Conservation Science News December 19, 2014



Focus of the Week – Is a Two Degree C Limit on Global Warming Off Target?










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Focus of the WeekIs a Two Degree C Limit on Global Warming Off Target?


Icebergs near Greenland’s glaciers, which are speeding up as the climate warms. Credit Kadir van Lohuizen for The New York Times


3.6 Degrees [F] of Uncertainty

Justin Gillis, NY Times, DEC. 15, 2014



After two weeks of grinding meetings in Lima, Peru, the world’s climate negotiators emerged this weekend with a deal. They settled on preliminary language, to be finalized a year from now in Paris, meant to help keep the long-term warming of the planet below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.


That upper boundary was first settled on four years ago at another round of talks in Cancun, Mexico. On the centigrade scale, it equals two degrees above the global average temperature at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution — the “2C target.”


But where did that target come from in the first place? And even if we manage to stay below it, will it really protect the planet from serious harm?


The target has a long, winding history that is rooted as much in politics and economics as in science. It first surfaced in the 1970s when William D. Nordhaus, an economist at Yale who was studying global warming, pointed out in his then-rough models of the economy that the damages to society really started to intensify at that level of warming.

The nations of the world agreed in 1992 to try to head off the worst damage, in an ambitious but vague treaty that called for action to prevent dangerous interference with the climate. That raised the question of how much warming would be dangerous. In the mid-1990s, the German government picked up on the 2C finding as a way to breathe life into the treaty.

A decade of subsequent research added scientific support to the notion that 2C was a dangerous threshold. Experts realized, for example, that at some increase in global temperature, the immense Greenland ice sheet would begin an unstoppable melt, raising the sea by as much as 23 feet over an unknown period. Their early calculations suggested that calamity would be unlikely as long as global warming did not exceed about 1.9 degrees Celsius. “Risking a loss of the whole Greenland ice sheet was considered a no-go area,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, head of earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “We are talking about really sinking a lot of coastal cities.”

As the economic and scientific arguments accumulated, the Germans managed to persuade other countries to adopt the 2C target, turning it into official European policy. The proposal was always controversial, with African countries and island states, in particular, arguing that it was too much warming and would condemn them to ruin. The island states cited the potential for a large rise of the sea, and African countries feared severe effects on food production, among other problems.

But as a practical matter, the 2C target seemed the most ambitious possible, since it would require virtually ending fossil fuel emissions within 30 to 40 years. At Cancun in 2010, climate delegates made 2C one of the organizing principles of negotiations. The talks culminating in Paris next year are seen as perhaps the best chance ever to turn that pledge into meaningful emissions limits, in part because President Obama has gone far beyond his predecessors in committing the United States, the largest historical producer of greenhouse gases, to action. That, in turn, has lured China, the largest current producer, into making its first serious commitments.

Yet even as the 2C target has become a touchstone for the climate talks, scientific theory and real-world observations have begun to raise serious questions about whether the target is stringent enough. For starters, the world has already warmed by almost one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. That may sound modest, but as a global average, it is actually substantial. For any amount of global warming, the ocean, which covers 70 percent of the earth’s surface and absorbs considerable heat, will pull down the average. But the warming over land tends to be much greater, and the warming in some polar regions greater still.

The warming that has already occurred is causing enormous damage all over the planet, from dying forests to collapsing sea ice to savage heat waves to torrential rains. And scientists realize they may have underestimated the vulnerability of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Those ice sheets now appear to be in the early stages of breaking up. For instance, Greenland’s glaciers have lately been spitting icebergs into the sea at an accelerated pace, and scientific papers published this year warned that the melting in parts of Antarctica may already be unstoppable.

“The climate is now out of equilibrium with the ice sheets,” said Andrea Dutton, a geochemist at the University of Florida who studies global sea levels. “They are going to melt.”

That could ultimately mean 30 feet, or even more, of sea level rise, though scientists have no clear idea of how fast that could happen. They hope it would take thousands of years, but cannot rule out a faster rise that might overwhelm the ability of human society to adapt. Given the consequences already evident, can the 2C target really be viewed as safe? Frightened by what they are seeing, some countries, especially the low-lying island states, have been pressing that question with fresh urgency lately.

So, even as the world’s climate policy diplomats work on a plan that incorporates the 2C goal, they have enlisted scientists in a major review of whether it is strict enough. Results are due this summer, and if the reviewers recommend a lower target, that could add a contentious dimension to the climate negotiations in Paris next year. Barring a technological miracle, or a mobilization of society on a scale unprecedented in peacetime, it is not at all clear how a lower target could be met.

Some experts think a stricter target could even backfire. If 2C already seems hard to achieve, with the world on track for levels of warming far beyond that, setting a tighter limit might prompt political leaders to throw up their hands in frustration. In practice, moreover, a tighter temperature limit would not alter the advice that scientists have been giving to politicians for decades about cutting emissions. Their recommendation is simple and blunt: Get going now.

“Dealing with this is a little bit like saving for retirement,” said Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University. “All delay is costly, but it helps whenever you start.”


What happens if we overshoot the two degree [C] target for limiting global warming?


Posted on 18 December 2014 by Guest Author This is a re-post from Carbon Brief by Roz Pidcock


Two degrees [Celsius] is the internationally-agreed target for limiting global warming, and has a long history in climate policy circles. Ambition that we can still achieve it is running high as climate negotiators gather in Lima to lay the groundwork for a potential global deal in 2015.


But against this optimistic backdrop, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. With each passing year the scale of the task looms ever larger.  There are very real questions about whether or not the world will be able to stay below the two degree limit.


So what happens if we fail to meet the two degree target? What would it mean to resign ourselves to a post-two degree world? And if not two degrees, then what?….

For international climate policy purposes, it makes sense to think in terms of the climate damages expected at different degrees of warming.

As temperatures rise, so do the risks

Two degrees above pre-industrial temperature has been agreed by countries as an appropriate threshold beyond which climate change risks become unacceptably high….

Three Degrees

Four Degrees

A continuum, not a precipice

Two degrees is an appropriate middle ground between what we can no longer avoid and the level of further risk we’re willing to accept, Levermann suggests.

“We can’t really keep to one degree target anymore … At three degrees warming, Greenland is going to vanish and corals are going to be largely extinct … I would personally argue three degrees is too much and one degree is no longer achievable so two degrees is a reasonable target, but that is for society to decide.”

But setting two degrees as a boundary into “dangerous” climate change only works as a political target if its understood as a point along a continuum, not as a climate precipice, Levermann warns.

In other words, failing on the two degree target doesn’t mean we should all give up and go home. But admitting defeat means accepting a greater level of risk – and at that point preventing temperatures straying too far above two degrees should be paramount.

As to what counts as unacceptably high risk, that comes down to a judgement call, Betts concludes:

“How much these changes ‘matter’ or not is largely a matter of personal values and ethics … [W]e have to judge whether we think the benefits to ourselves are worth the risks to other species or future generations of our own.”

Only a few years on since countries agreed on two degrees as an appropriate level of climate ambition, it’s important to remember the science that underpins the agreement. As Professor Rowan Sutton told a Royal Society meeting this week, decision-making on climate comes down to our appetite for risk. Any decision to expose ourselves to higher climate risk should at least be a conscious and deliberate one, if not necessarily a prudent one.









Earth faces sixth ‘great extinction’ with 41% of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo

Analysis for prestigious Nature magazine sounds alarm on the way that human activity, from overfishing to agriculture, is forcing a vast number of species to vanish from the wild

A Tasmanian tiger in captivity, circa 1930, shortly before the species became extinct. Photograph: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Robin McKie, science editor Saturday 13 December 2014 19.05 EST

A stark depiction of the threat hanging over the world’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other life forms has been published by the prestigious scientific journal, Nature. A special analysis carried out by the journal indicates that a staggering 41% of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction while 26% of mammal species and 13% of birds are similarly threatened. Many species are already critically endangered and close to extinction, including the Sumatran elephant, Amur leopard and mountain gorilla. But also in danger of vanishing from the wild, it now appears, are animals that are currently rated as merely being endangered: bonobos, bluefin tuna and loggerhead turtles, for example. In each case, the finger of blame points directly at human activities. The continuing spread of agriculture is destroying millions of hectares of wild habitats every year, leaving animals without homes, while the introduction of invasive species, often helped by humans, is also devastating native populations. At the same time, pollution and overfishing are destroying marine ecosystems….



Water being released from Morelos Dam in the first environmental release of water to the Colorado River Delta. The Minute 319 pulse flow of water started March 23, 2014 and ended May 18, 2014. Credit: Rebecca Lester, Deakin University, Australia

Colorado River Delta greener after engineered pulse of water

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 11:11 AM PST

The engineered spring flood that brought water to previously dry reaches of the lower Colorado River and its delta resulted in greener vegetation, the germination of new vegetation along the river and a temporary rise in the water table, according to new results from the binational team of scientists studying the water’s effects…. Although most of the water soaked into the ground in the 37 miles (60 km) below the dam, the river’s surface flow reached areas farther downstream that had been targeted for restoration. The increase in groundwater revived vegetation along the entire 83-mile (134 km) route to the sea. By comparing Landsat 8 satellite images from August 2013 with those from August 2014, team members calculated a 23 percent increase in the greenness of riparian zone vegetation. Although the groundwater did eventually recede, the surface water caused the germination of new willows and cottonwoods. Those plants germinate after natural spring floods, and their roots can grow fast enough to keep up with the receding water table. The surface water reached the restoration sites prepared by the Sonoran Institute and Pronatura Noroeste and helped establish native vegetation.

“So long as the roots get down into the permanent water table, then you have established a new bunch of trees that will then live for 20, 30, 40 years,” Flessa said. “Those trees will attract birds.”

The scientists already observed an increase in the numbers of birds, he said. Learning where the newly germinated plants survived past the first summer will help the researchers figure out where ecosystem restoration will do the most good using the least amount of water, he said. “The water that soaked into the ground is also good for the farmers,” Flessa said. “It raises the water table and they pump that water — so this isn’t just about trees and birds.”…



National model of restoration: Nine Mile Run

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 10:14 AM PST

A study by a hydrologist shows that one of the largest urban-stream restorations in the United States has led to the recovery of fish and, more importantly, a groundswell of local support. Nine Mile Run, which is part of a watershed that drains 6.5 square miles of land, had been truly abused by urbanization and industrialization. Toxins leached into the creek from a slag heap left over from the steelmaking process, sewer lines discharged into the water, and so much of the waterway had been buried in culverts or diverted from its natural path that Nine Mile Run had become toxic. The restoration project involved rerouting the creek to a natural pathway, reestablishing flora, creating areas to catch floodwater, and building natural “slash piles” and “snags” from cut-down trees to create bird and animal habitats...



Waters Warm, and Cod Catch Ebbs in Maine

Warming Oceans Affects Fishing Industry


PORTLAND, Me. — In the vast gulf that arcs from Massachusetts’s shores to Canada’s Bay of Fundy, cod was once king. It paid for fishermen’s boats, fed their families and put their children through college. In one halcyon year in the mid-1980s, the codfish catch reached 25,000 tons.

Today, the cod population has collapsed. Last month, regulators effectively banned fishing for six months while they pondered what to do, and next year, fishermen will be allowed to catch just a quarter of what they could before the ban. But a fix may not be easy. The Gulf of Maine’s waters are warming — faster than almost any ocean waters on earth, scientists say — and fish are voting with their fins for cooler places to live. That is upending an ecosystem and the fishing industry that depends on it. “Stocks are not necessarily showing up in the places that they have in the past,” said Meredith Mendelson, the deputy commissioner for Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, which regulates fisheries. “We’re seeing movement of stocks often north and eastward.” Regulators this month canceled the Maine shrimp catch for the second straight year, in no small part because shrimp are fleeing for colder climes. Maine lobsters are booming, but even so, the most productive lobster fishery has shifted as much as 50 miles up the coast in the last 40 years. Black sea bass, southerly fish seldom seen here before, have become so common that this year, Maine officials moved to regulate their catch. Blue crab, a signature species in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, are turning up off Portland. In decades past, the gulf had warmed on average by about one degree every 21 years. In the last decade, the average has been one degree every two years. “What we’re experiencing is a warming that very few ocean ecosystems have ever experienced,” said Andrew J. Pershing, the chief scientific officer for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute here. A warmer ocean is not merely a matter of comfort or discomfort for creatures that dwell there. Scientists suspect that some species struggle to spawn when the temperature fluctuates. Others may spawn at the wrong time when food is scarce. Freshwater from melting arctic glaciers may be altering levels of minerals crucial to plankton, the base of the gulf’s food chain. There is a human toll as well. Cod-fishing restrictions have ravaged, at least temporarily, the community of day boats — the ones owned by small-business fishermen, with smaller boats and incomes than corporate trawler fleets — that defined New England for centuries. …..



Abundance of microplastics in the world’s deep seas

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 06:22 PM PST

Around four billion minute fibers could be littering each square kilometer of some of the world’s deep seas, according to a new study...


Crows are smarter than you think: Crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced rational thinking

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 10:14 AM PST

Crows have the brain power to solve higher-order, relational-matching tasks, and they can do so spontaneously, according to new research. That means crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced relational thinking, according to the research.



First-ever Reserves Established to Protect Brazil’s Araripe Manakin
Critically Endangered Bird Survives on Only 11 Square Miles

Washington, D.C., December 15, 2014

The first-ever bird reserves have been created for the critically endangered Araripe Manakin, a six-inch bird only discovered in 1996 that numbers fewer than 800 individuals and survives in the smallest of areas – 11 square miles – in northeastern Brazil.

The reserves were made possible by the purchase of one parcel of land encompassing 140 acres and through a formal agreement with a neighboring landowner, who designated 27 acres of his land as a fully protected area. Both actions were carried out by Aquasis, a Brazilian conservation organization that has led the effort to protect the species, and through support from American Bird Conservancy (ABC), an organization that leads bird conservation efforts across the Americas….



This is the holotype of Eohupehsuchus brevicollis, WGSC V26003.Credit: Motani et al.; CC-BY

Short-necked Triassic marine reptile discovered in China

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 12:40 PM PST

A new species of short-necked marine reptile from the Triassic period has been discovered in China.


Willow Trees Are Cost-Efficient Cleaners of Contaminated Soil



Dec. 12, 2014 — Using broad-leaved trees such as willow trees in the phytoremediation of contaminated soils constitutes a cost-efficient method for restoring mining areas and landfills, according to new research. … full story







Global carbon dioxide emissions increase to new all-time record, but growth is slowing down

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 04:44 AM PST

2013 saw global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use and cement production reach a new all-time high. This was mainly due to the continuing steady increase in energy use in emerging economies over the past ten years.  However, emissions increased at a notably slower rate (2%) than on average in the last ten years (3.8% per year since 2003, excluding the credit crunch years).
This slowdown, which began in 2012, signals a further decoupling of global emissions and economic growth, which reflects mainly the lower emissions growth rate of China. China, the USA and the EU remain the top-3 emitters of CO2, accounting for respectively 29%, 15% and 11% of the world’s total. After years of a steady decline, the CO2 emissions of the United States grew by 2.5% in 2013, whereas in the EU emissions continued to decrease, by 1.4% in 2013. These are the main findings in the annual report ‘Trends in global CO2 emissions’, released today by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the JRC. The report is based on recent results from the joint JRC/PBL Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), the latest statistics on energy use and various other activities. In 2013, global CO2 emissions grew to the new record of 35.3 billion tonnes (Gt). Sharp risers include Brazil (+ 6.2%), India (+ 4.4%), China (+ 4.2%) and Indonesia (+2.3%). The much lower emissions increase in China of 4.2% in 2013 and 3.4% in 2012 was primarily due to a decline in electricity and fuel demand from the basic materials industry, and aided by an increase in renewable energy and by energy efficiency improvements. The emissions increase in the United States in 2013 (+2.5%) was mainly due to a shift in power production from gas back to coal together with an increase in gas consumption due to a higher demand for space heating….


2014 will be the hottest year on record

By John Abraham & December 18, 2014

For those of us fixated on whether 2014 will be the hottest year on record, the results are in. At least, we know enough that we can make the call. According the global data from NOAA, 2014 will be the hottest year ever recorded…..




Annapolis, Maryland, pictured here in 2012, is one of three major East Coast urban areas already being faced with nuisance flooding in excess of 30 days per year.Credit: With permission from Amy McGovern

‘Tipping points’ for sea level rise related flooding determined

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 12:45 PM PST

By 2050, a majority of US coastal areas are likely to be threatened by 30 or more days of flooding each year due to dramatically accelerating impacts from sea level rise, according to a new study.… Based on that standard, the NOAA team found that these tipping points will be met or exceeded by 2050 at most of the U.S. coastal areas studied, regardless of sea level rise likely to occur this century. In their study, Sweet and Park used a 1½ to 4 foot set of recent projections for global sea level rise by year 2100 similar to the rise projections of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, but also accounting for local factors such as the settlement of land, known as subsidence.

These regional tipping points will be surpassed in the coming decades in areas with more frequent storms, the report said. These tipping points will be also be exceeded in areas where local sea levels rise more than the global projection of one and half to four feet. This also includes coastal areas like Louisiana where subsidence, which is not a result of by climate change, is causing land to sink below sea level. NOAA tide gauges show the annual rate of daily floods reaching these levels has drastically increased — often accelerating — and are now five to ten times more likely today than they were 50 years ago.

“Coastal communities are beginning to experience sunny-day nuisance or urban flooding, much more so than in decades past,” said Sweet. “This is due to sea level rise. Unfortunately, once impacts are noticed, they will become commonplace rather quickly. We find that in 30 to 40 years, even modest projections of global sea level rise — 1½ feet by the year 2100 — will increase instances of daily high tide flooding to a point requiring an active, and potentially costly response, and by the end of this century, our projections show that there will be near-daily nuisance flooding in most of the locations that we reviewed.”

“Communities across the country become increasingly vulnerable to water inundation and flooding, effective risk management is going to become more heavily reliant on environmental data and analysis,” said Holly Bamford, Ph.D., NOAA acting assistant secretary for conservation and management. “Businesses, coastal managers, federal, state, and local governments, and non-governmental organizations can use research such as this as another tool as they develop plans to reduce vulnerabilities, adapt to change, and ensure they’re resilient against future events.” “The importance of this research is that it draws attention to the largely neglected part of the frequency of these events. This frequency distribution includes a hazard level referred to as ‘nuisance’: occasionally costly to clean up, but never catastrophic or perhaps newsworthy,” said Earth’s Future editor Michael Ellis in accepting the paper for the online journal….

Along the Pacific coast the earlier impacts will be most visible in the San Diego/La Jolla and San Francisco Bay areas. Mitigation decisions could range from retreating further inland to coastal fortification or to a combination of “green” infrastructure using both natural resources such as dunes and wetland, along with “gray” human-made infrastructure such as sea walls and redesigned storm water systems.

IPCC Synthesis Report: Connecting Causes and Impacts of Climate Change

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2014) Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report.

SUMMARY for Policymakers (pdf):

Here’s what we know about climate change in a nutshell:

  • Human influence on the climate system is clear
  • Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems
  • Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

These are the conclusions of the latest assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, summarized in the Synthesis Report released a few weeks ago. The Synthesis Report ties together themes from three earlier Working Group reports. The report is organized into four topics, summarized as follows:

  • Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.
  • Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.
  • Adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change. Substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term, and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.
  • Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and cooperation at all scales, and can be enhanced through integrated responses that link adaptation and mitigation with other societal objectives.


Glacier beds can get slipperier at higher sliding speeds

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 11:07 AM PST

Scientists have found that as a glacier’s sliding speed increases, the bed beneath the glacier can grow slipperier. That laboratory finding could help researchers make better predictions of glacier response to climate change and the corresponding sea-level rise...


Satellites measure increase of Sun’s energy absorbed in the Arctic

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 12:41 PM PST

NASA satellite instruments have observed a marked increase in solar radiation absorbed in the Arctic since the year 2000 –– a trend that aligns with the steady decrease in Arctic sea ice during the same period.


Fire Sweeps Up, South Flank, Rim Fire. Credit: Mike McMillan – USFS

Even in restored forests, extreme weather strongly influences wildfire’s impacts

December 17, 2014

The 2013 Rim Fire, the largest wildland fire ever recorded in the Sierra Nevada region, is still fresh in the minds of Californians, as is the urgent need to bring forests back to a more resilient condition. Land managers are using fire as a tool to mimic past fire conditions, restore fire-dependent forests, and reduce fuels in an effort to lessen the potential for large, high-intensity fires, like the Rim Fire. A study led by the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW) and recently published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management examined how the Rim Fire burned through forests with restored fire regimes in Yosemite National Park to determine whether they were as resistant to high-severity fire as many scientists and land managers expected.

Since the late 1960s, land managers in Yosemite National Park have used prescribed fire and let lower intensity wildland fires burn in an attempt to bring back historical fire regimes after decades of fire suppression. For this study, researchers seized a unique opportunity to study data on forest structure and fuels collected in 2009 and 2010 in Yosemite’s old-growth, mixed-conifer forests that had previously burned at low to moderate severity. Using post-Rim Fire data and imagery, researchers found that areas burned on days the Rim Fire was dominated by a large pyro-convective plume — a powerful column of smoke, gases, ash, and other debris — burned at moderate to high severity regardless of the number of prior fires, topography, or forest conditions.

“The specific conditions leading to large plume formation are unknown, but what is clear from many observations is that these plumes are associated with extreme burning conditions,” says Jamie Lydersen, PSW biological science technician and the study’s lead author. “Plumes often form when atmospheric conditions are unstable, and result in erratic fire behavior driven by its own local effect on surface wind and temperatures that override the influence of more generalized climate factors measured at nearby weather stations.”

When the extreme conditions caused by these plumes subsided during the Rim Fire, other factors influenced burn severity. “There was a strong influence of elapsed time since the last burn, where forests that experienced fire within the last 14 years burned mainly at low severity in the Rim Fire. Lower elevation areas and those with greater shrub cover tended to burn at higher severity,” says Lydersen.

When driven by extreme weather, which often coincides with wildfires that escape initial containment efforts, fires can severely burn large swaths of forest regardless of ownership and fire history. These fires may only be controlled if more forests across the landscape have been managed for fuel reduction to allow early stage suppression before weather- and fuels-driven fire intensity makes containment impossible. Coordination of fire management activities by land management agencies across jurisdictions could favor burning under more moderate weather conditions when wildfires start and reduce the occurrences of harmful, high-intensity fires.


Lydersen, J.M.; North, M.P.; Collins, B.M. Severity of an uncharacteristically large wildfire, the Rim Fire, in forests with relatively restored frequent fire regimes. Forest Ecology and Management, 2014; 328, 326-334 [link]


Temperature Records Occur in Clusters

December 15, 2014

Studying the details of temperature fluctuations is essential to understanding how both individual organisms and whole ecoregions will adapt under climate change. But many studies could be missing an important nuance. Most studies examining long-term changes in temperature tend to focus on trends in the mean, or average temperature, as well as on the highest of the high and the lowest of the low temperatures. In fact, a paper by CIRC researcher John Abatzoglou (University of Idaho), highlighted in the October CIRCulator, did just that for the Northwest, finding large increases in the coldest day of the year. Now a new study by Abatzoglou takes a different approach, examining the highest of the lows and the lowest of the highs. The Abatzoglou study used data from 1,218 US Historical Climate Network stations from across the contiguous U.S. for the period 1920 to 2013. Nearly half of the stations had their highest maximum daily temperature (TMAX) in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl. During the same period, over a quarter of the stations also had their highest minimum daily temperature (TMIN). Nearly 25 percent of highest TMAX records were set in a single month, July 1936, primarily at stations across the Great Plains and Midwestern U.S. (The records coincide with low soil moisture and broad-scale ridging.) Over 8 percent of the lowest TMAX records occurred in January 1985, coinciding with a cold-air outbreak that brought record low temperatures to the southeastern U.S. and widespread impacts to the Florida citrus crop. The period 2000–2013 was remarkable for its lack of lowest records (1 percent), and it had a moderate number of highest records (10 percent). Employing 20 global climate models, Abatzoglou then examined the evolution of absolute temperature records through the mid-21st century under the high-end greenhouse gas scenario, Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP 8.5). The simulations showed a continued increase in the prevalence of the highest TMAX and decreases in lowest TMIN through the mid-21st century. Approximately half of all highest records for the period through 2049 occurred in the last decade of model simulations. By contrast, the occurrence of the lowest records declined in the 21st century with just 2 percent of such records occurring in the last decade of the period analyzed. In other words, high temperatures are expected to get higher and low temperatures are also expected to get higher. It’s still to be seen what this means for how organisms and ecosystems might adapt to these changes.

Abatzoglou, J.T., R. Barbero (2014) Observed and projected changes in absolute temperature records across the contiguous United States, Geophysical Research Letters, 41, 6501–6508. doi:10.1002/2014GL061441.

How will climate change transform agriculture?

December 18, 2014

Climate change impacts will require major but very uncertain transformations of global agriculture systems by mid-century, according to new research from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Climate change will require major transformations in agricultural systems, including increased irrigation and moving production from one region to another, according to the new study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. However without careful planning for uncertain climate impacts, the chances of getting adaptation wrong are high, the study shows. The new study by IIASA researchers provides a global scenario analysis that covers nine different climate scenarios, 18 crops and 4 crop management systems, as well as the interactions between crop production, consumption, prices, and trade. It specifically examines adaptations that are investment-intensive and not easily reversible, such as building new water management infrastructure for irrigation, or increases and decreases to the production capacity of a region. Such “transformations” the researchers say, need to be anticipated, but their implementation is particularly plagued by uncertainty.

Leclere D, Havlik P, Fuss S, Schmid E, Mosnier A, Walsh B, Valin H, Herrero M, Khabarov N, and Obersteiner M. 2014. Climate change induced transformations of agricultural systems: insights from a global model. Environmental Research Letters.


Damming beavers are slowly changing the world: Growing beaver population affecting methane gas emissions

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 05:25 AM PST

There are consequences of the successful efforts worldwide to save beavers from extinction. Along with the strong increase in their population over the past 100 years, these furry aquatic rodents have built many more ponds, establishing vital aquatic habitat. In doing so, however, they have created conditions for climate changing methane gas to be generated in this shallow standing water, and the gas is subsequently released into the atmosphere. In fact, 200 times more of this greenhouse gas is released from beaver ponds today than was the case around the year 1900, estimates an expert.


Colin J. Whitfield, Helen M. Baulch, Kwok P. Chun, Cherie J. Westbrook. Beaver-mediated methane emission: The effects of population growth in Eurasia and the Americas. AMBIO, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s13280-014-0575-y




Rangelands and Climate Change Warmer Temperatures Could Boost Plant Growth on Rangelands

December 15, 2014

East of the Cascade mountains, hundreds of thousands of cattle graze the vast rangelands. This economically vital agricultural region of the Pacific Northwest could become more productive as a result of climate change, a new study finds. Climate models show that rangelands in the interior West — including eastern Oregon and Washington as well as southern Idaho — would experience the greatest increases in productivity, according to the study by the Rocky Mountain Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service. Matthew Reeves and colleagues compared the conversion of CO2 into plant growth under four climate scenarios as measured by “net primary production” (NPP) of rangelands across the continental United States. Specifically, the study estimated that production would initially decrease in the first half of the 21st century but rebound and increase by more than 25 percent from historical levels by century’s end. These gains in net primary production seem to result from projected increases in “CO2 fertilization” — that is, enhanced growth resulting from higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Lab studies have attributed this extra growth to greater efficiency of water use. In other areas of the United States, precipitation is the most likely driver of increased growth, particularly in the prairies of Montana and the Dakotas to the north; Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma to the south; and Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas to the east. In the Southwest rangelands, on the other hand, increasing temperature is likely to drive losses of production. What this may mean for rangeland management, particularly for grazing, is unclear. The paper cites other studies suggesting that increased NPP could raise carrying capacity for grazing in areas of Australia by more than 40 percent, while other studies contend that overall carrying capacity could decline even with increased NPP because of other limiting factors such as plant nitrogen production. Also note that the study does not consider other factors impacting rangelands, including how pests (such as grasshoppers) or invasive species (such as cheat grass) will respond to future climate conditions.

Reeves, M.C., A.L. Moreno, K.E. Bagne (2014) Estimating climate change effects on net primary production of rangelands in the United States, Climatic Change, 126:429.

Massive study provides first detailed look at how Greenland’s ice is vanishing

Posted: 15 Dec 2014 12:45 PM PST

Scientists used NASA satellite and aerial data to reconstruct how the ice sheet changed at nearly 100,000 locations over many years.



Birds heard deadly storms coming and escaped before they hit

By Michael Casey CBS News December 18, 2014, 2:53 PM

Much as humans have early warning systems to predict tornadoes and hurricanes, birds are showing they have their own ways of sidestepping deadly super storms.

Researchers studying golden-winged warblers found that they flew 932 miles out of their way — from Tennessee down to Florida and as far away as Cuba — to escape an incoming a powerful storm in April that spawned dozen of tornadoes and killed 35 people. “It is the first time we’ve documented this type of storm avoidance behavior in birds during breeding season,” said Henry Streby, a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. “We know that birds can alter their route to avoid things during regular migration, but it hadn’t been shown until our study that they would leave once the migration is over and they’d established their breeding territory to escape severe weather,” said Streby, who co-authored a study on the findings that appeared Thursday’s issue of Current Biology.



The Rufa red knot (a shorebird) named “Moonbird,” or “B95,” photographed in a crowd of birds at Fortescue, NJ. Credit: Christophe Buidin.

Climate change is threatening the existence of the world’s most amazing bird

By Chris Mooney December 15 2014 Washington Post

“Moonbird,” they call him. Or sometimes, just “B95” — the number from the band on his leg. Moonbird is the most famous, charismatic member of a group of mid-sized shorebirds called Rufa red knots, whose numbers  have plummeted so dramatically in the past several decades that they just became the first bird ever listed under the Endangered Species Act with climate change cited as a “primary threat.” Rufa red knots are among the avian world’s most extreme long range flyers (especially in light of their relatively small size). They travel vast distances — some flying over 18,000 miles — in the course of an annual migration that begins in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and extends all the way up to the Canadian Arctic (and back again). Which brings us to Moonbird’s distinction: Because he is so old — he is at least 21 — he is believed to have flown as many as 400,000 miles in his lifetime. The distance to the moon varies, depending on where it is in its orbit, but the average distance is about 237,000 miles. Thus, Moonbird has not only flown the distance it takes to reach the moon — he has also covered the bulk of the return voyage….. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, there has been a 75 percent decline in numbers of Rufa red knots since the 1980s. One key reason is that the birds, during their northward migration, stop off in Delaware Bay in May and dine on the buried eggs of horseshoe crabs — a food source upon which they vitally depend. But those crabs saw their numbers plummet when fishermen realized that if they chopped up horseshoe crabs and threw them in the water, the smell would draw in eels and conch. When numbers of horseshoe crabs crashed, so did numbers of the birds…. The horseshoe crab population collapse, and its after-effects, is the most immediate reason for the Endangered Species Act listing of the Rufa red knot (one of six subspecies of the red knot found around the globe — all of which are struggling, Niles says). But on top of the crash at the Delaware Bay, there are also many other changes along the birds’ vast flyway, and some of those involve climate change. The birds breed in the Arctic, the region of the world that, more than any other, is being dramatically altered by climate change. Global warming is driving more Arctic storms, suggests Niles, which can wipe out young chicks. In addition, climate changes in the Arctic are disrupting lemming populations, notes Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Wendy Walsh, which is leading to “changes to the predation pressure that the birds face when they’re on their breeding grounds.” If the predators that used to dine on lemmings — including snowy owls and a number of other birds — can’t get them, they may start to prey on red knots instead. Meanwhile, there’s also the encroachment of sea level rise on the birds’ habitat, notes Walsh. As a result, the Rufa red knot has now made history — it is the very first bird listed under the Endangered Species Act with climate change cited as a “primary” reason for the listing. Other animals that have been listed for climate reasons include the polar bear, a number of species of ice seals, and 22 species of corals that are threatened by warmer waters and ocean acidification (also caused by global warming)….



Grant to let scientists monitor global warming at UC reserves

By David Perlman SF Chronicle Published 4:31 pm, Sunday, December 14, 2014

Scientists at UC Santa Cruz are creating a statewide “climate change observatory” where researchers and students will monitor the impact of global warming on plant and animal life throughout the university’s statewide network of protected natural reserves — nearly 40 areas set aside for study in widely varied environments. …..The project will begin with researchers from each of UC’s campuses working at 24 of the university’s 39 reserves. The scientists will gather data and conduct experiments with graduate students, as well as teach undergraduates at the sites. The UC Santa Cruz project, called the Institute for the Study of the Ecological Effects of Climate Impacts, will operate from the largest of five grants totaling $10 million for what Napolitano has called the President’s Research Catalyst Awards. Other awards are going to UCSF to address the state’s prison health care crisis; to UC Berkeley for quantum physics studies; to UCLA for “tapping big data” to help solve poverty issues; and to UC San Diego for studies linking music and brain behavior.


Institute for the Study of Ecological Effects of Climate Impacts • ISEECI
The UC-wide Institute for the Study of Ecological Effects of Climate Impacts (ISEECI) offers a platform for synthesizing past, current and future environmental change research, and for understanding and potentially mitigating future climate impacts. ISEECI leverages the UC Natural Reserve System as a biologically and geographically diverse laboratory to study the effects of climate change on California ecosystems. Led by a consortium of UC scientists, ISEECI coordinates mechanistic studies and biotic surveys across broad geographic scales. Through this network, we seek to test the feasibility of novel approaches for discovering ecosystem-wide responses to climate change. We then assess how inferences collected across sites might be used to mitigate impacts to ecosystems, ecosystem services and cascading impacts on human systems. We are developing “next generation” sampling protocols to capture ecological, genetic and physiological responses. This information will provide an integrated understanding of the impact of climate change on California’s biota and the services these organisms provide.

ISEECI aims:

  • Aim 1: Assemble historical records in and around NRS sites to assess ecosystem-wide impacts of climate change, linking plant and animal studies among marine, aquatic and terrestrial realms.
  • Aim 2: Launch a new program of NRS sampling, monitoring, large-scale and long-term data management, and experiments to understand mechanisms by which climate drives ecological and evolutionary processes.
  • Aim 3: Link these data together with mechanistic models to predict changes to ecosystems and potential impacts to ecosystem services that threaten human adaptation to climate change.

Feedback among these three aims will catalyze new experiments to take critical measurements and test key mechanisms underlying our hypotheses and model predictions. ISEECI will launch initial surveys at 24 NRS reserves (yellow circles) and 4 other key sites (red) that form north/south and east/west gradients across northern, central, and southern California. These gradients cross transition zones needed to predict and understand patterns of climate change. Gradients are critical for understanding variations in responses because they capture geographic differences in climatic change experienced across the state. Additionally, sites with different climates can be used as proxies for understanding and testing biotic impacts of climate change.

Mission: The mission of the ISEECI is to enable large-scale and coordinated research focused on 1) identifying mechanisms by which climate drives ecological and evolutionary processes and 2) detecting vulnerabilities and predicting outcomes of climate change for human systems and sustainability. Utilizing the diverse habitats encompassed by UC Natural Reserves and adjacent lands, our goals are to create an informed and engaged citizenry, facilitate wise stewardship of California’s biodiversity, and influence climate-related public policy.

This map shows the locations of the 39 reserves in the UC Natural Reserve System.








California storm Kent Porter / Santa Rosa Press Democrat Scott Taylor of Windsor Public Works opens a manhole to help drainage along Old Redwood Highway in Windsor. A powerful storm churned down the West Coast on Thursday, bringing strong gales and much-needed rain and snow.


What deluges? 11 trillion gallons of rain still needed to end California drought

By Ben Brumfield, CNN

updated 10:41 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014

(CNN) — About 11 trillion gallons of rain, or nearly 17 million Olympic swimming pools full.

That’s how much water California needs to recover from its extreme drought despite downpours that caused flooding and mudslides this month, NASA said. This week, the space agency released a satellite data analysis of how much water the state’s reserves lack. It’s a lot — more than 14,000 times the amount of water it would take to fill the Dallas Cowboys stadium, according to CNN calculations. It’s the amount of water that flows over Niagara Falls in about 170 days’ time. “It takes years to get into a drought of this severity, and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it,” said NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti, who led the study. NASA climate satellites measured fluctuations in Earth’s gravitational field and the changing shape of the planet’s surface to determine the drop in water reserves. It’s the first calculation of its kind to determine the amount of water needed to break a drought, the space agency said. Virtually all of California is drought stricken, according to the University of Nebraska Lincoln drought monitor, most of it under the worst level — “exceptional drought.”… The atmospheric river and cold fronts loaded up the Sierra Nevada mountains with a couple of feet of snow at the highest altitudes, adding to the snowpack. It acts as a major water reservoir, storing up moisture in the winter months and then releasing it during melts. The storm’s extra padding doubled the level to 48% of the historic average, a nice improvement. But there’s bad news here, too, based on studies done from airplanes this year, NASA said. “The 2014 snowpack was one of the three lowest on record and the worst since 1977, when California’s population was half what it is now,” said NASA JPL scientist Tom Painter. That not only means less water from snow but also less reflection of sunlight, which means the Earth absorbs it and gets that much warmer, Painter said. The ground then also gets more parched, so when water does flow onto it, it soaks it up, leaving less of it to flow into reservoirs.



NASA data underscore severity of California drought

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 03:41 PM PST

It will take about 11 trillion gallons of water (42 cubic kilometers) — around 1.5 times the maximum volume of the largest U.S. reservoir — to recover from California’s continuing drought, according to a new analysis of NASA satellite data... New drought maps show groundwater levels across the U.S. Southwest are in the lowest 2 to 10 percent since 1949. The maps, developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, combine GRACE data with other satellite observations.








Let nature play a role in climate adaptation, experts urge: TRFN

Reuters  – ‎December 15, 2014‎

LIMA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When the rainy season comes and floods the fields, poor families in northwest Bangladesh once cut trees to survive or went hungry. Now, however, they are raising fish in the floodplains – a change that has helped protect the region’s forests and improved their own resilience to more extreme weather. Such “ecosystem-based adaptation”, which protects both communities and the environment, will be vital to helping a growing world population survive climate change impacts without destroying the natural world, experts said at the U.N. climate talks in Lima. It “holds a promising potential,” said Virgilio Viana, chief executive of the Brazil-based Amazonas Sustainable Foundation.

Such adaptation is cost-effective, he said, and can be implemented with local people, rather than relying on engineering solutions that sometimes can damage ecosystems, he said. “For example, instead of using heavy construction material and machinery to tackle land erosion or landslides, ecosystem-based adaptation techniques such as increasing vegetation cover and planting (more) trees can help address these problems with local communities’ involvement and at lower cost,” he explained…..


The melting of ice sheets in Illulissat, Greenland, is accelerating. UN Photo/Mark Garten

UN report urges more funds for climate change adaptation, warns on temperature rise

5 December 2014 – Despite public funding of climate change adaptation measures reaching as high as $26 billion in 2012-2013, a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report predicts a significant funding gap after 2020 unless new and additional finance for adaptation is made available. The first UNEP Adaptation Gap Report finds that even if global greenhouse gas emissions are cut to the level required to keep temperature rise below 2°C, the cost of climate change adaptation in developing countries is likely to reach two to three times the previous estimates of $70-100 billion per year by 2050….








The Good, The Bad And The Ugly: How The World Fought Climate Change (Or Didn’t) In 2014

by Jeff Spross Posted on December 18, 2014 at 11:45 am

Getting meaningful action to address climate change out of the United States’ political system has been a bit like pulling teeth. Denial that human activity is driving global warming runs higher among Americans than in any other advanced country, and is rife in Congress. Despite our wealth, we’re one of the few advanced western nations without
a price on greenhouse gas emissions. And the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new effort to cut the nation’s emissions, while significant in its own right, is less ambitious than equivalent efforts in Europe, not to mention politically and legally
embattled. Still, President Obama sought to put the U.S. at the forefront of the global effort to address climate change this year, taking more action than any president in the country’s history. And America is far from the only player here. Countries like China and the members of the European Union are big contributors to global emissions, and are deeply involved in the international discussion about what the world can do about them. So here are the big climate moves — good, bad and ugly — from around the world this year….



China Agreed To A Deal: Whatever the shortcomings of the United States as a whole, the White House did talk the Chinese into a new climate commitment in early November. The government pledged to peak its emissions in 2030, and to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources that same year, in exchange for the U.S. getting a 26 to 28 percent cut in its emissions from their 2005 baseline by 2025. That latter target was deliberately designed around what President Obama can achieve using existing executive branch authority, rather than relying on Congress to pass new legislation….

The European Union’s New Climate Commitment: Another development that boded well for President Obama’s strategy, while raising hopes for the 2015 summit, was the decision by the E.U. to ratchet up reductions for its collective greenhouse gas emissions. In late October, the European Council announced an ambitious deal to slice its emissions 40 percent below their 1990 levels by 2030. ….

The United Nations’ Green Climate Fund Hit Its Goal: One of the big sticking points in international climate negotiations is what aid the advanced world will provide poorer and developing nations to adapt to climate change and to cut their emissions. While China is now the single biggest emitter of carbon per year, the U.S. and Europe remain the biggest emitters historically — and since climate change is driven by the cumulative concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the latter remain primarily responsible for the effects. Furthermore, the enormous levels of wealth per person that America and the West built up while producing all those emissions leave them far more room to cut their fossil fuel use and to invest in sustainable energies….

The Deal In Lima: Earlier this month, international negotiators in Lima, Peru hammered out the framework that will govern how and what countries submit in terms of their climate commitments before the final round of negotiations in Paris in December 2015. The agreement came at the tail-end of highly contentious talks, and many
environmentalists felt the language was entirely too watered-down. But the deal arguably represents a fundamental shift in strategy for international climate negotiations, after decades of near-total gridlock….

Chile Passed A Carbon Tax: One of the most widely-praised policies for cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a carbon tax. Just put a price on every ton of carbon emitted, then let every firm and individual figure out how to avoid those costs in the way that works best for them. It’s one of the simplest ways to shift an entire economy in a greener direction, and both economic modeling and real-world evidence show that, when they’re designed correctly, the drag carbon taxes exact on job growth is negligible. But carbon taxes still raise the cost of energy produced by fossil fuels, which makes them a politically difficult lift. So whenever a new carbon tax gets passed, the precedent and momentum is worth noting. In 2014, Chile became the first South American country to pass one, as part of a larger reform of the country’s tax regime. It’s a relatively modest tax, coming in at just $5 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, and it uses the revenue to fund education and green energy research, rather than plowing it directly back into taxpayers pockets through rebates or tax cuts elsewhere. But it does get the policy in place, which is more than can be said for the U.S. And Chilean policymakers can always come back to ratchet the tax up over time….


Canada Is Still Selling Its Soul To The Tar Sands: Ever since the rise of tar sands, or oil sands, Canada has turned more and more against efforts to combat climate change — both domestically and internationally — and 2014 was no different. Early this year, the Canadian government moved to shutter a number of libraries that house a huge amount of historical information for scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The move was ostensibly done to save money, and government officials said materials at the libraries would be digitized. But government documents also mentioned “culling materials” as one method for cost-cutting. And scientists and environmentalists expressed little faith in the digitization effort, characterizing the closing as part of a larger federal attempt to muzzle scientific information that’s inconvenient to the fossil fuel drive….

Australia Axed Its Carbon Tax: Unfortunately, that $200 million Australia gave to the UN climate fund may have been intended as a face-saver, after the country scuttled the carbon tax it put in place back in 2012. Research by the Centre for Climate Economics & Policy at Australian National University suggested the policy had successfully cut the country’s emissions by 0.8 percent during its first year — the biggest one-year drop in 24 years of record-keeping. But according to the Wall Street Journal, the 2008 recession kicked off a turn against climate policies amongst Australian voters, and in his campaign for the 2013 election, then-soon-to-be Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised to repeal the tax….


The Big Picture: For all the genuine good that occurred in 2014, the fact is all the big structural arrows still point towards a disastrous worldwide climate upheaval by the end of the century. The total amount of carbon dioxide humanity released into the atmosphere in 2013 jumped 2.3 percent over 2012, setting a new global record for annual emissions. The world can only emit so much this century before a rise in global temperatures beyond 2°C becomes inevitable, and at the rate we’re going we’ll hit that wall by 2040. The realistic paths to staying under 2°C all require global emissions to peak within roughly a decade or less, and to then start falling fast. Otherwise, a rise of at least 4°C over pre-industrial levels looks likely. According to the World Bank, 4°C of warming would come with “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise,” with “no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.” On top of that, even 2°C could result in significantly more severe weather events and ecological upheavals than are currently anticipated. A recent analysis from the UN found that the developing world will need to be collectively investing $250 to $500 billion a year by 2050 to handle the effects of climate change, even if the world stays at 2°C of global warming. Which makes the $10 billion the UN’s climate fund has collected so far a mere drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed. And even if countries’ stick with their likely commitments when the end of 2015 rolls around, an analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that those pledges will still leave us well short of the 2°C goal. Our chances of staying under 2°C, while still arguably doable, are increasingly slim — but even limiting warming to 3°C would be a massive accomplishment over limiting it to 3.5°C, or allowing it past 4°C. The fight against climate change isn’t a matter of dramatic breakthroughs, but of cumulatively piling one small victory atop another. Thanks to the world’s efforts, we gained a bit more ground in 2014. But there’s still a long way to go.


Lima climate change talks reach global warming agreement

Deal would for first time commit all countries – including developing nations – to cutting emissions

The Guardian Dec 13 2014

International negotiators at the Lima climate change talks have agreed on a plan to fight global warming that would for the first time commit all countries to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions. The plan, agreed at United Nations talks on Sunday, was hailed as an important first step towards a climate change deal due to be finalised in Paris next year. The proposals call on countries to reveal how they will cut carbon pollution, ideally by March next year. “As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian environment minister, who presided over the talks. However, negotiators acknowledged they had put off the most difficult decisions for later. And with 2014 on course to be the hottest year on record, campaigners warned the plan was far too weak to limit warming to the internationally agreed limit of 2C above pre-industrial levels, or to protect poor countries from climate change. “It’s definitely watered down from what we expected,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists….They also warned negotiators had left too many contentious issues unresolved before the deadline for reaching a deal in Paris. “The countdown clock to Paris is now ticking. Countries had the chance to give themselves a head start on the road to Paris but instead have missed the gun and now need to play catch up,” said Mohammed Adow, Christian Aid’s senior climate change advisor. But after a difficult negotiation – which over-ran by two days– officials said they were satisfied with the outcome….The US, China, and the European Union have already come forward with pledges for cutting greenhouse gas emissions after 2020. Under the plan, countries are due to come forward by March 2015 with their proposed emissions reductions targets. The United Nations would then weigh up those pledges and determine whether the collective action was enough to limit warming to 2C. But much remains vague or poorly defined. The countries put off decisions about the legal structure of the agreement, and deferred decisions about ensuring a flow of finance to developing countries. The biggest issue left unresolved for Paris is the burden for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The draft text retains language of “common but differentiated responsibilities” that has over the years given developing countries a pass on cutting emissions. That language remains in the text although with a rider “in light of different national circumstances”. Stern acknowledged to reporters the issue was likely to come up again at Paris. And the text adopted on Sunday no longer makes it mandatory for countries to provide detailed information about their prospect reductions targets. Campaigners said that would make it increasingly difficult to be sure the deal would manage to keep warming within the 2 degree threshold.


Climate Policy Pledges Are an Important Step Forward but Fall Short of 2°C

Dec. 15, 2014 — Pledges to reduce emissions in China, Europe and the US provide an important step forward for climate change action, but a more comprehensive effort is needed to stabilize the climate below critical … The study was conducted by a team of six European research institutions, using six different modeling tools. “The IPCC AR5 report has clearly highlighted the level of global effort needed to stabilize the climate,” says Tavoni. “But a quantitative assessment of the regional implications of post 2020 climate policies, which brings together different modeling tools was missing. This is what the paper has achieved.” The study is directly linked to the ongoing climate negotiation process and highlights the challenges on the road from Lima to Paris. “In our 2oC scenarios, global emissions peak around 2020. This is in clear contrast to our other scenarios projecting forward the pledges currently discussed by the major economies. They lead to a peaking of global emissions around or after 2040″ says Elmar Kriegler, senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-leader of the study. “A large part of the emission reductions, if to be realized at lowest cost, would come from emerging economies such as China or India. The implication is clear. If a future climate agreement aims to tap into these abatement potentials, it would likely need to include mechanisms to compensate developing countries for part of their abatement effort.”…full story


Massimo Tavoni, et al. Post-2020 climate agreements in the major economies assessed in the light of global models. Nature Climate Change, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2475


Climate Deal Would Commit All Nations to Cuts in Emissions

By CORAL DAVENPORT NY Times December 14, 2014

The agreement reached in Peru would be a breakthrough in 20 years of efforts by the United Nations to create a serious global warming accord, but it falls short of what scientists say is needed.


Representatives applauded at the approval of an agreement reached in Lima, Peru, on Sunday to reduce the global rate of greenhouse gas emissions. Credit Cris Bouroncle/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At Climate Talks in Lima, Only the Arguing Remains the Same

By James Fahn December 14 2014

As a reporter for a Thai newspaper back in 1997 covering the Kyoto Climate Summit, I managed to interview then-Senator John Kerry, one of the few elected officials who have frequently attended the annual treaty negotiations. Amid all the euphoria of the final night when the text of the Kyoto Protocol was agreed upon, he warned, “I think it’s going to be very difficult [for the U.S.] to ratify without more participation from key developing countries. That may take a long time.” Flash forward 17 years to Lima, where Kerry, now with considerably more authority as Secretary of State, gave a riveting speech that was one of the highlights of COP20 – the 20th conference of parties to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change. His message, though, was largely the same: “I know this is difficult [but] … we have to remember that today more than half of emissions are coming from developing nations, so it is imperative that they act, too.” But the circumstances have changed. The science behind human-induced global warming is far stronger, as documented by the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The impacts of extreme climate events are far clearer, punctuated this year by yet another typhoon slamming into the Philippines during the summit, and helping to shift alliances in the talks. Here in Latin America, the Amazon rain forest seems to be drying at an alarming rate, Sao Paulo is beset by drought, and Buenos Aires could soon see a record amount of rainfall this year….

And in a landmark agreement last month, the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the United States, agreed on setting new limits to their carbon emissions. This has not only changed the dynamic of the negotiations, but cast the “villains” of past summits in a slightly different light, and pointed the spotlight on other emitting giants. One of our Latin American journalist Fellows remarked to me how enthused she felt by Kerry’s rousing speech. The reaction in the past to U.S. speeches has often between depression, anger or bewilderment.

Expectations have also changed. If the dream in Kyoto, and even in Copenhagen five years ago, was to legally bind countries in a global agreement that would spur changes domestically, the more modest goal for the Paris agreement next year is to have each country offer up what it can, based on its current actions and plans, through “intended nationally determined commitments” (or INDCs, to use the latest acronym to sweep the COP). This is the “bottom up” or “soft” approach described by Andrew Revkin at the start of the summit, although the combined commitments almost certainly won’t be enough to keep the planet below the politically agreed target of 2 degrees Celsius average warming. Much of the debate in Lima centered on what countries should include in their INDCs; how long should the commitments be for; should the commitments include financing and adaptation goals; and that old chestnut: how should the commitments of developed and developing countries be differentiated.

….The agreement that came out of Lima mostly papered over such differences. Expect the arguments to continue right up through the COP 21 summit in Paris next year.

But perhaps most importantly, the economics have changed. The cost of wind power has declined 40 percent since the Copenhagen summit and the cost of solar power 80 percent, making the switch to renewable energy seem more feasible. Meanwhile, the costs of inaction seem ever clearer, noted Glen Murray, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change for the province of Ontario, even if they are often overlooked. “Our food supply comes from California, and so our prices have risen 20 percent due to the drought. The drought in Brazil has driven coffee prizes up by 10 percent,” explained Murray. “Buffalo just had an extreme snowstorm even by its standards. Toxic algae made water undrinkable in Toledo. This is the reality of inaction.” ….



CBNMS and GFNMS FEIS and Management Plans Released

December 19, 2014

…the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) has released the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) and final sanctuary management plans for its proposal to expand Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries (CBNMS and GFNMS).  The Federal Register notice of December 19, 2014, announces the availability of the FEIS….., GFNMS, designated in 1981, and CBNMS, designated in 1989, are federally protected marine areas along and offshore of California’s north-central coast.  NOAA’s action would expand the boundaries of GFNMS from approximately 1,282 square miles to approximately 3,295 square miles. CBNMS would expand from approximately 529 square miles to approximately 1,286 square miles. The GFNMS expansion area, including both state and federal waters (not including rivers and estuaries), would extend from Bodega Bay in Sonoma County to Manchester Beach, at Latitude 39 degrees North, a few miles north of the Point Arena Lighthouse in Mendocino County. The expansion area would include the nutrient-rich ocean upwelling zone originating off Point Arena, which is one of the most intense and productive upwellings in North America, and the waters flowing south from this upwelling to GFNMS and CBNMS. The CBNMS expansion, all in federal waters, would extend west and north of its current boundary to protect important subsea features such as Bodega Canyon. The goal of this action is to provide increased protection of the region’s marine and coastal habitats, biological resources, and ecological qualities, as well as to protect economically valuable fishing grounds, wildlife, nationally significant seascapes, historic resources, and to promote ecotourism. The proposal is based on research by NOAA and its scientific partners as well as public and agency input. As a part of this action, NOAA would apply sanctuary regulations to the expanded areas; amend the terms of designation; and extend sanctuary research, education, outreach and resource protection programs to the region.

After consideration of all comments received on the April 2014 proposed rule, draft EIS, and draft management plans, NOAA has made changes to its proposed action. The most significant changes are: excluding a larger portion of Arena Cove from the GFNMS boundary; removal of the regulatory provision for both sanctuaries providing for authorization of prohibited activities for which another agency had issued a lease, permit, license, or approval; and removal of restrictions on the use of motorized personal watercraft in the majority of the expansion area of GFNMS. Once NOAA finalizes the decision on the sanctuaries’ expansion with the final rule, NOAA intends to consider the issues related to authorization and MPWC use in more depth and obtain additional public input, and may undertake future rulemaking on these topics. Additional details about the need for and implications of this action are contained in the FEIS. The FEIS, final management plans, and information about the sanctuary expansion process, including the implementation timeline, are posted on the internet at





Birds Are Avoiding Offshore Wind Farms, Study Finds

by Ari Phillips Posted on December 18, 2014 Updated: December 18, 2014

A new report by a leading bird research institute in the U.K. found that over 99 percent of seabirds were likely to alter their flight paths in order to avoid collision with offshore wind farms. While the analysis offers new estimates of which seabirds and what percentage change course to avoid wind turbines, it still leaves many questions about the overall impacts of wind turbines — on and offshore — on bird populations. “It is important not to get lulled into a false sense of security by these figures,” said Aonghais Cook, a research ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology. “Whilst 99 percent of birds may avoid turbines, collision may still be a significant risk at sites with large numbers of birds. Furthermore, there are still a number of key gaps in knowledge for some vulnerable species.”

The research was carried out on behalf of Scottish government by the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Environmental Research Institute.

While offshore wind is yet to establish itself in the U.S., in the U.K. it has been a major player for nearly a decade. Scotland is trying hard to harness this energy as part of its goal of generating 100 percent of its electricity demand from renewables by 2020. The wind-rich country is home to around a quarter of Europe’s total offshore wind capacity. In October, the Scottish Government approved four huge new offshore wind farms that could produce more than 2.2 gigawatts of power, enough to power 1.4 million homes. According to The Telegraph, the government gave consent with “strict conditions to minimize the impact on birds and the environment.”

In response to the seabird analysis, Aedan Smith, head of planning and development at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland, said that even with this new evidence, thousands of birds could still be killed each year and that this “could even significantly reduce the total populations of some species.” “It is therefore vital that individual developments avoid the most important places for seabirds,” he said. “Impacts on seabirds must be reduced significantly if offshore wind is to realize its full potential of delivering much needed sustainable renewable energy.” Different birds have markedly different reactions to the wind farms, according to the report. Gannets, which are large, white birds, avoid entering wind farms altogether, while gulls are “less cautious” and may even be drawn to the sites for their foraging benefits. Even so, the report says that inside the farms, gulls “seem to show a strong avoidance of the turbine blades.”


Cuomo to Ban Fracking in New York State, Citing Health Risks

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 12:48 PM EST

The Cuomo administration announced Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State,
ending years of uncertainty by concluding that the controversial method of extracting oil from deep underground could contaminate the state’s air and water and pose inestimable public-health risks. “I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” said Howard Zucker, the acting commissioner of health. That conclusion was delivered publicly during a year-end cabinet meeting called by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Albany. It came amid increased calls by environmentalists to ban fracking, which uses water and chemicals to release natural gas trapped in deeply buried shale deposits. The state has had a de facto ban on the procedure for more than five years, predating Mr. Cuomo’s first term. The decision also came as oil and gas prices continued to fall in many places around the country, in part because of surging American oil production, as fracking boosted output….


Carbon-trapping ‘sponges’ can cut greenhouse gases

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 09:38 AM PST

In the fight against global warming, carbon capture — chemically trapping carbon dioxide before it releases into the atmosphere — is gaining momentum, but standard methods are plagued by toxicity, corrosiveness and inefficiency. Using a bag of chemistry tricks, materials scientists have invented low-toxicity, highly effective carbon-trapping ‘sponges’ that could lead to increased use of the technology.



Switching to vehicles powered by electricity from renewables could save lives

Posted: 15 Dec 2014 03:53 PM PST

Driving vehicles that use electricity from renewable energy instead of gasoline could reduce the resulting deaths due to air pollution by 70 percent. This finding comes from a new life cycle analysis of conventional and alternative vehicles and their air pollution-related public health impacts. The study also shows that switching to vehicles powered by electricity made using natural gas yields large health benefits.




Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP In this photo taken July 14, 2010, an electric plug charges a Smart Car electric drive vehicle in New York. People buying all-electric cars where coal supplies the power may think they are helping the environment. But a new study shows those coal-powered plug-in vehicles can be making the air dirtier and worsening global warming.

Study: Your all-electric car may not be so green

Seth Borenstein, Ap Science Writer December 15, 2014 Updated: December 15, 2014 1:08pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — People who own all-electric cars where coal generates the power may think they are helping the environment. But a new study finds their vehicles actually make the air dirtier, worsening global warming. Ethanol isn’t so green, either. “It’s kind of hard to beat gasoline” for public and environmental health, said study co-author Julian Marshall, an engineering professor at the University of Minnesota. “A lot of the technologies that we think of as being clean … are not better than gasoline.” The key is where the source of the electricity all-electric cars. If it comes from coal, the electric cars produce 3.6 times more soot and smog deaths than gas, because of the pollution made in generating the electricity, according to the study that is published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They also are significantly worse at heat-trapping carbon dioxide that worsens global warming, it found. The study examines environmental costs for cars’ entire life cycle, including where power comes from and the environmental effects of building batteries…..






December 18, 2014
The West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health is pleased to announce new data and tools available via the West Coast Ocean Data Portal to assist coastal managers and stakeholders to view and explore geospatial data about marine debris cleanup and prevention efforts in our region’s coastal waterways. You can visit to begin exploring!

The King Tides are Here
San Francisco Bay NERR is once again working with the California King Tides Project to encourage people to photograph extreme high tides flooding landscapes they love. The dramatic and often beautiful images start conversations about how our coast will be affected by sea level rise and what we can do now to prepare. Upcoming dates for predicted king tides are December 21-23, January 19-21, and February 17-19.




Managing Drought Monday, January 12, 2015 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Sheraton Grand Sacramento

Public Policy Institute of California

California’s historic drought is revealing strengths and weaknesses in how we manage our precious water resources. At this half-day event—coinciding with the beginning of a new legislative session—participants will examine Australia’s millennium drought, consider climate change and future droughts in California, look back at lessons from 2014, and look forward to policy priorities for 2015.  This event is made possible with funding from the California Water Foundation, an initiative of the Resources Legacy Fund.

Please register by January 6, 2015.  There is no charge to attend, but space is limited. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. This event will also be webcast live.

Environmental Communication:  More Than a Message
January 28, 2015

Moss Landing Marine Laboratory
Even the strongest message won’t deliver itself! Learn how the pros plan their campaigns, measure their accomplishments, and do it even better next time. The More Than a Message training provides big concepts and practical tips you need to plan and carry out your effort. Click here for more information.


The Western Section of The Wildlife Society 2015 Annual Meeting



January 26-30, 2015 — Vineyard Creek Hyatt, Santa Rosa, CA

Conservation through Collaboration

Click here for the 2015 Annual Meeting website.

CA Rangeland Conservation Coalition 10th Annual Summit – Collaborative Conservation for Rangelands

February 3, 2015 Sacramento, CA         
A group of speakers will share their experiences, successes and challenges of collaborative conservation initiatives across the US. Although different in their geographic scope, goals and composition, these partnerships have been able to restore trust and work together to achieve their common goals for the land and for the ranching community. Click here for more information.

Bringing Science and Managers Together:
California Landscape Conservation Workshop
Save the Date!: March 3-4, 2014  UC Davis Conference Center

The CA LCC is excited to announce the first annual California Landscape Conservation Workshop! This
workshop will bring scientists and managers together to share climate-smart conservation results and lessons learned across the California landscape. Activities will engage participants in building collaborative partnerships for resilient California landscapes.Stay tuned for an upcoming call for sessions and more information.

2015 California Climate & Agriculture Summit  March 24 and 25, 2015
UC Davis Conference CenterCall for Workshop and Poster Presentations


INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE  Abstract submission deadline is 1 November 2014 


ABSTRACT SUBMISSION (through November 1, 2014) and REGISTRATION (through January 25, 2015) NOW OPEN for Science for Parks, Parks for Science: The Next Century – A 2.5-day Summit at U.C. Berkeley March 25-27, 2015 convening natural and social scientists, managers and practitioners — 100 years after historic meetings at U.C. Berkeley helped launch the National Park Service — to rededicate a second century of science and stewardship for national parks.  This summit will feature visionary plenary lectures, strategic panel discussions on current controversies, and technical sessions of contributed paper and posters.   Keynote Speaker: E. O. Wilson.  Distinguished Plenary Speakers and Panelists include David Ackerly, Jill Baron, Steven Beissinger, Joel Berger, Edward Bernbaum, Ruth DeFries, Thomas Dietz, Josh Donlan, Holly Doremus, Ernesto Enkerlin, John Francis, David Graber, Denis Galvin, Jane Lubchenco, Gary Machlis, George Miller, Hugh Possingham, Jedediah Purdy, Nina Roberts, Mark Schwartz, Daniel Simberloff, Monica Turner, & Jennifer Wolch.


National Adaptation Forum– Call for Proposals
May 12 – 14, 2015 in St. Louis, MO

The National Adaptation Forum is a biennial gathering of the adaptation community to foster information exchange, innovation, and mutual support for a better tomorrow. The Forum will take place from May 12 – 14, 2015 in St. Louis, MO.
Proposals are being accepted for Symposia, Training Sessions, Working Groups, Poster Presentations, and a Tools Cafe.

Click here for more information.

Ninth International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE) World Congress meeting, July 9th 2015

Coming to Portland, Oregon July 5-10, 2015! The symposium, which is held every four years, brings scientists and practitioners from around the globe together to discuss and share landscape ecology work and information. The theme of the 2015 meeting is Crossing Scales, Crossing Borders: Global Approaches to Complex Challenges.








Ancient Earth may have made its own water: Rock circulating in mantle feeds world’s oceans even today, evidence suggests

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 06:05 AM PST

In a finding that meshes well with recent discoveries from the Rosetta mission, researchers have discovered a geochemical pathway by which Earth makes its own water through plate tectonics. This finding extends the planet’s water cycle to billions of years—and suggests that enough water is buried in the deep earth right now to fill the Pacific Ocean.


Many U.S. workers are sacrificing sleep for work

Posted: 11 Dec 2014 08:55 AM PST

An analysis of 124,000 responses to a survey shows that paid work time is the primary waking activity exchanged for sleep. The study also suggests that chronic sleep loss potentially could be prevented by strategies that make work start times more flexible. ‘The evidence that time spent working was the most prominent sleep thief was overwhelming,’ said the study’s lead author…


Ibuprofen use leads to extended lifespan in several species, study shows

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 11:10 AM PST

A common over-the-counter drug that tackles pain and fever may also hold keys to a longer, healthier life, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist. Regular doses of ibuprofen extended the lifespan of multiple species.

















Ellie Cohen, President and CEO

Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO)

3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11, Petaluma, CA 94954

707-781-2555 x318  | Follow Point Blue on Facebook!


Point Blue—Conservation science for a healthy planet.


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