Conservation Science News September 19, 2014



Focus of the WeekWhy More Trees Mean Less Water for California…
Blue Whales make comeback/Whale Alert West Coast










NOTE: Please pass on my weekly news update that has been prepared for
Point Blue Conservation Science
staff.  You can find these weekly compilations posted on line
by clicking here.  For more information please see

The items contained in this update were drawn from,, SER The Society for Ecological Restoration,,,, 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.  
You can sign up for the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative Newsletter or the Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consortium listserve to receive this or you can email me directly at Ellie Cohen, ecohen at if you want your name added to or dropped from this list. 

Founded as Point Reyes Bird Observatory, Point Blue’s 140 scientists advance nature-based solutions to climate change, habitat loss and other environmental threats to benefit wildlife and people, through bird and ecosystem science, partnerships and outreach.  We work collaboratively to guide and inspire positive conservation outcomes today — for a healthy, blue planet teeming with life in the future.  Read more about our 5-year strategic approach here.



Focus of the Week– Why more trees mean less water in the Sierra Nevada; Blue Whales make comeback/Whale Alert West Coast


Why More Trees in the Sierra Mean Less Water for California

Lauren Sommer, KQED Science | September 15, 2014 | 13 Comments

Sierra Nevada forests are denser than they once were, potentially reducing the amount of runoff that reaches California’s reservoirs. (Dan Brekke/KQED)


With California’s reservoir levels dropping, just about everyone is wishing the state had gotten more water this year. That doesn’t just depend on the weather, according to a team of scientists. Sierra Nevada forests play a big role in the state’s water supply. Just like crops, trees consume water. And Sierra Nevada forests are denser than they once were after decades of fire suppression. That could be reducing the amount of runoff coming from the snowpack — runoff that provides water for most of the state.

“We call the Sierra Nevada our water towers for California,” says Roger Bales, a hydrologist with UC Merced. “About 60 percent of our consumable water comes from the Sierra Nevada.”

Bales is working in a pine forest about 20 miles west of Lake Tahoe, to understand the balance between and trees and runoff. His team has installed hundreds of sensors in the American River basin to record snow depth and soil moisture.

“The snowmelt really enters the soil,” he says, “and flows downslope to the nearest stream channel.”

From there, it joins major rivers and goes into reservoirs and canals that reach all the way to cities and farms in the Central Valley, Bay Area and Southern California.

When trees use water through the process of evapotranspiration, it doesn’t run off into rivers and reservoirs.

“That water travels up the tree trunk and then goes out through the leaves to the atmosphere,” Bales says. And there are a lot more trees using water today than there once were.

Frequent, low-intensity fires once cleared out small trees and maintained spaces in the forest. Decades of suppressing fires has allowed the forest to fill in.

“You go back about 100-to-150 years and the forest data show us there were maybe only half as many trees here,” Bales says.

The snowpack is also less stable in a dense forest. The snow gets stuck in the trees’ branches before reaching the ground and evaporates faster because it’s more susceptible to sun and wind.

Because these changes have happened over millions of acres of forest, Bales says it’s led researchers to a basic question:

“If there were half as many trees, would there be more runoff?” he asks.

The research points to yes, he says — potentially a lot more.

“Is it 20 percent, 30 percent or 40 percent?” Bales says. “We’re sort of in that range. But that’s a hypothesis. Our back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that you could get anywhere from half a million to a million acre-feet additional water out of the Sierra Nevada.”

A million acre-feet of water is enough to supply two million households in California for a year — an amount that could make a big difference during a drought.


Managing Overgrown Forests

“I think the water piece is really huge,” says Scott Stephens, professor of fire science at UC Berkeley. “I think it’s under-appreciated but it’s massive.”

Stephens has found similar results in the Illilouette Creek basin in Yosemite National Park. About 40 fires have been allowed to burn there over several decades, reducing the number of trees per acre.

“It looks like there’s 20 percent more surface water leaving the streams in that area since the fire program began in the mid-1970s,” he says.

The widely spaced trees also make the forest more resistant to high-severity fire.

“I call it a potential win-win,” Stephens says. “It’s a win from a fire standpoint to have more resilient forests and also maybe a win in terms of being able to provide a critical resource for California, which is water.”

But leaving naturally caused fires to burn over large areas of the Sierra Nevada is tricky, he says, especially near houses and communities.

“Letting fire work in those lands is risky,” Stephens says. “Sometimes it’s going to go as expected and once in a while it goes wrong.”

Another option is to allow timber companies to cut small trees, thinning the forest. It’s commonly done where roads already exist, but can be prohibitively expensive in remote areas and often faces environmental opposition.

Climate change could make the problem even worse. A recent study from UC Irvine found California’s forests will be using even more water by the end of the century, because warming temperatures will make the growing season longer. Runoff could drop by as much as 26 percent.

“If we don’t act today, our grandkids’ grandkids are going to have so few options,” Stephens says. “It’s going to be warmer. It’s going to be more difficult to do this work and they’re going to be basically chasing their tails.”

Stephens says the good news is that California water districts are joining the conversation about how to manage forests. While it didn’t used to be on their radar, the connection between trees and our drinking water is becoming hard to ignore…



California blue whales bounce back to near historic numbers

By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent, BBC News 5 September 2014 Last updated at 06:11 ET

A blue whale estimated to be around 20m long, swimming off Baja California

Researchers believe that California blue whales have recovered in numbers and the population has returned to sustainable levels. Scientists say this is the only population of blue whales to have rebounded from the ravages of whaling. The research team estimate that there are now 2,200 of these giant creatures on the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean. But concerns remain about their vulnerability to being struck by ships. At up to 33m in length and weighing in at up to 190 tonnes, blue whales are the largest animals on the planet. The California variety is often seen feeding close to the coast of the state, but they are found all the way from the Gulf of Alaska down to Costa Rica…..



Endangered whales are needlessly being hit and killed by ship strikes each year along the West Coast of the United States.  Prime collision areas are concentrated around busy shipping lanes in the San Francisco and Channel Islands regions. The Whale Alert – West Coast program wants to invite you – nature lovers, fishers, and mariners – to help reduce ship strikes to whales: The success of Whale Alert – West Coast depends on your increased participation and willingness to contribute observations taken while whale watching from land and at sea along the coast. Whale Alert – West Coast was formed by The Office of the National Marine Sanctuaries, Conserve.IO and Point Blue Conservation Science, working in coordination with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), to help reduce the number of ship collisions with whales. Visit the Whale Alert program to learn more about national efforts.

Visit the maps

Receive alerts– Follow this link to sign up for the Whale ALERT – West Coast list  and receive email updates when new data is collected and available in the mapping tool.





Uphill climb for mountain species?

Posted: 02 Sep 2014 02:11 PM PDT

A history of scientific research on mountain ecosystems has been provided in a new article, whic looks at the issues threatening wildlife in these systems, and sets an agenda for biodiversity conservation throughout the world’s mountain regions….


Changes in coastal upwelling linked to temporary declines in marine ecosystem

Posted: 18 Sep 2014 11:14 AM PDT

In findings of relevance to both conservationists and the fishing industry, new research links short-term reductions in growth and reproduction of marine animals off the California Coast to increasing variability in the strength of coastal upwelling currents — currents which historically supply nutrients to the region’s diverse ecosystem….. The new study, led by Bryan Black at The University of Texas at Austin’s Marine Science Institute and appearing Sept. 19 in the journal Science, shows that since 1950 the California coast has experienced winters with extremely weak upwelling more frequently than in the previous five centuries. Winters with extremely weak upwelling are associated with slower growth in fish and lower reproductive success for seabirds, underscoring the importance of upwelling for the conservation of endangered animals and management of commercially important fisheries. “Our study underscores the fact that California is a place of high coastal upwelling variability,” said Black, assistant professor of marine science and lead author on the study. “You have to keep that in mind if you’re managing a fishery — for example, you can’t plan for every year being moderate or reliable. There are a lot of ups and downs.” Black said it’s not possible yet to determine whether climate change has contributed to the changes in winter upwelling variability. The strength of upwelling does seem to be related to a climate pattern called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). And there is evidence that ENSO has been unusually variable during the past century, which may in part explain the pattern in upwelling extremes… Black noted that changes in upwelling strength did not affect just fish and seabirds. In a sense, these representative species were just the tips of the iceberg. “By studying top level predators, we get an upper level view of the entire ecosystem,” said Black. “They integrate what’s happening across the whole food web.”

Black said his team will next try to project how upwelling might change in the future. “We understand the atmospheric drivers behind winter upwelling, so now we plan to use climate models to see what they say about these drivers and whether they forecast change for those in the future,” said Black….


B. A. Black et al. Six centuries of variability and extremes in a coupled marine-terrestrial ecosystem. Science, 2014; 345 (6203): 1498 DOI: 10.1126/science.1253209


Extinctions during human era one thousand times more than before

Posted: 02 Sep 2014 12:11 PM PDT

The gravity of the world’s current extinction rate becomes clearer upon knowing what it was before people came along. A new estimate finds that species die off as much as 1,000 times more frequently nowadays than they used to. That’s 10 times worse than the old estimate of 100 times….


World population to keep growing this century, hit 11 billion by 2100

Posted: 18 Sep 2014 11:14 AM PDT

The chance that world population in 2100 will be between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion people is 80 percent, according to the first such United Nations forecast to incorporate modern statistical tools.


Viewpoints: Migratory water birds, refuges need consideration in drought

By Brigid McCormack and Mark Biddlecomb Special to The Sacramento Bee Published: Thursday, Sep. 4, 2014 – 12:00 am

Brigid McCormack is executive director of Audubon California. Mark Biddlecomb is western regional director of Ducks Unlimited.

As we endure the third year of a severe drought, California is confronting serious threats to many animal species and critical habitats. And like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, California’s birds provide us with a clear warning about the need to plan wisely for drought’s impact on people, agriculture, wildlife and recreation.

Thousands of birds have died in the past few weeks as the result of a suspected avian botulism epidemic sweeping through a wildlife refuge in Northern California. A hundred birds a day are dying at the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the Oregon border.

Deadly bird diseases like avian botulism and avian cholera, which do not directly threaten human health, are exacerbated during droughts. Scarce wetland habitat forces migratory water birds like ducks and shorebirds to crowd around the few existing water sources. The resulting overcrowding creates conditions in which these diseases spread.

In the last two years, drought in the Klamath basin caused an estimated loss of 10,000 to 20,000 ducks and geese from avian cholera. This month, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife raised the alarm, asking the public to inform state officials if they see dead or dying water birds in their communities.

As the drought intensifies, these diseases could spread. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says this year’s migratory duck population is larger than last year’s. As millions of water birds migrate through California between now and December, with millions staying throughout the winter, this “bird boom” coupled with severe drought could create a perfect storm of devastation.

Political debates during droughts in California tend to center on “farmers vs. fish,” leaving out the important role of migratory birds in our economy and environment.

The wetlands of Central California form part of a critical bird migration route known as the Pacific Flyway, which stretches from Alaska to Chile. Millions of migratory water birds – including ducks, geese, terns, shorebirds and many others – depend on California’s wetlands for water, food and habitat during their long migration and throughout winter.

Migratory water birds play a vital role in California’s environment, but they are also a critical part of our economy. Tourists, bird watchers and hunters add millions of dollars to our state every year. A sample of two Central Valley wetlands alone in 2011 generated nearly $8 million that was spent in local communities.

Our wetlands provide firsthand educational opportunities for youths and adults, a place for hunters to pursue their passion, and protecting wetland habitat is essential to maintaining the health of California’s environment. Wetlands play a crucial role in filtering water, trapping sediments and preventing erosion of stream and riverbanks, removing heavy metals from urban areas and helping protect properties from flooding. They also reduce flood damage during large storms, which will become more frequent and intense with climate change.

Congress passed laws to protect these vital wetlands more than 20 years ago, but the commitment has not been met.

Even before the drought, California had lost roughly 90 percent of its native wetlands. The Central Valley Project Improvement Act mandated that key wetland locations be protected and receive vital water allocations, but those allocations have been cut in recent years.

It is time for a change. California needs balanced policy solutions that protect fish, birds, families and farmers alike. Agricultural stakeholders, water managers, elected officials and citizens must work together to protect wetlands and migratory bird habitat for future generations. A coalition of conservation organizations including Audubon California, The Nature Conservancy, Point Blue Conservation Science, Ducks Unlimited and Defenders of Wildlife has come together to highlight the plight of these migratory water birds.

California’s water bond is a step in the right direction. It includes funding to meet the state’s obligations under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which will help ensure water for refuges. It also includes funding to help support habitat restoration and enhancement for migratory birds.

But we also need to ensure that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan includes consideration of full water delivery to refuges. Additionally, federal legislation, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s drought bill, should uphold environmental protections like the Endangered Species Act, and should not undermine the Central Valley Project Improvement Act.

As the debate over the state’s water resources intensifies due to drought and climate change, we must remember the important relationship between California and migratory water birds, which symbolize California’s rich natural history. It is up to us to protect these creatures as an important part of the wildlife legacy we leave to our children.


Deciding who should pay to publish peer-reviewed scientific research

Posted on 18 September 2014 by John Abraham

There is an important discussion to be had about the future of scientific publications. As a practicing and publishing scientist, I am judged by the quality and quantity of my contributions to the scientific community. Traditionally, this comes down to counting how many papers I publish and weighting them by the quality (impact) of the journals where the papers appear. A fancy word for this is “Impact Factor,” which is a measure of the frequency papers in a particular journal are cited compared to the number of pages a manuscript is. The highest impact journals are often the hardest to get published in, sometimes having acceptance rates as low as 10%. Typical impact factors depend a lot on your field of study. In journals like Nature and Science, the impact factors are very high. In specialized journals and in specialized fields, the impact factors are much smaller…. In this traditional model, universities pay each year (often thousands of dollars) to carry the journals. The universities then typically received both hard copy and e-copies of papers which faculty can then obtain. More recently, many library consortia have gone to an electronic-only system. It is probably obvious that with strengths of this system come weaknesses. A glaring problem is that the subscription fees are quite large and very few practitioners in a field purchase the journals. Instead, they can purchase specific papers that they are interested in, often for $20–40 per article. It is commonly said that the papers are “behind a pay wall.” But, this pay wall is important. A publisher cannot simply give papers away for free – they would rapidly go out of business. On the other hand, an author can opt to make their papers available without a pay wall, but the author has to pay for this option. My colleagues and I recently wrote a major ocean heating paper and paid multiple thousands of dollars to make it freely available. This money came from our research budgets – budgets that are already tight. So into this mix enter open-access publishers. Instead of selling papers, they make the articles freely available to the public. On the one hand, this system dramatically alters who can gain access to articles. The papers can be freely downloaded anywhere in the world (hugely important if you are a researcher in the developing world). In addition, open-access journals typically do not print papers in hard copy form, thus saving money on printing and shipping. But how can these journals survive? They do that by charging the author. Fees range anywhere from $100–$1000 or so.

So, whenever a scientist opts to make their papers open-access, they (or their institution) are paying for this service. It is important for the public to recognize this. Publishing behind a “pay wall” does not mean a scientist is hiding anything – it is a necessary part of the business model of traditional journals. And, when journals have a pay wall, they are not gouging the public. These payments cover the costs of editing, printing, formatting, etc…..


US Gets Middling Marks On 2014 ‘State Of Birds’ Report Card


 – ‎Sep 9, 2014‎


The report, called “The State of the Birds,” comes from the federal government, universities and conservation groups – 23 organizations that have spent years examining bird populations, as well as habitats where the various species live….


Decoding virus-host interactions in the oxygen-starved ocean

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 11:09 AM PDT

In certain coastal areas, severe reductions in oxygen levels in the water destroy food web structure. Over the past 50 years, such oxygen minimum zones have expanded due to climate change and increased waste run-off. Researchers studied how viral infection influences a microbial community in one such OMZ….


Tree frogs speed up their life cycle when becoming lunch

Posted: 03 Sep 2014 09:19 AM PDT

Think again if you’ve always believed that events in the life cycle of animals happen consistently, almost rigidly, as part of the natural rhythm of nature. Studies show that Mother Nature is much more flexible than you might think.



Useless Creatures

Chloé Poizat


This article contains no useful information. Zero. Nada. Nothing. If usefulness is your criterion for reading, thank you very much for your time and goodbye, we have nothing more to say. The truth is that I am bored to tears by usefulness. I am bored, more precisely, of pretending usefulness is the thing that really matters. I mostly write about wildlife. So here is how it typically happens for me: A study comes out indicating that species x, y and z are in imminent danger of extinction, or that some major bioregion of the planet is being sucked down into the abyss. And it’s my job to convince people that they should care, even as they are racing to catch the 7:10 train, or wondering if they’ll be able to pay this month’s (or last month’s) rent. My usual strategy is to trot out a list of ways even the most obscure species can prove unexpectedly, yes, useful. The first effective treatment that turned H.I.V. from a death sentence into a manageable condition? Inspired by the biochemistry of a nondescript Caribbean sponge. The ACE inhibitors that are currently among our most effective treatments for cardiovascular disease (and which have lately been proposed as a treatment for Ebola)? Developed by studying the venom of the fer-de-lance, a deadly snake found from Mexico to northern South America. The new medical bandage that’s gentle enough for the delicate skin of newborns and the elderly? Modeled on the silk of spider webs. Every time I begin this line of argument, though, I get the queasy feeling that I am perpetuating a fallacy. It’s not that I’m telling lies; these examples are entirely real. But given, for instance, that three-quarters of our farm crops depend on insect pollinators, or that more than 2.6 billion people rely directly on seafood for protein, it seems a little obvious to be reminding people that wildlife can be useful, or, more to the point, that human survival depends on wildlife.
Without saying so out loud, the argument also implies that animals matter only because they benefit humans, or because just possibly, at some unknowable point in the future, they might benefit humans…..


….Improbably, wildlife conservationists now also often hear the call of the useful. Along with a large contingent of eco-finance bureaucrats, they try to save threatened habitats by reminding nearby communities of all the benefits they derive from keeping these habitats intact. Forests, meadows and marshes prevent floods, supply clean water, provide habitat for species that pollinate crops, put oxygen into the atmosphere and take carbon out, and otherwise make themselves useful. In some cases, conservation groups or other interested parties actually put down cash for these ecosystem services — paying countries, for instance, to maintain forests as a form of carbon sequestration. The argument, in essence, is that we can persuade people to save nature by making it possible for them to sell it. They can take nature to the bank, or at least to the local grocery. They can monetize it. (The new revised version of Genesis now says, “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, and he said, ‘Let them be fungible.’ “)


I understand the logic, or at least the desperation, that drives conservationists to this horrible idea. It may seem like the only way to keep what’s left of the natural world from being plowed under by unstoppable human expansion and by our insatiable appetite for what appears to be useful. But usefulness is precisely the argument other people put forward to justify destroying or displacing wildlife, and they generally bring a larger and more persuasive kind of green to the argument. …

Finally, there is the unavoidable problem that most wildlife species — honey badgers, blobfish, blue-footed boobies, red-tailed hawks, monarch butterflies, hellbenders — are always going to be “useless,” or occasionally annoying, from a human perspective. And even when they do turn out, by some quirk, to be useful, that’s typically incidental to what makes them interesting. Cuttlefish do not fascinate because their skin may suggest new forms of military camouflage, but because of the fantastic light shows that sometimes play across their flanks. Spider web silk doesn’t intrigue because somebody can turn it into bandages, but because of the astonishing things spiders can do with it — stringing a line across a stream and running trotlines down the surface to catch water striders, for instance, or (in the case of the species named mastophora dizzydeani) flinging a ball of silk on a thread like a spitball to snag moths out of the air.


Wildlife is and should be useless in the same way art, music, poetry and even sports are useless. They are useless in the sense that they do nothing more than raise our spirits, make us laugh or cry, frighten, disturb and delight us. They connect us not just to what’s weird, different, other, but to a world where we humans do not matter nearly as much as we like to think.

And that should be enough.


Exploring a Tree One Cell at a Time

Biologist Climbs High to Prove Hypothesis About Plants


To prove a decades-old hypothesis about how nutrients are transported in plants, a biologist set up shop 40 feet high in a red oak tree. Video Credit By Michael Kirby Smith and Margaret Cheatham Williams on Publish Date September 1, 2014. Image Credit Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times

PETERSHAM, Mass. — Not every scientist would choose to spend a peaceful summer Sunday morning perched on a jittery scaffold 40 feet up a red oak tree, peering through a microscope to jab a leaf with a tiny glass needle filled with oil. But Michael Knoblauch, a plant cell biologist at Washington State University, is in the stretch run of a 20-year quest to prove a longstanding hypothesis about how nutrients are transported in plants. He is also running out of time: He’s nearing the end of a sabbatical year, much of which he has spent here at Harvard Forest, a 3,500-acre research plot in central Massachusetts. So he found himself up in the tree on a recent Sunday, accompanied by an assistant, his 19-year-old son, Jan, to collect more data for his research. While his son monitored the image from the microscope on a laptop, Dr. Knoblauch fiddled with a device that held the glass needle, manipulating it in minuscule increments as it entered the leaf. Though still attached to the tree, the leaf had been taped to the microscope’s stage, the little platform on which the specimen sits. …That hypothesis was developed in 1930 by a German plant physiologist, Ernst Münch, and it has been widely accepted because it makes intuitive sense: The nutrients should flow from areas with higher pressure (the leaves, where sugars are added to the system) to areas with lower pressure (the roots and fruits, where sugars are taken out). It’s a passive system; an alternative would be a more complicated active system that uses energy to transport the nutrients through the tree. The Münch hypothesis “is super simple and super plausible,” Dr. Knoblauch said. “But it’s untested.”…

How Much Water Does it Take to Make a Hamburger? 

 Joe Morris September, 2014

We often hear about the large amount of water it takes to raise cattle. The numbers are huge but almost always simplistic.  No doubt, a cow needs water to thrive, but we don’t see Morris Grassfed Beef as a detriment to the water cycle. In fact, we think Morris Grassfed Beef actually enhances the water cycle by producing healthy rangelands that capture and hold clean water, which then flows to the ocean and surrounding community. Our cattle drink from natural springs and creeks, filled by rainfall (when we have it!) and consume approximately 10 gallons a day, per cow. (We had to haul water from the best producing springs to the herd last fall, for there was no other water on the ranch, so we know exactly how much the cows were drinking.)  That’s 3,650 gallons per cow, per year. It takes about two years to raise a cow, totaling 7,300 gallons. Divide that amount by the pounds of beef produced from a single Morris Grassfed cow, approx. 360, and you get 20.28 gallons of water needed to produce one pound of Morris Grassfed Beef.  Our abattoir and butchers also use water to wash the carcasses and clean their facilities. The average family of four uses approximately 360 gallons of water a day.* That’s 131,400 gallons a year, or 36 times what a cow uses. Granted, cows are not flushing toilets, taking showers or watering lawns … at least not with tap water, but it puts into perspective how much water daily life takes.    Let’s compare how much water it takes to make a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, a head of lettuce and a conventionally-raised pound of beef  vs. grassfed.  (We should note that finding reliable numbers for these things is difficult. Many of the sources that come up are ideological and have a strong agenda to push. We tried to find the most un-biased, scientific evidence we could. And we know our numbers are correct because we monitor and measure them.) The following chart shows the water needed to make each of these popular foods: …



Nature Conservancy rents wetlands for birds in Sacramento Valley

By Edward Ortiz Published: Friday, Sep. 5, 2014 – 8:46 pm

SUTTER COUNTY — If you can’t buy conservation land, the next best thing is renting.

That’s the thinking at The Nature Conservancy, which this year is expanding an experimental program in which it rents wetland acreage from rice farmers to provide habitat for migrating waterfowl. A large population of birds is expected to arrive in the Central Valley this fall, and the severe drought means there will be fewer flooded places for them to find food.

Only 15 percent of the wetlands normally found in the Central Valley will likely exist this fall, said Sandi Matsumoto, senior project director of The Nature Conservancy’s migratory bird initiative.

Drought has caused many rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley to fallow their fields. That’s no small matter to birds like dabbling ducks and egrets on the Pacific Flyway, where flooded rice fields serve as crucial surrogate wetlands. Vanishing wetlands force birds into tougher and tighter competition for food, and cause them to mass in overcrowded conditions. When that happens, diseases like avian botulism can take hold. The Nature Conservancy experiment – called BirdReturns – invites farmers to participate in a reverse auction, in which they submit competitive bids on how much it would cost to rent wetland time on their fields. The goal is to persuade more farmers to flood land, even if it means tapping into groundwater, and keep the land flooded longer, especially at peak times when birds are traveling across the flyway. “We need a million acres every winter, and we cannot get a million acres by buying it,” Matsumoto said. “We don’t have that much money or enough farmers that are into that.” ….However, the reverse auction would be a moot tool without the presence of big data, said Mark Reynolds, lead scientist of the conservancy’s migratory birds initiative. “The real excitement was realizing we had the science tools to create a precision approach with timing and location that would have the greatest benefit for the birds, and coupling that with the reverse auction market mechanism,” said Reynolds. “The Cornell data set is turning out to be really powerful,” he said. “We can get very specific about the week by week timing in which we have birds coming into the Sacramento Valley.”


Long-sunken shipwrecks discovered off the Farallones

Carl Nolte Updated 10:38 pm, Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The tanker Frank H. Buck sank in 1937 as its stern section separated from the bow during a storm near the Cliff House. Photo: Robert V. Schwemmer Maritime Lib

A team of government scientists has just returned from a five-day expedition to explore shipwrecks on a mysterious part of the planet – the bottom of the ocean off San Francisco and Marin counties.

This week’s expedition is the beginning of a two-year archaeological survey of the Gulf of the Farallones, more than 1,000 square miles of the Pacific just west of San Francisco. “We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean off San Francisco,” said James Delgado, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s Maritime Heritage Program and a project leader. Delgado and a team of scientists and researchers spent nearly a week aboard the research vessel Fulmar using a remotely controlled underwater vehicle named Rosy to explore the remains of four shipwrecks – all of which sank within sight of the Marin hills and San Francisco….


Forgotten ghost ships off Golden Gate revealed

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 08:22 AM PDT

Researchers confirmed the discovery just outside San Francisco’s Golden Gate strait of the 1910 shipwreck SS Selja and an unidentified early steam tugboat wreck tagged the ‘mystery wreck.’ The researchers also located the 1863 wreck of the clipper ship Noonday, currently obscured by mud and silt on the ocean floor….





Global Heat Records Set for Month and Season

September 19, 2014 NY Times

The globe smashed more heat records last month, including earth’s hottest August and summer, federal meteorologists said on Thursday. May, June and August all set global heat records this year. Meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the average world temperature in August was 61.36 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking a record set in 1998. Scientists at NASA, who calculate global temperature in a slightly different way, also found that August was the hottest on record. The month was especially hot in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and Africa, but cooler in parts of the United States, Europe and Australia. For the United States, it was the coolest August and summer since 2009. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records go back to 1880. But it is more than just one month. It was the warmest meteorological summer — June, July and August — on record for the globe, again beating out 1998. This year so far is the globe’s third warmest on record. “It’s not a done deal, but we are increasingly moving” toward breaking the hottest year record set in 2010, said Derek Arndt, NOAA’s climate monitoring chief. “This is the outcome of warming over the long term.” (AP)


August and June-August global temperatures each reach record high, driven largely by record warm global oceans

Posted: 18 Sep 2014 08:19 AM PDT

According to NOAA scientists, the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for August 2014 was the highest for August since record keeping began in 1880. It also marked the 38th consecutive August with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average global temperature for August occurred in 1976.



Greenhouse Gases Hit Record High Amid Fears of CO2 Saturation Point

Data suggest natural “carbon sinks” may be nearing exhaustion, say some scientists, although others disagree.

The burning of coal worldwide, as shown here in Jharkhand, India, contributes to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Photograph by Robb Kendrick, National Geopgraphic Creative

Brian Clark Howard National Geographic Published September 9, 2014

The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, propelled by a surge in levels of carbon dioxide, the World Meteorological Organization reported Tuesday, raising the threat of increased global warming. The scientists warn that the Earth’s natural ability to store and mediate the gases through oceans, plants, and other means may be approaching a saturation point, which could exacerbate current warming. Not all scientists agree, however. The World Meteorological Organization’s annual report “shows that, far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years,” said Michel Jarraud, the group’s secretary-general, in a statement. “We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases across the board,” said Jarraud. “We are running out of time.” (See “Can Coal Ever Be Clean?“) Scientists who contributed to the report, called the “Greenhouse Gas Bulletin,” noted that carbon dioxide levels rose more between 2012 and 2013 than during any other year since 1984. The report showed that between 1990 and 2013, the energy in the atmosphere increased by 34 percent. The surge was driven by a concentration of carbon dioxide that is 42 percent higher than the level in the pre-industrial era (prior to 1750). Methane and nitrous oxide were 153 percent and 21 percent higher, respectively, than pre-industrial levels, although their overall numbers are much lower than carbon dioxide’s. Normally, about a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are absorbed by plants, while another quarter dissolves into the ocean. But the ability of plants and oceans to keep on absorbing excess greenhouse gases may be slowing as those systems approach what may be a saturation point, the organization’s scientists warn. The report said that preliminary data suggest the record high level of carbon dioxide “was possibly related to reduced CO2 uptake by the earth’s biosphere in addition to the steadily increasing CO2 emissions,” the organization wrote in a statement. (See “Climate Milestone: Earth’s CO2 Levels Pass 400 ppm.”) Because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for many hundreds of years and in the ocean for even longer, Jarraud said, “past, present, and future CO2 emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.” (See “What’s Behind New Warning on Global Carbon Emissions?“) The growing amount of CO2 in oceans has been raising the acidity of seawater, which scientists warn has serious implications for the growth of corals and other marine creatures. (Read “The Acid Sea” in National Geographic magazine.) Similarly, in a study published last year in Nature, scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California wrote that cool ocean waters appear to have been absorbing some excess heat in the atmosphere. The oceans’ ability to absorb heat was already thought to be largely responsible for the so-called “global warming pause” or “hiatus” that has meant global temperatures have not risen as fast as some scientists expected over the past few years….



Rise in Sea Level in Coastal Antarctica Exceeds Global Rate.

PNC Voice

 – ‎September 1, 2014


A recent study has revealed a ratherworrying trend; in the coastal Antarctica reason, the rise in sea level exceeds the rate at which sea level is rising globally. The study was undertaken by researchers from the University of Southampton and the findings were published in the journal Nature Geoscience. The researchers studied satellite images of the coast of Antarctica from last 19 years. They found that the sea level in the region shows a rise of 8 cm, which is 2 cm more than the global average of 6 cm. There was an additional 350 gigatons of fresh water in the ocean surrounding Antarctica. Every year, the freshwater influx in the region is 2 mm greater than the average for Southern Ocean.  This extra freshwater, which came from melting of the Antarctic ice sheet and floating ice shelves, has led to reduction of salinity of the ocean water. As freshwater has less density compared to saltwater, the areas that have more freshwater accumulation are likely to show a localized rise in sea level….


Warming Atlantic temperatures could increase range of invasive species

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 08:44 AM PDT

Warming water temperatures due to climate change could expand the range of many native species of tropical fish, including the invasive and poisonous lionfish, according to a study of 40 species along rocky and artificial reefs off North Carolina.



Unusual species in Alaska waters indicate parts of Pacific warming dramatically

Craig Medred September 14, 2014

Sunfish, Nordsøen Oceanarium, Hirtshals, Denmark Per-Ola Norman via Wiki Commons

A giant hotspot in the North Pacific Ocean may help explain why a massive ocean sunfish was spotted in Prince William Sound this month and a skipjack tuna was caught in a gillnet weeks earlier near the mouth of the Copper River, scientists say. Both species are unusual visitors to Alaska. Steve Moffitt, a research biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Cordova, believes the tuna might be the northernmost ever recorded. “‘Fishes of Alaska’  (a 2002 book by Catherine Mecklenburg) has one confirmed documentation caught in a setnet in Yakutat Bay in 1981 and a personal communication that some were caught off southern southeastern Alaska,” he noted in an email to colleagues. Yakutat Bay is about 200 miles southeast of where the latest catch was made about 150 miles southeast of Anchorage. Skipjack, the smallest and most common of the commercial tuna species, are normally considered a fish of the tropics. 

Ocean sunfish and Humboldt squid….. It appeared, they concluded, that unusual winds from the south “disrupted the path of the westerly winds that cross the subarctic Pacific” and pushed a lot of warm water north. While this may be good for Alaska salmon, at least in the short term, Freeland and Whitney predicted it could be bad for the tropics. “Without nutrients from the subarctic, the productivity of subtropical waters must decline,” they wrote. The changes in water temperature, they reported, were already reducing the growth of phytoplankton, which was sure to have broad implications for a host of marine species.  “Top predators may be able to locate the chlorophyll front, since they are accustomed to traveling great distances in their search for prey,” they said. “However, weakened nutrient transport from the subarctic into the subtropics this past winter will dramatically reduce the productivity of the eastern subtropics over an area of approximately 17,000 square kilometers.”

Freeland and Whitney also predicted tuna would move north. Whether this is an anomaly or something that will continue is impossible to predict. “The situation does not match recognized patterns in ocean conditions such as El Nino or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation,” NOAA scientist Nate Mantua told Milstein in a story the latter wrote for the Fisheries Science website. …


Conservation’s Identity Crisis

As global warming reshuffles ecosystems, hard choices loom over which species to save. Once radical ideas are now in play as conservationists struggle with the necessity for bold actions—based on a mix of values and science.

Published August 20 at 3:22 pm Flux

For David Ackerly, the vibrant forests of the Northeastern U.S., laden with red maple and white pine, possess the unalterable feel, smell and taste of home. An ecologist at the University of California at Berkeley, Ackerly knows all too well that 150 years ago the forest where he spent lazy summer afternoons as a boy did not exist. And the beech saplings he saw during last summer’s visit to New Hampshire are a sure sign that his old stomping grounds, like all ecosystems, are constantly changing. Ackerly also knows we are entering a period of rapid change that will unquestionably alter those forests—but it’s hard for him to imagine he will like the future forests better. “The world we grew up in is the world we are attached to and the one we want to protect,” he told a packed crowd last week at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Sacramento…



2014 volume of The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology

Fine- and coarse-filter conservation strategies in a time of climate change (pages 92–109)

Morgan W. Tingley, Emily S. Darling and David S. Wilcove

Article first published online: 12 JUL 2014 | DOI: 10.1111/nyas.12484


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Contending with uncertainty in conservation management decisions (pages 77–91)

Michael A. McCarthy

Article first published online: 19 AUG 2014 | DOI: 10.1111/nyas.12507


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Polar vortex visits to US linked to climate change


September 2, 2014


WASHINGTON (AP) – Remember the polar vortex, the huge mass of Arctic air that can plunge much of the U.S. into the deep freeze? You might have to get used to it.


Greenhouse gases: New group of soil micro-organisms can contribute to their elimination

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 08:18 AM PDT

The ability of soils to eliminate N2O can mainly be explained by the diversity and abundance of a new group of micro-organisms that are capable of transforming it into atmospheric nitrogen (N2).


United Nations predicts climate hell in 2050 with imagined weather forecasts

The Guardian

 – ‎September 2, 2014‎


Some, however, show extreme change. One Bulgarian presenter shows a red map with temperatures of 50C (122F) – far above the temperature record for the country of 45.2C (113F) recorded in 1916….


The Gulf Stream kept going during the last Ice Age

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 05:48 AM PDT

The warm Atlantic water continued to flow into the icy Nordic seas during the coldest periods of the last Ice Age. An ice age may sound as a stable period of cold weather, but the name deceives. In the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, the period was characterized by significant climate changes. Cold periods (stadials) switched abruptly to warmer periods (interstadials) and back….



Melting permafrost could worsen water quality in the Rockies

Bob Berwyn September 05, 2014 Rocky Mountain Climate Watch

Heavy metals concentrations are increasing in the Snake River, near Keystone, Colorado, and some scientists think global warming may be a factor.

We may not yet know exactly how global warming will affect all the complex parts of Rocky Mountain ecosystems, but it’s not for lack of trying. Scientists are prodding the soil, counting wildflowers, measuring winds and gauging snowfall nearly every day to unravel the mysteries of the anthropocene, this present-day geological epoch in which humans are having a big impact on the environment.

Take, for example, the Snake River, a medium-size mountain stream near Keystone Ski Area, perhaps one of the most-studied streams in the West. EPA wetlands specialists have poked around in the stream’s muddy wetland headwaters, USGS hydrologists several years ago used tracer chemicals to assess how fast certain substances move downstream and aquatic biologists electroshock parts of the river each year to count fish…. 100 years ago, mountain miners found a big vein of silver in the ore-rich mountains above the rivers. The miners are long since gone, but their toxic legacy lives on. Oozing, acid drainage from the abandoned mine taints the river far downstream. Even several miles below the old mine, caged fish survive for only a few days in the water before the heavy metals, primarily zinc, kill them. In 2010, USGS researchers said there’s a trend of increasing metals concentrations in recent years, especially during low-flow seasons. In some sections of the Snake River, concentrations of heavy metals have increased by as much 400 percent in recent decades. A few years later, another study suggested that global warming may be factor. After ruling out other causes, the scientists said melting permafrost, tucked in among the highest crags in the drainage, could be part of the reason for the rise in pollution, increasing at a rate that threatens to outpace a cleanup effort under way at the mine. USGS researcher Andy Manning emphasizes that the findings are only a hypothesis at this point — it’s hard to know for sure because there’s not a lot baseline permafrost information for the Rocky Mountains, only predictive models that show, based on elevation and aspect, where permafrost should be. When frozen soils thaw (by definition, permafrost is ground that’s frozen year-round), the process creates more passageways for water trickling down the steep slopes and more places where the water comes into contact with the naturally mineralized rocks in the basin, as well as the waste rock around the mine diggings. If melting permafrost is a factor, it could be a big deal across the Rockies and the West, where federal land managers have counted almost 40,000 abandoned mines, many of them in high mountain drainages. Already, more than 5,000 miles of streams and rivers are affected by acid mine drainage. With a surge in metals, the impacts could spread farther downstream….



Greenland’s dark snow may start global warming ‘feedback loop.’

The Independent, United Kingdom September 19 2014

Anyone who has ever slipped over on black ice in the dead of winter will attest to how dangerous it is. But a darkening of the Greenland ice sheet could impact upon the entire world, as the hastening trend reduces the Arctic’s ability to reflect sunlight and increases global warming.


Climate Change Science Aided by Huge but “Invisible” Efforts of Amateurs

Many studies rely on citizen-science data, but few acknowledge it
September 3, 2014 Ithaca, N.Y.—Hundreds of thousands of volunteer data collectors are due for some thanks from scientists, according to a new paper that reveals the role of citizen science in studies of birds and climate change. Data collected by amateurs underpins up to 77 percent of the studies in this field, but that fact is largely invisible by the time the research appears in journals, according to a study published today in the open-access journal PLOS ONE


Tornadoes occurring earlier in ‘Tornado Alley’

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 10:25 AM PDT

Peak tornado activity in the central and southern Great Plains is occurring up to two weeks earlier than it did half a century ago….


Geographic Impacts of Global Change

The University of Stanford’s story map, Geographic Impacts of Global Change: Mapping the Stories of Californians, shows how forces of global change are manifested locally throughout California. Created by Stanford students and educators, scientists, business and government – this story map can be used to inform the public, businesses, and policymakers about human dimensions of environmental change.



Coming on the heels of the ninth wettest summer on record for the U.S. (according to the National Climatic Data Center), continued rain this Drought Monitor week led to minor improvements in drought conditions from the Southwest, through the Southern Plains, and into the Midwest. A near-complete lack of precipitation means drought continues largely unabated through California and along the West Coast. Another week of continued dryness saw drought conditions intensifying across the Hawaiian Islands.



GROUNDWATER: This 3,300 foot crack in the Mexican desert is nothing to worry about

By Amelia Urry 28 Aug 2014 8:30 PM    13 comments

That? Oh, it’s just a spontaneous rift in the surface of our planet. (Déjà vu.) No biggie, right?

That’s what officials in Sonora, where this 3,300-foot-long 25-foot-deep crack in the earth appeared last week, would have you believe. As one geologist told the Washington Post, it’s probably just a “topographic accident”:… the fissure was likely caused by sucking out groundwater for irrigation to the point the surface collapsed. “This is no cause for alarm,” Inocente Guadalupe Espinoza Maldonado said. “These are normal manifestations of the destabilization of the ground.” To which David Manthos of SkyTruth responded: “I’m sorry, no. These are not normal manifestations of natural activity, this is the result of human activity run amok. Just because Cthulhu isn’t clambering out of the breach to wreak havoc on humankind DOES NOT MEAN we shouldn’t be alarmed by the fact we’ve sucked so much water out of the ground that the surface of the earth is collapsing.” Lest you think this is only a problem south of the border, consider the nearby Colorado River Basin. Both areas are subject to huge agricultural pressures and in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the region’s recorded history. The Colorado Basin turns out to be short 53 million acre-feet of freshwater, or twice the total capacity of Lake Mead (which is also not doing great). Three-quarters of that absent H2o are estimated to have been drawn from groundwater reserves, which take centuries to build back up. And when the groundwater goes, the ground starts swallowing huge swaths of itself instead….


Southwest U. S. may face ‘megadrought’ this century

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 09:25 AM PDT

Because of global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decade long drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” — one that lasts over 30 years — ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century. The study by Cornell University, University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey researchers will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. “For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this — we are weighting the dice for megadrought conditions.” As of mid-August, most of California sits in a D4 “exceptional drought,” which is in the most severe category. Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas also loiter between moderate and exceptional drought. Ault says climatologists don’t know whether the severe western and southwestern drought will continue, but he said, “With ongoing climate change, this is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future.” Ault said that the West and Southwest must look for mitigation strategies to cope with looming long-drought scenarios. “This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years and would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region,” he said. In computer models, while California, Arizona and New Mexico will likely face drought, the researchers show the chances for drought in parts of Washington, Montana and Idaho may decrease….


Toby R. Ault et al. Assessing the risk of persistent drought using climate model simulations and paleoclimate data. Journal of Climate, 2014; 140122102410007 DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00282.1

Two California wildfires force hundreds of evacuations, at least 10 homes lost

Christian Science Monitor

September 15 2014


California, now in its third year of a drought, is projected to have its most destructive year of wildfires on record. In all, close to a dozen fires are currently raging across the state.

Nearly 6100 wildfires have burned in California this year, so far about 630 more than in the same period in 2013 and substantially more than the 5 year average according to state and federal fire agencies.


Fast-moving wildfire ‘the most horrible thing’ to ever hit Weed

Kevin Fagan, Kurtis Alexander, Kale Williams SF Gate Updated 8:14 am, Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The charred remains of a home as fire crews continue to battle the Boles Fire in Weed , Calif., on Tuesday Sept. 16, 2014, which started yesterday afternoon. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Weed, Siskiyou County

If not for the winds that blow ceaselessly through this mountain town, the scores of homes that now lie in ashes would be intact and the little fire that kicked up near a creek would already be forgotten.

But wind is what helped build this town when pioneer Abner Weed founded a big mill here more than a century ago – he found the gales were good for drying out logs. And wind is now what has destroyed part of it. The little grass fire that broke out near Boles Creek just east of town at 1:30 p.m. Monday was pushed so fast over Highway 97 and uphill by 45 mph winds that by the time fire crews jumped on it, it had already gobbled several homes. In short order it tore through three neighborhoods, part of an elementary school, several outbuildings at the lumber mill and two churches….









Could Fighting Global Warming Be Cheap and Free?

Paul Krugman, NY Times SEPT. 18, 2014

This just in: Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news? I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.

But you know that such assessments will be met with claims that it’s impossible to break the link between economic growth and ever-rising emissions of greenhouse gases, a position I think of as “climate despair.” The most dangerous proponents of climate despair are on the anti-environmentalist right. But they receive aid and comfort from other groups, including some on the left, who have their own reasons for getting it wrong. Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago……


New York march seeks to be largest climate change event ever. September 19 2014 LA Times

Organizers of the People’s Climate March are expecting anywhere from 100,000 to 400,000 people from more than 1,000 organizations to turn out Sunday and raise their voices ahead of a U.N. summit on climate change Tuesday…..


Crowdsourcing could lead to better water in rural India

Posted: 18 Sep 2014 06:07 AM PDT

A novel environmental crowdsourcing technique for assessing water quality in India is being evaluated by a three-continent research consortium. The technique relies on 53-cent test kits and the nation’s ubiquitous mobile phone service.


Cities Prepare For Climate Change Without Saying So

September 8, 2014 10:16 AM By JOHN FLESHER AP Environmental Writer

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (AP) – With climate change still a political minefield across the nation despite the strong scientific consensus that it’s happening, some community leaders have hit upon a way of preparing for the potentially severe local consequences without triggering explosions of partisan warfare: Just change the subject. Big cities and small towns are shoring up dams and dikes, using roof gardens to absorb rainwater or upgrading sewage treatment plans to prevent overflows. Others are planting urban forests, providing more shady relief from extreme heat. Extension agents are helping farmers deal with an onslaught of newly arrived crop pests. But in many places, especially strongholds of conservative politics, they’re planning for the volatile weather linked to rising temperatures by speaking of “sustainability” or “resilience,” while avoiding no-win arguments with skeptics over whether the planet is warming or that human activity is responsible. The pattern illustrates a growing disconnect between the debate still raging in politics and the reality on the ground. In many city planning departments, it has become like Voldemort, the arch-villain of the Harry Potter stories: It’s the issue that cannot be named. “The messaging needs to be more on being prepared and knowing we’re tending to have more extreme events,” said Graham Brannin, planning director in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Sen. James Inhofe – a global warming denier and author of a book labeling it “The Greatest Hoax” – once served as mayor. “The reasoning behind it doesn’t matter; let’s just get ready….


Washington Times


What Does Climate Adaptation Actually Look Like? Check Out This Awesome …

De Smog Blog (blog)

September 5 2014


A new series looking at the likely impacts of climate change could help companies, politicians, financial planners, entrepreneurs, defence analysts and leaders of various industrial sectors learn how to adapt to the increasing pressures of global warming.


Shutterstock Mitigators gonna mitigate

Preventing climate change and adapting to it are not morally equivalent

By David Roberts GRIST 16 Sep 2014 6:06 AM    50 comments

Climate hawks are familiar with the framing of climate policy credited to White House science advisor John Holdren, to wit: We will respond to climate change with some mix of mitigation, adaptation, and suffering; all that remains to be determined is the mix. It’s a powerful bit of language. It makes clear that not acting is itself a choice — a choice in favor of suffering. But in another way, Holdren’s formulation obscures an important difference between mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent climate effects) and adaptation (changing infrastructure and institutions to cope with climate effects). It makes them sound fungible, as though a unit of either can be traded in for an equivalent unit of suffering. That’s misleading. They are very different, not only on a practical level but morally.

Carbon is global, adaptation is local: With every ton of carbon we emit, we add incrementally to the total concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That total is what determines the effects of climate change. By emitting ton of carbon we are, in a tiny, incremental way, harming all of humanity, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Conversely, however, every ton of carbon emissions we prevent or eliminate benefits, in a tiny, incremental way, all of humanity, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Say I pay $10 to reduce carbon by a ton. I bear the full cost, but because all of humanity benefits, I receive only one seven-billionth of the value of my investment (give or take).

In other words, mitigation is fundamentally altruistic, other-focused.

In fact, I’ve understated the altruism. Remember the famous carbon time lag: Carbon emitted today affects temperatures 30 (or so) years from now. So mitigation today doesn’t actually benefit humanity today; it benefits humanity 30 years in the future, when the carbon that would have been emitted would have wrought its effects. It benefits people who are both spatially and temporally distant. That’s almost pure altruism. (Note:  I’m putting aside the present-day co-benefits of mitigation policies. Obviously they are important! And I’ll get to them in a minute. But for now I’m talking purely about reducing carbon for climate’s sake.)

Adaptation is nearly the opposite. It is action taken to protect oneself, one’s own city, tribe, or nation, from the effects of unchecked climate change. An adaptation dollar does not benefit all of humanity like a mitigation dollar does. It benefits only those proximate to the spender. A New Yorker who spends a dollar on mitigation is disproportionately preventing suffering among future Bangladeshis. A New Yorker who spends a dollar on a sea wall is preventing suffering only among present and future New Yorkers. The benefits of adaptation, as an iterative process that will continue as long as the climate keeps changing, are both spatially and temporally local. One obvious implication of this difference is that, to the extent spending favors adaptation over mitigation, it will replicate and reinforce existing inequalities of wealth and power. The benefits will accrue to those with the money to pay for them….






CA Legislature OKs big changes: plastic bags ban, groundwater rules

Legislature passes flurry of bills before the holiday

Melody Gutierrez Updated 5:28 pm, Saturday, August 30, 2014 Sacramento

Historic and controversial groundwater management rules and a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags were among the bills the California Legislature approved during a marathon session Friday that ended early Saturday morning….Passed by the Legislature before its two-year session ended included:

A measure to make California the first state in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags. SB270 passed despite fierce opposition from plastic bag manufacturers and after initially failing an Assembly vote last week. Brown has until Sept. 30 to act on the bill. Many cities and counties already have local bag ordinances, including San Francisco. The bill by Senate Democrats phases out the use of plastic bags, beginning at grocery stores and pharmacies in July 2015 and the next year at convenience stores and liquor stores. “A throw-away society is not sustainable,” Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima (Los Angeles County), one of the bill’s authors, said in a statement. “SB270 will greatly reduce the flow of billions of single-use plastic bags that are discarded throughout our state. This is good for California and reflects our values as a state that cares about the environment, sea life and wildlife.”

The Legislature approved two bills that put California in line with other states by regulating groundwater in an effort to address harmful over-drafting, particularly during the state’s drought. The bills – AB1739 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, and SB1168 by Sen. Fran Pavely, D-Agoura Hills (Los Angeles County) – were opposed by Republicans and Central Valley Democrats, who said the legislation wasn’t properly vetted and threatened a century of water rights rulings in the state. The bills would require priority groundwater basins to become sustainable by 2040. “We can all agree groundwater regulation is important,” said Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno. “I am disappointed we could not come to an agreement that takes the needs of every region into account. The costs of implementing this bill will be enormous and reach into the billions.”…




Bills to modernize California’s water system pass Legislature

August 29, 2014 SACRAMENTO – The California Senate gave final approval Thursday to legislation by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) to encourage the capture and reuse of stormwater, one of a series of bills designed to create more reliable water supplies and make California’s water system more sustainable. “In the face of climate change and intensifying droughts, California can’t rely on the same water strategies,” Senator Pavley said. “Capturing and reusing stormwater, before it flows to the ocean, is a smart way to save this precious resource.” …



Protecting Antarctic Marine Ecosystems: From Anemones to Whales

Posted by Claire Christian of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition in Ocean Views on September 17, 2014

Antarctic Anemone, Ross Sea. Photo copyright John Weller.

Over the past few years, I’ve written a lot about efforts to create marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean. For someone like me, who works on these issues and studies the Antarctic environment, the justification for MPAs is obvious. Antarctic ecosystems are bursting with incredible marine life, much of which we have yet to study in depth. Setting aside some of these remarkable habitats would benefit science as well as the ecosystems themselves. But many people don’t get to see the Southern Ocean I see. They may not have heard that new species are discovered there all the time. Or that early scientific predictions that Antarctic biodiversity would be low have definitively been proven false. After learning about the surprisingly diverse fauna of this region, I have developed a deep appreciation for them, particularly for often overlooked species like salps and glass sponges. They may lack the glamor of penguins, whales, and seals, but they too play critical ecosystem roles. Even iconic species may be known mostly for being photogenic, even though they have other impressive attributes.

To help get the word out about why MPAs in the Antarctic are so important, we decided to embark on a project profiling some of our favorite Antarctic species. It is often said in the environmental community that people will only protect what they love. Every day for the next 33 days, my organization and our partners in the Antarctic Ocean Alliance will post about a different animal, giving everyone an excellent opportunity to know these creatures better. It’s kind of like when a magazine or newspaper publishes a list of the most influential or beautiful people, but with more interesting subjects.

Why 33? This fall, the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) will hold its 33rd annual meeting. As in previous years, the designation of MPAs in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica will be discussed. CCAMLR committed to the creation a network of Southern Ocean MPAs several years ago. Unfortunately, since then the 25 Members of CCAMLR (24 countries and the EU) have gotten embroiled in debates about territorial claims and monitoring plans, instead of fulfilling their commitment. The 33 Species project aims to ensure that the focus of discussions about Southern Ocean MPAs stays where it belongs: on Antarctic marine ecosystems and the species that depend on them.



Hillary: ‘Climate Change Is Most Urgent, Consequential Challenge We Face’

by Robert Wilde 5 Sep 2014

On Thursday at Harry Reid’s annual energy conference in Las Vegas, Hillary Clinton said, “Climate change is the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face.”

The former Secretary of State and the likely 2016 Democratic frontrunner for president added, “The threat is real, and so is the opportunity… if we make the hard choices.”

According to the National Journal, Clinton offered her support for President Obama’s climate action plan and EPA rules to restrict power plant emissions. Moreover, she espoused the great potential for renewable energy sources and made no mention of the Keystone XL pipeline. Clinton envisions America as the “clean energy superpower of the 21st century.”

The majority of Clinton’s address centered on foreign policy, the Journal reported. The former First Lady emphasized that the U.S. needs to strengthen its international agreements to combat climate change and called for a “strong agreement, applicable to all.”

Clinton is optimistic that a strong agreement can be reached now that Obama’s climate action plan is in place. Clinton proudly stated that the U.S. can now “show the world we are serious about meeting our obligations and show… the U.S. can still do big things.” …



On Climate, a Younger Bush’s Ideas Stray From Party Ideology

By NEENA SATIJA NY Times AUG. 30, 2014

George P. Bush, a son of former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, is running for land commissioner in Texas. Credit Todd Wiseman/The Texas Tribune

AUSTIN, Tex. — On the campaign trail in Texas for a little-known statewide office, George P. Bush is generally toeing the Republican Party line: He is attacking the federal health care overhaul, decrying abortion and championing gun rights. But it is environmental policy that will be under his purview if, as expected, he wins his race to be the state’s next land commissioner in November. Last week, in his first in-depth interview on the topic nearly a year and a half into his campaign, the son of former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, nephew of former President George W. Bush and grandson of former President George H. W. Bush sounded like anything but the Tea Party conservatives with whom he has aligned himself. For starters, the younger Mr. Bush thinks climate change is a serious threat to Texas, though he stopped short of definitively attributing a hotter and drier state to human activity. “I think people can agree that there has been warming in recent years,” Mr. Bush, a 38-year-old energy consultant, said.

He added that the vulnerability of the Gulf Coast to storms, which he said is worsened by climate change-related problems like sea-level rise and coastal erosion, “honestly keeps me up at night.”…


Tom Steyer’s $1 million offer to pro-environment candidates

SFGate ‎- September 1, 2014

Steyer says he’ll pour $1 million into legislative races in California this fall…


From sea to shining sea, politics divide coastal residents’ views of environment

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 09:37 AM PDT

From the salmon-rich waters of Southeast Alaska to the white sand beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast to Downeast Maine’s lobster, lumber and tourist towns, coastal residents around the US share a common characteristic: their views about coastal environments divide along political lines…


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