As Hurricane Harvey hits Gulf Coast, Central Valley must prepare for the coming storm- Editorial

  • The Big One in the form of a superstorm may come this winter, or the next or the one after that. But it is headed this way.
  • New plan calls for multi-benefit floodplain management, expanding bypasses and limiting building
  • Giving rivers and floodways more room to carry flood waters is the best way to protect communities from dangerous floods, and giving rivers more room provides multiple benefits, including clean water, parks, and habitat for fish and wildlife.

Increasingly acidic zone from land-based nutrient pollution found in Chesapeake Bay

  • Zone of water 30 feet below surface is increasing in acidity, threatening shellfish

August 28, 2017 University of Delaware

…The team analyzed little studied factors that play a role in ocean acidification (OA) — changes in water chemistry that threaten the ability of shellfish such as oysters, clams and scallops to create and maintain their shells, among other impacts.

…”This study shows for the first time that the oxidation of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia from the bottom waters could be a major contributor to lower pH in coastal oceans and may lead to more rapid acidification in coastal waters compared to the open ocean,” said Cai, the paper’s lead author and an expert in marine chemistry and carbon’s movement through coastal waters.

in the coastal ocean, in general, there is a synergistic effect on OA when excess nutrients introduced into the ecosystem from land cause plant overgrowth, a process known as eutrophication that upsets the water’s natural chemistry and causes the death of marine species. When that organic matter sinks to the bottom sediment it is consumed by bacteria that respire, creating excess carbon dioxide that mixes upward into the water column.

The water is already lower in pH and when you add just a little more carbon dioxide and other acids, it creates a tipping point that leads to a decrease in pH” said Cai….

[Compared to Gulf of Mexico] the combined environmental and climate change stressors make the Bay more vulnerable, and the excess nutrients and increase in acidity may take a larger toll….

Wei-Jun Cai, et al. Redox reactions and weak buffering capacity lead to acidification in the Chesapeake Bay. Nature Communications, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00417-7

Sense of smell is key factor in bird navigation, new study shows

August 29, 2017 University of Oxford  read full ScienceDaily article here

…researchers from the universities of Oxford, Barcelona and Pisa have shown in a new experiment that olfaction — or sense of smell — is almost certainly a key factor in long-distance oceanic navigation….The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Study leader Oliver Padget, a doctoral candidate in Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, said: ‘Navigation over the ocean is probably the extreme challenge for birds, given the long distances covered, the changing environment, and the lack of stable landmarks……removing a bird’s sense of smell does not appear to impair either its motivation to return home or its ability to forage effectively.

However, although the anosmic birds made successful trips to the Catalan coast and other distant foraging grounds, they showed significantly different orientation behaviour from the controls during the at-sea stage of their return journeys. Instead of being well-oriented towards home when they were out of sight of land, they embarked on curiously straight but poorly oriented flights across the ocean, as if following a compass bearing away from the foraging grounds without being able to update their position.

Their orientation then improved when approaching land, suggesting that birds must consult an olfactory map when out of sight of land but are subsequently able to find home using familiar landscape features….’To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that follows free-ranging foraging trips in sensorily manipulated birds. ..

Cory’s Shearwater, Calonectris borealis, in flight.
Credit: © hstiver / Fotolia

O. Padget, G. Dell’Ariccia, A. Gagliardo, J. González-Solís, T. Guilford. Anosmia impairs homing orientation but not foraging behaviour in free-ranging shearwaters. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-09738-5

Warming may quickly drive forest-eating beetles north, says study

  • Pines in Canada and much of US at risk

August 28, 2017 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University  read full ScienceDaily article here

Over the next few decades, global warming-related rises in winter temperatures could significantly extend the range of the southern pine beetle — one of the world’s most aggressive tree-killing insects — through much of the northern United States and southern Canada, says a new study. The beetle’s range is sharply limited by annual extreme temperature lows, but these lows are rising much faster than average temperatures — a trend that will probably drive the beetles’ spread, say the authors. The study was published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

…Until recently, southern pine beetles lived from Central America up into the southeastern United States, but in the past decade or so they have also begun appearing in parts of the Northeast and New England…

…”We could see loss of biodiversity and iconic regional forests. There would be damage to tourism and forestry industries in already struggling rural areas.” Coauthor Radley Horton, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said infested forests could also dry out and burn, endangering property and emitting large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere

Corey Lesk, Ethan Coffel, Anthony W. D’Amato, Kevin Dodds, Radley Horton. Threats to North American forests from southern pine beetle with warming winters. Nature Climate Change, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3375

The significant role of microbes in soil carbon

  • Soil is important to life on Earth as we know it…. soil organic matter is key to many of the essential services and functions that soils provide.
  • … long believed that remnants of decayed plant matter were the principal components of stabilized soil carbon…But evolving analytical approaches have led toward view that dead microbial biomass and other microbial residues could contribute even more significantly to stable carbon pools.
  • The scientists suggest adopting an approach based on a concept called the soil microbial carbon pump to help stimulate fruitful new research in this area.

August 29 2017 read full ScienceDaily article here

…In the carbon cycle, carbon moves among plants, animals, soils, Earth’s crust, fresh water, the oceans and the atmosphere. Sequestered carbon is carbon that stays in long-term storage. Soil carbon waxes and wanes, depending on the balance between inputs of new organic materials and outputs. Losses occur mostly through decomposition, but also through leaching into groundwater or surface erosion.

Studies have long focused on how plant litter — mostly dead leaves, stems and roots — decomposes and transforms into soil organic matter. The contribution of the living biomass of microbes to soil carbon, which accounts for only 1 to 5 percent of total soil carbon, has received much less attention, however

…Even though the living biomass of microbes is small, these organisms grow, live and die at a rapid pace. This means that microbial inputs to soil organic matter can be much larger than previously thought, particularly when a significant portion of those inputs are stabilized rather than decomposed. But even with new insights and improvements in the tools used to study soil organic matter, many questions and unknowns persist.

…Through catabolic activity, microbes break down complex molecules to form simpler ones, which releases carbon as carbon dioxide. Through anabolic activity, microbes synthesize complex molecules from simpler ones, which contributes to carbon storage.

The scientists suggest adopting an approach based on a concept called the soil microbial carbon pump to help stimulate fruitful new research in this area. Marine researchers first raised the microbial carbon pump concept. The marine microbial carbon pump sequesters carbon by transferring it deep into the oceans. Through this process, bacteria contribute significantly to long-term carbon storage and the regulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

….addition of new, externally produced carbon can increase the production of carbon dioxide by priming microbial decomposition of existing soil organic matter, and at the same time it can lead to greater entombment of microbial residues.

“But, researchers will need better analytical tools to more accurately quantify the mass of dead microbial material and residues in soils, and to understand the factors controlling the balance between the entombing and priming effects,” Liang noted….

Chao Liang, Joshua P. Schimel, Julie D. Jastrow. The importance of anabolism in microbial control over soil carbon storage. Nature Microbiology, 2017; 2 (8): 17105 DOI: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2017.105


NYC Creates Climate Change Roadmap for Builders: Plan for Rising Seas [interesting read in light of Harvey]

  • The city’s new resilience guidelines map out the expected risks from sea level rise and increasing heat in the decades ahead.
  • “The real problem we have is that we still put a lot of investment in low-lying areas, and this is a matter of zoning and land use policy”…Many parts of the city’s extensive waterfront continue to attract new luxury residential projects, for example, even though they’ll face increased flooding in years to come,

Nicholas Kusnetz  read full Inside Climate News article here

May 3, 2017 [interesting read in light of Superstorm Harvey]

…The nation’s largest city has a message for the architects and engineers planning the New York of tomorrow: Fortify new buildings against the ravages of climate change or risk rebuilding as global warming worsens.

New guidelines issued last week by the office of New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio are some of the most comprehensive for how builders should protect infrastructure against rising seas, more powerful storms and climbing temperatures. They draw on science published in 2015 by a city panel of experts that estimates rainfall, sea level rise and other climatic shifts expected for the city in the decades ahead….

….By mid-century, if a 100-year storm strikes, it is expected drop more than 12 inches of rain over a 24-hour period, compared to just under 9 inches today. Architects would be wise, the guidelines say, to include a green roof or permeable pavement to help relieve stress on drainage systems.

….Klaus Jacob, a scientist who studies climate adaptation at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said the guidelines are innovative but only a small step toward where the city needs to be.

The real problem we have is that we still put a lot of investment in low-lying areas, and this is a matter of zoning and land use policy,” he said.

Many parts of the city’s extensive waterfront continue to attract new luxury residential projects, for example, even though they’ll face increased flooding in years to come, Jacob said. But rather than overhauling the city’s zoning with an eye to rising seas, the city has been addressing climate adaptation piecemeal, even if the pieces such as these guidelines are commendable, he said.

CA: More than 99 percent of sustainable groundwater agencies have been formed

published on August 28, 2017 – 3:48 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff- full article here

In what the state is billing as “a major step toward sustainable groundwater management in California,” more than 99 percent of the state’s groundwater basins have met a key deadline in reporting groundwater pumping.

According to the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) of 2014, key stakeholders of the state’s 127 high- and medium-priority groundwater basins were required to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) to manage groundwater pumping. The deadline for formation of the GSAs was June 30, and as of this week, more than 99 percent had been formed.

…The next step for SGMA compliance is to create and implement groundwater sustainability plans that describe the plan for bringing “basins into balanced levels of pumping and recharge.” Basins identified as critically overdrafted are required to have sustainability plans in place by Jan. 21, 2020, while all other high- and medium-priority basins have until Jan. 31, 2022, to adopt plans.

Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like

  • It’s time to open our eyes and prepare for the world that’s coming.
  • Harvey is the third 500-year flood to hit the Houston area in the past three years, but Harvey is in a class by itself. By the time the storm leaves the region on Wednesday, an estimated 40 to 60 inches of rain will have fallen on parts of Houston. So much rain has fallen already that the National Weather Service had to add additional colors to its maps to account for the extreme totals.
  • Harvey is a storm decades in the making.
  • Insisting on a world that doesn’t knowingly condemn entire cities to a watery, terrifying future isn’t “politicizing” a tragedy—it’s our moral duty.
  • The symbolism of the worst flooding disaster in U.S. history hitting the sprawled-out capital city of America’s oil industry is likely not lost on many. Institutionalized climate denial in our political system and climate denial by inaction by the rest of us have real consequences. They look like Houston.


In all of U.S. history, there’s never been a storm like Hurricane Harvey. That fact is increasingly clear, even though the rains are still falling and the water levels in Houston are still rising.

But there’s an uncomfortable point that, so far, everyone is skating around: We knew this would happen, decades ago. We knew this would happen, and we didn’t care. Now is the time to say it as loudly as possible: Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.

Houston has been sprawling out into the swamp for decades, largely unplanned and unzoned. Now, all that pavement has transformed the bayous into surging torrents and shunted Harvey’s floodwaters toward homes and businesses. Individually, each of these subdivisions or strip malls might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but in aggregate, they’ve converted the metro area into a flood factory. Houston, as it was before Harvey, will never be the same again.

…Climate change is making rainstorms everywhere worse, but particularly on the Gulf Coast. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth thinks that as much as 30 percent of the rainfall from Harvey is attributable to human-caused global warming. That means Harvey is a storm decades in the making….

….The symbolism of the worst flooding disaster in U.S. history hitting the sprawled-out capital city of America’s oil industry is likely not lost on many. Institutionalized climate denial in our political system and climate denial by inaction by the rest of us have real consequences. They look like Houston.

Once Harvey’s floodwaters recede, the process will begin to imagine a New Houston, and that city will inevitably endure future mega-rainstorms as the world warms. The rebuilding process provides an opportunity to chart a new path. The choice isn’t between left and right, or denier and believer. The choice is between success and failure.

Four things Houston-area leaders must do to prevent future flooding disasters

Read full article in the Texas Tribune

…This may seem like a freak occurrence. But it’s the third catastrophic flooding event this region of 6.5 million people has experienced in three years. And scientists and other experts say that much of the devastation could have been prevented. …They say local officials need to account for more frequent and intense rains that are sure to come with climate change, rather than looking to what has happened in the past in their search for solutions.

Here’s what local leaders could have done to protect the region — and what they must do to prevent such disasters in the future.

Preserve and restore as much prairie land as possible

Much of northwest Houston used to be covered in prairie land, where tall grasses could absorb huge amounts of floodwater….

Restrict development in floodplains and buy flood-prone homes

Buildings continue to go up in vulnerable floodplains all over Harris County. A few years ago the city of Houston tried to ban new development in the most flood-prone areas. …

Plan for climate change

In planning for flooding from future storms, local officials largely look to past rainfall totals and weather patterns. But climate change will heighten the risks that the region already faces. That’s particularly true because it sits so close to the Gulf of Mexico, where sea levels are rising and waters have been warming as the planet gets hotter….“The exact same storm that comes along today has more rain associated with it than it would have 50 or 100 years ago,” renowned climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told The Texas Tribune last year. Hayhoe said Houston needs to plan for more frequent and intense rainstorms, just like many other cities in the country….

Educate the public

Hundreds of thousands of people have moved to the Houston area in recent decades; it’s consistently ranked as one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities. But people who move to flood-prone areas are often unaware of the risks….