Focus of the Week – New IPCC Climate Change Report
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The items contained in this update were drawn from www.dailyclimate.org, www.sciencedaily.com, SER The Society for Ecological Restoration, http://news.google.com, www.climateprogress.org, www.slate.com, www.sfgate.com, The Wildlife Society NewsBrief, CA BLM NewsBytes and other sources as indicated. This is a compilation of information available on-line, not verified and not endorsed by Point Blue Conservation Science.
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Focus of the Week– New IPCC Climate Change Report
A U.N. report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.
By JUSTIN GILLIS NY Times March 31 2014
YOKOHAMA, Japan —
Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.
The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found. Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said. And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty….
…It cited the risk of death or injury on a wide scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations. “Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger,” the report declared. The report also cited the possibility of violent conflict over land, water or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.” The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just a problem of the distant future, but is happening now. Studies have found that parts of the Mediterranean region are drying out because of climate change, and some experts believe that droughts there have contributed to political destabilization in the Middle East and North Africa.
In much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region, the scientists said in the report. And the snow that does fall is melting earlier in the year, which means there is less melt water to ease the parched summers. In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.
….”There are those who say we can’t afford to act,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic.”
Amid all the risks the experts cited, they did find a bright spot. Since the intergovernmental panel issued its last big report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are making extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists. “I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif. Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the ground that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.
The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries. The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during an editing session of several days in Yokohama. The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations were private. The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases. Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.
Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result, and it is not clear whether the negotiations in New York this fall will be any different. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India. For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily. The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress. The report said that climate change was already dragging down the output of wheat and corn at a global scale, compared with what it would otherwise be.
By Joe Romm on March 30, 2014 at 8:00 pm
Humanity’s choice (via IPCC): Aggressive climate action ASAP (left figure) minimizes future warming. Continued inaction (right figure) results in catastrophic levels of warming, 9°F over much of U.S.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its second of four planned reports examining the state of climate science. This one summarizes what the scientific literature says about “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” (big PDF here).
As with every recent IPCC report, it is super-cautious to a fault and yet still incredibly alarming. It warns that we are doing a bad job of dealing with the climate change we’ve experienced to date: “Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability.” It warns of the dreaded RFCs (“reasons for concern” — I’m not making this acronym up), such as “breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes.” You might call them RFAs (“reasons for alarm” or “reasons for action”).
Indeed, in recent years, “several periods of rapid food and cereal price increases following climate extremes in key producing regions indicate a sensitivity of current markets to climate extremes among other factors.” So warming-driven drought and extreme weather have already begun to reduce food security. Now imagine adding another 2 billion people to feed while we are experiencing five times as much warming this century as we did last century! No surprise, then, that climate change will “prolong existing, and create new, poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.” And it will “increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence” — though for some reason that doesn’t make the list of RFCs. In short, “We’re all sitting ducks,” as IPCC author and Princeton Prof. Michael Oppenheimer put it to the AP.
AN OVERLY CAUTIOUS REPORT
As grim as the Working Group 2 report on impacts is, it explicitly has very little to say about the catastrophic impacts and vulnerability in the business as usual case where the Earth warms 4°C to 5°C [7°F-9°F] — and it has nothing to say about even higher warming, which the latest science suggests we are headed toward. The report states: “Relatively few studies have considered impacts on cropping systems for scenarios where global mean temperatures increase by 4°C [7°F] or more.… few quantitative estimates [of global annual economic losses] have been completed for additional warming around 3°C [5.4°F] or above.”
… You may wonder why hundreds of the world leading climate experts spend years and years doing climate science and climate projections, but don’t bother actually looking at the impacts of merely staying on our current carbon pollution emissions path — let alone looking at the plausible worst-case scenario (which is typically the basis for risk-reducing public policy, such as military spending). Partly it’s because, until recently, climate scientists had naively expected the world to act with a modicum of sanity and avoid at all costs catastrophic warming of 7°F let alone the unimaginable 10°F (or higher) warming we are headed toward. Partly it’s because, as a recent paper explained, “climate scientists are biased toward overly cautious estimates, erring on the side of less rather than more alarming predictions.”
On top of the overly cautious nature of most climate scientists, we have the overly cautious nature of the IPCC. As the New York Times explained when the IPCC released the Working Group 1 report last fall:
“The I.P.C.C. is far from alarmist — on the contrary, it is a highly conservative organization,” said Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, whose papers on sea level were among those that got discarded. “That is not a problem as long as the users of the I.P.C.C. reports are well aware of this. The conservatism is built into its consensus structure, which tends to produce a lowest common denominator on which a large number of scientists can agree.”
That’s why the latest report is full of these sorts of bombshells couched in euphemism and buried deep in the text:
By 2100 for the high-emission scenario RCP8.5, the combination of high temperature and humidity in some areas for parts of the year is projected to compromise normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors. Yes, “compromise.” A clearer word would be “obliterate.” And the “high-emission scenario RCP8.5″ — an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide of about 936 parts per million — is in fact where we are headed by 2100 or soon thereafter on our current do-little path.
Bottom line: We are at risk of making large parts of the planet’s currently arable and populated land virtually uninhabitable for much of the year — and irreversibly so for hundreds of years.
THE RISK OF CREATING MORE FAILED STATES
Here are two important conclusions from the report that the IPCC strangely puts 13 pages apart from each other:
Violent conflict increases vulnerability to climate change. Large-scale violent conflict harms assets that facilitate adaptation, including infrastructure, institutions, natural resources, social capital, and livelihood opportunities.
Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks. Multiple lines of evidence relate climate variability to these forms of conflict.
Separately, they are both worrisome. But together, they are catastrophic. Climate change makes violent conflict more likely — and violent conflict makes a country more vulnerable to climate change. So climate change appears poised to help create many more of the most dangerous situations on Earth: failed states. Syria may be turning into an early example.
THE HIGH COST OF INACTION
The IPCC’s discussion of economic costs is equally muddled: “… the incomplete estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of ~2°C are between 0.2 and 2.0% of income. Losses are more likely than not to be greater, rather than smaller, than this range…. Losses accelerate with greater warming, but few quantitative estimates have been completed for additional warming around 3°C or above.”=
It would have been nice if the IPCC had mentioned at this point that keeping additional temperature increases to ~2°C requires very aggressive efforts to slash carbon pollution starting now. As it is, the deniers, confusionists, and easily confused can (incorrectly) assert that this first sentence means global economic losses from climate change will be low. Again, that’s only if we act now.
As Climate Science Watch noted Saturday, “Other estimates suggest the high impacts on global GDP with warming of 4ºC (For example the Stern Review found impacts of 5-20% of global GDP).” The costs of even higher warming, which, again, would be nothing more than business as usual, rise exponentially. Indeed, we’ve known for years that traditional climate cost-benefit analyses are “unusually misleading” — as Harvard economist Martin Weitzman warned colleagues, “we may be deluding ourselves and others.” Again, that’s because the IPCC is basically a best case analysis — while it largely ignores the business-as-usual case and completely ignores the worst case.
Remember, earlier this month, during the press call for the vastly better written climate report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a leading expert on risk analysis explained, “You really do have to think about worst-case scenarios when you are thinking about risk management. When it’s a risk management problem, thinking about worst-case scenarios is not alarmist — it’s just part of the job. And those worst-case scenarios are part of what drives the price.”
So where are we now? The first IPCC report last fall revealed we are as certain that humans are dramatically changing the planet’s climate as we are that smoking causes cancer. It found the best estimate is that humans are responsible for all of the warming we have suffered since 1950. It warned that on the continued do-little path, we are facing total warming from preindustrial levels by 2100 headed toward 4°C (7°F), with much more rapid sea level rise than previously reported, and the prospects of large-scale collapse of the permafrost, with resultant release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases.
Now, “the IPCC’s new report should leave the world in no doubt about the scale and immediacy of the threat to human survival, health, and wellbeing,” which in turn shows the need for “radical and transformative change” in our energy system, as the British Medical Journal editorialized.
Every few years, the world’s leading climate scientists and governments identify the ever-worsening symptoms. They give us the same diagnosis, but with ever-growing certainty. And they lay out an ever-grimmer prognosis if we keep ignoring their straightforward and relatively inexpensive treatment. Will we act on the science in time?
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD NY Times Editorial April 1, 2014
Perhaps now the deniers will cease their attacks on the science of climate change, and the American public will, at last, fully accept that global warming is a danger now and an even graver threat to future generations. On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that since 1990 has been issuing increasingly grim warnings about the consequences of a warming planet, released its most powerful and sobering assessment so far. Even now, it said, ice caps are melting, droughts and floods are getting worse, coral reefs are dying. And without swift and decisive action to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other sources, the world will almost surely face centuries of climbing temperatures, rising seas, species loss and dwindling agricultural yields. The damage will be particularly acute in coastal communities and in low-lying poor countries — like Bangladesh — that are least able to protect themselves.
The report’s conclusions mirrored those of a much shorter but no less disturbing report issued two weeks ago by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society. Like the panel, the association declared that the world is already feeling the effects of global warming, that the ultimate consequences could be catastrophic, and that the window for effective action is swiftly closing. The intergovernmental panel’s report (a companion report later this month will discuss what governments should do) could carry considerable weight with delegates to next year’s climate change summit meeting in Paris, at which the members of the United Nations will again try, after years of futility, to fashion a new global climate treaty. And together, the two reports could build public support for President Obama’s efforts to use his executive authority to limit greenhouse gases, most recently with a plan issued on Friday to reduce methane emissions from landfills, agricultural operations and oil and gas production and distribution…. A poll last year found that one-third of Americans believed that scientists disagreed on whether global warming was happening.
These studies suggest virtually no disagreement. The hope among advocates is that the latest show of scientific solidarity will clear up any confusion about the causes and consequences of climate change and the need for action.
The international body has issued a manual for adapting to a warming world.
A worker inspects solar panels in China’s Gansu province. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)
The United Nations’ latest report on climate change contains plenty of dire warnings about the adverse impact “human interference with the climate system” is having on everything from sea levels to crop yields to violent conflicts. But the primary message of the study isn’t, as John Kerry suggested on Sunday, for countries to collectively reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Instead, the subtext appears to be this: Climate change is happening and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. As a result, we need to adapt to a warming planet—to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits associated with increasing temperatures—rather than focusing solely on curbing warming in the first place. And it’s businesses and local governments, rather than the international community, that can lead the way. “The really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change,” Chris Field, the co-chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study, said this week, adding that governments, companies, and communities are already experimenting with “climate-change adaptation.”…
APRIL 1, 2014 Mark Bittman Opinion NY Times
In the ’30s, as Germany rearmed, we said, “Yeah, France can handle that.” Earlier this week, the Panzer Corps of climate change zoomed right around our Maginot line of denial, and we all became the retreating French. The disaster we refused to acknowledge has arrived. And now, as then, many people are just giving up. “Oh, well,” countless friends and co-workers muttered Monday, “nothing to do now.”
The bland, bureaucratic face of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave us horrific news this week: The negative effects of climate change are here, and they’re ahead of schedule. Not that we’re surprised; when every scientist in the world who isn’t in the employ of climate change deniers tells us that we’ve long since passed the place where we could “turn back” the effects of global warming, acknowledging its effects should be no more shocking than arising to a blanket of snow on the ground after having watched flakes fall through the night. If you skid out of the driveway wondering how in the world that happened, you weren’t paying attention. So yields of corn and wheat are down and falling while prices are going up. There has been record-breaking rain and record-breaking heat. Droughts are commonplace, and ice is melting. Even you, a person of education and at least moderate privilege, are going to notice. My friends are talking about getting away from it all, as if George W. Bush had won a third term. But to where? Hudson Bay must have sea level rise, no? The Cascades are nice and high, but they’ve got those mudslides! Well, O.K., at least we can go drink heavily. We know that when little green men with Shar Pei-like faces invade Earth, we’ll recognize that we are all one and act accordingly, uniting to defeat them and creating a world that recognizes our elemental mutual needs of land, water and air, and maintains their sanctity.
But it’s the blindly irrational mistreatment and abuse of land, water and air that have gotten us into this mess, whose visage is not that of a green Shar Pei-faced critter with a ray gun but one that just looks like … weather. We’re all used to weird weather, and even to the occasional drought that might reduce California’s production of edible plants by, say, 5 percent, or a storm that would level a few towns while flooding the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. So although we’ve been warned, it was hard to see this coming. “Do you think that storm was from global warming?” everyone asked after coastal New York and New Jersey were smashed by Hurricane Sandy. “Well, maybe,” was the best anyone could say; there have always been storms. But the aliens are in the backyard, Granny, and it’s time to start hitting them with the cast-iron pans. The deniers are the equivalent of hucksters selling you a ray-gun-proof magic hat. “I guess I can stop worrying about my grandchildren,” someone said to me, recognizing that change has come faster than all but a few had anticipated, and that it’s our lifetimes that are threatened now.
You can give up, of course; people will. Or you can break out the clichés about extraordinary times requiring extraordinary measures, put an evil alien face on climate change, and get to work supporting those measures that you know will either mitigate it or help us adapt.
Many barriers must be built, much coal left unburned and methane unpiped, many cattle unborn. We need a public works project the likes of which has not been seen since the ’40s. And it can be done, or at least attempted. Not to beat the World War II comparisons too heavily, but the United States built 2,000 airplanes in 1939; by 1944 that had become over 96,000, at a time when naysayers doubted 50,000 was a reachable number.
We can devise and build flood barriers; we can cap and control the spewing of carbon and methane into the air; we can turn to forms of agricultural production that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and even sequester them. It’s a matter of will, not one of magic.
“They” will not build a big umbrella that will reflect all that excess sun back into space; “they” will not compress and suck all that carbon underground; “they” will not release the secret plans for nuclear fusion “they’ve” been hiding.
It ain’t gonna happen. We need adaptive changes on every level, big plans for mitigation from all forms of government, and real international and even corporate cooperation.
As individuals, we must do what we can to encourage and demand those efforts, while also reducing our own cumulatively enormous carbon footprints. Americans have long led the world in consumption; we created the lifestyle that’s cooking the planet. If we demonstrate a willingness to change — rather than whining “but what about the Chinese?” — others will follow. If we don’t, we’re all going down. Myself, I’d rather give it a try, and live long enough to fight the Shar Pei men.
By ANDREW C. REVKIN NY Times March 31 2014
IPCC scientists answer 11 frequently asked questions about the impacts of global warming.
Behind the scenes of the new U.N. climate report, with Stanford scientists
Chris Field spent five years leading the international team of scientists that drafted the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
ABC NEWS -Tuesday, April 01, 2014
PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) — … ABC7 News spoke with Terry Root, Ph.D., of Stanford, who worked on this report and says the trends are alarming. “You don’t tell how bad it is because it will paralyze people,” said Root. Root is one name among hundreds of scientists who worked on this latest climate change report. The word frustration fails to capture the full measure of her concern. “When I started in this field 25 years ago, I really believed that we could stop mass extinction from occurring. I’m now to the place where I see we’re on the trajectory that mass extinction will occur. We’re going to lose half the species on the planet. It will be very hard not to lose half the species on the planet,” said Root… California’s drought is also a product, not just of weather, but the long term effect of climate on the weather. There will be less snow, earlier springs and runoffs, less water for crops. Sorry to scare you, Root says, but this is happening now, and if humans do not drastically reduce carbon emissions, we’ll see much worse.
By Andrew Breiner on April 2, 2014 at 9:04 am
CREDIT: Andrew Breiner
On Monday, someone who just watched Fox News wouldn’t know that a U.N. panel’s report said that “breakdown of food systems” and “violent conflict” are likely impacts of even low levels of climate change over the next 100 years. But MSNBC’s coverage gave a thorough look at the risks detailed in the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change impacts, as well as the woeful state of efforts to mitigate its effects or cut carbon. The day the report came out, CNN devoted one minute and eight seconds to two segments giving a basic review of its contents, MSNBC spent 19 minutes and 49 seconds covering it in depth over a total of five segments, and Fox News dedicated five minutes, mostly to attacking the idea of climate change or of studying it at all. If a viewer was watching Fox, they learned that the main issue is whether it’s “alright for you to exhale without paying tax to the United Nations,” as Claudia Rosett of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies told Neil Cavuto on his show. The short segment mocked the idea of the U.N. paying any attention at all to climate change as long as there are other issues like Russia and Korea to address…
U.S. News & World Report (blog)
April 4, 2014
“A major challenge facing scientists and organizations that view global warming as a major threat to humanity is that average citizens express so little concern about the issue,” Gallup said.
POINT BLUE in the news:
20:00 20 March 2014 by John Wiens New Scientists
Oil from the Exxon Valdez spill lingers, as do disputes about its current impact on wildlife. An ecologist asks what a quarter century of research can tell us
In March 1989, the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, off southern Alaska. More than 40 million litres of crude oil spilled into the frigid waters. Pushed by a late winter storm, the oil eventually contaminated 2100 kilometres of remote, rocky shoreline.
It is estimated that it killed as many as 250,000 seabirds, 2000 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles and untold numbers of invertebrates living on nearby rocks and beaches. Fisheries closed, people’s lives were disrupted, and so lawyers went to work. Exxon faced a $5 billion damages claim for the worst spill in US coastal waters at the time, only since surpassed by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Practical measures quickly followed. Coast Guard and state oversight to help protect the sound was improved, containment and clean-up equipment was stockpiledin the area in case of future disasters and local fishermen were trained to respond to a spill. Tugs now escort tankers through the sound and many new ships have double hulls. Scientists also set to work, documenting what happened to the oil, its effects and the recovery of wildlife. The spill became the most intensively studied in the history of the oil industry. By and large, these studies showed that nearly all of the oil disappeared from shorelines within a few years and most of the wildlife recovered within a decade or less. Yet bones of contention do remain.
—John Wiens is chief scientist at ecology research group Point Blue in California, US. He is editor of Oil in the Environment: Legacies and lessons of the Exxon Valdez oil spill (Cambridge University Press)
April 4, 2014
The same factors that increase the risk of species extinctions also reduce the chance that new species are formed. This is concluded by two biologists at Umeå University. Their findings are published in the April issue of the scientific journal Evolution.
We often see alarming reports about the global biodiversity crisis through the extinction of species. The reasons why species become extinct is much discussed, particularly the consequences of human activities. Less often discussed is how environmental changes affect the chances that new species are formed. New species arise when groups of individuals within a species successively become so different that they eventually are recognized as separate species, usually defined as inability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Differences can arise in several ways. Groups could become isolated from each other on either side of barriers, for example a mountain range, or they can adapt to different conditions by natural selection. How often new species form varies dramatically among organism groups and regions. Researchers have, so far, attributed this variation to differences in the strength of the forces that cause the differences. Now, Umeå researchers Mats Dynesius and Roland Jansson argue that there is another very important reason for the variation in speciation probability: The groups within a species that may eventually become separate species must persist over long periods of time….
Mats Dynesius, Roland Jansson. PERSISTENCE OF WITHIN-SPECIES LINEAGES: A NEGLECTED CONTROL OF SPECIATION RATES. Evolution, 2014; 68 (4): 923 DOI: 10.1111/evo.12316
Fences Cause Ecological Meltdown, Study Shows
Apr. 3, 2014 — Scientists have reviewed the ‘pros and cons’ of large scale fencing and argue that fencing should only be used as a last resort. Wildlife fences are constructed for a variety of reasons including to prevent the spread of diseases, protect wildlife from poachers, and to help manage small populations of threatened species. Human-wildlife conflict is another common reason for building fences: Wildlife can damage valuable livestock, crops, or infrastructure, some species carry diseases of agricultural concern, and a few threaten human lives. At the same time, people kill wild animals for food, trade, or to defend lives or property, and human activities degrade wildlife habitat. Separating people and wildlife by fencing can appear to be a mutually beneﬁcial way to avoid such detrimental effects. But in a paper in the journal Science, published today, April 4th, 2014, WCS and ZSL scientists review the ‘pros and cons’ of large scale fencing and argue that fencing should only be used as a last resort. Although fencing can have conservation benefits, it also has costs. When areas of contiguous wildlife habitat are converted into islands, the resulting small and isolated populations are prone to extinction, and the resulting loss of predators and other larger-bodied species can affect interactions between species in ways that cause further local extinctions, a process which has been termed “ecological meltdown.”… The authors conclude that as climate change increases the importance of facilitating wildlife mobility and maintaining landscape connectivity, fence removal may become an important form of climate change preparedness, and so fencing of wildlife should be avoided whenever possible.
R. Woodroffe, S. Hedges, S. M. Durant. To Fence or Not to Fence. Science, 2014; 344 (6179): 46 DOI: 10.1126/science.1246251
Credit: Rufus Isaacs
April 3, 2014 Michigan State University
Investing in habitat that attracts and supports wild bees in farms is not only an effective approach to helping enhance crop pollination, but it can also pay for itself in four years or less, according to Michigan State University research.
The paper, published in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology, gives farmers of pollination-dependent crops tangible results to convert marginal acreage to fields of wildflowers, said Rufus Isaacs, MSU entomologist and co-author of the paper.
“Other studies have demonstrated that creating flowering habitat will attract wild bees, and a few have shown that this can increase yields,” he said. “This is the first paper that demonstrates an economic advantage. This gives us a strong argument to present to farmers that this method works, and it puts money back in their pockets.”…
April 3, 2014 Ecological Society of America
As fires sweep more frequently across the American Great Basin, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been tasked with reseeding the burned landscapes to stabilize soils. BLM’s interventions have not helped to restore habitat for the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) reported scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and US Forest Service in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecosphere last week, but outlier project sites with good grouse habitat may yield clues to successful management scenarios.
Their report arrives in the shadow of a pending decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, and efforts by BLM and FWS to establish voluntary conservation and restoration management plans in lieu of endangered species listing mandates.
Protection of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act could affect the management of 250,000 square miles of land in the western US. FWS must decide on the grouse’s protection status by the end of FY 2015.
Wildfire is the predominant cause of habitat loss in the Great Basin. The sagebrush ecosystem is not adapted to frequent fires like some forests in California and the central Rockies, and fires have increased in frequency and in size over the last half century….
Experimental techniques have some promise, and include multiple seedings when the first try fails, out-planting pods of seedlings, and using different types of drill seeding equipment. Reseeding burns with local varietals or close genetic matches could improve recruitment. Controlling non-native plants with herbicides and fungal infections has been tried, with mixed results. But the factors that ultimately determine the survival of the sagebrush ecosystem may be out of managers’ control. The study, and another tracking the recovery of mountain big sagebrush (A. tridentata subsp. vaseyana) at high elevation, suggest that climate may play a role in the failure of big sage germination and establishment in hotter locations. Managers can try to work with and around climate and weather constraints, but impending climate changes will likely make this task more difficult. Some sites are more resilient than others. It’s possible that parts of the Great Basin will cross a tipping point of climate and species representation, from which they cannot return.
“There is potential for sites to move into a new plant community state,” said Arkle. “It’s possible that some have gone past a threshold. We could have a really difficult time trying to move them back to plant communities that existed historically.”
Robert S. Arkle, David S. Pilliod, Steven E. Hanser, Matthew L. Brooks, Jeanne C. Chambers, James B. Grace, Kevin C. Knutson, David A. Pyke, Justin L. Welty, Troy A. Wirth. Quantifying restoration effectiveness using multi-scale habitat models: implications for sage-grouse in the Great Basin. Ecosphere, 2014; 5 (3): art31 DOI: 10.1890/ES13-00278.1
As an ambitious program in Colombia demonstrates, combining grazing and agriculture with tree cultivation can coax more food from each acre, boost farmers’ incomes, restore degraded landscapes, and make farmland more resilient to climate change.
13 Mar 2014: Analysis Environment 360
Over the last two decades, cattle rancher Carlos Hernando Molina has replaced 220 acres of open pastureland with trees, shrubs, and bushy vegetation. But he hasn’t eliminated the cows. Today, his land in southwestern Colombia more closely resembles a perennial nursery at a garden center than a grazing area. Native, high-value timber like mahogany and samanea grow close together along the perimeter of the pasture. The trees are strung with electric wire and act as live fences. In the middle of the pen grow leucaena trees, a protein-packed forage tree, and beneath the leucaena are three types of tropical grasses and groundcover such as peanuts. In Colombia’s Cauca Valley, cattle first eat leucaena leaves, then tropical grasses. The plants provide his 90 head of cattle with vertical layers of grazing, leading to twice the milk and meat production per acre while reducing the amount of land needed to raise them. His operation is part of a trend globally to sustainably coax more food from each acre — without chemicals and fertilizers — while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing biodiversity, and enhancing the land’s ability to withstand the effects of climate change. Livestock and their food needs take up 30 percent of land globally, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In Colombia, where cattle occupy 80 percent of agricultural area, pastures have contributed to soil degradation and deforestation and, in dry areas, have hastened desertification, according to Julián Chará, a researcher at the Center for Research in Sustainable Systems of Agriculture, CIPAV, in The cost and technical complexities of agroforestry are holding back the movement. Cali, Colombia. But a new paradigm is emerging. Land conservation is happening alongside livestock production. In Colombia, Molina’s brand of so-called “sustainable intensification” is the favored agroforestry practice for livestock production. Agroforestry cultivates trees with food crops or livestock, while farmers make use of the trees’ ecological benefits. Plantains grow above shade-loving coffee. Valuable hardwoods like oak grow in alleys next to corn and wheat…. Murgueitio says that some people may scoff at the sustainability innovations in cattle production because emissions from ruminants are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases. Yet cattle raised using silvopastoral techniques can digest the forage more easily and reduce their methane emissions by 20 percent, according to researcher Michael Peters of the International Center or Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia. The systems also enhance carbon sequestration in both trees and soils and reduce the need to use fire for pasture management. “Cattle ranching is seen as eco-bad no matter what,” says Lerner of Princeton University. “But there is a huge portion of global land area in pasture. Is there a way we can make these pastures better?”
A January 2013 image from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society shows three minke whales on the deck of a Japanese boat in the Southern Ocean. Credit Tim Watters/Sea Shepherd Australia, via European Pressphoto Agency
TOKYO — The decision to ban Japan’s annual whaling drive off Antarctica, handed down by the United Nations’ highest court on Monday, was a hard-won victory for conservationists who long argued that Tokyo’s whaling research was a cover for commercial whaling.
The ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague halts a Japanese program that has captured more than 10,000 minke and other whales in the Southern Ocean each year since 1988 in the name of biological research. Japan may not be ready to lay down its harpoons entirely. Though the ruling is final, it allows the Japanese to continue to hunt whales under a redesigned program, said Nanami Kurasawa, who heads a marine conservation group in Tokyo. And the court’s decision does not affect smaller hunts that Japan carries out in the northern Pacific, or coastal whaling carried out on a smaller scale by local fishermen. “It’s an important decision, but it also leaves the Japanese government a lot of leeway,” Ms. Kurasawa said. “The Japanese government could start research whaling again but under a different name, and it would be out of the ruling’s purview….Still, Japan’s whaling program has struggled financially in recent years, as more Japanese consumers turn up their noses at whale meat and as environmental activists chasing whaling boats make the hunts more difficult. Hunts in recent years have relied on public subsidies, including money drawn from funds earmarked for Japan’s post-tsunami reconstruction. Some critics said that Monday’s decision presented Japan with an opportunity to bow out of a practice that has become a drain on its finances, as well as a blow to its image abroad. “This might be a good time to quit,” said Toshio Kasuya, an early collaborator on Japan’s research program who has since become one of its harshest critics. From early on, it became clear to researchers that the program did not prioritize scientific discovery, he said….
Political borders should not hamper wildlife ▶ NATURE 508, 9 (03 April 2014) doi:10.1038/508009a
Given the lack of global legislation, nations should work hard to establish cross-border protections for vulnerable species, says Aaron M. Ellison.
Tracking Sperm Whales’ Ecology Through Stomach Contents
Apr. 4, 2014 — While studying pygmy and dwarf sperm whales, a researcher involved in a new project stated that ‘understanding what resources support populations of these incredibly rare animals is important to … full story
Oxygen Depletion in the Baltic Sea Is Ten Times Worse Than a Century Ago
Mar. 31, 2014 — The Baltic Sea is suffering from a lack of oxygen. Poor oxygen conditions on the seabed are killing animals and plants, and experts are now sounding the alarm — releasing fewer nutrients into the … full story
By Will Dunham April 3, 2014 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – For such small creatures, hummingbirds certainly have racked up an outsized list of unique claims to fame. They are the smallest birds and the smallest warm-blooded animals on Earth. They have the fastest heart and the fastest metabolism of any vertebrate. They are the only birds that can fly backward. And scientists reported on Thursday that they also have a complicated evolutionary history. Researchers constructed the family tree of these nectar-eating birds using genetic information from most of the world’s 338 hummingbird species and their closest relatives. They said hummingbirds can be divided into nine groups, with differences in size, habitat, feeding strategy and body shape. The common ancestor to all species in existence today lived about 22 million years ago in South America, several million years after hummingbirds were known to be flourishing in Europe, they said. Today’s hummingbirds are found only in the Americas…..”The fossil record for hummingbirds, and other small birds, is so poor that we really don’t know when European hummingbirds disappeared. It could have been 30 million years ago, or it could have been a few thousand years ago,” Witt said. The hummingbird evolutionary lineage split from a related group of small birds called swifts and treeswifts about 42 million years ago – most likely in Europe or Asia – and by 22 million years ago the ancestral species of modern hummingbirds was in South America, the researchers said.
Hummingbirds found their way to South America probably after crossing a land bridge that once connected Siberia to Alaska, the researchers said. Once in South America, they expanded into new ecological niches and evolved new species, then spread back to North America about 12 million years ago and into the Caribbean about five million years ago, the researchers said. The biggest threat to hummingbirds is loss of habitat thanks to human activities. If people were not around, they “would just continue on their merry way evolving new species,” McGuire said….
NASA Radar Watches Over California’s Aging Levees
Apr. 3, 2014 — NASA is working with California’s water managers to spot tiny signs of trouble in the Sacramento River delta levees, using a research … full story
– Mar 31, 2014
“The ocean is like a plastic soup, bulked up with the croutons of these larger items,” said Los Angeles captain Charles Moore, an environmental advocate credited with bringing attention to an ocean gyre between Hawaii and California known as the Great …
Burgeoning numbers of pink salmon may threaten the food supply of young seabirds.
Pink salmon (shown above spawning in Alaska) have increased since the 1970s, with an estimated 640 million returning to their breeding rivers in Asia and North America in 2009 alone.Photograph by Paul Souders, Corbis
James Owen for National Geographic Published March 31, 2014
Too many fish in the sea? Surging pink salmon stocks in the Pacific Ocean pose a risk to other wildlife, suggests a seabird study released on Monday that points to climate change as a culprit. (Related video: “Alaskan Salmon Adventure.“) Along with other salmon, pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) numbers have grown since the 1970s, with an estimated 640 million returning to their breeding rivers in Asia and North America in 2009 alone. (Read “The Long Journey of the Pacific Salmon” in National Geographic magazine.)
Tied to rising ocean temperatures in the Bering Sea and North Pacific that spurred the growth of the prey of salmon and seabirds alike, the “much larger than previously known” impact of pink salmon is reported in a new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report.
It’s “an uncommon case of too many fish in the sea,” says the report. The study, led by Alan Springer of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, found that salmon eating the food of seabirds appears to be cutting the birds’ numbers. “Very little is known about how open ocean ecosystems work, and the apparent effect on them by salmon, wild and hatchery produced, really must be considered,” Springer said by email. The finding points to unanticipated side effects on wildlife from climate change, with unexpected winners and losers. The just-released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (unrelated to the new salmon study) warns, for example, of warming oceans threatening Atlantic cod and tuna species. (Related: “New Climate Change Report Warns of Dire Consequences.”)
To investigate potential food competition between pink salmon and other marine life, the team focused on seabird colonies in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. Monitored by scientists since 1984, these colonies changed as the number of pink salmon increased. Specifically, the study team tied the breeding fortunes of seabirds to the two-year life cycle of pink salmon. Each year, the salmon naturally alternate between high and low levels of abundance in the sea. In the salmon-rich years, the team found, the breeding success of birds such as kittiwakes and puffins was significantly less than in the alternate years. Some species laid fewer eggs, up to half as many as they did previously; the eggs also hatched much later, and fewer of the young survived.
The affected seabirds are species that, like pink salmon, have an omnivorous diet, with prey ranging from zooplankton to squid and Atka mackerel. Evidence that pink salmon are “a major influence” on these seabirds is “compelling,” the team concludes….
Alan M. Springer and Gus B. van Vliet PNAS March 4, 2014
Climate change in the last century was associated with spectacular growth of many wild Pacific salmon stocks in the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea, apparently through bottom-up forcing linking meteorology to ocean physics, water temperature, and plankton production. One species in particular, pink salmon, became so numerous by the 1990s that they began to dominate other species of salmon for prey resources and to exert top-down control in the open ocean ecosystem. Information from long-term monitoring of seabirds in the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea reveals that the sphere of influence of pink salmon is much larger than previously known. Seabirds, pink salmon, other species of salmon, and by extension other higher-order predators, are tightly linked ecologically and must be included in international management and conservation policies for sustaining all species that compete for common, finite resource pools. These data further emphasize that the unique 2-y cycle in abundance of pink salmon drives interannual shifts between two alternate states of a complex marine ecosystem.
April 4, 2014 Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research
An international team of researchers has discovered a previously unknown atmospheric phenomenon over the tropical West Pacific. Like in a giant elevator to the stratosphere, many chemical compounds emitted at the ground pass unfiltered through the so-called ‘detergent layer’ of the atmosphere, known as the ‘OH shield.’ The newly discovered phenomenon over the South Seas boosts ozone depletion in the polar regions and could have a significant influence on the future climate of the Earth…. “Even though the sky appears to be an extensively uniform space for most people, it is composed of chemically and physically very different layers,” Markus Rex explains the complex makeup of the atmosphere. The air layers near the ground contain hundreds or even thousands of chemical compounds. This is why winter and spring, mountains and sea, city and forests all have a distinct smell. The great majority of these substances are broken down into water-soluble compounds in the lower kilometres of the atmosphere and are subsequently washed out by rain. Since these processes require the presence of a certain chemical substance, the so called hydroxyl (=OH) radical, this part of the atmosphere is called the “OH shield.” It acts like a huge atmospheric washing machine in which OH is the detergent. The OH shield is part of the troposphere, as the lower part of the atmosphere is called.
“Only a few, extremely long-lived compounds manage to make their way through the OH shield,” says Rex, “then they also get through the tropopause and enter the stratosphere.” Tropopause refers to the boundary layer between the troposphere and the next atmospheric layer above it, the stratosphere. Particularly substances that enter the stratosphere unfold a global impact. The reason for this is that once they have reached the stratosphere, their degradation products remain up there for many years and spread over the entire globe. Extremely long-lived chemical compounds find their way to the stratosphere, even where the OH shield is intact. These include methane, nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”), halons, methyl bromide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are notorious as “ozone killers” because they play a major role in ozone depletion in the polar regions. After many years of research scientists now understand the complicated process of stratospheric ozone depletion very well.
…..”We have to realise,” reminds the Potsdam atmospheric physicist, “that chemical compounds which enter the stratosphere always have a global impact.” Thanks to the OH hole that the researchers discovered over the tropical Pacific, greater amounts of brominated hydrocarbons can reach the stratosphere than in other parts of the world. Although their ascent takes place over the tropical West Pacific, these compounds amplify ozone depletion in the polar regions. Since scientists identified this phenomenon and took it into account in the modelling of stratospheric ozone depletion, their models have corresponded excellently with the actually measured data. However, it is not only brominated hydrocarbons that enter the stratosphere over the tropical West Pacific. “You can imagine this region as a giant elevator to the stratosphere,” states Markus Rex using an apt comparison. Other substances, too, rise here to a yet unknown extent while they are intercepted to a larger extent in the OH shield elsewhere on the globe. One example is sulphur dioxide, which has a significant impact on the climate….
If one takes into account that sulphur dioxide may also reach the stratosphere via the OH hole over the tropical West Pacific, it quickly becomes obvious that the atmospheric elevator over the South Seas not only boosts ozone depletion, but may influence the climate of the entire Earth. In fact, the aerosol layer in the stratosphere, which is also composed of sulphur particles, seems to have become thicker in recent years. Researchers do not know yet whether there is a connection here. But wouldn’t it be a stroke of luck if air pollutants from South East Asia were able to mitigate climate warming? “By no means,” Markus Rex vigorously shakes his head. “The OH hole over the South Seas is above all further evidence of how complex climate processes are. And we are still a long way off from being in a position to assess the consequences of increased sulphur input into the stratosphere. Therefore, we should make every effort to understand the processes in the atmosphere as best we can and avoid any form of conscious or unconscious manipulation that would have an unknown outcome.”
Why is there an OH (hydroxyl radicals) hole over the West Pacific?
The air in the tropical West Pacific is extremely clean. Air masses in this area were transported across the expanse of the huge Pacific with the trade winds and for a long time no longer had contact with forests or other land ecosystems that produce innumerable short-lived hydrocarbons and release them into the air. Under these clean air conditions OH is formed from ozone through chemical transformation to a great degree. If there is hardly any ozone in the lower atmosphere (= troposphere), as is the case in the West Pacific, only little OH can be formed. The result is an OH hole.
Ozone, in turn, forms in the lower atmosphere only if there are sufficient nitrogen oxides there. Large amounts of nitrogen oxide compounds are produced in particular by intensive lightning over land. However, the air masses in the tropical West Pacific were not exposed to any continental tropical storms for a very long time during their transport across the giant ocean. And the lightning activity in storms over the ocean is relatively small. At the same time the lifetime of atmospheric ozone is short due to the exceptionally warm and moist conditions in the tropical West Pacific. In this South Sea region the surface temperatures of the ocean are higher than anywhere else on our planet, which makes the air not only quite warm, but also quite moist. The ozone is thus quickly lost, especially directly above the water. And due to the lack of nitrogen oxide compounds little ozone is subsequently formed. Rapid vertical mixing in the convection areas that exist everywhere over the warm ocean and in which the warm air rises takes care of the rest. Finally, there is no more ozone in the entire column of air in the troposphere. And without ozone (see above) the formation of OH is suppressed.
What impact does the OH hole over the West Pacific have?
The OH molecule is also called the detergent of the atmosphere. Nearly all of the thousands of different chemical substances produced by people, animals, plants, fungi, algae or microorganisms on the ground or in the oceans react quickly with OH and break down in this process. Therefore, virtually none of these substances rises into the stratosphere. In the area of the OH hole, however, a larger portion of this varied chemical mix can enter the stratosphere.
And local emissions may unfold a global impact, especially if they make it to the stratosphere. There they spread globally and can influence the composition of the air for many years — with far-reaching consequences for ozone chemistry, aerosol formation and climate.
Why wasn’t the OH hole discovered earlier?
The tropical West Pacific is one of the most remote regions on our planet. That is why extensive measurements of the air composition have yet to take place in this area. There is also a considerable gap in the otherwise dense network of global ozone measurement stations here. Even in the past measurements from the peripheral sections of the now investigated region showed minimal ozone values in the area of the upper troposphere, but not the consistently low values that have now been found across the entire depth of the troposphere. The newly discovered phenomenon reveals itself in its full scope only through the measurements that were conducted to such an extensive degree for the first time and was thus not able to be grasped at all previously.
April 4, 2014 University of Bristol
Scientific uncertainty has been described as a ‘monster’ that prevents understanding and delays mitigative action in response to climate change. New research by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol, and international colleagues, shows that uncertainty should make us more rather than less concerned about climate change. In two companion papers, published today in Climatic Change, the researchers investigated the mathematics of uncertainty in the climate system and showed that increased scientific uncertainty necessitates even greater action to mitigate climate change. The scientists used an ordinal approach — a range of mathematical methods that address the question: ‘What would the consequences be if uncertainty is even greater than we think it is?’ They show that as uncertainty in the temperature increase expected with a doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels rises, so do the economic damages of increased climate change. Greater uncertainty also increases the likelihood of exceeding ‘safe’ temperature limits and the probability of failing to reach mitigation targets. The authors highlight this with the case of future sea level, as larger uncertainty in sea level rise requires greater precautionary action to manage flood risk…
Warming climate may spread drying to a third of earth: Heat, not just rainfall, plays into new projections
(March 31, 2014) — A new study estimates that 12 percent of land will be subject to drought by 2100 through rainfall changes alone; but the drying will spread to 30 percent of land if higher evaporation rates are considered. An increase in evaporative drying means that even regions expected to get more rain, including important wheat, corn and rice belts in the western United States and southeastern China, will be at risk of drought. … Increasing heat is expected to extend dry conditions to far more farmland and cities by the end of the century than changes in rainfall alone, says a new study. Much of the concern about future drought under global warming has focused on rainfall projections, but higher evaporation rates may also play an important role as warmer temperatures wring more moisture from the soil, even in some places where rainfall is forecasted to increase, say the researchers.
The study is one of the first to use the latest climate simulations to model the effects of both changing rainfall and evaporation rates on future drought. Published this month in the journal Climate Dynamics, the study estimates that 12 percent of land will be subject to drought by 2100 through rainfall changes alone; but the drying will spread to 30 percent of land if higher evaporation rates from the added energy and humidity in the atmosphere is considered. An increase in evaporative drying means that even regions expected to get more rain, including important wheat, corn and rice belts in the western United States and southeastern China, will be at risk of drought. The study excludes Antarctica. “We know from basic physics that warmer temperatures will help to dry things out,” said the study’s lead author, Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist with joint appointments at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “Even if precipitation changes in the future are uncertain, there are good reasons to be concerned about water resources.” In its latest climate report, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that soil moisture is expected to decline globally and that already dry regions will be at greater risk of agricultural drought. The IPCC also predicts a strong chance of soil moisture drying in the Mediterranean, southwestern United States and southern African regions, consistent with the Climate Dynamics study…The study builds on an emerging body of research looking at how evaporative demand influences hydroclimate. “It confirms something we’ve suspected for a long time,” said Toby Ault, a climate scientist at Cornell University, who was not involved in the study. “Temperature alone can make drought more widespread. Studies like this give us a few new powerful tools to plan for and adapt to climate change.” Rainfall changes do not tell the whole story, agrees University of New South Wales researcher Steven Sherwood, in a recent Perspectives piece in the leading journal Science. “Many regions will get more rain, but it appears that few will get enough to keep pace with the growing evaporative demand.”
Benjamin I. Cook, Jason E. Smerdon, Richard Seager, Sloan Coats. Global warming and 21st century drying. Climate Dynamics, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s00382-014-2075-y
Arctic Melt Season Lengthening, Ocean Rapidly Warming
Mar. 31, 2014 – The length of the melt season for Arctic sea ice is growing by several days each decade, and an earlier start to the melt season is allowing the Arctic Ocean to absorb enough additional solar radiation in some places to melt as much as four feet of the Arctic ice cap’s thickness, according to a new study by National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA researchers. Arctic sea ice has been in sharp decline during the last four decades. The sea ice cover is shrinking and thinning, making scientists think an ice-free Arctic Ocean during the summer might be reached this century. The seven lowest September sea ice extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the past seven years. “The Arctic is warming and this is causing the melt season to last longer,” said Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at NSIDC, Boulder and lead author of the new study, which has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. “The lengthening of the melt season is allowing for more of the sun’s energy to get stored in the ocean and increase ice melt during the summer, overall weakening the sea ice cover.”… Despite large regional variations in the beginning and end of the melt season, the Arctic melt season has lengthened on average by five days per decade from 1979 to 2013. Still, weather makes the timing of the autumn freeze-up vary a lot from year to year….
They found that the ice pack and ocean waters are absorbing more and more sunlight due both to an earlier opening of the waters and a darkening of the sea ice. The sea ice cover is becoming less reflective because it now mostly consists of thinner, younger ice, which is less reflective than the older ice that previously dominated the ice pack. Also, the young ice is flatter, allowing the dark melt ponds that form at the early stages of the melt season are able to spread more widely, further lowering its albedo.
…The increases in surface ocean temperatures, combined with a warming Arctic atmosphere due to climate change, explain the delayed freeze up in the fall. “If air and ocean temperatures are similar, the ocean is not going to lose heat to the atmosphere as fast as it would when the differences are greater,” said Linette Boisvert, co-author of the paper and a cryospheric scientist at Goddard. “In the last years, the upper ocean heat content is much higher than it used to be, so it’s going to take a longer time to cool off and for freeze up to begin.”
Why Arctic ice is disappearing more rapidly than expected: River ice reveals new twist on Arctic melt
(April 2, 2014) — A new study has discovered unexpected climate-driven changes in the mighty Mackenzie River’s ice breakup. This discovery may help resolve the complex puzzle underlying why Arctic ice is disappearing more rapidly than expected. … > full story
By Joanna M. Foster on April 3, 2014
Arctic sea ice remains on a dangerous downward trend as this year’s peak cover ranks fifth lowest on record… In the latest IPCC report, the world’s leading climate scientists confirmed that Arctic summer sea ice was declining at rates much faster than predicted by most models….
April 1, 2014
The extreme cold weather observed across Europe and the east coast of the US in recent winters could be partly down to natural, long-term variations in sea surface temperatures, according to a new study published today. Researchers from the University of California Irvine have shown that a phenomenon known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) — a natural pattern of variation in North Atlantic sea surface temperatures that switches between a positive and negative phase every 60-70 years — can affect an atmospheric circulation pattern, known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), that influences the temperature and precipitation over the Northern Hemisphere in winter. When the AMO is in its positive phase and the sea surface temperatures are warmer, the study has shown that the main effect in winter is to promote the negative phase of the NAO which leads to “blocking” episodes over the North Atlantic sector, allowing cold weather systems to exist over the eastern US and Europe. The results have been published today, Wednesday 2 April, in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters.
To arrive at their results, the researchers combined observations from the past century with climate simulations of the atmospheric response to the AMO. According to their observations, sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic can be up to 1.5 °C warmer in the Gulf Stream region during the positive phase of the AMO compared to the negative, colder phase. The climate simulations suggest that these specific anomalies in sea surface temperatures can play a predominant role in promoting the change in the NAO. Lead authors of the study Yannick Peings and Gudrun Magnusdottir said: “Our results indicate that the main effect of the positive AMO in winter is to promote the occurrence of the negative phase of the NAO. A negative NAO in winter usually goes hand-in-hand with cold weather in the eastern US and north-western Europe.” The observations also suggest that it takes around 10-15 years before the positive phase of AMO has any significant effect on the NAO. The reason for this lag is unknown; however, an explanation might be that AMO phases take time to develop fully. As the AMO has been in a positive phase since the early 1990s, it may have contributed to the extreme winters that both the US and Europe have experienced in recent years. The researchers warn, however, that the future evolution of the AMO remains uncertain, with many factors potentially affecting how it interacts with atmospheric circulation patterns, such as Arctic sea ice loss, changes in solar radiation, volcanic eruptions and concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
This heat map shows the areas of the United States where the soil microbial biomass is susceptible to changes in vegetation cover. Credit: Image courtesy of Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Apr. 1, 2014 —Deforestation may have far greater consequences for climate change in some soils than in others, according to new research led by Yale University scientists — a finding that could provide critical insights into which ecosystems must be managed with extra care because they are vulnerable to biodiversity loss and which ecosystems are more resilient to widespread tree removal.
In a comprehensive analysis of soil collected from 11 distinct U.S. regions, from Hawaii to northern Alaska, researchers found that the extent to which deforestation disturbs underground microbial communities that regulate the loss of carbon into the atmosphere depends almost exclusively on the texture of the soil. The results were published in the journal Global Change Biology. “We were astonished that biodiversity changes were so strongly affected by soil texture and that it was such an overriding factor,” said Thomas Crowther, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and lead author of the study. “Texture overrode the effects of all the other variables that we thought might be important, including temperature, moisture, nutrient concentrations, and soil pH.”….full story
Corals Don’t Lie: Centuries of Rising Sea Levels and Temperature Data Revealed
Apr. 1, 2014 — Scientists have analyzed coral cores from the eastern Indian Ocean to understand how the unique coral reefs of Western Australia are affected by changing ocean currents and water temperatures. The … full story
Kerry Emanuel 12:13 PM Mar 31, 2014
As someone who has spent some time looking at changes in the incidence of hurricanes around the planet, I have been asked to provide a response to Roger Pielke Jr.’s article “Disasters Cost More Than Ever — But Not Because of Climate Change,” published at FiveThirtyEight earlier this month.
Let me begin by saying that I am sympathetic to Pielke’s emphasis on the role of changing demographics in increasing damages from natural disasters. This is a serious problem that could be addressed by wiser policies. For example, in the United States, policies regulating insurance and providing federal flood insurance and disaster relief have the effect of subsidizing risk-taking, and the recent repeal of large sections of the 2012 Biggert-Waters Federal Flood Insurance Reform Act shows just how difficult it is to reform these risk-inducing policies. Having said that, I’m not comfortable with Pielke’s assertion that climate change has played no role in the observed increase in damages from natural hazards; I don’t see how the data he cites support such a confident assertion. To begin with, it’s not necessarily appropriate to normalize damages by gross domestic product (GDP) if the intent is to detect an underlying climate trend….Looking ahead, I collaborated with Yale economist Robert Mendelsohn and his colleagues in estimating global hurricane damage changes through the year 2100, based on hurricanes “downscaled” from four climate models.
We estimate that global hurricane damage will about double owing to demographic trends, and double again because of climate change. These projections are not inconsistent with what we’ve been seeing in hurricane data and in economic damage from hurricanes. Besides this study, there are robust theory and modeling results that show increased risk of hydrological extremes (floods and droughts) and heat-related problems. Some of these predicted trends are beginning to emerge in actuarial data. Governments, markets and ordinary people are beginning to account for the increased risk. Those who wait for actuarial trends to emerge at the 95 percent confidence level before acting do so at their peril.
Is the meltdown in the north weakening the jet stream and causing weird weather, or not?
Last September, a group of scientists gathered to review the evidence on a new hypothesis: that the rapid warming of the Arctic was causing the jet stream to meander, leading weather systems to become “stuck” in places farther south, like over the United States and Europe. For example, a heat wave caught in a slow-moving, kinked-up jet stream might linger over a city like Chicago for days. Or a storm system could stall over Europe, dumping excess rain and leading to floods. If the hypothesis turns out to be true, it’s a clear signal of how climate change is affecting day-to-day life in a heavily populated part of the world. But a new publication from the National Academy of Sciences, reporting on the meeting proceedings, makes it clear that the science on this topic is in its infancy with significantly more research needed to prove or disprove a connection. The idea that the warming Arctic has an effect on weather farther south has become a popular topic in the media and the public, which often seek to link severe weather events with climate change. “It resonates because it brings the large changes we see in the Arctic and brings them home, so to speak,” said Walt Meier, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center who attended the fall meeting. The problem, however, is that the hypothesis is so “cutting edge,” said Meier, that there is not a whole lot of evidence to support it…..David Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist and a researcher at Rutgers, who lead the workshop committee, said it’s hard to find statistically significant signals in part because dramatic Arctic sea ice loss has only been going on for a short period of time, since 2007. “It’s clearly not nearly long enough a record to be able to identify any linkages in a statistically significant sense,” he said. Robinson believes the hypothesis is a strong one. “I think Jen Francis presents incredible evidence,” he said. But the way that science works is that someone puts forth an idea, and then “everyone has at it,” he said. That’s the phase this hypothesis is in. The next step is for researchers working on the topic to come up with some common definitions and metrics, said Robinson. He said federal agencies, if they take an interest, could also put out calls for more research on the topic…..
Smog: Worsening Saharan dust storms to become an annual Spring fixture as climate changes
The Independent, United Kingdom
The Saharan dust storms thickening Britain’s smog and coating cars from Cornwall to Aberdeen will become increasingly strong in the coming years as a “nasty mixture” of drought, development and intensive farming in North Africa pushes up air pollution.
By Joe Romm on March 28, 2014
Climate scientists are under attack like never before for telling the truth about about the growing dangers posed by unrestricted carbon pollution. Here’s how to help….
Ancient Whodunit May Be Solved: Methane-Producing Microbes Did It!
Mar. 31, 2014 — Methane-producing microbes may be responsible for the largest mass extinction in Earth’s history. Fossil remains show that sometime around 252 million years ago, about 90 percent of all species … full story
by Maven April 1, 2014
From the Department of Water Resources:
Department of Water Resources snow surveyors today found the Sierra snowpack boosted by late-season storms, but still far below normal as the spring melt fast approaches. Coupled with this winter’s scant rainfall, the meager snowpack — containing only 32 percent of average water content for the date – promises a gloomy summer for California farms and many communities. “We’re already seeing farmland fallowed and cities scrambling for water supplies,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. “We can hope that conditions improve, but time is running out and conservation is the only tool we have against nature’s whim.” (Visit Drought.Ca.Gov for an update on how the state is dealing with the drought.)
After a bone dry December and January, February and March storms brought some promise to the state, but have not broken the drought’s three-year grip as reservoirs, rainfall totals and the snowpack remain critically low. Today’s manual and electronic readings – at the time of year the snowpack normally is at its peak before melting into streams and reservoirs – record the snowpack’s statewide water content at just 32 percent of average. Electronic readings indicate that snowpack water content in the state’s northern mountains is 23 percent of normal. The electronic readings for the central and southern Sierra are 38 and 31 percent of normal, respectively.
This is dismal news for farms and cities that normally depend on the snowpack – often called California’s largest reservoir – for a third of their water. And reservoirs are not making up the difference. Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s (SWP) principal reservoir, is at only 49 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity (64 percent of its historical average for the date). Shasta Lake north of Redding, California’s and the federal Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir, is at 48 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity (60 percent of its historical average). San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-Delta reservoir for both the SWP and CVP, is a mere 42 percent of its 2 million acre-foot capacity (46 percent of average for this time of year) due both to dry weather and Delta pumping restrictions to protect salmon and Delta smelt. Snow surveyors from DWR and cooperating agencies manually measure snowpack water content on or about the first of the month from January through May to supplement and check the accuracy of real-time electronic readings. This year’s final manual survey is scheduled for May 1.
Results of today’s manual readings by DWR off Highway 50 near Echo Summit are as follows:
% of Long Term Average
On January 31, with no relief in sight after the winter’s first snow survey on January 3 found more bare ground than snow, DWR set its allocation of State Water Project water at zero. The allocation has not been increased. The only previous zero allocation (water delivery estimate) was for agriculture in the drought year of 1991, but cities that year received 30 percent of requested amounts. Despite the “zero” allocation, DWR has continued to deliver water essential for health and safety and nearly all people and areas served by the State Water Project also have other sources of water.
Deliveries could still be boosted by improving hydrology. The final State Water Project allocation for calendar year 2013 was 35 percent of the slightly more than 4 million acre-feet requested by the 29 public agencies that collectively supply more than 25 million people and nearly a million acres of irrigated farmland. In 2012, the final allocation was 65 percent of the requested 4 million acre-feet. It was 80 percent in 2011, up dramatically from an initial allocation of 25 percent. The final allocation was 50 percent in 2010, 40 percent in 2009, 35 percent in 2008, and 60 percent in 2007. The last 100 percent allocation – difficult to achieve even in wet years because of Delta pumping restrictions to protect threatened and endangered fish – was in 2006. Although 2013 was the driest calendar year on record for much of California, last-minute November and December storms in 2012 – the first year of the current drought – replenished major reservoirs to somewhat mitigate dry conditions. That comfortable reservoir cushion is now gone. This year is on track to perhaps be California’s fifth or sixth driest year, with its final ranking to be determined.
- Electronic snowpack readings are available on the Internet at:
- Electronic reservoir readings may be found at:
- For a broader snapshot of current and historical weather conditions, see DWR’s “Water Conditions” and “Drought” pages:
California can adapt to the drought without major harm to the economy, says Jeff Mount, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). He offers two reasons why.
California drought: San Joaquin Valley sinking as farmers race to tap aquifer.
San Jose Mercury News March 29,2014
So wet was the San Joaquin Valley of Steve Arthur’s childhood that a single 240-foot-deep well could quench the thirst of an arid farm. Now his massive rig, bucking and belching, must drill 1,200 feet deep in search of ever-more-elusive water to sustain this wheat farm north of Bakersfield. Everybody is starting to panic,” said Arthur, whose Fresno-based well-drilling company just bought its ninth rig, off the Wyoming oil fields. “Without water, this valley can’t survive.” When water doesn’t fall from the sky or flow from reservoirs, there’s only one place to find it: underground. So, three years into a devastating drought, thirsty Californians are draining the precious aquifer beneath the nation’s most productive farmland like never before, pitting neighbor against neighbor in a perverse race to the bottom. The rush to drill is driven not just by historically dry conditions, but by a host of other factors that promote short-term consumption over long-term survival — new, more moisture-demanding crops; improved drilling technologies; and a surge of corporate investors seeking profits for agricultural ventures. Now those forces are renewing an age-old problem of environmental degradation: Decades ago, overpumping sunk half of the entire San Joaquin Valley, in one area as much as 28 feet. Today new areas are subsiding, some almost a foot each year, damaging bridges and vital canals. Yet in California, one of the few states that doesn’t regulate how much water can be pumped from underground, even this hasn’t been enough to create a consensus to stop. “It’s our savings account, and we’re draining it,” said Phil Isenberg of the Public Policy Institute of California, a former Sacramento mayor and assemblyman….
State’s water demand far exceeding supply after very dry winter
Kirk Anderson of Ripon (San Joaquin County) waits for friends Saturday at a lift at Sierra at Tahoe resort.
By Peter Fimrite SF Chronicle March 31, 2014 | Updated: April 1, 2014 6:55am
Snow surveyors are expected to tromp out into the Sierra powder Tuesday under a soft, steady patter of comforting precipitation, but the spring moisture is a cruel oasis in California’s desert of drought, according to leading climate and weather gurus. The pounding rain along the coast and fluffy snow in the mountains this week won’t come close to solving the state’s mounting water crisis, which has forced the state to turn off the spigot in many communities, a scenario that experts say is threatening farms, fish and homeowners. “The drought is not only severe, but it is extensive,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit climate science and environmental research organization. “The demand for water exceeds the supply.” The best, most reliable measurement of California’s water supply is the Sierra snowpack, which is why surveyors with the California Department of Water Resources go out to calculate the water content. The Sierra now has an average of only 8 inches of water in the snow, based on measurements from 99 electronic monitoring stations. That’s 29 percent of normal. The averages will likely change as snow continues to fall this week and surveyors take measurements. Still, water department officials do not expect the water content to go much above a third of normal for this time of year. “The first significant precipitation in weeks likely will be too little and too late to have much impact on this year’s severe drought,” a department news release stated. “Snowpack and rain measurements are so far below normal for this time of year that even sustained rainfall over the next several days, as is predicted, won’t end the drought.”…
Lester Snow SF Chronicle OPINION Published 5:16 pm, Monday, March 31, 2014
Mother Nature’s last-ditch effort to make a dent in the drought with last week’s rain and snow won’t make any real difference for California’s water supply in 2014. The state will conduct its final measurement of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada today – an indicator of how much snow will melt and flow into our rivers, ultimately making its way to cities and farms throughout California. We don’t need that measurement to know that the drought persists and water supplies remain scarce. What’s more, we need to recognize that this drought may not be over any time soon. Geological records show that California has had droughts lasting not just years but decades. We would be foolish to assume that modern-day California is sheltered from the same fate – and we are far from prepared to deal with decadelong droughts. This drought serves to reveal fundamental weaknesses in our water management system. It highlights our collective failure to adequately invest and adapt to our 21st century reality of higher demand and greater volatility of annual water supply. Approaches that worked in the 1950s are not sufficient for a reliable water future in California. California faces a new set of challenges, including aging water infrastructure, more extreme droughts and floods, declining ecosystems and increasing demand. In addition, many groundwater basins throughout California are contaminated and overdrawn. Eighty-five percent of Californians rely on groundwater, but water levels are dropping at alarming rates. These groundwater supplies, the equivalent of water savings accounts, are essential for drought protection but today are in jeopardy…. As we are looking for every extra gallon of water to soften the effects of drought this summer, we still annually discharge 1.7 million acre-feet – more than 500 billion gallons – of wastewater into the ocean. This is water that could be reclaimed, stored and reused. Every storm results in urban runoff that must be captured and used, rather than polluting our coastal waters. While California has done well in conserving water, so much more can be done in both agricultural and urban use.
Groundwater, when properly managed, can provide the most effective buffer against drought. In wet years, as we had in 2006 and 2011, water could be stored in groundwater banks for use during dry times. To make this work, we must empower local water managers with the authority necessary to sustainably manage groundwater basins and protect stored water. No one wants to invest in groundwater storage if rules aren’t in place to keep someone from taking more than their fair share. In order to adequately meet California’s water supply needs for decades to come, we must invest in more diverse water supplies, state-of-the-art conservation and effective storage in our groundwater basins to offset times of drought. …
Tim Palmer Opinion SF Chronicle Published 5:28 pm, Tuesday, April 1, 2014
One peril of being human is that we often respond poorly to crises. Because we now face one of the worst droughts in California history, the stage is set to flirt with error on a scale as colossal as the crisis itself. The House of Representatives, for example, passed HR3964 in February to indiscriminately move additional Northern California water southward, to abandon restoration of the beleaguered San Joaquin River and to hang our imperiled salmon out to dry. For the first time ever, a National Wild and Scenic River designation would be rescinded – the Merced River below Yosemite our unlikely victim. None of this would ease the drought or solve the problems we face, as noted by Gov. Jerry Brown, who called the bill “unwelcome and divisive.” Far more important than this retrograde edict, likely to be blocked in the Senate, the drought portends a future of chronic and crippling crises unless Californians embark on some reflection, initiative and change. Real change. Projections for global warming mean that 2014 could become a typical year in the decades ahead. The Scripps Institution forecast that Sierra snowpack may shrink by 80 percent this century. The old days of wide-open spigots are gone, and driving our salmon to extinction for a few emergency soakings of subsidized Central Valley croplands will not bring the old times back. While we have no choice but to wait for the rain, the way we respond to this crisis is up to us.
If we invested further in water efficiency, total demands could be cut by 20 percent, according to the Pacific Institute. Statewide, 8 out of 10 gallons are used for agricultural irrigation, and the potential for savings in the farm sector are enormous. Drip irrigation, for example, is far more efficient than flooding or sprinkling, and vast acreage has been converted to drip methods in the past 20 years. More can be done if economic incentives would lead farmers to give up tenaciously held water rights from a time of great surplus instead of today’s great scarcity.
Urban water supply improvements have made it possible for Southern California to add millions of people without increasing water use. More can be done to stretch domestic supplies statewide (many consumers’ water use in Sacramento, for example, is not even metered). Efficiency gains will be mandatory to simply keep pace with population growth, which is slated to again double in the next 50 years or so, posing ominous requirements that will intensify after all the feasible water-saving measures are taken.
Water’s long-term availability raises questions about the sustainability of growth itself, and the crisis is not a bad time to begin asking how we expect to accommodate ever-rising demands. If we used the money that some are eager to lavish on uneconomic new dams and, instead invested in efficiency, we could shift away from crisis and toward smart management. The saved water would allow California to cope with the reductions mandated by a harsher climate and perhaps buy some time to question unlimited growth and the cultural, economic and demographic challenges it forces upon us.
Our response to the drought highlights an unfortunate axiom of the human condition: As a society, we regard the laws of nature as optional when, in fact, they are absolute. Meanwhile, we regard our own customs and laws as immutable when, in fact, we can change them whenever we collectively decide to do so. In our minds, we have perfectly reversed the way nature and culture function. We can’t control the drought. But we can respond with foresight to the crises it delivers.
By Meera Subramanian Published in the March/April 2014 issue of Orion magazine
Given the huge number of people who live on the world’s coasts, how will human populations adapt to an increasingly aquatic world? Do we stand strong, and demonstrate our clever technical ingenuity with floodgates and waterproof buildings? Or do we humbly bid a hasty retreat, scrambling for higher ground? It seems increasingly clear that there may be a third way….
But instead of seeking out the big fix, most adaptation efforts are opting for a multifaceted approach. After Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg formed the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, and in June 2013, it released a comprehensive 440-page report, “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.” In it, the city proposes more than 250 different initiatives that would strengthen everything from the energy grid to communications networks to transportation systems. A proposal for a great flood barrier is notably absent. The city’s response echoes what is rising up like wrack on the high-tide line, a medley of ideas from all sectors across the boroughs and beyond. Many seek to embrace the best of technological advances and apply them in ways that foster, instead of resist, the fundamental laws of the natural world: Let the wetlands be wetlands, bird-festooned sponges. Remember the shape of New York’s native coastlines. Cultivate sand dunes and beach forests. If Richard George and the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association could save a bit of coastline with thirty-five volunteers and a neighborhood cook, imagine what a whole country could do if it acted with nature in mind.
The U.S. has over twelve thousand miles of coastline, home to 53 percent of Americans. What can the rest of us learn about coastal infrastructure from the shorelines of America’s largest city? I’d come to the Big Apple to find out….
Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his State of the State address, a few months after Sandy. “She may only visit once every few years, but she owns the parcel and when she comes to visit, she visits.” Nature—in the form of rising seas—has already begun to visit a stretch of the East Coast from Cape Hatteras to Boston, which is experiencing sea level rise greater than the global average. And in 2013, the New York–area flood zone doubled when FEMA released its new maps. Some scientists think that even this is a grave underestimate of coastlines at risk….
Yet the word engineered evokes the wrong visual. Instead, imagine Staten Island circa 1850, with babbling brooks passing under stone bridges and along banks blooming in purple-flowered pickerelweed. Bluebelt designers, who use words like beautification and countrify to describe their work, draw their inspiration from mid-nineteenth-century photographs and native plant stock, as well as the latest knowledge of hydrological dynamics: strategically placed riffles and pools along with abundant plantings help soak up storm runoff pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous. A moratorium on new building in wetlands along with buyouts like the one in Oakwood Beach are helping to expand the Bluebelt’s reach. “This is what some people like to call ‘thinking out of the box,'” says Staten Island borough president James Molinaro. “Instead of putting down sewers, you use nature to purify and disperse storm water. There’s both beauty and effectiveness.” The Bluebelt costs considerably less than a typical underground sewer system, and it provides the added benefit of fostering community open spaces and wildlife habitat. Neighborhoods can “adopt” a piece of the Bluebelt, and volunteer groups help with cleanups. The result is an ecosystem-wide maintenance program that brings together citizens and government in a creative way that is winning awards. …
…ANOTHER UNLIKELY BUT INCREASINGLY sensible partnership for a livable New York is between humans and a more aquatically sophisticated member of the natural world—oysters. The city’s waterways were once dense with them. Jamaica Bay alone, a vast network of wetlands and marshes on the north side of the Rockaways, used to send 300,000 bushels of oysters to city markets each year. But by 1921, the impacts of sewage and industrial effluent, overharvesting, and dredging had taken a toll, and the oyster beds perished or, for health reasons, were no longer harvested.
Now, New York City waters are cleaner than they’ve been in decades, and spat—the little larvae of oysters—are floating about, seeking out some substrate to latch on to so they can grow….Orff has proposed bringing back New York City’s lost oyster reefs—which could naturally help shield the city from future storm surges—in a project called Oyster-tecture.. .. Orff advocates dredging and filling waterways in a way that supports underwater ecosystems instead of destroying them. “I think a big part of this is thinking about it holistically,” she says. “You can use dredging and filling in a cut-and-build concept throughout the harbor to create a new set of edges and cross-sections that can become armatures for habitat.” As the oysters build upon themselves, making reefs out of their own shells, they work continually to clean the waters, acting as natural filtration systems.
Of course, efforts like these can only do so much to counteract the effects of climate change. But if combined with a comprehensive rebuilding of New York’s natural features, they could make a real impact. “There is literally nothing that could have stopped the Sandy surge,” Orff says. “But hard and soft infrastructure solutions could be combined in a win-win-win scenario that would revitalize the harbor landscape, clean the water, and begin to address coastal protection.“…
“Hurricane Sandy was information encoded in a storm,” he says. “If people begin to see the nature of our place, then they can begin to see the landscape strategies that history suggests are protective and adaptive over the long run: specifically, a combination of beaches, dunes, and salt marshes.”
The process of reimagining New York City’s infrastructure with climate change in mind was underway before Sandy, but the storm’s devastation underscored the urgency of learning from nature and then planning and designing with her machinations in mind. There will be some managed retreat—some withdrawal from coastal areas that one hopes will be graceful—but there are also ways to stay along our shorelines safely. It demands rethinking the meaning of edge, redefining it as something more fluid and less rigid than the single hard line conveyed by a cartographer’s pen.
To get there will require an era of collaboration and partnership, from government-level climate change panels to grassroots citizen efforts, from design competitions to smart-phone apps to gatherings of engineers, city planners, and scientists. It will take people stepping out to meet their neighbors—before the high waters come. Ultimately, such a collaborative approach could be our generation’s grand act of conciliation with the changing forces of the natural world—one that could represent a cautious step into a future that will allow us to keep some of our coveted seaside haunts while also conceding that some places we’ve set up camp are simply not ours to inhabit.
Voluntary Climate Action Is a Function of Information and Education
Apr. 3, 2014 — What is it that prompts citizens in Germany to do something about climate change on a voluntary basis? Of major significance here is a mixture of factual knowledge, subjective assumptions and hearsay. This is the result of an online field study involving 2,000 German citizens and conducted by environmental economists at Heidelberg University. In a research project at the Alfred Weber Institute for Economics, they inquired into the factors determining the so-called “willingness to pay” in connection with individual climate action.
Project leader Prof. Timo Goeschl, Ph.D. tells us that in economics willingness to pay is an instrument widely used to express preferences and value judgements. “But the concept is not purely monetary and should not be viewed too restrictively. For economists willingness to pay refers to the investment of resources an individual could have made use of for other purposes. These can be money, time or work,” says Dr. Johannes Diederich, one of the researchers contributing to the project, which was funded by the German Research Foundation.
….”Willingness to pay for environmental goods like climate protection is definitely not carved in stone,” says Prof. Goeschel. “It is strongly influenced by how much an individual knows about the subject. But this knowledge is not merely the product of real facts, it is also made up of subjective assumptions and apparent knowledge.” Knowing more or even merely believing that one knows more, for example about one’s own contribution to climate change, will have a positive effect on the willingness to pay.
Another crucial factor determining willingness to pay for individual climate action is education. “Better educated people are more likely to reject the money in favour of an emission reduction,” says Prof. Goeschl. “This is independent of their incomes and also of the knowledge they have about climate change and the phenomena associated with it.” The researchers came across an unexpected effect when they linked the decisions of their respondents with regional weather data. People living in places with higher outside temperatures were more likely to plump for emission reductions than for the money offered them. “We shall be looking into this effect in our further studies,” says Prof. Goeschl.
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑAMARCH 31, 2014 NY TIMES
A student presentation in a class, “The Cultures of Climate Change,” offered by the University of Oregon in Eugene. Credit Thomas Patterson for The New York Times
EUGENE, Ore. — University courses on global warming have become common, and Prof. Stephanie LeMenager’s new class here at the University of Oregon has all the expected, alarming elements: rising oceans, displaced populations, political conflict, endangered animals.
The goal of this class, however, is not to marshal evidence for climate change as a human-caused crisis, or to measure its effects — the reality and severity of it are taken as given — but how to think about it, prepare for it and respond to it. Instead of scientific texts, the class, “The Cultures of Climate Change,” focuses on films, poetry, photography, essays and a heavy dose of the mushrooming subgenre of speculative fiction known as climate fiction, or cli-fi, novels like “Odds Against Tomorrow,” by Nathaniel Rich, and “Solar,” by Ian McEwan….
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) March 28, 2014 – A group of researchers based in Africa are using a game to explain a concept they have developed to help people adapt to climate change. “Flexible and forward-looking decision making” aims to help communities …
May 9, 2013 YOUTUBE
In November 2012, ACCRA together with its trainers visited Kotido district in north eastern Uganda (East Africa) to teach the district officials the ACCRA game on Flexible and Forward Decision Making on how the pastoral drought hit district of Kotido can cope with the global phenomenon of climate change through the resilience technique. In this almost five minutes film, the officials and the community elders give their first hand experience on how the game has improved their skills in helping the communities and the villagers to deal with climate change, through the resilience technique.
SHOWTIME DOCUMENTARY–Showtime is doing with its new big-budget eight-part series Years of Living Dangerously, which will show the impact of climate change on our planet. Starts April 13th at 10 PM ET/PT.
By CORAL DAVENPORT March 31, 2014 NY Times
With no chance that Congress will agree to a huge increase in so-called climate aid, a new study on the effects of climate change creates a diplomatic challenge for President Obama.
By CORAL DAVENPORT March 29, 2014 NYTimes
The move is the latest in a series of administration actions aimed at addressing climate change without waiting for congressional action.
By JACQUES LESLIEMARCH 30, 2014 NY Times Opinion
Credit Kristian Hammerstad
START with the term “tar sands.” In Canada only fervent opponents of oil development in northern Alberta dare to use those words; the preferred phrase is the more reassuring “oil sands.” Never mind that the “oil” in the world’s third largest petroleum reserve is in fact bitumen, a substance with the consistency of peanut butter, so viscous that another fossil fuel must be used to dilute it enough to make it flow. Never mind, too, that the process that turns bitumen into consumable oil is very dirty, even by the oil industry’s standards. But say “tar sands” in Canada, and you’ll risk being labeled unpatriotic, radical, subversive. Performing language makeovers is perhaps the most innocuous indication of the Canadian government’s headlong embrace of the oil industry’s wishes. Soon after becoming prime minister in 2006, Stephen Harper declared Canada “an emerging energy superpower,” and nearly everything he’s done since has buttressed this ambition. Forget the idea of Canada as dull, responsible and environmentally minded: That is so 20th century. Now it’s a desperado, placing all its chips on a world-be-damned, climate-altering tar sands bet.
Documents obtained by research institutions and environmental groups through freedom-of-information requests show a government bent on extracting as much tar sands oil as possible, as quickly as possible. From 2008 to 2012, oil industry representatives registered 2,733 communications with government officials, a number dwarfing those of other industries. The oil industry used these communications to recommend changes in legislation to facilitate tar sands and pipeline development. In the vast majority of instances, the government followed through. In the United States, the tar sands debate focuses on Keystone XL, the 1,200-mile pipeline that would link Alberta oil to the Gulf of Mexico. What is often overlooked is that Keystone XL is only one of 13 pipelines completed or proposed by the Harper government — they would extend for 10,000 miles, not just to the gulf, but to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. …President Obama’s decision on Keystone XL, expected later this spring, is important not just because it will determine the pipeline’s fate, but because it will give momentum to one side or the other in the larger tar sands battle. Consequently, the Canadian government’s 2013-14 budget allocates nearly $22 million for pro-tar-sands promotional work outside Canada. It has used that money to buy ads and fund lobbyists in Washington and Europe, the latter as part of a continuing campaign against the European Union’s bitumen-discouraging Fuel Quality Directive….
The pressure on environmentalists has been even more intense. Two years ago Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (who this month became finance minister) declared that some environmentalists “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest” and “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” Canada’s National Energy Board, an ostensibly independent regulatory agency, coordinated with the nation’s intelligence service, police and oil companies to spy on environmentalists. And Canada’s tax-collecting agency recently introduced rigorous audits of at least seven prominent environmental groups, diverting the groups’ already strained resources from anti-tar-sands activities. Few Canadians advocate immediately shutting down the tar sands — indeed, any public figure espousing that idea risks political oblivion. The government could defuse much tar sands opposition simply by advocating a more measured approach to its development, using the proceeds to head the country away from fossil fuels and toward a low-carbon, renewables-based future. That, in fact, was the policy recommended by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a nonpartisan, eminently moderate independent research group founded by another right-leaning prime minister, Brian Mulroney, in 1988. The Harper government showed what it thought of the policy when it disbanded the Round Table last year.
By Emily Atkin on April 4, 2014 at 9:29 am
Energy company Anadarko Petroleum Corp. on Thursday announced that it has agreed to pay $5.15 billion to clean up 85 years of harmful uranium, wood creosote, and rocket fuel pollution, in what is being widely
reported as the largest environment settlement in history. The deal with the U.S. Department of Justice ends a long-running lawsuit against the Kerr-McGee company, an energy and chemical company owned by Anadarko. Kerr-McGee, the lawsuit claimed, was responsible for detrimental pollution at more than 2,000 sites nationwide which caused at least 8,000 cases of cancer, which in some cases led to death. “If you are responsible for 85 years of poisoning the earth, you are responsible for cleaning it up,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a press conference. The settlement still must be approved by a federal judge after a 30-day public comment period.
But if approved, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said $4.4 billion of the settlement would go toward cleanup and environmental claims. Of that $4.4 billion, The Navajo Nation would get about $1 billion to remedy radioactive contamination from Kerr-McGee’s shuttered uranium mining operation, according to the litigation trust. $1.1 billion would address pollution from ammonium perchlorate, a primary component of fuel, in Nevada. Another $1.1 billion would be dedicated to cleaning up more than two dozen other contaminated sites around the U.S…..
By Katie Valentine on April 1, 2014 at 10:47 am
A rendering of Nashville’s Amp bus system.CREDIT: Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority
The Tennessee Senate passed a bill last week that, if approved, would broadly ban mass transit projects in the region, an anti-transit effort that’s gotten some help in the state from Charles and David Koch…..
By Lauren C. Williams on April 4, 2014
Greenpeace’s latest energy report called out Amazon as being one of the worst energy transgressors. But the report also praises Apple for completely switching to renewable energy, showing that public pressure and greater transparency can turn former energy offenders into most improved….
By Jeff Spross on April 4, 2014 at 12:25 pm
A truck loaded with coal from a mine in Mongolia, China. CREDIT: AP Photo / Andy Wong
According to Reuters, China’s energy administration announced today that the country will close 1,725 small-scale coal mines over the course of 2014. The move is part of China’s plan to shutter older, less productive, and low-quality coal production — most of it in the east — and shift coal production to a series of “coal energy bases” in the northwest and other more remote regions of the country. “Local governments have been under orders to gradually shut all coal mines with annual production capacity of less than 90,000 [metric tons],” Reuters reported. “As well as those mines that are operating illegally and do not comply with state safety requirements.” China’s local governments will be required to publicly release details on what coal mines they have closed in order to improve enforcement and accountability. The program also demands that they encourage mergers and technological upgrades within the coal industry in order to combat a history of poor safety standards. The move is similar to the “name and shame” approach the Chinese government recently took to pressure cities and regions that fail to achieve their targets for air pollution reductions. An announcement from the Ministry of Environmental Protection last week revealed that only three Chinese cities out of 74 had fully complied with their pollution reduction targets for 2013. The Chinese capital of Beijing, along with several other major cities, has been hit recently by rolling, multi-day bouts of smog and air pollution that is many, many times the level consider safe by the World Health Organization. That’s a result of China’s reliance on coal for 70 to 80 percent of its electricity generation. And given the country’s enormous population, that also means China accounts for almost half of global coal consumption — making it the primary driver of global coal consumption, which has climbed upwards at a brisk clip since 2000. Combined with India’s coal burning, China’s course has driven Asia to surpass North America as the world’s leading territory for carbon dioxide emissions. The small-scale coal mine closures are one aspect of an effort to get coal down to 65 percent of China’s energy mix by the end of this year. And the country aims to cap its total coal production at 4.1 billion metric tons by 2015 — up from 3.7 billion metric tons in 2013. Unfortunately, the latest five-year plan from the Chinese government still leaves an opening for 860 million metric tons of new coal production capacity to be set up between 2011 and 2015. So a number of experts think China will most likely blow past that 4.1 billion cap.
Three Mile Island anniversary: the lesson the nuclear industry refuses to learn. Thirty-five years after the world’s first nuclear-power scare, the nuclear industry hasn’t learned the most basic lesson from Three Mile Island: Get accurate information to the public in a timely manner. Christian Science Monitor
Blue Is The New Green: How Oceans Could Power The Future
By Ari Phillips on March 26, 2014 at 11:42 am In February, a natural gas power plant along the Central California coast closed after operating for more than 50 years, thus ending an era that saw the surrounding community of Morro Bay grow up around it. In an unlikely partnership, the shuttering may also help usher in a new era of energy generation — this one reliant on power from the waves that undulate through the bay before crashing up against the nearby shoreline. …
Fish heart development and the Deepwater Horizon spill
Oil spills, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, may cause heart defects in developing fish embryos, according to a study.
Yaniv Scherson and colleagues have developed a way for sewage treatment plants to power themselves by converting ammonia to nitrous oxide gas.
Wind farms can provide society a surplus of reliable clean energy
Ryan Young and Alex Jackson SF Chronicle Published 12:47 pm, Sunday, March 30, 2014
Fifth graders from the Hamlin School distribute free Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs in front of the Ferry Building to support World Wildlife Funds” Earth Hour. Photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice / San Francisco Chronicle
The millions of Californians receiving the first “climate credit” on their electricity bills in April have the state’s landmark climate and clean energy law to thank. Not only is the Global Warming Solutions Act, known as AB32, reducing the amount of carbon pollution dumped into the atmosphere and improving the air we breathe, it also is literally paying off for customers of Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric. The California climate credit ranges from roughly $30 to $40 depending on the utility supplying your power. It will be distributed every year in April and October. It exemplifies California’s balanced approach to shift from fossil fuels to clean, low-carbon energy under AB32 by holding polluters accountable and ensuring households aren’t left with the cleanup bill. …
WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT 2014 Conference
North (SF) Bay Watershed Association Friday, April 11, 2014 NOVATO, CA 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM PDT
The conference will bring together key participants from around the North Bay to focus on how we can work together to manage our water resources.
- Mark Cowin, Director, CA Department of Water Resources
- Jared Huffman, U.S. Congressman, California 2nd District
- Felicia Marcus, Chair, State Water Resources Control Board
For more information or questions contact: Elizabeth Preim-Rohtla North Bay Watershed Association email@example.com 415-945-1475
Stanford experts from a range of disciplines will discuss the interconnections and interactions among humanity’s need for and use of climate, energy, food, water, and environmental resources…..
April 22-24, 2014 Yosemite Valley, CA
This workshop is focused on developing an integrated view of the physical landscape, climate effects, hydrology and fire regimes of the Sierra Nevada.
Research Posters: Call for abstracts will occur in January. Visit the Sanctuary Currents Symposium website for updates and information: Sanctuary Currents Symposium
US EPA’s Climate Showcase Communities program is hosting a free, 1-day workshop highlighting successful local and tribal government climate and energy strategies that can be replicated in communities across the US. Panel themes will include:
Please register for the workshop by April 15, 2014 at the conference registration website. For more information about the Climate Showcase Communities program, including a list of grantees and project descriptions, visit the Climate Showcase Communities website. To view a short video overview of past CSC Workshops, please visit our YouTube channel. Please contact Andrea Denny with any questions.
Scenario Planning toward Climate Change Adaptation (pdf) WORKSHOP May 6-8, 2014 NCTC, Shepherdstown, West Virginia
This overview course will introduce the core elements of scenario planning and expose participants to a diversity of approaches and specific scenario development techniques that incorporate both qualitative and quantitative components.
Climate Change: Challenges to California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources
May 19, 2014; Sacramento, CA The California Museum, 1020 “O” Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
The conference will bring together leading economists, analysts, scientists and policy makers from University of California, the state government, non-profits, and the private sector to discuss the potential impacts of climate change and the associated challenges to California agriculture and natural resources. Click here for more information.
Headwaters to Ocean “H20” Conference May 27-29, 2014 San Diego, CA
29 – 30 MAY 2014 U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, USA
North America Congress for Conservation Biology Meeting. July 13-16, Missoula, MT. The biennial NACCB provides a forum for presenting and discussing new research and developments in conservation science and practice for addressing today’s conservation challenges.
July 21-23, Washington, DC.
First Stewards will hold their 2nd annual symposium at the National Museum of the American Indian. This year’s theme is
“United Indigenous Voices Address Sustainability: Climate Change and Traditional Places“
99th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America
Sacramento, California August 10-15, 2014 http://www.esa.org/sacramento
California Adaptation Forum
August 19-20, 2014. SACRAMENTO, CA
This two-day forum will build off a successful National Adaptation Forum held in Colorado in 2013. The attendance of many California leaders there underscored the need for a California-focused event, which will be held every other year to complement the biennial national conference. To register go to: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/886364449
International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE) World Congress meeting, July 9th 2015
Coming to Portland, Oregon July 5-10, 2015! The symposium, which is held every four years, brings scientists and practitioners from around the globe together to discuss and share landscape ecology work and information. The theme of the 2015 meeting is Crossing Scales, Crossing Borders: Global Approaches to Complex Challenges.
JOBS (apologies for any duplication; thanks for passing along)
- Conservation Internship and Graduate Student opportunities
- Grant and Science Writer
- Planned Giving Manager
- Chief Financial Officer
Point Blue Conservation Science, founded as Point Reyes Bird Observatory and based in Petaluma, California, is a growing and internationally renowned nonprofit with over 140 staff and seasonal scientists. Our highest priority is to reduce the impacts of accelerating changes in climate, land-use and the ocean on wildlife and people while promoting climate-smart conservation for a healthy, blue planet. Point Blue advances conservation of nature for wildlife and people through science, partnerships and outreach. Our scientists work hand-in-hand with wildlife managers, private land owners, ranchers, farmers, other scientists, major conservation groups, and federal, state, and local government agencies and officials. Point Blue has tripled in size over the past 12 years in response to the ever–increasing demand for sound science to assess and guide conservation investments in our rapidly changing world. At the core of our work is innovative, collaborative science.
Studying birds and other environmental indicators, we evaluate natural and human-driven change over time and guide our partners in adaptive management for improved conservation outcomes. We publish in peer-reviewed journals and contribute to the “conservation commons” of open access scientific knowledge. We also store, manage and interpret over 800 million bird and ecosystem observations from across North America and create sophisticated, yet accessible, decision support tools to improve conservation today and for an uncertain future.
This is a pivotal moment in the history of life on our planet requiring unprecedented actions to ensure that wildlife and people continue to thrive in the decades to come. Working from the Sierra to the sea and as far away as the Ross Sea (Antarctica), Point Blue is collaboratively implementing climate-smart conservation. Read more at www.pointblue.org.
Conservation Project Manager
Audubon California is hiring a Conservation Project Manager who will be focused on enhancing managed wetlands and farmland by working with partners to implement practices and projects that increase habitat value for a wide diversity of migratory birds and other wildlife, with specific focus on target bird species of conservation need including the Tricolored Blackbird. This position will work closely with a wide variety of partners including state and federal agencies, agricultural landowners, wetlands managers, and conservation organizations. We are looking for a candidate with strong communication skills, a passion for conservation, and knowledge of wetlands, bird conservation, and the agricultural sector.
- OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST
An unlikely victim of climate change: Derek Jeter’s favorite bat. March 30, 2014 Daily Climate
Thriving in warmer winters, a beetle threatens a key source of Major League’s cherished wood bats: The white ash forests of Pennsylvania and New York.
Europeans have three times more Neanderthal genes for lipid catabolism than Asians or Africans
(April 2, 2014) — Contemporary Europeans have as many as three times more Neanderthal variants in genes involved in lipid catabolism than Asians and Africans. Although Neanderthals are extinct, fragments of their genomes persist in modern humans. These shared regions are unevenly distributed across the genome and some regions are particularly enriched with Neanderthal variants. … > full story
Morning rays keep off pounds
(April 2, 2014) — A surprising new strategy for managing your weight? Bright morning light. People who had most of their daily exposure to bright light in the morning had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who had most of their light exposure later in the day, reports a new study. The earlier light exposure occurred, the lower the BMI. The influence of morning light on weight was independent of physical activity, caloric intake, sleep timing, age or season. … > full story
In many parts of the world, the allergy season starts earlier and lasts longer each year, potentially due to climate change…
Key Chocolate Ingredients Could Help Prevent Obesity, Diabetes
Apr. 2, 2014 — Improved thinking. Decreased appetite. Lowered blood pressure. The potential health benefits of dark chocolate keep piling up, and scientists are now homing in on what ingredients in chocolate might … They found that adding one particular set of these compounds, known as oligomeric procyanidins (PCs), to the food made the biggest difference in keeping the mice’s weight down if they were on high-fat diets. They also improved glucose tolerance, which could potentially help prevent type-2 diabetes…. full story
Eating fruits, vegetables linked to healthier arteries later in life
(March 28, 2014) — Women who ate a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables as young adults were much less likely to have plaque build-up in their arteries 20 years later compared with those who consumed lower amounts of these foods, according to research. This new finding reinforces the importance of developing healthy eating habits early in life. … > full story
Hollywood cancels awards season. Hollywood Reporter
Concerned about the carbon footprint of $600 bouquets, $200,000 haute couture dresses and imported caviar at countless after-parties, the Academy of Motion Pictures cancelled the 2015 Academy Awards and urged the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes to follow suit….
Posted: 04/01/2014 11:48 am EDT Updated: 04/01/2014 12:59 pm ED Bill Chameides/Duke Nicholas School for the Environment
…A heavily redacted copy of a classified report titled “America Cools Down on Climate” (ACDC) and obtained by TheGreenGrok outlines the audacious plan to use commercial air traffic to mitigate the growing impacts of climate change across the United States….With the unqualified success of ACDC, there are rumors of a summertime geoengineering exercise: Phenological Revamping and other Natural Keys, or PRANK for short. We will be writing more about that one on April 1, 2015.
FBI stung Sen. Yee, but Sacramento’s worse corruption is legal
By David Horsey | Apr 01, 2014
Here’s a stimulating debate topic: Is the welfare of the Bear Republic more threatened by a few legislators who receive illegal bribes or by an entire breed of politicians who take legal campaign donations from unnamed billionaires with an ideological agenda?
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.