this money deployed and out this summer,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service chief Jason Weller. The $21 million, which will be shared by parts of California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Utah, is a fraction of the state money proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in his May budget revision. Brown called for $75 million for financial incentives to get farmers to invest in more efficient irrigation techniques.
Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle Shara Fish of Mount Shasta carries bottles filled with spring water from the headwaters of the Sacramento River in Mount Shasta, Calif., on Tues. April 28, 2015. Crystal Geyser is opening a bottling plant nearby without any environmental review or limits at a time when everyone else in the state is being asked to drastically cut water use. California’s non-existent laws on groundwater use allow this.
By Peter Fimrite May 9, 2015 Updated: May 12, 2015 7:38am
A private water bottling company will soon be sucking up thousands of gallons a day from an aquifer that feeds the Sacramento River, the primary source of drinking water for millions of thirsty Californians struggling to cope with a four-year drought. The plan by Crystal Geyser Water Co. to sink a tap this fall into Big Springs, which burbles out through lava tubes at the base of Mount Shasta, is allowed because the State Water Resources Control Board considers it groundwater, and California regulations monitoring groundwater are years from implementation. The Calistoga purveyor of sparkling mineral water and juice is not required to do an environmental impact report or obtain a permit from the state to bottle and sell a resource that is in such short supply that California farmers are letting crops go fallow and water districts are developing plans to subject their customers to rationing. “They don’t need a water right from us if they are using groundwater,” said Tim Moran, the spokesman for the water board. “Historically, groundwater hasn’t been regulated in California.” The move has infuriated environmentalists, American Indian tribes and many of the 3,394 residents of the city of Mount Shasta, who can hardly believe that a company is being allowed to bottle the same water that the rest of the state is under orders to conserve. They fear the bottling operation, one of 108 in California, could drain wells dry and deplete the aquifer, which fills Siskiyou County rivers and streams and feeds the headwaters of the Sacramento. “We need to have some kind of limit to the damage they can do to the aquifer,” said Bruce Hillman, who leads a local group called We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review, or Water. “Right now, because it is on private property, there is no limit to the amount of water they can extract.”…
Posted: 21 May 2015 05:24 AM PDT
A new study analyzes the required climate policy actions and targets in order to limit future global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. This level is supported by more than 100 countries worldwide, including those most vulnerable to climate change, as a safer goal than the currently agreed international aim of 2 degrees Celsius — an aim which would already imply substantial greenhouse-gas reductions. Hence the interest for scrutinizing the very low end of greenhouse-gas stabilization scenarios.
By Amy Zimmer | May 19, 2015 7:42am
MANHATTAN — City schools will begin to phase out Styrofoam lunch trays this month in favor of eco-friendly compostable ones, the Department of Education is expected to announce Wednesday. All schools are expected to have the new trays for 850,000 daily meals by September, according to a newsletter from GrowNYC, which runs city greenmarkets and does outreach to schools about the city’s compost program. In making the switch, environmental advocates hope it will not only be healthier for the city’s more than 1 million public school students — since polystyrene used in foam trays is listed as a “possible” human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency — but also cut down on trash that gets sent to landfills. More than 700 city schools — including all in Manhattan and Staten Island — now participate in the city’s organics collection program for food scraps and other materials that can be turned into compost or processed into natural gas. But when the Department of Sanitation audited the 358 schools that participated during the 2013 school year, it found that contamination — when the “wrong” material ends up in the organics bin, such as foam trays, plastic containers, cutlery and plastic packaging — was significantly higher than expected, according to a January 2015 report. … “It’s really gigantic that New York City is doing this,” said public school mom Debby Lee Cohen, who co-founded Cafeteria Culture, which is piloting a program to improve school participation in the composting program. Cohen wants to make sure students, teachers, administrators and custodians understand why schools are making the switch. Cafeteria signs about what to sort is insufficient without classroom education on why kids are sorting, she said.
… Cohen said. “I look at this as a storytelling opportunity.” Her organization, which has been advocating for compostable trays for five years [and catalyzed Trayless Tuesdays in NYC public schools], has a curriculum that focuses, for instance, on how sending trash to landfills or incinerators hurts the health of local communities and how it can also lead to animal suffering and climate change. “If you’re only doing this work in the cafeteria, you’re not going to get the buy-in from the teachers,” she said. “In New York City, teachers don’t have to be in the cafeteria. And if you haven’t been in a public school cafeteria recently, you can’t understand their chaotic nature.” The next big thing that schools are working on is changing from plastic utensils to compostable ones and tackling the problem of plastic packaging used for sporks, mini-burgers and sandwiches, Cohen said. Contamination in school compost is the “start-up problem” right now, but it can be dealt with, said Eric Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “These changes don’t happen overnight,” he added. “But this shift to turning food waste into usable compost and energy is definitely the way we see things heading. “It reduces global warming emissions, saves landfill space [and] produces an end product — fertilizer — that improves soil and helps with drought resistance. Composting is the next big thing.”
Margaret Brown’s Blog NRDC Posted May 20, 2015
Across the country, more than 100 jurisdictions – including New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. – have enacted bans on polystyrene foam of one sort or another. And NRDC has played a leading role in New York to bring about this change–read more from my colleague Eric Goldstein about this ban here and here. And so have many tireless advocates across the country, including our friends at Cafeteria Culture here in New York. Today, these dreaded plastic foam containers suffered another blow when six of the nation’s largest school districts – with assistance from NRDC – announced they will be ditching the annual use of 225 million polystyrene trays in their cafeterias and replacing them with eco-friendly compostable plates. My colleague, Mark Izeman wrote more about the exciting announcement and the good work the schools are doing here but I want to focus more on the environmental significance of this decision. In short, today’s announcement by the Urban School Food Alliance – which including NYC, LA, Miami, Orlando, Dallas and Chicago – to introduce compostable plates is forward-thinking for at least three big reasons….
First, polystyrene is an environmental and solid waste burden….
Second, the new compostable plate is an environmentally preferable product. The new compostable lunch plate is made from recycled newsprint (at factory in Maine)…
Third, by using a compostable plate, schools and cities can make significant process in beginning to divert food waste and organics from landfills…..
Food waste constitutes almost one-third of the general waste stream – and up to 40% in schools. For this reason, more and more jurisdictions -including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New York City – are imposing bans on the disposal of organic material in landfills to lower solid waste costs and reduce landfill-generated greenhouse gas emissions. ….By using plates for composting instead of throwing them away, schools not only reduce the amount of waste to be landfilled, they also contribute to the creation of valuable compost that can be used on farms and for landscaping. We salute these leading cities from serving up these new environmentally preferable plates – and joining a national movement toward composting and reuse of valuable food waste.
“Long range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions.”
-Peter F. Drucker
The future of present decisions
– SCENARIO PLANNING FOR CLIMATE CHANGE
Bay Area Open Space Council May 2015
Picture this: a group of firefighters, wildlife staff, operations directors and park managers take three hours away from their day job to consider their day job fifty years from now. Led by the Bay Area Ecosystem Climate Change Collaborative (BAECCC) and the Bay Area Open Space Council, this was the scene earlier this spring at the East Bay Regional Park District Board room…. The picture shows the power of a team engaged in a scenario planning exercise with the Park District’s Fuels Management team. We asked: “What can we learn about fire management, eucalyptus trees, and habitat succession in the context of a changing climate? Will the areas of highest fire risk change? What will vegetation succession look like if it is hotter and there is more rainfall, or hotter and less rainfall?” It turns out that while the future is uncertain, there are certain actions that make a difference in preparing: We used data from the Park District, from the Terrestrial Biodiversity and Climate Change Collaborative, Point Blue Conservation Science and the research of UC Berkeley Professor David Ackerly, to describe what the East Bay ridge might look like 50 years from now. What is the future for Oak Woodlands? What is the likelihood of fire regimes changing?
We provided quantitative predictions about how landscapes might change in the future. The changes are still sometimes hard to visualize. So we considered climate analogs – a way to look for locations on the landscape that have similar climate conditions to what is what projected in the future for an area of interest. For example, in a “hot and dry future” there are close analogs for Redwood and Sobrante Ridges in present-day western Riverside County, an area dominated by chaparral. Such analogs give us a visual indication of how the landscape will be transformed by climate change. Scenario planning does not require that you predict the future. Instead, you use the best available data to develop plausible scenarios, and take steps to consider what you might do today to prepare for the future. We conducted the exercise with these steps:
Step 1: Consider four possible futures
Step 2: Visualize each future for East Bay Ridge
Step 3: Brainstorm management actions for each future
Step 4: Identify actions that are valuable in all scenarios
We talked about what it would be like to manage in each scenario. If it were warmer and with less rain and we had limited resources, we would “Look like LA”. But if we were in the opposite quadrant, with more rain and extensive resources, this was more “where we want to be.” Note that almost all climate models predicted that the hillsides would be warmer and drier 50 years from now. The exercise looked like this:
The question asked was “how would we manage if we were in these different quadrants?” It turns out that there are certain actions that we would take to prepare for all of the future scenarios (“no-regrets” actions)….The best part of the discussion was realizing that the team could each do their job today keeping these “no-regrets” actions in mind. We asked each other: “What would you take back tomorrow to your team and/or back to your budget/workplan?” Ideas that came up included: seed banking, thinking of this drought period as the new normal, and developing tactics to integrate climate change in all planning discussions district wide. This exercise was special because it was informed by a team that works together regularly. This enabled the team to talk in specifics, so that lessons will be included in ongoing conversations to operationalize no-regrets management today. Our hope is that other land managers can use scenario planning as a chance to think long term and get proactive about dealing with climate change risks. For more information about this approach, contact:
- Andrew Gunther, Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consortium: Info @ baeccc.org
- Nicole Heller, Terrestrial Biodiversity Collaborative: heller.nicole @ gmail.org
- Sam Veloz, Point Blue Conservation Science: sveloz @ pointblue.org
- Jenn Fox, Bay Area Open Space Council: jenn @ openspacecouncil.org
May 22, 2015
An old landfill will be the first in the Bay Area to be converted into a solar farm, with 19,000 panels producing enough energy to power 1,200 homes…
CA State Wildlife Action Plan– 2015 DRAFT Update Released
The California State Wildlife Action Plan 2015 Update (SWAP 2015) Draft has been released for public review, and four public meetings to announce the draft release have been arranged.
California’s distinctive topography and climate have given rise to a remarkable diversity of habitats that support a multitude of plant and animal species. In fact, California has more species than any other state in the U.S. and also has the greatest number of species that occur nowhere else in the world. Many of the places where wildlife thrive are the same as those valued for recreation and other human activities. To ensure a sustainable future for wildlife – and the enjoyment of wildlife by generations to come – there is a need for a collaborative approach to conservation. The State Wildlife Action Plan examines the health of wildlife and prescribes actions to conserve wildlife and vital habitat before they become more rare and more costly to protect. The plan also promotes wildlife conservation while furthering responsible development and addressing the needs of a growing human population.
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS MAY 20, 2015
WASHINGTON — President Obama will use a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut on Wednesday to cast his push for urgent action to combat climate change as a national security imperative, arguing that the warming of the planet poses an “immediate risk” to the United States. The speech is part of an effort by Mr. Obama to make a multipronged case for his ambitious climate-change agenda, which he identifies as a top priority for the remainder of his time in office and regards as a central element of his legacy. Instead of promoting his plan strictly in environmental terms, he has pitched it as beneficial for the economy and vital to the nation’s security.
“I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country,” Mr. Obama will tell the graduating cadets, according to excerpts from his speech distributed by the White House. “And so we need to act, and we need to act now.” In March, Mr. Obama unveiled a blueprint for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by up to 28 percent from 2005 levels over the next decade. The plan, which hinges on new Environmental Protection Agency rules intended to drastically reduce planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from cars and coal-fired power plants, will be the White House’s formal submission to the United Nations ahead of a summit meeting in Paris in December…..
Notre Dame News May 13, 2015
An inaugural survey examining how corporations are addressing the need to adapt their business operations to changing climate conditions reveals that 30 percent already have experienced a material impact to their business operations from climate events. It also found that 30 percent of respondents across a wide range of sectors don’t have a climate adaptation plan or strategies in place. The University of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) and Four Twenty Seven, a climate risk and adaptation consultancy, with support from Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), launched and published the “2015 Corporate Adaptation Report” to generate insights into whether and how enterprises are preparing for the physical impacts of climate change. The report is expected to further the collective understanding of best practices, barriers and enablers, and strategies to prepare for climate change in the corporate world. Key findings from 2015 State of Corporate Adaptation Survey include:
- More than 70 percent of surveyed companies say they’re at least “somewhat concerned” that climate change will have a material impact on their value chain, in particular their supply chain, distribution and customers and markets.
- Two-thirds of the respondents expressed concern over increased operational and capital costs and reported they had already experienced cost increases or thought they were a likely outcome.
- Water scarcity and political instability driven by climate change are cited as the top two anticipated risks across sectors. Water scarcity emerged as the climate hazard of greatest concern for corporations, with 16 percent citing it as a risk, followed by social and political instability driven by climate change, at slightly above 14 percent.
Bottom of Form
Crews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand from the shoreline at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. CREDIT: AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant
by Samantha Page Posted on May 22, 2015 at 8:00 am
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in California on Wednesday, after oil spill estimates soared from 21,000 gallons to more than 105,000 gallons. The crude oil spill, from a pipeline along the coast just north of Santa Barbara, has resulted in the closure of two beaches and local fisheries, and damaged the sensitive habitat of endangered birds, the governor’s office said. The spill has also drawn attention to the safety record of company that operates the pipeline, Plains All American Pipeline. Responders, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management, have been removing buckets of oily sludge from the beach, coastal areas, and water. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams told reporters that 7,700 gallons of “oily water mixture” has been removed. …
- Ruptured pipeline leaks estimated 21,000 gallons of oil on Santa Barbara County coast
- Cleanup effort of 21,000-gallon oil spill continues off Santa Barbara County coast
Cleanup of a 21,000-gallon oil spill off the Santa Barbara County coast begun at sunrise Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard said, with crews flying overhead to assess the damage. The rupture on an 11-mile long underground pipe, part of a larger oil transport network bound for Kern County, was first reported about noon Tuesday after a woman at Refugio State Beach in Goleta smelled the crude’s noxious fumes. Coast Guard crews stopped the leak by 3 p.m., said Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.
The cause of the break in the pipeline had not yet been determined, officials said. They were still trying to assess the environmental damage, which sent oil onto beaches. The pipeline, built in 1991 and designed to carry about 150,000 barrels of oil per day, is owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, which said in a statement that it shut down the pipe about 3 p.m. The culvert also was blocked to prevent more oil from flowing into the ocean, the company said. The company is sending between 60 and 70 employees to help with the cleanup effort Wednesday, Anderson said. Coast Guard crews and barges will be using skimmers and booms to try and limit the oil’s spread and eventually pull it from the water. Some of the oil had already reached the coastline; images of blackened rocks and oil-caked sand were posted across social media. The Coast Guard described the spill as “medium” in size. Though the weather won’t be particularly rough at sea during the effort, winds blowing east along the coast at about 15 knots could push the oil closer to the beach town of Isla Vista, the National Weather Service said. “It is horrible,” said Brett Connors, 35, a producer from Santa Monica who said he spotted sea lions swimming in the oil slick. “You want to jump in there and save them.”…..
by Katie Valentine Posted on May 20, 2015
In a new study, researchers find that dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico region had major lung and adrenal lesions after the BP oil spill.
Shell’s Polar Pioneer drill rig nearing Port Angeles, Wash., aboard a transport ship, on April 17, 2015. Credit Daniella Beccaria/Seattlepi.com, via Associated Press
Shell Oil’s Cold Calculations for a Warming World
[the original “scenario planning” folks]
OPINION By McKENZIE FUNK MAY 18, 2015 NY Times Magazine
Last week, when the Obama administration gave tentative approval to Shell Oil’s plan to return to the Arctic after its disastrous attempt to find oil there in 2012, I found myself thinking of a conversation I had several years ago with a man named Jeremy Bentham. A theater-loving Englishman, Bentham leads Shell’s legendary team of futurists, whose methods have been adopted by the Walt Disney Company and the Pentagon, among others. The scenario planners, as they call themselves, are paid to think unconventional thoughts. They read fiction. They run models. They talk to hippies. They talk to scientists. They consult anyone who can imagine surprising, abrupt change. The competing versions of the future — the scenarios — that result from this process are packaged as stories and given evocative titles: “Belle Époque,” “Devolution,” “Prism.” Then the oil company readies itself, as best it can, for all of them. Over the course of almost half a century, Bentham’s predecessors in the scenario-planning group helped Shell foresee and prepare for events like the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of Islamic extremism and the birth of the anti-globalization movement. More recently — before California’s historic drought — the team focused on water scarcity. And long before most other oil companies, Shell’s scenario planners helped the company understand that climate change was a strategic and scientific reality.
In early 2008, weeks before Shell bid a record-breaking $2.1 billion on oil leases in the melting Arctic Ocean — the basis for the newly approved drilling plan — the company’s futurists released a new pair of scenarios describing the next 40 years on Earth. They were based on what Bentham called “three hard truths”: That energy demand, thanks in part to booming China and India, would only rise; that supply would struggle to keep up; and that climate change was dangerously real. Shell’s internal research showed that alternative energy systems — wind, solar, carbon capture — would take decades to make just a 1-percent dent in our massive global energy system, even if they grew at 25 percent a year. “It takes them 30 years to just begin to start becoming material,” Bentham explained to me.
One scenario, called “Blueprints,” painted a moderately hopeful vision of green energy and concerted action within the constraints of technological change, of a swiftly rising price on carbon emissions as the world comes together to remake its energy systems. In this vision of the future, there is active carbon trading. There is a strong global climate treaty. There is still far more warming than society can easily bear — approaching 7 degrees Fahrenheit — but the world still averts the very worst of climate change. The second scenario, called “Scramble,” envisioned a future in which countries fail to do much of anything to reduce emissions, and instead race to secure oil and coal deposits. Only when climatic chaos breaks out does society take it seriously, and by then great damage has already been done. Drilling in the Arctic, thought to hold up to a quarter of the world’s untapped oil and gas, has a role in both scenarios — but under “Scramble,” it is irresistible.
In 2008, Shell surprised observers by announcing that it had a preferred scenario. The company would prepare for both outcomes, but for the good of the world and the good of Shell itself, it hoped for the carbon-constrained future of “Blueprints.”
The oil giant awaited government action: a market signal in the form of a carbon price. But when I interviewed him four years later, Bentham admitted to me that the future, so far, was looking a lot more like the chaos of “Scramble.” We had no working international climate agreement and no real price on carbon. Instead, we had a global race for gas, coal and the last drops of conventional oil.
When I talked to Bentham, it was early December 2012. Three weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, Shell’s Arctic drill rig, the Kulluk, crashed into an island off the Alaskan coastline in a violent winter storm — a disaster I wrote about in this magazine. After the accident, political and economic circumstances seemed to turn decisively against Shell’s Arctic aspirations. The Obama administration began talking tough: “Shell screwed up,” said Ken Salazar, the interior secretary at the time. ConocoPhillips and Statoil, Shell’s rivals in the Alaskan Arctic, delayed their own offshore-drilling plans. Global oil prices soon dropped precipitously, making expensive plays in the high north even riskier.
Yet the drilling plan that the Obama administration approved on May 11 is not much different from the one that ran aground along with the Kulluk two and a half years ago. One of company’s drill ships will be the same as before: the Noble Discoverer, a 49-year-old converted log carrier that was previously at the center of eight felony pollution charges. Last month, the vessel failed another Coast Guard inspection in Hawaii. In place of the Kulluk, Shell will use a squarish, 319-foot-tall behemoth called the Polar Pioneer. This replacement rig flies the same Marshall Islands flag of convenience as the Kulluk and will be towed along the same general route to and from the Chukchi Sea from Seattle — a 2,000-mile voyage by tugboat. The Discoverer and the Pioneer will cross the same churning waters in the Gulf of Alaska. They’ll begin drilling in the same assuredly oil-rich patch of seabed in the Chukchi, some 70 miles from shore and a thousand miles from the nearest permanent Coast Guard base from which help could be dispatched if something goes wrong.
The fact that so fundamentally little has changed since the debacle of 2012 is shocking — unless you understand that our leaders have long shared the oil company’s worldview. Drilling the Chukchi is not a choice, say the adults in the room; it’s an inevitability. When the federal government auctioned off the Chukchi leases in 2008, Randall Luthi, a Bush appointee who was then the head of the agency then called the Minerals Management Service, gave a speech in Alaska in which he stumbled repeatedly over the word Inupiat — the name of the Alaska Native people whose villages dot the Chukchi coastline — but managed to present this argument perfectly. “Our demand for energy is going to increase by approximately 1.1 percent a year over the next generation,” he declared. “U.S. production is not expected to keep pace. Now, it doesn’t take too much to realize that when you’re demanding more than you’re producing, there’s a shortfall.” One of Luthi’s successors under the Obama administration, Tommy Beaudreau, underscored the “tremendous” size of the prize. Estimates held that “the Chukchi Sea contains more than 15 billion barrels of undiscovered recoverable oil,” Beaudreau told the Senate, “which is second only to the central Gulf of Mexico.” For me, living in Seattle as Shell’s Arctic fleet again gathers in Puget Sound and activists in kayaks try to stop it with a blockade, it’s hard not to think of the arc of the president who just signed off on another drilling mission. In his 2008 campaign, President Obama seemed to plan for an optimistic vision of the future, only to have the opposing scenario unfold. Four years later, his campaign’s energy slogan — reiterated in his 2014 State of the Union address — might as well have been written by Shell: All of the above.
Lately, Obama has made climate change a priority. He has signed off on an ambitious climate pact with China, and his administration is finalizing regulations for coal-fired power plants. So far, he has blocked the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. That he is simultaneously opening up the Arctic Ocean only shows the staying power of Shell’s three hard truths. In this worldview, where society stays stuck on oil because history shows that we must, there is one kind of abrupt change that remains unimaginable.
Posted: 21 May 2015 11:40 AM PDT
In the years following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, forest fires billowed plumes of contaminated smoke, carrying radioactive particles throughout Europe on the wind. Now, researchers fear that a shift to a hotter, drier climate in Eastern Europe could increase the frequency of these fires…..
Coastal Conservancy Project Manager Marilyn Latta or San Francisco State University Professor Katharyn Boyer
San Rafael Corporate Center, 750 Lindaro Street, San Rafael
MCL will host this illustrated presentation on the California State Coastal Conservancy’s Living Shorelines pilot project, underway along San Rafael’s Bayfront, which is using natural processes to improve the shoreline’s ability to improve native habitat while also coping with the impacts of sea level rise. MCL members and guests are welcome and there is no charge for this event. The project, now in its third year, is testing the use of living reefs composed of native oysters, eelgrass, and other materials, as a strategy to reduce the need for engineered hard structures to protect low-lying areas against rising waters and storm surges. The project is being conducted in two locations: along the Hayward shoreline and in San Rafael Bay. The San Rafael location is a wide, shallow mudflat between Point San Quentin to the south and Point San Pedro to the north. Herring often spawn along this shoreline and could also benefit from restored subtidal habitat.
When: Wednesday 27 May 2015, 01:00 PM – 02:30 PM ET or 10-11:30 PT
Join us for a discussion and share how your organization may be adapting (and barriers to adapting) conservation easements to anticipated consequences of climate change on natural communities and resource productivity.
Speaker: Adena Rissman, University of Wisconsin-Madison. For more information and to register, go to: https://nctc.adobeconnect.com/safeguarding_may2015/event/event_info.html
June 11-12, 2015, Los Banos Community Center, Los Banos, CA. More information will follow soon, but save the date!
American Water Resources Association (AWRA): “Climate Change Adaptation” June 15 – 17, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana
Abstracts due to AWRA website: 02/13/2015
The focus of the conference is on ACTION – how we more effectively develop and use climate change adaptation information to respond, build resilient systems, and influence decision makers. The conference will bring water professionals from federal, state, local, and private sectors together to focus on the issues that need to be addressed to develop effective strategies for mitigating climate change impacts such as sea-level rise, changes in precipitation patterns, increased severe weather events, and worsening droughts, AND more effectively communicate such information to decision makers. Conference sessions will be devoted to addressing the following questions:
Ninth 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.
Grand Challenges in Coastal & Estuarine Science: Securing Our Future 8 – 12 November, 2015 Oregon Convention Center | Portland, Oregon
Registration for the CERF 23rd Biennial Conference is now open! The CERF 2015 scientific program offers four days of timely, exciting and diverse information on a vast array of estuarine and coastal subjects. Presentations will examine new findings within CERF’s traditional scientific, education and management disciplines and encourage interaction among coastal and estuarine scientists and managers. Plus, there are plenty of workshops, field trips, and special events to get involved with that will make this conference one you won’t want to miss.
Abstract Submissions are OPEN for the 21st Biennial. We are currently accepting abstract submissions for workshops, oral, speed and poster presentations for the 21st Biennial Society for Marine Mammalogy Conference, to take place in San Francisco from December 13-18, 2015. The submission deadline is May 15th, 2015. Workshops will be held on December 12-13th.
The 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting will be held 21-26 February 2016 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, located at 900 Convention Center Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70130. Cosponsored by AGU, ASLO, and TOS, the Ocean Sciences Meeting will consist of a diverse program covering topics in all areas of the ocean sciences discipline. The abstract submission site will open 15 July 2015; stay tuned for more details about how to be a part of the scientific program.
JOBS (apologies for any duplication; thanks for passing along)
Point Blue is hiring a Senior Marine Spatial Ecologist to help us drive climate-smart conservation actions off the Sonoma coast and across the entire California Current ecosystem. The Marine Ecologist will play a key role in Point Blue’s strategic initiative to conserve ocean food webs by helping to: 1) identify the effects of climate change on marine wildlife distribution patterns and the location and function of food web hot spots, 2) guide ocean adaptation planning, management, and zoning to improve the conservation of threatened ocean resources within California’s National Marine Sanctuaries, 3) use monitoring and citizen science to inform public outreach and policy recommendations that will reduce human impacts on marine wildlife, and 4) coordinate and support collaborative science and resource management activities with key agencies and stakeholders. The Marine Ecologist will work collaboratively with staff across the California Current Group and Point Blue, as well as externally with public and private partners to carry out research and monitoring, perform analyses, engage in policy and resource management discussions, and disseminate results. Supervision will be provided by Point Blue’s California Current Group Director. To Apply E-mail: (1) cover letter describing qualifications and reasons for interest in this position and Point Blue, (2) complete CV/resume, and (3) contact information (including phone numbers and e-mail addresses) for 3 references to email@example.com with “Marine Ecologist” in the subject line. Applicants may be subject to background checks. Application deadline is May 31, 2015; the position will remain open until a successful candidate has been identified. For more information please follow this link: http://www.pointblue.org/…/jobs-and-intern…/marine-ecologist.
- OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST
A Pulitzer Prize Winner [MUST READ!]
By The New Yorker April 20, 2015
We were pleased to learn, on Monday afternoon, that Elizabeth Kolbert has won the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, for her book “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” Kolbert, a New Yorker staff writer since 1999, has covered climate change and the natural world for more than a decade, beginning with 2002’s “Ice Memory,” about glaciologists in Greenland, and continuing with her series “The Climate of Man,” which won the 2006 National Magazine Award for Public Interest. “The Sixth Extinction” began as a New Yorker article of the same title, about crashing amphibian populations in Panama, and parts of the book were published in the magazine in the two-part series “The Lost World.” The award is a recognition of both the power of Kolbert’s writing and the urgency of her subject. As the subheading on her magazine piece read, “This time, the cataclysm is us.”…
By MICHAEL FORSYTHE NY Times May 20, 2015
The Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change, possibly the only museum specifically devoted to the issue, may offer inspiration for a group seeking to build a similar site in Manhattan.
Performance Art and Science
Yale Climate Connections May 12 2015
The scientific evidence that global warming is real – and mostly caused by humans – does not always inspire behavior change. So physicist Robert Davies of Utah State University, created a performance that combines the science of climate change with images and music. DAVIES: “The idea here was to sort of push out all the thoughts that an audience comes into a performance with; impose a theme, which is sustainability and climate change, and then unleash some very powerful music on that theme and let the audience just sit with it.” With original music written for the performance, “Crossroads” helps audiences realize how their own actions contribute to climate change. DAVIES: “This process of coming to terms with this knowledge, is necessary and it’s not entirely pleasant. But then we move forward.”
Davies hopes the performance will motivate people to take more responsibility for their environmental behavior. He has plans to create up to three new shows for the crossroads project in the next several years.
Source: Crossroads Project website brochure.
Posted: 11 May 2015 09:48 AM PDT
Supplementing the plant-based Mediterranean diet with antioxidant-rich extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts was associated with improved cognitive function in a study of older adults in Spain but the authors warn more investigation is needed, according to a new article.
Posted: 17 May 2015 04:19 AM PDT
High salt diets may delay puberty. As the salt content of Western diets continues to increase these findings could have significant consequences for the reproductive health of future generations.
Stars: A Size Comparison— a perspective on the universe!
…some of the most frequently asked questions are about stars: what are they, how far away are they, are they explosions or just balls of burning gas. Basically, what is up with those things we call stars? Most of the time people think that every star they see in the sky is just like our own star, the Sun. They know the Sun is a star and that it appears to be larger than the other stars because it is so close to us. The other stars in the sky are further away, obviously, but they just assume that they’re still relatively the same size as our own Sun. It’s true that they’re all far away (in varying degrees) but it’s not true that they’re all the same size. Stars come in a variety of sizes. The smallest star currently discovered is OGLE-TR-122b. This star is around 96 times more massive than Jupiter. This type of star is called a red dwarf. The largest star discovered so far is called VY Canis Majoris and has a diameter of about 1,975,000,000 kilometres (1.227×109 mi). This star is known as a red hypergiant. This might be hard to wrap our heads around. For example, the Earth is about 26,000 miles in circumference. If you were to fly on a commercial jet airliner all the way around the Earth (having to stop to refuel, of course) it would take you about 47 hours. All the while our own Earth (in its own orbit) takes a year to travel around the Sun. So how long do you think it would take to fly all the way around the circumference of VY Canis Majoris in that same jet airliner? Well, I saw a video online a couple of years ago that blew my mind. It was about star comparisons and it helped illustrate just how big some of these stars are. If you want to know just how big VY Canis Majoris is and how long it would take you to fly around it in a jet then check out the video. You might be amazed by the answer.
Ellie Cohen, President and CEO
Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO)
3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11, Petaluma, CA 94954
Point Blue—Conservation science for a healthy planet.