Conservation Science News April 17 2015



Focus of the Week – Hottest Jan-Mar, lowest Arctic winter ice on record; If we dig out all fossil fuels, here’s how hot we can expect it to get










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Focus of the Week


  1. Record-breaking heat globally

This Was The Hottest 3-Month Start Of Any Year On Record

by Joe Romm Posted on April 15, 2015 at 1:39 pm Updated: April 15, 2015 at 4:38 pm

NASA reported Tuesday that this was the hottest three-month start (January to March) of any year on record. This was the third warmest March on record in NASA’s dataset (and the first warmest in the dataset of the Japan Meteorological Agency). The odds are increasing that this will be the hottest year on record. Last week NOAA predicted a 60 percent chance that the El Niño it declared in March will continue all year. El Niños generally lead to global temperature records, as the short-term El Niño warming adds to the underlying long-term global warming trend. And in fact, with March, we have broken the record again for the hottest 12 months on record: April 2014 – March 2015. The previous record was March 2014 – February 2015 set the previous month. And the equally short-lived record before that was February 2014 – January 2015.


This is using a 12-month moving average (see above), so we can “see the march of temperature change over time,” rather than just once every calendar year, as science writer Dr. Greg Laden puts it. The global warming trend that made 2014 the hottest calendar year on record is continuing. Some climate scientists have said it’s likely we’re witnessing the start of the long-awaited jump in global temperatures — a jump that could be as much as as 0.5°F. While March was slightly on the cool side for those living in northeastern U.S., the rest of the country and the globe is quite warm, with large parts of the West and Russia experiencing astonishing warmth. That’s clear in the NASA global map below for March temperatures, whose upper range extends to 7.5°C (13.5°F) above the 1951-1980 average!…

March continued the record-smashing hot start to the year in drought-stricken California. And that means the earliest the drought is likely to ease is late fall or early winter — and that assumes a full-blown El Niño develops in the coming months. It was also quite warm last month in Siberia, where the permafrost is fast becoming the perma-melt. The permafrost contains twice as much carbon as is currently in the entire atmosphere. The faster it turns into a significant source of carbon dioxide and methane emissions, the more humanity will be penalized for delaying climate action. The defrosting may add as much as 1.5°F to total global warming by 2100 — something that is not factored into any current climate models


Year-to-date (January–March) January–March 2015 Blended Land and Sea Surface — Temperature Anomalies in degrees Celsius

NOAA: March and 1st quarter 2015 were warmest in 136 years for the globe

Arctic sea ice extent smallest on record for March

April 17, 2015


According to NOAA scientists, the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for March 2015 was the highest for the month since record keeping began in 1880. The year-to-date (January-March) globally averaged temperature was also record high. This monthly summary from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information* is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, the business sector, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.


March 2015

  • During March, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.53°F (0.85°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for March in the 1880-2015 record, surpassing the previous record of 2010 by 0.09°F (0.05°C).
  • During March, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.97°F (1.65°C) above the 20th century average. This tied with 1990 as the second highest for March in the 1880-2015 record. 
  • During March, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 0.99°F (0.55°C) above the 20th century average. This was the third highest for March in the 1880-2015 record.
  • The average Arctic sea ice extent for March was 430,000 square miles (7.2 percent) below the 1981-2010 average. This was the smallest March extent since records began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
  • Antarctic sea ice during March was 420,000 square miles (24.3 percent) above the 1981-2010 average. This was the second largest March Antarctic sea ice extent on record. The record largest March Antarctic sea ice extent occurred in 2008 and was 100,000 square miles larger than the March 2015 extent.
  • According to data from the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during March was 640,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average. This was the seventh smallest March Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent in the 49-year period of record.  Eurasia had its ninth smallest March snow cover extent, while North America had its 10th smallest.


Year-to-date (January – March 2015)

  • During January-March, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.48°F (0.82°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for January-March in the 1880-2015 record, surpassing the previous record of 2002 by 0.09°F (0.05°C). 
  • During January-March, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.86°F (1.59°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for January-March in the 1880-2015 record, surpassing the previous record of 2002 by 0.09°F (0.05°C). 
  • During January-March, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 0.95°F (0.53°C) above the 20th century average. This was the third highest for January-March in the 1880-2015 record.


A more complete summary of climate conditions and events can be found at:

* Note: NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) is the merger of the National Climatic Data Center, National Geophysical Data Center, and National Oceanographic Data Center as approved in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, Public Law 113-235. From the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun and from million-year-old sediment records to near real-time satellite images, NCEI is the nation’s leading authority for environmental information and data. For more information go to: 


2- Here’s how hot we can expect it to get if we continue digging out all fossil fuels


A huge excavator shoveled earth and brown coal near the Boehlen-Lippendorf power station in Germany in 2013. Credit Michaela Rehle/Reuters

If We Dig Out All Our Fossil Fuels, Here’s How Hot We Can Expect It to Get

APRIL 8, 2015 NY Times by Michael Greenstone

Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman professor of economics at the University of Chicago, runs the Energy Policy Institute there. He was the chief economist of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2009 to 2010.

World leaders are once again racing to avert disastrous levels of global warming through limits on greenhouse gas emissions. An agreement may be in reach, but because of the vast supplies of inexpensive fossil fuels, protecting the world from climate change requires the even more difficult task of disrupting today’s energy markets. The White House last month released a blueprint to reduce United States emissions by as much as 28 percent by 2025. The plan lays the groundwork for the formal international climate talks this December in Paris, where the goal is a treaty on emissions that will seek to limit the rise in global temperatures to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. Beyond 3.6 degrees, scientists say, the most catastrophic climate consequences will occur, possibly including the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

Forging a treaty in Paris would be no small task, yet would be just the beginning of a solution. The greater challenge will be deciding how much of the world’s abundant supply of fossil fuels we simply let lie. (Bill McKibben and more recently The Guardian have taken a maximal position in their Leave It in the Ground campaign.) To understand the scope of this challenge, I’ve tallied the projected warming from fossil fuels extracted so far and the projected warming capacity of various fossil fuels that can be extracted with today’s technology. This accounting was done by taking the embedded carbon dioxide in each energy source and using a standard model for the relationship between cumulative carbon emissions and long-run temperature changes based on a 2009 Nature article. (More detail on the method is available here.)

For those who don’t like suspense, here’s the total: an astonishing 16.2 degrees. And here’s how that breaks down. Since the industrial revolution, fossil fuels have warmed the planet by about 1.7 degrees. We are already experiencing the consequences of this warming. In recent weeks, we have learned that the world had its warmest winter on record and that Arctic sea ice hit a new low, even as intense storms continue to inflict harm on communities globally. Next, look at fossil fuel reserves, the deposits we know to be recoverable under today’s prices and technology. That is, they are inexpensive to access. If we were to use all of this coal, natural gas and petroleum, the planet would warm by an additional 2.8 degrees. Add the heat from those reserves to the 1.7 degrees from what has already been emitted, and you get a world that is 4.5 degrees warmer since the industrial revolution; this is beyond scientists’ recommended 3.6-degree [F] threshold.

The next set of fossil fuels in line is referred to as resources, rather than reserves. The difference is that they are recoverable with today’s technology, but not at current prices. There is 3.1 degrees’ worth of warming if the oil and natural gas in this category are utilized, which would lead to a total increase in global temperatures of 7.6 degrees. This warming does not even consider our coal resources. A middle-of-the-road estimate of the coal that qualifies as resources indicates that its use would lead to an additional increase of 8.6 degrees. Thus, the use of all reserves and resources would lead to a total increase of 16.2 degrees. Today’s climate and planet would very likely be unrecognizable.

Buried Fuel and a Much Warmer World

Scientists predict global disaster at 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial temperatures; there is enough fossil fuel extracted and within reach to raise temperatures 16.2 degrees.  Without pricing carbon to reflect expected climate damages, all of this coal, oil and natural gas is worth many trillions of dollars, so keeping it in the ground would mean passing up economic opportunities that are waiting to be taken and turning our backs on a long history of going to great lengths to recover these energy sources. A January study in Nature developed estimates of which fuels would have to be abandoned to stay below the 3.6-degree threshold. It found that most Canadian tar sands; all Arctic oil and gas; and a significant share of potential shale gas would need to stay locked up. It also found that major coal producers like the United States would need to keep 90 percent of their reserves in the ground.

There are essentially only three long-run solutions to the climate challenge.

The first is to price carbon emissions to reflect the damages from climate change. In practice, this means pricing carbon in as many parts of the world as possible — and ideally, globally — so that there is a level playing field for all energy sources. There has been important progress in this area, including in the European Union, individual American states and regions (for example, California and the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative), and parts of China. And there are several ways to introduce carbon pricing, as a New York Times Op-Ed by David Hayes and James Stock underscored. But we are a long way from a global price on carbon, and the prices in existing carbon markets are lower than the projected damages from increased carbon emissions.

The second way to disrupt the energy market is to have low-carbon energy sources like nuclear, wind and solar become cheaper than their fossil fuel competition. Although there has been much progress in reducing the costs of wind and solar recently, they generally remain more expensive than fossil fuels. Further, the fracking revolution makes it clear that there will be continued technical advances that reduce the costs of recovering fossil fuels. Indeed, it is well known that there are ample supplies of coal deeper beneath the Earth’s surface that do not yet qualify as resources, and there is increasing evidence that energy from methane hydrates may become relevant commercially. In other words, it seems unlikely that today’s low carbon energy sources will play a major role in the solution without significant public investment in research, development and test deployments of new technologies.

The third approach is to continue using those fuels, but capture and store the carbon before it is released or pull it out of the atmosphere after its release. Neither approach has yet been proved to work at scale, and costs remain high. Even if costs come down, it will very likely remain more expensive than using fossil fuels without capture and storage, so a carbon price would be necessary for it to be applied broadly. A related idea is to reflect sunlight away from the earth so temperatures do not rise as much. This approach does not reduce the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and there is agreement that further research is necessary.

If we use all of the fossil fuels in the ground, the planet will warm in a way that is difficult to imagine. Unless the economics of energy markets change, we are poised to use them.





Rancher Doniga Markegard and her husband, Erik, raise their grass-fed Belted Galloway cows on a 1,000-acre ranch on the San Mateo coast. Galloways are a heritage breed from the coast of Scotland that has a double coat of long hair to better shed the rain. (Photo by Federica Armstrong,

Rangelands in the 21st Century Bay Nature April 2015

Rangelands (including grasslands, and some oak woodlands and scrublands) are the largest single type of undeveloped landscapesand the largest single type of land cover of any type—in the San Francisco Bay Area and in California. This means that any meaningful vision for protecting open space and biodiversity in the Bay Area [California and much of the West] must include a strategy for protecting and stewarding these landscapes, many of which are in private hands and many of which are working landscapes grazed by cattle and other domesticated ungulates. Despite this apparent confluence of interests, the relationship between the ranching community and environmental communities has often been a contentious one. While that state of affairs is changing, there remain areas of difference and discussion. This web page is dedicated to furthering that discussion and exploring several of the issues associated with protecting, managing, and better understanding rangelands in and around the Bay Area.


A federally listed bay checkerspot butterfly nectars on a Cryptantha on Coyote Ridge. (Photo by Stuart B. Weiss)

Range of Possibilities

Rangelands, Ranching and Conservation in the [SF] Bay Area

by Kelly Cash on March 31, 2015 BayNature April-May 2015

“The rangelands in the Bay Area are incredibly important for wildlife and native plants. They provide the landscape connectivity that species need to move from place to place, which is especially critical in a time of rapidly changing climate.” –Dr. Reed Noss, former president of the Society for Conservation Biology

At the Yolo Land and Cattle Company, some 80 miles northeast of San Francisco, along the eastern base of the blue-green massif known as Blue Ridge, butterflies and cattle move across a blond sunbaked plain on a warm summer day. ….. One of the projects he was most proud of is a conservation easement he worked out with the California Rangeland Trust to protect his beloved ranch forever by prohibiting future development. Hank was an alliance builder, willing and able to work with all kinds of people. Karen and Scott continue that tradition. Nine years ago, Audubon California approached the Stones because the group’s biologists had identified a problem: Suitable habitat for overwintering waterfowl was being lost to development. The Stones’ work on restoring riparian areas had already helped neotropical migrant songbirds. Would they help out overwintering waterfowl by enhancing the habitat of one of their stock ponds? With funding from private and public partners, the Stones restored a large pond and added a hand-carpentered goose-nesting platform. Now they’re partnering with the nonprofit Point Blue Conservation Science to monitor and evaluate the results of their efforts in terms of both bird and plant diversity. They’ve also been part of scientific field trials involving rangeland carbon sequestration. And they use recycled rinse water from a nearby Campbell soup cannery to irrigate their pastures. So for people who are looking at the whole picture of Bay Area ecology, the Stones and other ranchers like them are not just stewards of their ranches; they’re also “value-added” stewards of a significant component of the Bay Area environment—rangelands—that makes up more than 40 percent of the open space in this metropolitan region.



So if ranchers are such great conservation partners, why has ranching often been viewed as bad for the environment? Part of the answer lies in the history of ranching in the state. The Spanish colonists who first introduced ranching to California in the late 1700s also introduced nonnative annual grasses that outcompeted the native perennial grasses and led to a severe loss in biodiversity. And in the decades that followed, incidences of poor range management — overstocking and overgrazing — resulted in soil compaction, erosion, and mismanagement of riparian and wetland areas that reduced habitat for bird species and aquatic life. So vivid were the results of such mismanagement that it became difficult for the environmental community to see the benefits of good management. Any grazing, well-managed or not, was viewed as the antithesis of good environmental stewardship. The environmentalist perspective was that to get the benefits of clean water, wide-open vistas, and healthy wildlife, society needed to set aside open space as public parkland and remove nonnative ungulates (hooved grazing mammals) so the land could heal and return to its native state. But now, after more than a decade of research on the question, it’s becoming clear that well-managed private ranchlands can provide these essential public benefits at little cost to the public, while at the same time ensuring that the land remains economically productive. Chronic underfunding means that public agencies generally lack the resources to properly manage all of this rangeland even if “we, the people” could afford to buy it all, which we can’t. Sasha Gennet is a senior scientist with the Nature Conservancy of California, which works to assemble and manage large protected landscapes for biodiversity and climate resilience. “Managed rangelands are so important for both natural and human communities,” she says, “from the fresh water that flows off them into creeks and reservoirs to the weed-munching services provided by cattle, which helps keep the wildflowers blooming and the native frogs and salamanders breeding. And keeping ranchers in business means that the land doesn’t end up getting paved over.”…

Flying over at 30,000 feet, one can easily visualize the Bay Area rangelands’ ancient beginnings. Rangelands dominated the region throughout the Pleistocene, which ended only 10,000 years ago, the mere blink of a geologic eye. In 2005, E. Breck Parkman, a senior ecologist for California State Parks, wrote in a paper entitled “The California Serengeti” that “the African Serengeti [of today] pales in comparison to the [prehistoric] Bay Area in terms of the diversity and density of grazing species in one place.” It was “one of the greatest natural phenomena of all time,” he added. Even the Bay itself was not a bay, but a vast grassy plain with a river cutting through it, emptying into the Pacific Ocean at the continental shelf, near the Farallones. The entire region was so fecund with perennial grasses that it supported and attracted thousands of herbivores, including Columbian mammoths, whose remains continue to pop up in places like downtown San Francisco and suburban San Jose. Most of the native species that grazed and shaped those Pleistocene rangelands have been gone for millennia, except for deer, tule elk, pronghorn, and the handful of bison in Golden Gate Park. But for the past 200 years, since the arrival of the European settlers, Taurus bos, an ungulate domesticated on the other side of the world 10,500 years ago from wild aurochs, has been the grazer of choice. But cows are a different kind of grazer with different habits than elk or bison. Herds of cattle left on their own can overgraze an area. And yet domestication means that their patterns of movement on a landscape can be guided. And the last 30 years of both conservation biology and range science have made it abundantly clear that while poorly managed cattle can significantly disrupt and harm rangelands, well-managed grazing is an important tool for managing these lands in the absence of the large wild ungulate herds of yesteryear….

….The Markegards and other Bay Area ranchers trying to hold on to the ranching way of life in the 21st century have an unprecedented opportunity to share ideas and challenges through a series of discussions being hosted down the road at the TomKat Ranch, where the conversation is as important as the beef. TomKat has become a learning lab, pushing new research out and bringing important information in. One recent study by ranch scientists shows grazing experiments that resulted in a marked increase of native perennial grasses. A related project, Point Blue’s Rangeland Watershed Initiative, promotes range management methods that increase soil water retention while also increasing grass production and carbon sequestration. Data indicates that increasing water retention by 15 percent over a five-year period could save enough water to twice fill Hetch Hetchy.
And then there’s the Marin Carbon Project, whose three-ranch demonstration project in West Marin has shown how the timely application of organic compost to grasslands can dramatically increase both forage production and carbon sequestration. “It’s exciting to be at the center of so much creative thinking,” says Wendy Millet, director of the TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation….


Tiger salamanders aren’t the only federally listed species getting a helping hand from managed grazing. Biologist Stuart B. Weiss of Creekside Center for Earth Observation likes salamanders, but his true passion is the threatened bay checkerspot butterfly. To talk with him is to shape-shift in scale down to dirt level, a kind of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” vantage point that turns grasslands into a place of microfaunal jungle odysseys. For Weiss, everything about well-managed grazing programs — public or private, holistic or not — on the region’s unique serpentine soils is good news. Without cattle to crop the nonnative, annual grasses, the area would become a thatch of impenetrability, stifling for the native host plants of the checkerspot larva and impassable for salamanders and frogs. As an added bonus, the annual grasses on Coyote Ridge south of San Jose — the last major refuge for the checkerspot — absorb smog-forming gases from nearby Highway 101 and Silicon Valley; grazing by the cows helps remove tons of nitrogen from the ecosystem every year. “My haiku is: Cows graze quietly / Grasses remove smog from air / Many butterflies,” says Weiss….




Select groundcover management systems found viable for organically managed apple orchard

Posted: 15 Apr 2015 08:40 AM PDT

A long-term study evaluated four groundcover management systems in combination with composted poultry litter, commercial organic fertilizer, or a nonfertilized control to determine ability to alter near-surface soil quality in a new organically managed apple orchard in the Ozark Highlands of northwest Arkansas. Results showed the GMS and nutrient source combinations were viable management options for apple producers in the region while satisfying USDA-National Organic Program requirements to improve soil quality with crop production.Determining and implementing orchard management practices that can improve soil organic matter is one of the primary goals of the USDA’s National Organic Program. For producers in the southeastern United States, where interest in small-scale and organically managed orchards is growing, the challenge can be finding combinations of groundcover management systems and organic nutrient sources that can simultaneously improve soil quality. A new research study provides producers in the region with valuable information about effective organic orchard management practices in the Ozarks Highland and similar regions. During the 7-year study, University of Arkansas researchers evaluated the impacts of groundcover management system and nutrient source on soil quality-related variables such as soil organic matter (SOM), soil bulk density, plant-available water, water-stable aggregation, saturated hydraulic conductivity, and water infiltration in an organically managed apple orchard. The scientists also compared soil quality in an organic apple orchard with those in an adjacent conventionally managed orchard. The orchards were located on highly weathered soil in the Ozark Highlands region of northwest Arkansas. The scientists tested annual applications of municipal green compost, shredded office paper, wood chips, and mow-blow grass mulch groundcover management systems in combination with composted poultry litter, commercial organic fertilizer, or a nonfertilized control as a nutrient source. “The combinations were implemented to evaluate their ability to alter near-surface soil quality in a newly established, organically managed apple orchard in the Ozark Highlands region of northwest Arkansas,” said Curt Rom, corresponding author of the study published in HortScience…. “Our analyses showed that the soil organic matter concentration in the top 10 cm averaged 1.5% across all treatments at orchard establishment in 2006, but by 2012, SOM concentration had increased in all GMS and more than doubled to 5.6% under green compost,” the authors said. “Similarly, soil bulk density in the top 6 cm, which averaged 1.34 g·cm-3 among treatment combinations in 2006, decreased in all GMS by 2012.” With regard to fertilizers, green compost applied alone or in combination with commercial fertilizer had the largest estimated plant-available water among all treatment combinations. Interestingly, analyses showed that many soil quality-related variables measured in the various organic groundcover management systems had “numerically greater values” compared with an adjacent conventionally managed orchard on the same soils.
Implementation of these groundcover management systems appear to provide apple producers in the Ozark Highlands and similar regions a tangible means of meeting National Organic Program requirements for improving soil quality concurrent with production of certified organic crops,” Rom noted, adding that the research findings also have implications for conventionally managed orchards, where maintaining or improving soil quality is a management goal.


This is the Kapp Starostin Formation, Festningen section, Spitsbergen. The uppermost of the 3 yellow limestone beds records the Middle Permian mass extinction. This is the first high latitude record of this crisis, which is now seen to be of global extent. The photo, from Isfjorden, Spitsbergen, was taken by Dierk Blomeier. Credit: Photographer: Dierk Blomeier. For David P.G. Bond and colleagues, GSA Bulletin, 2015.

New Evidence Adds the Capitanian Extinction to the List of Major Extinction Crises

Apr. 15, 2015 —the Since the Cambrian Explosion, ecosystems have suffered repeated mass extinctions, with the “Big 5” crises being the most prominent. Twenty years ago, a sixth major extinction was recognized in the Middle Permian (262 million years ago) of China, when paleontologists teased apart losses from the “Great Dying” at the end of the period. Until now, this Capitanian extinction was known only from equatorial settings, and its status as a global crisis was controversial. David P.G. Bond and colleagues provide the first evidence for severe Middle Permian losses amongst brachiopods in northern paleolatitudes (Spitsbergen). Their study shows that the Boreal crisis coincided with an intensification of marine oxygen depletion, implicating this killer in the extinction scenario. The widespread loss of carbonates across the Boreal Realm also suggests a role for acidification. The new data cements the Middle Permian crisis’s status as a true “mass extinction.” Thus the “Big 5” extinctions should now be considered the “Big 6.”



Western gray whales are shown.Credit: Photograph by Craig Hayslip

Longest mammal [No Pacific gray whale] migration raises questions about distinct species of whales

Posted: 15 Apr 2015 09:58 AM PDT

A team of scientists from the United States and Russia has documented the longest migration of a mammal ever recorded — a round-trip trek of nearly 14,000 miles by a whale identified as a critically endangered species that raises questions about its status. The researchers used satellite-monitored tags to track three western North Pacific gray whales from their primary feeding ground off Russia’s Sakhalin Island across the Pacific Ocean and down the West Coast of the United States to Baja, Mexico. One of the tagged whales, dubbed Varvara (which is Russian for Barbara), visited the three major breeding areas for eastern gray whales, which are found off North America and are not endangered.

Results of their study are being published this week by the Royal Society in the journal Biology Letters. “The fact that endangered western gray whales have such a long range and interact with eastern gray whales was a surprise and leaves a lot of questions up in the air,” said Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “Past studies have indicated genetic differentiation between the species, but this suggests we may need to take a closer look.” Western gray whales were thought to have gone extinct by the 1970s before a small aggregation was discovered in Russia off Sakhalin Island — with a present estimated population of 150 individuals that has been monitored by scientists from Russia and the U.S. since the 1990s. Like their western cousins, eastern gray whales were decimated by whaling and listed as endangered, but conservation efforts led to their recovery. They were delisted in 1996 and today have a population estimated at more than 18,000 animals. Not all scientists believe that western gray whales are a separate, distinct species. Valentin Ilyashenko of the A.N Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution, who is the Russian representative to the International Whaling Commission, has proposed since 2009 that recent western and eastern gray whale populations are not isolated and that the gray whales found in Russian waters are a part of an eastern population that is restoring its former historical range. He is a co-author on the study.

“The ability of the whales to navigate across open water over tremendously long distances is impressive and suggests that some western gray whales might actually be eastern grays,” Mate said. “But that doesn’t mean that there may not be some true western gray whales remaining. If so, then the number of true western gray whales is even smaller than we previously thought.” Since the discovery that western and eastern gray whales interact, other researchers have compared photo catalogues of both groups and identified dozens of western gray whales from Russia matching whale photographs taken in British Columbia and San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California, Mexico. Protecting the endangered western gray whales has been difficult — five whales have died in Japanese fishing nets within the last decade. Their feeding areas off Japan and Russia include fishing areas, shipping lanes, and oil and gas production — as well as future sites oil sites. Their largely unknown migration routes may include additional hazards.


B. R. Mate, V. Y. Ilyashenko, A. L. Bradford, V. V. Vertyankin, G. A. Tsidulko, V. V. Rozhnov, L. M. Irvine. Critically endangered western gray whales migrate to the eastern North Pacific. Biology Letters, 2015; 11 (4): 20150071 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0071


Fishing amplifies forage fish collapses

Posted: 06 Apr 2015 12:29 PM PDT

A new study shows for the first time that fishing likely worsens population collapses in species of forage fish, including herring, anchovies and sardines. Some of the largest fisheries in the world target these species, and these “baitfish” are also a key source of food for larger marine animals, including salmon, tuna, seabirds and whales. Scientists have long known about wide fluctuations in the abundance of forage fish, including the occasional population collapse. But they had not figured out whether collapses were entirely natural or related to fishing. The study, published April 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, implicates fishing in the collapse of forage fish stocks and recommends risk-based management tools that would track a fishery’s numbers and suspend fishing when necessary….


Timothy E. Essington, Pamela E. Moriarty, Halley E. Froehlich, Emma E. Hodgson, Laura E. Koehn, Kiva L. Oken, Margaret C. Siple, and Christine C. Stawitz. Fishing amplifies forage fish population collapses. PNAS, April 2015 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1422020112



Tim Mousseau and his team are doing pioneering work with thermoluminescent detectors, using the gamma-radiation-sensitive crystals to measure radiation doses in individual subjects living in the wild. Credit: Image courtesy of University of South Carolina

Dwindling Bird Populations in Fukushima

Apr. 15, 2015 — This is the time of year when birds come out and really spread their wings, but since a disastrous day just before spring’s arrival four years ago, Japan’s Fukushima province has not been friendly to the feathered. And as several recent papers from University of South Carolina biologist Tim Mousseau and colleagues show, the avian situation there is just getting worse. Since a few months after the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, Mousseau and several co-workers have undertaken a series of bird censuses in contaminated areas. They recently published a paper in the Journal of Ornithology showing results from the first three years of the effort for 57 bird species. Many populations were found to have diminished in number as a result of the accident, with several species suffering dramatic declines. One hard-hit species was the barn swallow, Hirundo rustica,
which suffered large population losses in a dose-dependent manner according to individually measured levels of radiation exposure. The researchers looked more closely with the barn swallow, trying to isolate the mechanism causing the population decrease with their first two years of data. But as Mousseau, his postdoctoral associate Andrea Bonisoli-Alquati and colleagues reported in a separate recently published study in the journal Scientific Reports, their tests of peripheral erythrocytes in individual barn swallow nestlings failed to show genetic damage as a result of direct-dose radiation effects. Nevertheless, the more detailed study showed a dose-response decrease in both numbers and fraction of juveniles….


Make your home a home for the birds

Posted: 10 Apr 2015 06:56 AM PDT

The landscaping plants chosen by residents for their yards plays a much greater role in the diversity of native birds in suburban neighborhoods than do the surrounding parks, forest preserves, or streetside trees, say biologists. the researchers found that the neighborhoods most attractive to birds were those in which many yards had fruit or berry-bearing trees and shrubs; a mix of evergreen and other types of trees; and, to a lesser extent, other environmental features. They found that the presence of outdoor animals, especially cats, kept birds away….”Birds are really living out in the neighborhood,” Minor said. “We found that there were simple guidelines for people to follow to increase bird diversity in their own backyards.


J. Amy Belaire, Christopher J. Whelan, Emily S. Minor. Having our yards and sharing them too: the collective effects of yards on native bird species in an urban landscape. Ecological Applications, 2014; 24 (8): 2132 DOI: 10.1890/13-2259.1



Moises Siles, Amber Roth’s banding assistant at Reserva El Jaguar in Nicaragua, holds the Golden-winged Warbler in his hand.Credit: Amber Roth

Connecting the dots with a golden-winged warbler

Posted: 08 Apr 2015 07:05 AM PDT

For the first time, the same Golden-winged Warbler has been caught at both a migration hotspot and in his wintering grounds. Catching a warbler that someone else banded is “like a one in a million longshot,” says the researcher who netted the bird in Nicaragua. “It’s a needle in the haystack for sure, especially for this species.” Connecting the dots between the breeding grounds, migration stop-overs and wintering grounds is important because Golden-winged warblers are sharply declining.




Pacific sardines. Photo: NOAA Fishwatch

Sardine population collapses, prompting ban on commercial fishing

By Peter Fimrite SF Chronicle Updated 12:05 pm, Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The sardine population along the West Coast has collapsed due to changing ocean conditions and other factors, including allegations of overfishing, prompting regulators Monday to cancel fishing next season and schedule a vote this week on an immediate emergency ban. The Pacific Fishery Management Council agreed to close the fishery from Mexico to the Canadian border starting July 1, when the 2015 season begins, after federal scientists documented a 91 percent decline in sardine numbers along the West Coast since 2007. The council, a 19-member policymaking organization made up of fishery representatives from California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, scheduled a vote Wednesday on whether to take the bigger step of immediately halting sardine fishing. The current season would go until June 30 or until between 3,000 and 4,000 metric tons of the schooling fish are hauled out of the water, fulfilling this season’s quota. “This is a huge step,” said Geoffrey Shester, the California campaign director for Oceana, an international conservation organization that has been fighting for eight years to lower the annual sardine take and implement stricter regulations. “This is one of the most lucrative fisheries in California, so to completely shut it down is a huge deal.”
A lack of spawning caused by unfavorable ocean conditions was blamed for the decline, but fishery biologists say faulty abundance estimates contributed by allowing regulators to set sardine fishing limits too high. It was a problem that scientists have been warning fishery managers about since 2012, Shester said.

“There’s a management failure here,” said Shester, whose group filed a lawsuit in 2011 demanding action. A judge refused to hear the case on grounds that it was not filed in a timely fashion, but the case is now on appeal. “They didn’t respond fast enough to the decline,” said Shester, who blamed overfishing for worsening an already bad situation. “Now we find ourselves in a crisis situation.” Don McIsaac, the management council executive director, said sardine populations often fluctuate, and cold water over the past three or four years has lowered the birth rate. “Sardines like warm water,” McIsaac said, adding that staff biologists ruled out overfishing as a cause. “Their spawning plummets when it gets cold.”….


Salt marshes at higher latitudes, including those in densely populated coastal regions of New England and Europe, are more susceptible to nutrient loading and overgrazing by herbivorous critters such as this crab than their counterparts in the tropics. Credit: Brian Silliman

Northern coastal marshes more vulnerable to nutrient pollution

Posted: 06 Apr 2015 07:10 AM PDT

Salt marshes at higher latitudes, including those in densely populated coastal regions of New England and Europe, are more vulnerable to the effects of eutrophication, which, if left unchecked, can trigger intense overgrazing by marsh herbivores that can destabilize marshes and reduce their ability to defend shorelines from erosion. Geography and evolution both play roles in making these marshes more susceptible to nutrient loading and overgrazing than their counterparts in the tropics.


Qiang He, Brian R. Silliman. Biogeographic consequences of nutrient enrichment for plant-herbivore interactions in coastal wetlands. Ecology Letters, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12429



A plastic bag litters a marsh near Dublin, Ireland, where researchers found that such bags can smother marine ecosystems trapped underneath. Credit: Dannielle Senga Green

Plastic Bags Cut Wildlife Populations In Marshland Ecosystems

Pollution: Conventional and biodegradable plastic bags covering marsh sediments reduce abundance of small animals underneath

By Puneet Kollipara Web Date: April 14, 2015

Plastic bag pollution does not simply harm individual birds and mammals when they get tangled in the trash. It also can affect entire communities of wildlife, including invertebrates, according to a new study. Marshland sediments covered with plastic bags had far lower oxygen levels and numbers of organisms than sediments that remained bag-free (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2015, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b00277). Scientists have grown increasingly concerned about the marine impacts of plastics, ranging from plastic beads to films to bottles. But marine ecologist Dannielle Senga Green of Trinity College, in Ireland, noticed that few studies had examined plastic litter’s effects on whole communities of living things, especially muddy communities with organisms such as worms, snails, and crabs. Plastic bags, in particular, can deposit in one spot, choking the ground underneath of sunlight, oxygen, and other nutrients. Green and colleagues wanted to test how severe these feared effects would be. So they studied a marsh near Dublin, where sediments serve as home to algae and a variety of invertebrates…..



From the laser data, a 3-D structure of a forest can be calculated. Credit: TU WIen

Ecological properties of nature reserve areas can now be analyzed by laser scanning from a plane

Posted: 14 Apr 2015 07:09 AM PDT

Simply declaring a region as a nature protection area is not enough, regular monitoring of its ecological condition is also necessary. Since Nature protection areas already cover almost one fifth of the surface of the European Union, it is impossible to inspect such a vast area in the traditional way on foot. Therefore, new methods are being developed to monitor Europe’s nature protection areas from the air. Short laser pulses are sent to the ground, and information on the status of the habitat can be deduced from the reflected light signals using elaborate computer algorithms.

Laser Scanning from the Air

“The rules of the Natura 2000 network of nature protection areas request the evaluation of the conservation status of protected region at least every six years,” says Professor Norbert Pfeifer (Vienna University of Technology). “This can only be achieved with the help of remote sensing.” Planes fly at an altitude of 500 to 2000 metres, scanning a strip 300 to 800 metres wide. About ten points per square meter are sampled using an infrared laser pulsing half a million times a second. The pulses are reflected and return to the plane. From their travel time, the exact distance between the plane and the ground can be calculated, creating a detailed 3D map of the landscape.

Software Identifies Structure

“Our team has developed special classification software which can use this data to distinguish different types of vegetation,” says Norbert Pfeifer. Even disturbing factors such as weeds and vehicle tracks can be identified.

The 3D map obtained by the laser pulses contains much more information than a simple aerial photograph. When a forest is scanned, not all the laser light is reflected by the tree tops. The lower layers of the vegetation are surveyed as well. Ecologically healthy woodland does not only consist of various tree and shrub layers, but also of a layer of herbs and grasses. Whether or not these sub-canopy levels exist can be mathematically deduced from the infrared data.

When people process remote sensing data for ecological monitoring, they usually focus on very specific parameters which are easy to derive,” says Norbert Pfeifer. “Our approach is quite different. We use the data to calculate precisely the same parameters as they are collected in a site inspection by human ecologists.” Therefore the data complies with EU regulations and can directly be compared to older data. Given the power of the new method, it should be possible to go one step further. “We believe that an even better characterization of a region’s biodiversity can be obtained when we do not focus on site inspection parameters but rather try to define new parameters which are easier to obtain from above,” says Pfeifer….


Werner Mücke, Balázs Deák, Anke Schroiff, Markus Hollaus, Norbert Pfeifer. Detection of fallen trees in forested areas using small footprint airborne laser scanning data. Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing, 2014; 39 (sup1): S32 DOI: 10.5589/m13-013




Humpback whales.

40 million-year-old family tree of baleen whales

Posted: 15 Apr 2015 07:33 AM PDT New research is providing the most comprehensive picture of the evolutionary history of baleen whales, which are not only the largest animals ever to live on earth, but also among the most unusual.



Lizards are larger and retain heat longer in high-altitude habitats

Posted: 07 Apr 2015 05:50 AM PDT

Scientists confirm that ectotherms — like reptiles and amphibians — do follow “Bergmann’s rule”. The 19th-century naturalist posited that animals inhabiting colder climates have a larger body size.


Common birds bring economic vitality to cities

Posted: 07 Apr 2015 12:23 PM PDT

A new study tries to determine what economic value residents in two comparable cities place on having birds in their backyards and parks. Researchers compared two types of common birds — finches and corvids — in both cities, asking residents how much they would pay to conserve the species and what they spend, if anything, on bird food. In Seattle, that value of enjoying common birds is about $120 million annually and in Berlin, $70 million.


Santa Clara County has approved a plan to let SunPower build five solar farms at sites around the county. (SunPower file photo) ( sunpower )

Santa Clara County approves deals for five solar farms from SunPower

By Eric Kurhi San Jose Mercury News Posted:   04/07/2015 03:34:56 PM PDT

SAN JOSE — Santa Clara County is moving forward with a plan to install fields of solar panels on 32 acres of property, which would make it one of the nation’s top 10 on-site renewable users even as some environmental groups question using open space for the arrays. County leaders voted unanimously Tuesday to go ahead with power purchase agreements that will allow Sunpower to build solar farms at five sites, including one on Malech Road in South San Jose that could prove problematic because it may be the natural habitat of an at-risk butterfly. …. the arrays — similar to those that can be seen behind Evergreen Valley College — will generate 11.4 megawatts of power, which is about 17 percent of the total energy consumption of county facilities. Add that to existing solar installations, and it brings the county’s renewable usage to 49 percent. For Santa Clara County, “It continues to demonstrate the board’s commitment to renewable energy and reducing the county’s carbon footprint,” Snow said. Cost savings through the ower agreement are estimated to be $40 million over 20 years, although that’s dependent on a federal benefit tied to getting all of them connected through PG&E by a November 2016 deadline. While staff said the probability of not making that deadline is very low, there is a potential for holdup at Malech Road, where a biological consultant is checking the serpentine grass habitat for the existence of the threatened bay checkerspot butterfly. A report is due back this summer. “If it is determined that there is sensitive habitat, the design will need to avoid those,” said Rob Eastwood, an environmental planner with the county.

Alice Kaufman of the Committee for Green Foothills said that while her group and others including the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Greenbelt Alliance and California Native Plant Society support development of renewable energy sources, they do not agree with putting them on open space and particularly not on potential natural habitats.
“This trend of putting these installations out in rural areas is not something we want to see,” Kaufman said. “That’s not recognizing the value of open space. It’s not just dirt — solar panels should be put on rooftops or parking lots, especially when that’s already been shown to be feasible.”…



Almost half of fenced elk herd dies at Point Reyes

By Peter Fimrite SF Chronicle April 17, 2015

Nearly half of the tule elk in a fenced preserve on the Point Reyes National Seashore died over the past two years, and a conservation advocate says he believes it’s because their water sources dried up and they couldn’t get outside their fenced enclosure to find more. The assertion by Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity is sparking renewed debate between conservationists championing free roaming ungulate herds and organic-dairy farmers who want to keep the elk away from their cattle. The number of elk has fluctuated since the antlered beasts, which can weigh up to 800 pounds, were placed in a 2,600-acre preserve at Pierce Point in 1978, but researchers said they have never seen a decline this dramatic. Their numbers dropped from 540 in 2012 to 286 last year, the smallest the herd has been since 1994. Dave Press, the Point Reyes wildlife ecologist, said the deaths of 254 elk appear to be a natural phenomenon. “If you think about how a drought is going to affect wildlife species, this shouldn’t be a big surprise for folks,” Press said. “It’s reasonable to conclude that the drought conditions, the lack of water, the lack of available forage played a role in the decline there.” But Miller said the deaths are a sign of mismanagement. “Tule elk need room to roam, and native wildlife in our national park should not be fenced in or prevented from finding water and food,” said Miller, whose organization has been fighting efforts by Point Reyes ranchers to persuade the National Park Service to round up a separate herd of free-roaming elk and fence them off too. “The loss of nearly half the Pierce Point elk herd highlights how important it is that the Park Service not cave to commercial ranchers who want free-roaming Point Reyes elk fenced in,” he said. Fencing became an issue among conservationists after seven ranchers near the Point Reyes lighthouse began urging the National Park Service to remove dozens of tule elk that have been running free along the picturesque seaside peninsula. The mostly organic dairy ranchers, who lease the fields from the National Park Service, say the competition between cattle and elk for scarce vegetation threatens their very existence. They want the elk to be moved out of the area and kept away from the pastures, possibly with fencing like what is used at Pierce Point. It is a scenario the park service is considering, along with 20-year lease extensions. Recommendations on what to do with the elk will be made in a ranch management plan that is being prepared for the 28,000 acres of pastoral land administered by the national seashore. The fenced tule are among 4,300 elk in 25 separate herds in California, all of them descended from less than a dozen individuals discovered in 1874 after the species was thought to be extinct. The Point Reyes population has fluctuated since 1978, reaching 552 animals in 1998, then dropping to 382 in 2003. The herd then went back up to 585 in 2007 and was down to 422 in 2009, according to the seashore’s annual elk count….






Calved icebergs from Greenland’s Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water on July 30, 2013 in Qaqortoq, Greenland.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Arctic is ‘unraveling’ due to global warming, and the consequences will be global

By Chris Mooney April 16 at 10:25 AM Washington Post

We often hear that climate change is radically reshaping the Arctic, a place many of us have never visited. As a result, it can be pretty hard to feel directly affected by what’s happening up in a distant land of polar bears, ice floes and something odd called permafrost. new booklet from the  National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council wants to change that. Synthesizing much past academy work on the Arctic region, the booklet– being released just before the United States assumes the chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council later this month — blazons this message: “What Happens in the Arctic Doesn’t Stay in the Arctic.”
Here are four potential ways, drawing both upon the new report and much of our prior reporting here, that changes in the Arctic will reverberate well beyond it and, in some cases, have planet wide consequences:

1. Changing Your Weather. 

This is controversial, but there is growing scientific research backing the still contested conclusion that changes to the Arctic are leading to changes in weather in the mid-latitudes. The basic idea is that a warmer Arctic plays games with the jet stream, the stream of air high above us in the stratosphere that carries our weather and that is driven by temperature contrasts between the mid and high latitudes. If the Arctic warms faster than the mid latitudes do, then the jet stream could slow down, goes the theory. It could develop a more elongated and loopier path, leading to a persistence of particular weather conditions — whether intense snow, intense heat, intense rain, or something else that is, you guessed it, intense. A recent study published in the journal Science found that a more wavy and elongated jet stream in the summer “has made weather more persistent and hence favored the occurrence of prolonged heat extremes.” The National Research Council handles the controversy over this idea by simply stating that “some scientists” have suggested these changes to the jet stream are happening. For now, we’ll simply have to watch closely as the debate over this idea continues.

 2. Changing What You Eat.

The National Research Council booklet also notes that warming oceans could have a substantial effect on the fishing industry, which prowls the Arctic and sub-Arctic for a crucial part of its catch. “About half of the U.S. fish catch comes from subarctic waters,” notes the report. Fishermen and fishing boats may have new routes open to them due to a less icy Arctic, the report acknowledges. But at the same time, the composition and distribution of species could change with warming waters: Atlantic cod, for example, have been displacing the endemic polar cod in the waters surrounding the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard. In addition, rising temperatures and an influx of fresh water from melting ice can cause rippling effects through the marine food chain. In the North Atlantic, for example, scientists project that ocean warming will cause shifts in the spawning and feeding grounds of several economically-important fish populations, including Arctic cod, herring, and capelin. Granted, we shouldn’t be alarmist about this. As we’ve previously reported, contrary to a number of press accounts, global warming is not going to take away your fish and chips.

3. Raising Sea Levels.

The melting of ice on land in the Arctic — whether from glaciers and ice caps in the Arctic, or the Greenland ice sheet — contributes to sea level rise that does not stay in the Arctic, but rather, spreads around the world. Greenland is of course the biggest potential contributor, since if it were to melt entirely, it would cause 20 feet of sea level rise. And there’s also a less known Arctic contributor to sea level changes: the way polar melting could weaken the great overturning circulation of the oceans. There is suggestive evidence that the melting of Greenland is already contributing to a freshening of the waters of the north Atlantic. This, in turn, may be slowing down the so-called Atlantic meridional overturning circulation — which carries a tremendous amount of warm water northward in the Atlantic. If the circulation weakens, then it affects sea level on either side of it. That’s for two reasons (explained in more depth here): Warmer waters lie to the right or east of the Gulf Stream, and warm water expands and takes up more area — leaving sea level lower on the U.S. coast side of the circulation. A weakening would thus raise our sea level.

There’s also the fact that in the northern hemisphere, “sea surface slope perpendicular to any current flow, like the Gulf Stream, has a higher sea level on its right hand side, and the lower sea level on the left hand slide,” according to Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. So again, a weaker Gulf Stream evens that out, and you’d see sea level rise on the U.S. coast.

4. Worsening Global Warming Itself.

Finally, changes in the Arctic are expected to amplify global warming itself. The principal way this could happen is through the thawing of frozen ground or permafrost, which covers much of the Arctic, and which contains huge stores of frozen carbon. Recent scientific analysis has affirmed that Arctic permafrost is packed with carbon — some 1,330 and 1,580 gigatons worth, and that may be a low end estimate — and that over the course of the century, a substantial fraction will get released to the atmosphere. It would probably happen slowly and steadily, but it could amount to a significant contribution to overall global warming.

Why will this occur? As the National Research Council explains: Plants are essentially made of carbon. When a plant dies in a temperate area, it decomposes, releasing some of its carbon into the air and some into the soil. But when a plant dies in a place too cold for decomposition, it simply stays put, locking its carbon in place. Until permafrost thaws, anyway. If enough of it does so, the volume of carbon emissions could be enough to set back worldwide efforts to reduce emissions from fossil fuel burning by adding an entire new source of greenhouse gases beyond the usual suspects, like fossil fuels and deforestation.

Last month, when we learned that Arctic sea ice had reached a new record low for its winter maximum ice extent, former deputy assistant secretary of state Rafe Pomerance said: “The Arctic is unraveling, warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.” It’s a powerful quotation, and as the United States takes chairmanship of the Arctic Council on April 24, you shouldn’t assume that “unraveling” is irrelevant to you. We’re all invested in the Arctic, because we’re all invested in the planet.



Pacific Ocean currents visualized by a computer model.Image: Earth Simulator

Rapid global warming may be coming sooner than you think

By Andrew Freedman April 9, 2015

A new study bolsters the case that a period of much faster global warming may be imminent, if not already beginning. The study, published Wednesday in Geophysical Research Letters, uses climate records gleaned from coral reefs in the South Pacific to recreate sea surface temperatures and ocean heat content dating back to 1791. The corals examined were from Fiji, Tonga and Rarotonga. Information from the coral reef core samples reveals how ocean surface temperatures have varied over time in the South Pacific, along with how the uptake and release of upper ocean heat content has varied over time, as well. The insights they provide, together with other recent research, carry important implications for how global warming may play out during the next two decades or so. The news that the coral reef core samples (combined with other climate signals) bring is not good, either. The research is important for understanding present-day climate because it demonstrates that there are regular decade-to-decade fluctuations in ocean surface temperatures and ocean heat content in the South Pacific that correlate with cycles of climate variability in other parts of the Pacific. The results suggest that when a cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO, switches to a “positive mode,” the world will see faster temperature increases than it has since about 1999. The PDO, as it happens, has just switched into strongly positive territory. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the positive phase of the PDO — which features milder-than-average water temperatures along the West Coast of North America and parts of the South Pacific, as well as cooler ocean conditions in the central North Pacific — has persisted since July 2014. The slowdown in the rate of global warming since the late-1990s, commonly referred to as the “global warming hiatus,” has been a chimera, since more heat has been deposited into ocean waters during the period, according to this study and several others. Once the PDO flips and stays flipped, that heat will be rapidly released into the atmosphere, increasing global average temperatures….



Unusually warm sea-surface temperatures are being observed in the North Pacific. The darker the red colouring, the more above average the temperature (Image: NOAA)

Mystery blob in the Pacific messes up US weather and ecosystems

14:40 16 April 2015 by Eli Kintisch

An unusual threat is looming off the Pacific coast of North America from Juneau in Alaska to Baja California. Now roughly 2000 kilometres wide and 100 metres deep, a mass of warm water that scientists are calling “the blob” has lingered off the coast for a year and a half and has set temperature records, with waters between 1 °C and 4 °C warmer than normal. Fresh research published in Geophysical Research Letters has examined the causes and impacts of this area of water, which has grown more recently. The blob has changed water-circulation patterns, affected inland weather and reshuffled ecosystems at sea. Although scientists say the planet’s warming oceans may not be responsible for the mysterious and long-lived anomaly, some see it as an early warning of changes that might be coming to the Pacific in the next few decades.

Satellite imagery first alerted scientists to the strange formation in August 2013, when the roundish blob was seen over the Gulf of Alaska. Researchers think that a long-lasting weather pattern called a high-pressure “ridge” deflected winds that stir up cool waters from the deep and bring cool air and water from high latitudes. Months later, fishermen and officials around Alaska reported sightings of species found in more temperate or even tropical waters, including skipjack tuna, thresher sharks and sunfish.
Other marine species showed up thousands of kilometres north of their normal ranges, including pygmy killer whales and tropical species of copepods – tiny crustaceans that are key to marine food webs.

“I’ve never seen some of these species here before,” says plankton expert Bill Peterson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington – part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Spreading warmth

The anomaly has spread out over the last 12 months, with warm water showing up all the way from Alaska to the central Mexican coast. Physical oceanographers have speculated that the blob is influenced by a major climate pattern known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), a combination of several phenomena that have the effect of warming water across the eastern Pacific for periods of 4 to 20 years. Yet the patterns of warming seem to be different this time round, says oceanographer Mark Ohman of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. “This is a phenomenon beyond the typical PDO-like oscillations we’ve seen for the recent decades,” he adds. “I’m in a state of confusion.”

Inland, the blob contributed to a number of unusual weather events along the Pacific Northwest last summer, including an uptick in thunderstorms and lightning – and the resulting forest fires.

But the biggest impacts so far have concerned marine species. Peterson fears that a big drop in copepod populations in waters off the Pacific Northwest could doom harvests of various species of salmon – a multibillion-dollar industry – for years to come. “They had nothing to eat,” he says of juveniles that ventured out from rivers into the blob last year. Thousands of seabirds called Cassin’s auklets have been found dead along the Pacific shore, and conservationists have had to rescue scores of starving sea lions on beaches in southern California.


Journal reference: Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/2015GL063306



NASA temperature data dispel the myth of a recent slow-down in long-term warming trend. But there was a big jump in temps during the mid-1990s. Many scientists believe another jump is “imminent.’

Long-Awaited ‘Jump’ In Global Warming Now Appears ‘Imminent’


We may be witnessing the start of the long-awaited jump in global temperatures. There is “a vast and growing body of research,” as Climate Central explained in February. “Humanity is about to experience a historically unprecedented spike in temperatures.” March study, “Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change,” makes clear that an actual acceleration in the rate of global warming is imminent — with Arctic warming rising a stunning 1°F per decade by the 2020s.
Scientists note that some 90 percent of global heating goes into the oceans — and ocean warming has accelerated in recent years. Leading climatologist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research explained here in 2013 that “a global temperature increase occurs in the latter stages of an El Niño event, as heat comes out of the ocean and warms the atmosphere.”  In March, NOAA announced the arrival of an El Niño, a multi-month weather pattern “characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.” 
How much of a temperature jump should we expect? Last month, Trenberth explainedto Living on Earth:

Trenberth says it could mean a rise of two- or three-tenths-of-a-degree Celsius, or up to half a degree Fahrenheit. The change could occur “relatively abruptly,” but then stick around for five or 10 years.

I interviewed Trenberth this week, and he told me that he thinks “a jump is imminent.” When I asked whether he considers that “likely,” he answered, “I am going to say yes. Somewhat cautiously because this is sticking my neck out.”

Trenberth explained that it’s significant the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) “seems to have gone strongly positive” because that is “perhaps the best single indicator to me that a jump is imminent.” During a PDO, he explains, “the distribution of heat in the oceans changes along with some ocean currents.”  The PDO is a “pattern of Pacific climate variability similar to ENSO [El Niño Southern Oscillation] in character, but which varies over a much longer time scale.” While El Niños and La Niñas tend to last only 6 to 18 months, the PDO can remain primarily in one phase for a decade or even longer, as this figure from NOAA’s March “Global Ocean Monitoring” report shows:

“The positive phase of PDO [Pacific Decadal Oscillation] index has persisted 8 months since Jul 2014 with PDO index = + 1.6 in Feb 2015.” Via NOAA.

If you compare the PDO chart with the NASA global temp chart at the top, you’ll see that a negative PDO appears to temporarily offset the long-term global warming trend, whereas a positive PDO corresponds to a “catch up” phase (see discussion here). That is one reason, Trenberth explains, that global temperatures seem to look more like a staircase than a ramp (a steadily-rising straight-line or linear trend).

Making things even more confusing, the staircase-shaped rise in temperatures is further modulated by El Niños, which tend to set the record for the hottest years (since the regional warming adds to the underlying global warming trend) and by La Niña years, which tend to be cooler than normal years.

The fact that NOAA projects that the current El Niño could last most of 2015 means we are still on track for what is likely to be the hottest calendar year on record — very possibly beating 2014 by a wide margin (0.1°C). 

And record global temps mean extreme temperatures and weather locally. So far this year, “five nations or territories have tied or set all-time records for their hottest temperature in recorded history,” explains meteorologist Jeff Masters. Antarctica appears to have set its all-time temperature record — 63.5°F (17.5°C) — on March 24 at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. That is “more than 30°F (17°C) above average.” This was actually part of a heat wave since the Antarctic record it broke was set the day before (63.3°F). Also in March, the Chilean desert was deluged by “over fourteen years of rain in one day.”  It was the hottest February on record in California, a full 1°F higher than the second-warmest February on record. And that followed California’s driest January ever recorded. These type of records are not good news.

“So it is a bad year for the Earth and an equally bad year for the politicians, talk show radio ‘scientists’, climate-denial funders, and second rate scientists who told us not to worry,” as climate expert Professor John Abraham told me. “They told us global warming had stopped nearly two decades ago. The problem is, science and climate change marched forward. Perhaps next time we will believe the real scientists.” Indeed it will be a very bad year for the Earth and for climate science deniers if 2015 proves to be the beginning of the long-awaited temperature jump. The last time global temps jumped sharply (see top chart), it was during an extended period of positive PDO, from 1992 and 1998. The super El Niño in 1998 at the end of that period set a new global temperature record by a wide margin.
That was a high bar for subsequent years to match, which cherry-picking climate science deniers used — with some success — to persuade conservative politicians and media outlets that global warming had paused or slowed down. In fact we have merely been in an extended period of the PDO negative phase, with only occasional switches to a mild positive phase. And that, coupled with some recent La Niñas, gave an appearance of a short-term slowdown in warming in some datasets. But the NASA chart at the top makes clear there has in fact been no slowdown in warming. Indeed the March study, “Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change” makes clear the only “pause” there has been was in the long-expected speed-up of global warming. The rate of surface warming should have started to accelerate in the past decade, rather than stay fairly constant. The authors warned that, by 2020, human-caused warming will move the Earth’s climate system into a regime of rapid multi-decadal rates of warming. It projected that within the next few years, “there is an increased likelihood of accelerated global warming associated with release of heat from the sub-surface ocean and a reversal of the phase of decadal variability in the Pacific Ocean.” That would be Trenberth’s imminent jump. And it may be starting now.


Climate change, plant roots may accelerate carbon loss from soils

Posted: 06 Apr 2015 01:55 PM PDT

Soil, long thought to be a semi-permanent storehouse for ancient carbon, may be releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than anyone thought. In a new study, researchers showed that chemicals emitted by plant roots act on carbon that is bonded to minerals in the soil, breaking the bonds and exposing previously protected carbon to decomposition by microbes. In a study published in this week’s online edition of the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers showed that chemicals emitted by plant roots act on carbon that is bonded to minerals in the soil, breaking the bonds and exposing previously protected carbon to decomposition by microbes. The carbon then passes into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2), said the study’s coauthor, Markus Kleber, a soil scientist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. He said the study challenges the prevailing view that carbon bonded to minerals stays in the soil for thousands of years. “As these root compounds separate the carbon from its protective mineral phase,” he said, “we may see a greater release of carbon from its storage sites in the soil.” It’s likely that a warming climate is speeding this process up, he said. As warmer weather and more carbon dioxide in the air stimulate plants to grow, they produce more root compounds. This will likely release more stored carbon, which will enter the atmosphere as CO2–which could in turn accelerate the rate of climate warming. “Our main concern is that this is an important mechanism, and we are not presently considering it in global models of carbon cycling,” Kleber said….

….”There is more carbon stored in the soil, on a global scale, than in vegetation or even in the atmosphere,” said Kleber. “Since this reservoir is so large, even small changes will have serious effects on carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, and by extension on climate.” One percent may not sound like much, he added. “But think of it this way: If you have money in the bank and you lose 1 percent per year, you would be down to two thirds of your starting capital after only 50 years.” Between 60 and 80 percent of organic matter entering the soil gets broken down within the first year in a chain of decomposition that ends with CO2, Kleber said. Most of the remaining carbon gets bound to the soil’s minerals through a variety of physical and chemical mechanisms. When this happens, the carbon is protected because the microbes can’t get at it to break it down. For the past couple of decades, scientists have assumed that these carbon-mineral bonds amounted to a long-lasting “sink” for soil carbon–keeping it out of the atmosphere by storing it in a stable form over many centuries.

“But from the beginning, there was a question that made a lot of folks uneasy,” said Kleber. “If carbon keeps going into the soil and staying there, then why aren’t we drowning in carbon? Isn’t there some process that takes it back into the cycle? That part was not very well researched, and it was what we were trying to find.” The researchers tested three model compounds for common “root exudates”–chemicals commonly excreted by plant roots–to see how strongly each one stimulated the microbes that drive organic-matter decomposition….


Marco Keiluweit, Jeremy J. Bougoure, Peter S. Nico, Jennifer Pett-Ridge, Peter K. Weber, Markus Kleber. Mineral protection of soil carbon counteracted by root exudates. Nature Climate Change, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2580



Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide limits soil storage

Posted: 15 Apr 2015 06:00 AM PDT

Soil carbon may not be as stable as previously thought, scientists report, adding that soil microbes exert more direct control on carbon buildup than global climate models represent. This study, researchers say, provides insight into the mechanisms determining long-term soil carbon storage, knowledge that can be used to improve climate model representations of the global carbon cycle... Carbon dioxide, the major cause of global warming, is released to the atmosphere when oil, coal, and gasoline are burned. Soils contain the largest pool of terrestrial organic carbon, helping counteract rising carbon dioxide levels and thus potentially playing a key role in modulating climate change. Carbon accumulates in soil through many years of plant photosynthesis and is lost from soil as microscopic organisms, mostly bacteria and fungi, decompose soil carbon, converting it back to carbon dioxide and releasing it to the atmosphere. The balance of these two processes and the future of the soil carbon sink are uncertain. How much will soil organic carbon persist, and how much of this carbon will soil microorganisms convert back to carbon dioxide? By comparing data from experiments around the world with models of the soil carbon cycle, researchers have tested how soil carbon release by microbes responds to rising carbon dioxide. They found that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase both carbon’s input and release from the soil. Thus, soil carbon may not be as stable as previously considered, and soil microbes have more direct control on carbon storage than is represented in today’s global climate models.


K. J. van Groenigen, X. Qi, C. W. Osenberg, Y. Luo, B. A. Hungate. Faster Decomposition Under Increased Atmospheric CO2 Limits Soil Carbon Storage. Science, 2014; 344 (6183): 508 DOI: 10.1126/science.1249534



The frozen soil of the northern polar regions holds billions of tonnes of organic carbon – and global warming could speed its escape into the atmosphere.

Permafrost holds key to release of trapped carbon.

By Tim Radford April 15, 2015 Climate News Network

LONDON − Three sets of scientists in the same week have helped narrow the uncertainties about how the natural world will respond to extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Carbon locked in the frozen earth will escape gradually as the Arctic permafrost melts – but the scientists say the process could accelerate. As greenhouse gas levels soar, and soils warm, and plant roots tap down into the carbon stored there by centuries of ancient growth, they will release potent chemicals that will accelerate microbial attack – and speed up the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The soil carbon cycle is one of the great headaches of climate science. And the Arctic is the first place to look for answers about it, and about how the Earth and oceans that store atmospheric carbon will respond to global warming. Around half of the world’s buried organic carbon is locked away in the soils of the northern circumpolar permafrost, and this huge vault of deep-frozen peat and leaf litter – more than 1,000 billion metric tonnes in the top three metres, at the latest estimate − contains twice as much carbon as is held in the atmosphere. But the Arctic is the fastest-warming region on the planet, so what will happen as the permafrost thaws and plants begin to move north? Would it all be surrendered to the atmosphere in one devastating exhalation, triggering an explosion in global warming and causing trillions of dollars in economic damage?

An international team within the Permafrost Carbon Network thinks not. Their verdict, published in Nature journal, is that the current evidence suggests “a gradual and prolonged release of greenhouse gas emissions in a warming climate”. That is, humankind would have time to adapt. “The data from our team’s syntheses don’t support the permafrost carbon bomb view,” says one of the team members, David McGuire, professor of landscape ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “What our syntheses do show is that permafrost carbon is likely to be released in a gradual and prolonged manner, and that the rate of release…


A complex landscape has both vulnerabilities and resilience to climate change

Posted: 03 Apr 2015 06:59 AM PDT

In Central Appalachia, changes in precipitation and temperatures are likely to reduce habitat suitability for some tree species, including iconic species such as American beech, eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, red spruce, and sugar maple. Species with ranges that extend largely to the south — such as eastern red cedar, post oak, and shortleaf pine – may have increases in suitable habitat and biomass as the region warms.


Climate change attacks: Western Canada to lose 70 percent of glaciers, study says

By Justin Wm. Moyer April 7

Canada has always been a land of majesty, mystery and stand-up comedians. But come 2100 A.D., the Great White North will be a lot less icy: A new study predicts that Western Canada will lose 70 percent of its glaciers to climate change by the end of the century. “Most of that is going to go, and most seems to be on its way out,” Garry Clarke, professor emeritus in the department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences at the University of British Columbia, said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. Clarke is the lead author on the paper “Projected deglaciation of Western Canada in the twenty-first century,” published Monday in Nature Geoscience. The study used computer models to predict how planet Earth’s rising temperatures will affect the climate north of the 49th parallel. “Few glaciers will remain in the Interior and Rockies regions, but maritime glaciers, in particular those in northwestern British Columbia, will survive in a diminished state,” the paper reads. “… Our projected changes of ice cover in western Canada have broader ramifications for aquatic ecosystems, agriculture, forestry, alpine tourism, water quality and resource development. Clarke said that even the worst-case scenario speculated about by the paper looks better than other models….






California’s January-March temperature since 1895. An arrow points to state’s amazing recent warmth. (NOAA via Climate Central)

There’s A 60 Percent Chance El Niño Could Last All Year

by Joe Romm Posted on April 10, 2015 at 8:00 am Updated: April 10, 2015 at 9:59 am

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a 60 percent chance that the El Niño it declared in March will continue all year. An El Niño is a weather pattern “characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.” Robust El Niños are associated with extreme weather around the globe. They also generally lead to global temperature records, as the short-term El Niño warming adds to the underlying long-term global warming trend. El Niños are typically California drought-breakers, but as the top graph shows, that hasn’t been the case so far. As I discussed last week, some climatologists believe that we may be witnessing the start of the long-awaited jump in global temperatures — a jump that could be as much as as 0.5°F. It already appears likely that March will be hot enough to set yet another global record for the hottest 12 months on record (April 2014 through March 2015) and a global record for hottest start to a year (January through March) ever. NOAA released its “consensus probabilistic forecast” of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) for the rest of this year, from its Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and Columbia University’s International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society. Note that the ENSO state — El Niño, neutral, or La Niña — is generally based on the sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly in the NINO3.4 region of the Equatorial Pacific….


Wind Bursts Strongly Affect El Nino Severity

Apr. 15, 2015 — A new study finds that prolonged wind bursts originating in the western Pacific can have a strong effect on whether an El Nino event will occur and how severe it is likely to be


Greatest mass extinction driven by acidic oceans, study finds

Posted: 09 Apr 2015 11:30 AM PDT

Changes to the Earth’s oceans, caused by extreme volcanic activity, triggered the greatest extinction of all time, a study suggests. The amount of carbon added to the atmosphere that triggered the mass extinction was probably greater than today’s fossil fuel reserves, the team says. However, the carbon was released at a rate similar to modern emissions. This fast rate of release was a critical factor driving ocean acidification, researchers say.


Calif. Continues to Shatter Temperature Records

Published: April 8th, 2015 By Andrea Thompson

The dubious records keep piling up for California, a state wracked by four years of drought brought on by a pernicious weather pattern that has kept rains at bay and exacerbated by human-induced warming. Just one week after the state measured its lowest-ever snowpack, U.S. scientists have announced that the year so far has been the warmest on record, setting expectations for a long, hot, dry year ahead, “2015 to date has been truly astonishingly warm in California, and we’re breaking almost all the temperature records there are to break,” Daniel Swain, an atmospheric science PhD student at Stanford University, said in an email. The broiling temperatures have played a key role in the state’s dire drought, now in its fourth year and with no signs of abating. The January-March temperature record bested last year’s record by a solid 1.8°F, according to figures released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; 2014 turned out to be the warmest year on record in the state. What the punishing temperatures so far this year mean for how 2015 as a whole will shape up is difficult to say, as “we are only 3 laps into a 12-lap race,” NOAA climatologist Jake Crouch wrote in an email. “If the rest of 2015 is near average for California in terms of temperature, the state would still be rivaling for one of the warmest years on record,” he said. To top last year’s record, the rest of the year would have to be at least above average, he added. The continued back-to-back records — California also saw its hottest winter last year and then again this year — speak to the unusual situation the state is in. “We’re shattering temperature records here in California consecutively now year upon year, which is really amazing from a statistical and climatological perspective,” Swain said. Part of this is due to a stubborn weather pattern that has been in place over several winters, and that some scientists, including Swain, have tentatively linked to climate change. The pattern has locked in a high pressure ridge over the western U.S., sending temperatures soaring and blocking much needed storms. But like the globe as a whole, California has also seen a steady rise in temperatures over recent decades due to the heat-trapping effects of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere. The buildup of those gases has effectively weighted the climate dice toward more heat records and fewer cold ones, including at the state level. “I can say that record warm states, whether for a month, season, or year, have been much more common over the past decade than record cold states,” Crouch said. Since January 2010, there have been 11 times as many statewide monthly heat records as cold records, Crouch calculated. Warm outpaced cold by a factor of 30 when looking at records spanning both the three-month seasons and three-month quarters. The toasty temperatures in California have exacerbated the drought, which was set in motion by the weather pattern that has largely kept much-needed rains away. As temperatures rise, they amp evaporation, melt snow prematurely, and juice water usage, depleting already dwindling reserves……

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Anesthetic equipment in a crash room at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Liverpool. Image: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire/Associated Press

Anesthetics may be changing Earth’s climate after putting patients to sleep

By Andrew Freedman April 7, 2015

Some of the most commonly-used anesthetics may be doing more than putting patients to sleep. A new study shows they are accumulating in the planet’s atmosphere, warming the climate by a small but growing amount.

The study, published online in March in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that while the contributions of most manmade airborne anesthetics are relatively small when compared to the warming effect of carbon dioxide and methane, which are two of the biggest manmade players in causing global warming, they are increasing the amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere. The study examines halogenated inhalation anesthetics, rather than anesthetics that are delivered intravenously. These inhalation anesthetics aren’t metabolized during clinical application, and go on to evaporate into the atmosphere. The study found evidence of a “rapid accumulation and ubiquitous presence” of three of these anesthetics in particular: isoflurane, desflurane and sevoflurane.

Each of these gases used for putting patients to sleep prior to and during surgery pack a global warming punch that’s far above their weight class. Of these three gases, the one with the biggest global warming influence is desflurane, according to the study. For example, 2.2 pounds of desflurane is equivalent to 5,512 pounds of carbon dioxide, in terms of the amount of greenhouse warming potential, according to a press release from the American Geophysical Union. “On a kilogram-per-kilogram basis, it’s so much more potent” than carbon dioxide, says Martin Vollmer, an atmospheric chemist at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in Dubendorf, Switzerland, who led the new study, in the release. Vollmer and his colleagues detected the anesthetics at varying amounts throughout the world, including their presence in the pristine Antarctic atmosphere. The study found that desflurane has an atmospheric concentration of 0.30 parts per trillion, while sevoflurane and halothane were present at 0.13 parts per trillion and 00.0092 parts per trillion. These chemicals are frequently used anesthetics, the study says. In comparison, carbon dioxide — which hit 400 parts per million last year and is already creeping above that mark at times this year — is a billion times more abundant than these anesthetics, according to the study. The researchers analyzed air samples from the Northern Hemisphere since 2000, as well as aboard research ships in the North Pacific and Antarctic, in addition to two sites in Switzerland.


Global Warming Is Already Clobbering the Amazon

April 14, 2015

When it comes to doing research in the Amazon, Oliver Phillips says the worst part is the sweat bees. Phillips, an ecologist from the University of Leeds who has been working in the Amazon for 30 years, says the bees don’t bite or sting or carry diseases, like many of the rainforest’s other insects, but “they’re just all over you.” The instant you start sweating—which is the instant you set foot in the Amazon—they swarm your limbs, your nose, even your eyes, ravenously feeding on the salt in your perspiration. “They don’t do any damage except drive you crazy,” Phillips says. For Phillips, sweat bees are an occupational hazard. He’s hiked—on purpose—into swamp forests in Peru, wading through stagnant water that smells like rotten eggs. He’s returned to areas of forest he thinks he knows well, only to find them flooded. But no matter the obstacle, he gets out his measuring tape and doesn’t leave until he and his colleagues have recorded the height and girth of every single tree in a 100 square meter plot. A few years later, they’ll come back to the same spot and do it all again . . . . By tracking “the growth and the history and the death of every single tree” within those plots, Phillips says, Rainfor can calculate how much carbon the Amazon sucks up and stores, thereby keeping it out of the atmosphere where it would contribute to global warming. Tracking changes in the amount of carbon stored and released by the rainforest indicates how the Amazon is responding to—and potentially influencing—climate change. And if scientists want to have any hope of understanding how climate change will affect the world, they must have data from the Amazon. Every year, the world’s largest rainforest cycles through 18 billion tons of carbon per year as its 6 million square kilometers of trees breathe in carbon dioxide and release it back into the atmosphere when they die. That’s more than twice as much carbon as fossil fuels emit all over the world. Mess with this system and the consequences will reverberate around the world. But scientists are less sure about what exactly those consequences will be. The fact is, climate models have no idea what to do with the Amazon as global warming hits its stride. They don’t know whether the rainforest will grow voraciously, nourished by the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or die off completely, becoming a savanna. They don’t know whether annual rainfall will increase or decrease over the next 100 years. They can’t tell scientists whether or not the devastating droughts of 2005 and 2010 are anomalies or the new normal. When fed all the data scientists have, climate models don’t even spit out the current, documented weather patterns in the Amazon. “All the models [predict] rainfall in the morning,” says Maria Assunção Faus da Silva Dias, an atmospheric scientist and climate modeler at the University of São Paulo. “But nature does it after lunch.” The problem is that scientists don’t have all that much data on the Amazon, especially in proportion to its importance in global climate systems. Which brings us back to the sweat bees. Fieldwork in the Amazon is rough, and huge swaths of the forest remain inaccessible even to the most determined scientist. This presents a paradox to field researchers. They want to collect long term climate data from parts of the Amazon that will likely remain untouched by deforestation for several decades to come. But that pristine forest will avoid the axe precisely because it’s the hardest to get to.


Warming seas pose habitat risk for fishy favorites

April 13, 2015

Popular North Sea fish such as haddock, plaice and lemon sole could become less common on our menus because they will be constrained to preferred habitat as seas warm, according to a study published today in Nature Climate Change.
Fish distributions are limited by water temperature and some species can only thrive in certain habitats and depths. In the last 40 years the North Sea has warmed four times faster than the global average and further warming is predicted over the coming century, leading fisheries scientists to study how this will impact on commercial species. The researchers developed a model that combined long-term fisheries datasets and climate model projections from the Met Office to predict the abundance and distribution of the UK’s favourite fish over the next 50 years . . . . Dr Steve Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology & Global Change at the University of Exeter, said the findings are important for both consumers and the fishing industry: “We will see a real changing of the guard in the next few decades. Our models predict cold water species will be squeezed out, with warmer water fish likely to take their place. For sustainable UK fisheries, we need to move on from haddock & chips and look to Southern Europe for our gastronomic inspiration.”


Economic Collapse Will Limit Climate Change, Predicts Climate Scientist

Till Bruckner Posted: 04/14/2015 9:27 am EDT Updated: 04/15/2015 4:59 am EDT

If you think your doctor is hard to understand, try talking to a climate scientist. In late 2014, the World Bank published a remarkable document that should have shaken the international business world. Titled “Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal“, it drew on 1,300 publications to explore the impacts of a world four degrees centigrade warmer – the world our grandchildren seem likely to inherit before the end of this century. Authored by climate scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the report’s three hundred plus pages are densely written and often hard for non-experts to understand. However, some passages about the impact of a 4°C temperature rise are crystal clear. Here a section on North Africa: “There is a considerable likelihood of warming reaching 4°C above pre-industrial levels within this century… Crop yields are expected to decline by 30 percent with 1.5-2°C warming and up to 60 percent with 3-4°C warming… Large fractions of currently marginal rain-fed cropland are expected to be abandoned or transformed into grazing land; current grazing land, meanwhile, may become unsuitable for any agricultural activity…One sentence really caught my attention: “In a 4°C world, mean summer temperatures are expected to be up to 8°C warmer in parts of Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq…” If summer mean temperatures are set to rise by more eight degrees in this already scorching region, I wondered, what about maximum temperatures? According to the study: “In a 4°C world, 80 percent of summer months are projected to be hotter than 5-sigma (unprecedented heat extremes) by 2100, and about 65 percent are projected to be hotter than 5-sigma during the 2071-2099 period.” [emphasis in the original]

As I’ve got no idea what that actually means, I jumped at the chance to talk with climate scientist Christopher Reyer, one of the co-authors of the study, on the edge of a public event organized by the World Bank in Morocco last week. So, I asked, what kind of maximum summer temperatures do people in Morocco’s fabled desert city of Marrakech face in a +4°C world? “That’s very hard to answer,” he told me, “but the distribution curve will shift towards the extreme ends.” Well, yes, but considering that the average summer maximum there is already 38 degrees, and the local record maximum to date is a sizzling 47 degrees Centigrade [116 degrees Fahrenheit], what kind of heat are we looking at? Reyer told me that he’d looked over that question with his team back in Germany – I’d emailed it to him beforehand – and basically couldn’t answer it without some complicated calculations taking into account the exact shape of the city’s current temperature curve. Exasperated, I dug further. What does ‘5-sigma’ mean? “It’s quite clear that temperatures will be warmer,” Reyer said.
By way of comparison, he explained, the 2003 heat wave in Europe [in which an estimated 70,000 people died during a 2.3°C hotter-than-usual summer], was only a 3-sigma event.

So, would it be possible to survive a 5-sigma event outdoors in Marrakech? “That depends how you define ‘survive’,” answered the climate wonk, adding that it would probably be survivable if you kept to the shade and didn’t move. However, any kind of human activity would be impossible in that kind of temperature. To wrap up the interview, I asked Christopher Reyer how much hotter he thought the planet would be by the year 2100. “I’m not sure,” he replied, “I’m not an expert on the policy side.” I persisted, asking him not for an official projection, just for his best personal guess, a single number. He visibly relaxed. I guess it should be between three and four degrees hotter. We used to think that we were headed for +8°C, but that will never happen. We are not even on track for +6°C because economies will be collapsing long before we get there. We know that after +2°C, dangerous things start happening, and we start passing crucial tipping points, like the West Antarctica ice sheet collapse, which has reportedly already begun.” What will a two degrees warmer world, which we seem likely to inhabit by 2050, look like? “Two degrees is not a picnic either. Imagine events like the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Russian heat wave which had repercussions on the global wheat market, and Hurricane Katrina, all of them happening simultaneously everywhere in the world.”
Oh, so that’s what the climate scientist was trying to say all along: We face an avalanche of global disasters during our lifetime, and unless we slam the brakes on carbon pollution fast, the global economy will collapse to boot. And, be warned, there will be 5-sigma heat events too.







The Pacific Ocean will feed a desalination plant in Carlsbad, Calif. The intake of seawater and the disposal of salt into the ocean can harm sea life, environmentalists say. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Time

For Drinking Water in Drought, California Looks Warily to Sea


CARLSBAD, Calif. — Every time drought strikes California, the people of this state cannot help noticing the substantial reservoir of untapped water lapping at their shores — 187 quintillion gallons of it, more or less, shimmering so invitingly in the sun. Now, for the first time, a major California metropolis is on the verge of turning the Pacific Ocean into an everyday source of drinking water. A $1 billion desalination plant to supply booming San Diego County is under construction here and due to open as early as November, providing a major test of whether California cities will be able to resort to the ocean to solve their water woes. Across the Sun Belt, a technology once dismissed as too expensive and harmful to the environment is getting a second look. Texas, facing persistent dry conditions and a population influx, may build several ocean desalination plants. Florida has one operating already and may be forced to build others as a rising sea invades the state’s freshwater supplies. In California, small ocean desalination plants are up and running in a handful of towns. Plans are far along for a large plant in Huntington Beach that would supply water to populous Orange County. A mothballed plant in Santa Barbara may soon be reactivated. And more than a dozen communities along the California coast are studying the issue. The facility being built here will be the largest ocean desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, producing about 50 million gallons of drinking water a day. So it is under scrutiny for whether it can operate without major problems. “It was not an easy decision to build this plant,” said Mark Weston, chairman of the agency that supplies water to towns in San Diego County. “But it is turning out to be a spectacular choice. What we thought was on the expensive side 10 years ago is now affordable.” In San Diego County, which depends on imported freshwater supplies from the Colorado River and from Northern California, water bills already average about $75 a month. The new plant will drive them up by $5 or so to secure a new supply equal to about 7 or 8 percent of the county’s water consumption. The plant will use a huge amount of electricity, increasing the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming, which further strains water supplies. And local environmental groups, which fought the plant, fear a substantial impact on sea life….The company developing the plant here, Poseidon Water, has promised to counter the environmental damage. For instance, it will pay into a California program that finances projects to offset emissions of greenhouse gases.


Still, some scientists and environmental groups contend that if rainy conditions return to California, the plant here and others like it could become white elephants. Santa Barbara, northwest of Los Angeles, built its desalination plant a quarter-century ago and promptly shut it down when rains returned. Australia is a more spectacular case: It built six huge desalination plants during a dry spell and has largely idled four of them though water customers remain saddled with several billion dollars’ worth of construction bills.
“Our position is that seawater desalination should be the option of last resort,” said Sean Bothwell, an attorney with the California Coastkeeper Alliance, an environmental coalition that has battled California’s turn toward the technology. “We need to fully use all the sustainable supplies that we have available to us first.”

The rising interest in desalination is not simply a matter of desperation, though that is certainly a factor in states with growing populations and few obvious sources of new water. Advocates say the technology has improved markedly over the past 20 years. While the water can cost twice as much as conventionally treated water, it is still less than a penny a gallon, and that is starting to look tolerable in parched regions.

Desalination has grown into a huge industry, with more than 15,000 plants operating around the world. Many are small and treat brackish groundwater, requiring much less energy and costing less than seawater treatment. The United States already has scores of these smaller plants. Huge plants treating seawater have been rare here, but they exist elsewhere, particularly in chronically dry regions like the Middle East. In little more than a decade, Israel has moved from perpetual water crisis to a point where it will soon get half its water from desalination. Israeli engineers have become sought-after partners in many cities, and are involved in the Carlsbad project.


The technological approach being employed here, and in most recent plants, is called reverse osmosis. It involves forcing seawater through a membrane with holes so tiny that the water molecules can pass through but larger salt molecules cannot. A huge amount of energy is required to create enough pressure to shove the water through the membranes. But clever engineering has cut energy use of the plants in half in 20 years, as well as improving their reliability. Future desalination plants also have the potential to blend well with the rising percentage of renewable power on the electric grids in California and Texas. Since treated water can be stored, the plants could be dialed up at times when electricity from wind or solar power is plentiful, and later dialed down. However, as interest in desalination spreads, California and other states confront major decisions about the environmental rules for the new plants. Both the intake of seawater and the disposal of excess salt into the ocean can harm sea life. Sucking in huge amounts of seawater, for instance, can kill fish eggs and larvae by the billions. Technical solutions exist, but they can drive up costs, and it is still unclear how strict California regulators will be with the plant developers.
Environmental groups argue that the embrace of desalination represents a failure to manage freshwater effectively. They want much more aggressive programs focused on conservation and on reuse of existing supplies, pointing out that half of municipal water here still goes to grass and other lawn plants. These arguments have sometimes carried the day, as they did when voters in Santa Cruz effectively killed a desalination plant….



Wasteful irrigation practices in California. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr

Three Ways the West Can Adapt To Drought

Published: April 14th, 2015 By John Upton

Unlike its golden-brown neighbor further south, Washington state was blessed with relatively generous storms over winter. But, as was the case in drought-stricken California, the naturally wild whims of Pacific Ocean winds conspired with a touch of global warming to bask the Evergreen State in unusual wintertime warmth. Instead of snowfall, Washington residents huddled under winter rains, and what little snowpack accumulated has been quickly wasting away….. Scientists warn that climate change could deliver “megadroughts” to the West, the likes of which haven’t been experienced in more than a millenium. “I’m seeing this year as a dress rehearsal for the future,” Amy Snover, director of the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group, said. Snover divides the potential adaptation strategies into three categories — increasing water supply, decreasing water demand, and increasing flexibility.

Increasing Water Supply

Water managers are looking to replace the projected losses of snowpacks, which serve as natural reservoirs, with new and expanded ways of storing water….. “‘Storage’ encompasses a lot of measures beyond new reservoirs, many of which are likely to be far more cost-effective,” Natural Resources Defense Council water expert Kate Poole said. “We have a lot of opportunity to increase storage at the household and business level, by expanding use of rain barrels, cisterns, and swales to capture runoff more effectively.” Recycled water, including treated sewage, can be used on gardens and in industrial processes instead of being flushed into rivers and oceans, alleviating pressure on potable water supplies. Poole and others also note that tremendous water storage potential lies beneath the feet of Westerners. Underground aquifers are being pumped at unsustainable rates, largely for use on farms. During a recent decade, enough groundwater to fill Lake Mead and Lake Powell combined was pumped out of the Colorado River Basin. Replenishing those aquifers during wet times could provide storage and improve the sustainability of groundwater pumping. “The best option for new storage is not surface storage, but groundwater storage,” Peter Gleick, a water expert and president of the California-based nonprofit Pacific Institute, said. “It’s sort of like surface reservoirs — you’re storing water, but you don’t have to build a dam, you don’t have to destroy another river, and you don’t have to worry about evaporative losses.” Such an approach is being tested southwest of the city of Bakersfield, Calif., where the Kern Water Bank is capturing surplus water supplies beneath the ground.

Decreasing Demand

The drought in California has become so dire that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) recently announced the first mandatory water restrictions affecting cities and towns in the state’s history. Farms had already seen their water supplies from state and federal reservoirs severely curtailed. Such regulations can help reduce demand for water — but there are other ways. Pacific Institute research suggests that farms, which consume most of the water used in California, could reduce their water use in the state by a fifth just by modernizing their irrigation practices. A report published last year by the Pacific Institute and NRDC showed that businesses and homes could reduce their water use by more than half by installing efficient bathroom and kitchen fittings, fixing leaks and replacing lawns with hardy native plants.

Increasing Flexibility

Water in the West is governed through archaic systems of rights, in which senior rights holders get first dibs on water supplies, which they lose to junior rights holders if they don’t use them all up. Under these “use it or lose it” systems, senior water rights holders can’t trade their water rights to, say, a junior rights holder growing more economically productive crops. And that can encourage profligate waste. “There’s a lot of rigidity in the way we manage our water systems,” the University of Washington’s Snover said. Changing such systems would involve changing entire legal frameworks in place in Western states. Brown recently hinted that California might attempt such reforms, and Idaho has already instituted some such changes. Idaho’s water resources board describes its Water Supply Bank as a “water exchange market” designed to “encourage the highest beneficial use of water” while raising new sources of revenue.
Idaho’s system is “only possible with new institutional flexibility,” Snover said — flexibility that other states may also need to adopt as they stare down water futures that are very different from their pasts.


Bottom of Form


Homes in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in the Coachella Valley. Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered a 25 percent statewide reduction in non-agricultural water use. CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times 

California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth

A punishing drought is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been the state’s engine has run against the limits of nature.


LOS ANGELES — For more than a century, California has been the state where people flocked for a better life — 164,000 square miles of mountains, farmland and coastline, shimmering with ambition and dreams, money and beauty. It was the cutting-edge symbol of possibility: Hollywood, Silicon Valley, aerospace, agriculture and vineyards. But now a punishing drought — and the unprecedented measures the state announced last week to compel people to reduce water consumption — is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been this state’s driving engine has run against the limits of nature.
The 25 percent cut in water consumption ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown raises fundamental questions about what life in California will be like in the years ahead, and even whether this state faces the prospect of people leaving for wetter climates — assuming, as Mr. Brown and other state leaders do, that this marks a permanent change in the climate, rather than a particularly severe cyclical drought. This state has survived many a catastrophe before — and defied the doomsayers who have regularly proclaimed the death of the California dream — as it emerged, often stronger, from the challenges of earthquakes, an energy crisis and, most recently, a budgetary collapse that forced years of devastating cuts in spending. These days, the economy is thriving, the population is growing, the state budget is in surplus, and development is exploding from Silicon Valley to San Diego; the evidence of it can be seen in the construction cranes dotting the skylines of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But even California’s biggest advocates are wondering if the severity of this drought, now in its fourth year, is going to force a change in the way the state does business. Can Los Angeles continue to dominate as the country’s capital of entertainment and glamour, and Silicon Valley as the center of high tech, if people are forbidden to take a shower for more than five minutes and water bills become prohibitively expensive? Will tourists worry about coming? Will businesses continue their expansion in places like San Francisco and Venice? “Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here,” said Kevin Starr, a historian at the University of Southern California who has written extensively about this state. “This is literally a culture that since the 1880s has progressively invented, invented and reinvented itself. At what point does this invention begin to hit limits?”
California, Dr. Starr said, “is not going to go under, but we are going to have to go in a different way.”

An estimated 38.8 million people live in California today, more than double the 15.7 million people who lived here in 1960, and the state’s labor force exploded to 18.9 million in 2013 from 6.4 million people in 1960.
California’s $2.2 trillion economy today is the seventh largest in the world, more than quadruple the $520 billion economy of 1963, adjusted for inflation. The median household income jumped to an estimated $61,094 in 2013 from $44,772 in 1960, also adjusted for inflation.

“You just can’t live the way you always have,” said Mr. Brown, a Democrat who is in his fourth term as governor. “For over 10,000 years, people lived in California, but the number of those people were never more than 300,000 or 400,000,” Mr. Brown said. “Now we are embarked upon an experiment that no one has ever tried: 38 million people, with 32 million vehicles, living at the level of comfort that we all strive to attain. This will require adjustment. This will require learning.” This disconnect, as it were, can be seen in places like Palm Springs, in the middle of the desert, where daily per capita water use is 201 gallons — more than double the state average. A recent drive through the community offered a drought-defying tableau of burbling fountains, flowers, lush lawns, golf courses and trees. The smell of mowed lawn was in the air.

But the drought is now forcing change in a place that long identified itself as “America’s desert oasis.” Palm Springs has ordered 50 percent cuts in water use by city agencies, and plans to replace the lawns and annual flowers around city buildings with native landscapes. It is digging up the grassy median into town that unfurled before visitors like a carpet at a Hollywood premiere. It is paying residents to replace their lawns with rocks and desert plants, and offering rebates to people who install low-flow toilets. At the airport that once welcomed winter-chilled tourists with eight acres of turf and flowers, city officials are in the early stages of replacing the grass with cactus, desert bushes and paloverde trees. The city had hoped to replace the entire lawn, but the project’s $2 million price tag forced it to begin instead with three acres, said David Ready, the city manager.

“Years ago the idea was, come to Palm Springs, and people see the grass and the lushness and the green,” Mr. Ready said. “We’ve got to change the way we consume water.”

Fallow Fields

Other places face different threats to their way of life. Mayor Robert Silva of Mendota, in the heart of the agricultural Central Valley, said unemployment among farmworkers had soared as the soil turned to crust and farmers left half or more of their fields fallow. Many people are traveling 60 or 70 miles to look for work, Mr. Silva said, and families are increasingly relying on food donations.

“You can’t pay the bills with free food,” he said. “Give me some water, and I know I can go to work, that’s the bottom line.” Richard White, a history professor at Stanford University, said the scarcity of water could result in a decline in housing construction, at a time when there has been a burst of desperately needed residential development in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. “It’s going to be harder and harder to build new housing without an adequate water supply,” he said. “How many developments can you afford if you don’t have water?” Greg Smith, 51, a web developer who works from his home in Escondido, said he was considering moving to Washington State because of his distress at what he described as the state’s slow response to the drought. “If this gets out of control, I’ll probably end up leaving,” Mr. Smith said. “This has been a problem for as long as I’ve been alive.”

“I’ve watched this state get trampled by developers,” he added. “They keep building homes, but where’s the water going to come from?” The governor’s executive order mandates a 25 percent overall reduction in water use throughout the state, to be achieved with varying requirements in different cities and villages. The 400 local water supply agencies will determine how to achieve that goal; much of it is expected to be done by imposing new restrictions on lawn watering. The 25 percent reduction does not apply to farms, which consume the great bulk of this state’s water. State officials signaled on Friday that reductions in water supplies for farmers were likely to be announced in the coming weeks, and there is also likely to be increased pressure on the farms to move away from certain water-intensive crops — like almonds.

A New Normal

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, pointing to Mr. Brown’s executive order and his own city’s success in reducing water consumption, said he was confident that the state would find ways to deal with an era of reduced water supplies, in a way that would permit it to continue to grow and thrive. “We have to deal with a new normal,” Mr. Garcetti said. “That said, do we have enough water to sustain life here? Absolutely. Do we have enough water to grow economically? Absolutely.” “Cities that are much drier and truly desert — Phoenix, Las Vegas — have shown the ability to have economic growth,” he said….



In Sequoia National Park, the paltry snowpack has forced skiers to hike to higher elevations to find enough snow for spring skiing. Credit Brian Melley/Associated Press

In Parched California, Innovation, Like Water, Has Limits

APRIL 7, 2015 NY TIMES Eduardo Porter

California’s drought has not spared A. G. Kawamura. A former state secretary of food and agriculture, Mr. Kawamura grows vegetables and strawberries south of Los Angeles in Orange County. He was relatively lucky, losing 15 percent of one green bean crop when his well went dry last June, two and a half weeks before harvest. Still, the fields have remained fallow since then. “If I didn’t have another farm, I would be out of business.”

Despite his worry over California’s four-year drought and its weirdly warming winter, Mr. Kawamura remains optimistic about farmers’ ability to adapt through human ingenuity. Irrigation systems have evolved from furrows to sprinklers to drips in the three generations since his family began farming in what is now the highly urbanized Los Angeles basin. These days, he said, there’s a water district experimenting with human waste, extracting methane and hydrogen to use for fuel and injecting the water into the aquifer. Australians have developed a technique to irrigate with brackish water, using the brine as fertilizer and cleaning out the water for use on site. He also sees promise in techniques to harvest water from the air.

Innovation, however, has a limit. California’s main challenge is not technological, but economic and political. One thing to keep in mind is that the state still has plenty of water. It just doesn’t have enough for every possible use, no matter how inefficient and wasteful. California’s cities consume 178 gallons per person per day, on average. That’s 40 percent more than the per capita water consumption in New York City and more than double that of parched Sydney, in Australia. A byzantine system of historic rights established to allocate water across the American Southwest actually encourages overuse. Even today, as almond trees in the Central Valley’s Kern County stand dead, farmers elsewhere in the state are planting new acres with this extremely thirsty crop, which sucks as much water in a year as Los Angeles does in three. And the decision by Gov. Jerry Brown to exempt farmers from California’s first restrictions ever on water use, even though they consume some 80 percent of the surface water used in the state, underscores the scale of the political challenge. But even if California moves to a more efficient system for allocating water among competing users — a big if — its problems are just beginning.

An almond seedling in a new orchard in Hanford, Calif. Almonds are an extremely thirsty crop, and California farmers are planting new orchards. Credit Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Most scientists agree there is little evidence to conclusively tie the recent instances of extreme weather to human-driven climate change. But there is little question that climate change will have a big impact on the weather and the availability of water, in the not-so-distant future. A new study by three researchers from Stanford University concluded that human emissions of carbon dioxide had increased the odds that California will suffer repeated combinations of warm temperature and low precipitation, “the co-occurring warm-dry conditions that have created the acute human and ecosystem impacts associated with the ‘exceptional’ 2012—2014 drought in California.”

And if such emissions continue growing throughout the century, researchers from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and Cornell University estimated that the entire American Southwest would face at least an 80 percent chance of suffering a multidecade “mega-drought” from 2050 through 2099…..



Pistachios and almonds have made the desert boom, but it’s taking its toll on the state’s ecology.

Cheap Water for Agriculture Worsens California Water Crisis

April 9, 2015 San Jose Inside

“I’ve been smiling all the way to the bank,” pistachio farmer John Dean said at a conference hosted earlier this month by Paramount Farms, the world’s largest almond and pistachio processor. Paramount is owned by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire known for his sprawling agricultural holdings, controversial water dealings and millions of dollars in campaign contributions to California politicians. The record drought, now entering its fourth year in California, has alarmed the public, left some rural communities without drinking water and led Gov. Jerry Brown last week to impose the first mandatory water restrictions in the state’s history. But the governor’s executive order required cutbacks only from the urban sector that uses roughly 20 percent of California’s developed water; the agricultural sector, which uses 80 percent, was required only to formulate “plans” for coping with future drought. Responding to criticism about letting agriculture off easy, Brown and his aides pointed out that farmers have already been cut back. In February, U.S. officials announced that agriculture’s allocation of federal water supplies in California would be cut to zero in 2015. State water allocation to agriculture will be only 20 percent in 2015. And these reductions come on top of earlier cutbacks in 2014. Yet despite such cutbacks, farmers like Dean and Resnick are enjoying record profits—and increasing the acreage planted in alfalfa, almonds and other notoriously water-intensive crops—thanks in part to infusions of what experts call dangerously underpriced water….



To Fight the Drought, L.A. Needs a Rain Revolution

Dry, thirsty Los Angeles is trying to capture more storm water, restore a river and learn from the past

By Cynthia Barnett Wall Street Journal April 16, 2015 11:48 a.m. ET

A fast-moving Pacific storm swept across northern California and down the coast to Los Angeles last week, bringing a rare rain delay to Dodger Stadium in the middle of the season opener—and some relief to the vast urban population suffering from the state’s severe drought. Unlike thirsty cities of the past—such as ancient Carthage in Tunisia, which meticulously captured every drop of its scant rain—metro Los Angeles wasted much of the .36 inch that fell on April 7. Flowing across miles of highways, rooftops and parking lots, the liquid manna made its way to L.A.’s ubiquitous, concrete storm gutters, which then rushed it away to the Pacific Ocean.
This was entirely by design. Over the course of the 20th century, city leaders worked to banish rainfall to protect Angelenos from a very different sort of disaster. Before engineers built mammoth flood-control dams and turned the sinewy L.A. River into a 54-mile storm drain, fierce floods had routinely washed away homes and killed residents of the fast-growing city. Large-scale flood control saved lives, but it also carried two unhappy and unintended consequences. In L.A., as elsewhere, storm water running off filthy streets and car parks has become a major source of pollution, fouling beaches, bays and rivers. In addition, rain captured and redirected this way couldn’t be used to quench thirst in dry times. Today, an estimated 85% of Los Angeles is urbanized—65% of it covered in asphalt and concrete. This keeps rainfall from seeping back into the ground to top off aquifers and makes it unavailable for drinking water. The Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University in Burbank, Calif., estimates that L.A.’s massive flood-control system shunts some 520,000 acre-feet of rainfall to the Pacific Ocean each year—enough to supply water to perhaps a half million families. Fortunately, L.A. has made some progress in restoring the balance. The city that has long represented concrete sprawl at its most dystopian is changing its relationship with rain. From individual backyards to college campuses, many Angelenos are installing cisterns and taking sledgehammers to sealed surfaces so that floodwaters can drain more naturally and rain can return to the aquifers. The city was already at work on the long-term dream of restoring the L.A. River, but this drought has made clear that won’t be enough. “The work on the river is incomplete without also working on the water that falls in the foothills….










Mayor Launches ‘First-Ever’ Sustainability Plan For LA Economy, Environment

April 8, 2015 11:20 AM
LOS ANGELES ( — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti released a long-range plan Wednesday aimed at making the city more economically and environmentally sustainable.

The Sustainable City Plan calls for “an environmentally healthy, economically prosperous, equitable future in the context of an expected population growth of 500,000 people over the next 20 years,” according to the Mayor’s office.Not only does the plan make L.A. the potential national leader in solar, electric vehicle infrastructure, water conservation and green jobs, it also also new ground by making what Garcetti’s office called the city’s “first-ever commitments” towards zero emissions goods movement at the Port of Los Angeles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and reducing per capita vehicle miles traveled.
Along with an executive order signed by Garcetti ordering implementation of the plan across all city departments, private organizations and individual Angelenos are being asked to “Adopt the Plan” in order to ensure its success, the mayor said. “Los Angeles grew into one of the world’s great cities because its residents and leaders dreamed, planned and then took action to build the metropolis we enjoy today,” said Garcetti….


From Community Conservation Solutions: L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled his vision for a  sustainable Los Angeles with “the pLAn” – a suite of far-reaching environmental goals for the city of L.A. Directed by Chief Sustainability Officer Matt Petersen, Mayor Garcetti’s vision includes capturing 150,000 acre-feet of stormwater every year, replacing 50% of L.A.’s imported water with local water by 2035, and substantial reductions of greenhouse gas emissions



Garcetti Unveils “Sustainable City pLAn” Includes Transportation and Livability Goals

by Joe Linton Wednesday April 8 2015

At a public signing ceremony this morning in Echo Park, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti introduced his ambitious new “Sustainable City pLAn.” The environmental plan [PDF] describes itself as “a roadmap for a Los Angeles that is environmentally healthy, economically prosperous, and equitable in opportunity for all — now and over the next 20 years.” The mayor’s event was well attended by more than 200 people, including city department heads and many environmental leaders.

The document is extensive, but written very simply and clearly. For each category, the plan includes very specific, measurable goals for 2025 and 2035. Additionally, it includes near-term outcomes to be completed by 2017.

There is a whole lot to like in the 100-page Sustainable City pLAn – from water to solar energy to waste to urban agriculture. This article just summarizes outcomes directly related to transportation and livability. Those include:

Mobility and Transit: (page 54)

  • Outcome: Reduce daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 5 percent by 2025, and by 10 percent by 2035. 2012 per capita VMT was 14.7 miles/day, according to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).
  • Outcome: Increase the mode share percentage of all trips made by walking, bicycling, and transit to at least 35 percent by 2025, and to at least 50 percent by 2035. 2012 walk/bike/transit mode share totaled 26 percent, per SCAG.
  • Outcome: Increase trips through shared services – car share, bike share, ride share – to at least 2 percent by 2025, and to at least 5 percent by 2035. 2012 shared transportation mode share totals 0.9 percent, per SCAG.
  • Near-Term Outcomes for 2017: implement 1,000-bike bike share (Metro regional bike share underway), and increase multimodal connections at 10 rail stations.
  • Strategies and Priority Initiatives include: build bike infrastructure, expand and upgrade Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), expand rail network, expand dynamically priced parking, and revise parking minimums.

Livable Neighborhoods: (page 92)

  • Outcome: Implement Vision Zero policy to reduce traffic fatalities.
  • Outcome: Increase L.A.’s average Walk Score to 75 by 2025. Current L.A. average is 64.
  • Strategies and Priority Initiatives include: Adopt Vision Zero policy, establish multi-agency Vision Zero task force, incorporate pedestrian safety into all street designs/redesigns, expand People St, and increase number/scope of CicLAvias.

 Housing and Development: (page 48) 

  • Outcome: Increase the percentage of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) by ensuring proportion of new housing units built within 1,500 feet of transit is at least 57 percent by 2025, and at least 65 percent by 2035. In 2014, new housing was 24 percent transit-adjacent, per L.A. City.
  • Near-Term Outcomes for 2017: Issue permits for 17,000 new units of housing within 1,500 feet of transit.
  • Strategies and Priority Initiatives include: Leverage re:code L.A. to promote a transit-oriented city, work with Metro on affordable housing joint development opportunities (underway), update parking regulations to foster bike and car share.

Air Quality: (page 74)

  • Outcome: By 2025, zero days when air pollution reaches unhealthy levels. In 2013, there were 40 non-attainment days, per South Coast Air Quality Management District.
  • Strategies and Priority Initiatives include: Convert local goods movement to zero-emission and support electric vehicle infrastructure, including greening the city’s fleets.

 Environmental Justice: (page 80)

  • Outcome: Reduce the number of annual childhood asthma-related emergency room visits in L.A.’s most contaminated neighborhoods to less than 14 per 1000 children in 2025, and to less than 8 per 1000 children in 2035. In 2010, L.A.’s highest zip code saw 31 visits, per Plan for a Healthy L.A.
  • Outcome: Ensure all low-income Angelenos live within a half mile of fresh food by 2035.

Urban Ecosystem: (page 86)

  • Outcome: Complete 32 miles of Los Angeles River public access by 2025. As of 2014, 13.3 miles have public access, per L.A. City Bureau of Engineering.

Carbon and Climate Leadership: (page 34)

  • Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 1990 baseline by 45 percent in 2025, 60 percent in 2035, and 80 percent in 2050.

….It is telling that the plan acknowledges the Bloomberg Associates sustainability team, including Rohit Aggarwala, the mastermind behind PlaNYC. Former NYC Mayor Bloomberg laid the groundwork for New York City’s streets transformation with the quantifiable framework outlined in PlaNYC. The plan was praised wholeheartedly by environmental and business leaders at this morning’s event. Mayor Garcetti pledged that this “is not a plan for the shelves.” At today’s event he signed a mayoral directive [PDF] that requires all city departments incorporate pLAn outcomes into their departmental activities. In addition, the directive establishes sustainability officers in applicable city departments and bureaus, and sets up a reporting mechanism to track city progress on pLAn outcomes



Vatican Announces Major Summit On Climate Change

by Jack Jenkins Posted on April 15, 2015 at 4:46 pm Updated: April 16, 2015 at 7:35 am

Catholic officials announced on Tuesday plans for a landmark climate change-themed conference to be hosted at the Vatican later this month, the latest in Pope Francis’ faith-rooted campaign to raise awareness about global warming.

The summit, which is scheduled for April 28 and entitled “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity. The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development,” will draw together a combination of scientists, global faith leaders, and influential conservation advocates such as Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is slotted to offer the opening address, and organizers say the goal of the conference is to “build a consensus that the values of sustainable development cohere with values of the leading religious traditions, with a special focus on the most vulnerable.”

“[The conference hopes to] help build a global movement across all religions for sustainable development and climate change throughout 2015 and beyond,” read a statement posted on several Vatican-run websites.


Sonoma County Water Agency hits clean energy goal


To pump, treat and transport the drinking water for 660,000 North Bay residents, the Sonoma County Water Agency uses enough electricity every day to power the equivalent of about 6,500 local homes. Going forward, all that electricity will be from renewable and carbon-free sources, meaning it will come from the expanding network of solar installations popping up around the county, as well as from The Geysers geothermal fields on the Sonoma-Lake county line and other established green energy projects. The Water Agency has been moving steadily toward the clean energy goal since 2006 and this year expects to hit its target, a benchmark that officials celebrated on Monday. “This is a big deal,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who gathered with local and state lawmakers at the headquarters of Santa Rosa Water, the city’s utilities department. “If we’re going to tackle this huge problem of climate change, we’re going to have to address that embedded footprint in how we manage water.” The two largest local renewable energy sources for the Water Agency include hydroelectric power generated by Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma, which supplies more than a quarter of the agency’s needs, and a power plant that generates electricity from methane gas at the Central Landfill, accounting for about 55 percent of the agency’s needs. The remainder of the Water Agency’s supply comes from a combination of local solar installations — the water wholesaler has installed three systems totaling more than 3,000 solar panels on county-owned property — and from sources linked to Sonoma Clean Power, the public provider, or other hydroelectric projects.









The sun rises over the U.S. Capitol, where lawmakers approved language saying climate change should be tackled in the 2016 federal budget. CREDIT: AP

Did The Senate Just Say Yes To Action On Climate Change?

by Emily Atkin Posted on April 16, 2015 at 3:27 pm Updated: April 16, 2015 at 5:11 pm

It’s not a bill, it’s non-binding, and there’s no guarantee anything will actually come of it. But either way, the Republican-led Senate apparently thinks climate change should be tackled in the final federal budget for fiscal year 2016.

On Thursday evening, the Senate approved a motion to instruct budget negotiators to “insist” that the final spending bill include measures to address human-caused climate change. Specifically, it calls for funding that “respond[s] to the causes and impacts of climate change, including the economic and national security threats posed by human-induced climate change.” Via the motion, budget negotiators were also instructed to provide funds for the Department of Defense to bolster resilience of critical military infrastructure to the impacts of climate change. This, of course, does not mean that the final budget will definitely include funding to respond to the threats of human-caused warming. All it means is that the Senate has officially stated that the budget should include that type of allocation. The lawmakers participating in the budget conference committee are under no official obligation to do so, however.

Still, the motion’s passage is notable if only because of the Senate’s historically lukewarm position toward the reality of climate science. According to a Center for American Progress analysis, a whopping 70 percent of Senate Republicans do not accept the science that states greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming.

That denial has manifested itself in Senate policy so far this session — in the first 100 days of the 2015 session, 44 percent of Senate roll call votes were cast on energy or environment-related legislation, much of which was focused on promoting fossil fuel development. And the Senate’s current majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has aggressively pledged to stop the Obama administration’s efforts to fight climate change.

So, if the Senate has overall been so against climate action, then how did this motion pass?

The first and most likely reason is that the motion was part of what’s been called a “mini vote-a-rama,” which in this case was a series of back-to-back votes on non-binding measures. The measures were all procedural, basically just telling their colleagues who are negotiating the budget which issues they should focus on.

Thursday’s mini vote-a-rama took three hours, and most of the procedural votes were on issues that had already passed in the Senate’s budget resolution. The motion to prioritize climate efforts was one of those issues that had already passed.

In other words, the vote was pretty inconsequential. The Senators probably just wanted to get out of there. So the motion to prioritize climate funding for the Department of Defense passed. Big whoop. And anyway, Republicans in general love the Department of Defense — and the DOD wants money to fight the impacts of climate change.

Another possible reason the motion passed, though, is that it was done by voice vote — meaning there was no roll call taken. So if a Republican Senator wanted to vote for the measure to include climate funding in the budget, no one would know. No one would be held politically responsible for voting for or against it.



Legal Battle Begins Over Obama Bid to Curb Greenhouse Gases


President Obama‘s most far-reaching regulation to slow climate change will have its first day in court on Thursday, the beginning of what is expected to be a multiyear legal battle over the policy that Mr. Obama hopes to leave as his signature environmental achievement.
In two separate but related cases to be jointly argued in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the country’s two largest coal companies, along with 14 coal-producing states, have challenged a proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulation, which the agency issued under the authority of the Clean Air Act, to curb planet-warming carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. If put in effect as E.P.A. officials have proposed, the rule is intended to fundamentally transform the nation’s power sector, shuttering hundreds of coal plants and expanding renewable energy sources such as wind and solar….


When Climate Science Clashes With Real-World Policy

April 12, 2015

When a San Francisco panel began mulling rules about building public projects near changing shorelines, its self-described science translator, David Behar, figured he would just turn to the U.N.’s most recent climate assessment for guidance on future sea levels. He couldn’t. Nor could Behar, leader of the city utility department’s climate program, get what he needed from a 2012 National Research Council report dealing with West Coast sea level rise projections. A National Climate Assessment paper dealing with sea level rise didn’t seem to have what he needed, either. Even after reviewing two California government reports dealing with sea level rise, Behar says he had to telephone climate scientists and review a journal paper summarizing the views of 90 experts before he felt confident that he understood science’s latest projections for hazards posed by the onslaught of rising seas. “You sometimes have to interview the authors of these reports to actually understand what they’re saying,” Behar said. “On the surface,” the assessments and reports that Behar turned to “all look like they’re saying different things,” he said. “But when you dive deeper — with the help of the authors, in most cases — they don’t disagree with one another very much.” Governments around the world, from Madison, Wis., and New York City to the Obama Administration and the European Union have begun striving in recent years to adapt to the growing threats posed by climate change. But the burst of adaptation planning threatens to be hobbled by cultural and linguistic divides between those who practice science and those who prepare policy….



8 things you need to know about Hillary Clinton and climate change

April 12, 2015

It’s strange to remember how bitterly divisive the 2008 Democratic presidential primary battle was. Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s platforms and ideological positioning were awfully similar. And on the chief difference between them — Obama’s less hawkish foreign policy — the victor wiped away that distinction by appointing Clinton as secretary of state. Now Clinton has announced her candidacy and is poised to coast through the 2016 Democratic primaries as her party’s prohibitive favorite. Would a Clinton presidency be essentially a third Obama term? On climate change and energy, it seems the answer is yes. For better and for worse, Clinton’s record and stances are cut from the same cloth as Obama’s. Her close confidant and campaign chair, John Podesta, served as an Obama advisor with a focus on climate policy. Like Obama and Podesta, Clinton certainly seems to appreciate the seriousness of the threat of catastrophic climate change and to strongly support domestic policies and international agreements to reduce carbon emissions. But, like Obama and Podesta, she subscribes to an all-of-the-above energy policy. She promotes domestic drilling for oil and natural gas, including through potentially dangerous fracking….


Pope Francis is a powerful messenger for climate change

April 12, 2015

This summer, Pope Francis plans to release an encyclical letter in which he will address environmental issues, and very likely climate change. His statement will have a profound impact on the public debate. For one, it will elevate the spiritual, moral and religious dimensions of the issue. Calling on people to protect the global climate because it is sacred, both for its own God-given value and for the life and dignity of all humankind, not just the affluent few, will create far more personal commitment than a government call for action on economic grounds or an activist’s call on environmental grounds. Making a case on theological grounds builds on long-standing arguments in the Catholic catechism that environmental degradation is a violation of the seventh commandment (“Thou shalt not steal”) as it involves theft from future generations and the poor. Against such a moral backdrop, the very call to “make the business case to protect the global climate”—a common tactic to argue for action on climate change – seems rather absurd. The pope’s statement will shift the tenor of the public and political conversation in needed ways. But perhaps even more important than the content of the message is the messenger: the pope….



Nestle investigated for taking water from national forest with expired permit

Katie Dowd SF Chronicle Published 10:50 am, Tuesday, April 14, 2015

As the drought deepens across California and water restrictions take effect, Nestle won’t be making friends with this bit of news. Federal officials are investigating the food and beverage company for using expired permits to take water out of a national forest to be used as bottled water. According to the U.S. Forest Service, Nestle Waters North America has been using a permit that expired in 1988 to draw water from Strawberry Canyon in the San Bernardino National Forest. A pipeline takes that water through the forest to a site where it is later bottled as Arrowhead spring water. Needless to say, folks aren’t happy.  More than 135,000 people have signed a petition by the Courage Campaign demanding that the California Water Resources Control Board ban Nestle from bottling California water during the drought. “These are our water savings accounts, and we’re drawing them down like there is no tomorrow,” Courage Campaign executive director Eddie Kutz told ThinkProgress. But Nestle’s not the only one to blame. Apparently the Forest Service wasn’t even aware of the issue until the Desert Sun newspaper brought the matter to their attention. The Cucamonga Valley Water District, which has a contract with Nestle that includes selling its water to them for bottling, is also working off an expired permit. Theirs expired in 1994. Forest Service officials are hurriedly trying to fix these oversights by carrying out the environmental reviews necessary to renew a permit. Results of the review can take 18 months to two years — too long, say some activists who want Nestle’s activities to halt immediately. According to the Desert Sun, forest officials are contemplating “interim conditions” while the environmental analysis takes place….



Apple adds forests, China solar project to its green portfolio

ASSOCIATED PRESS April 17, 2015 PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) — In a quest to be more green, Apple says it is investing in Chinese solar power and preserving forests that make environmentally friendly paper. The initiatives come as the tech giant this year met a self-imposed goal of powering all its U.S. operations with renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions — initiatives that have won high marks from environmental groups. On Thursday, Apple announced a new focus on using paper from trees harvested under environmentally sound conditions. It’s also promising to use more renewable power overseas, where Apple relies heavily on contract manufacturers — and where a top executive acknowledged the company can do more. “It’s important to us to tackle climate change everywhere we are,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environmental initiatives, told The Associated Press. “When you talk about China, you’re talking about manufacturing partners. We’re looking to bring the same innovation there. This is the start.” The new solar project in China has a capacity of 40 megawatts, which is smaller than some projects Apple has announced in the United States. By comparison, Apple is spending $850 million for rights to nearly half the output of a 280-megawatt solar facility planned for construction south of Apple’s Cupertino, California, headquarters. That project will produce enough energy to power all of Apple’s California offices, a computer center and 52 retail stores. Still, the Chinese project will produce more than the amount of energy consumed by Apple’s 19 corporate offices and 21 retail stores in China and Hong Kong, Jackson said. She added that Apple uses renewable energy for 87 percent of the power at its facilities worldwide. That figure, however, doesn’t include substantial power consumption by contract manufacturers. With the new project in China, Apple is looking to improve its own operations first. “Before we go somewhere else and start asking and eventually requiring clean energy, you want to make sure you show folks how to do it,” said Jackson, who was U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator during President Barack Obama’s first term. Apple and other tech companies have drawn criticism in the past for use of toxics in manufacturing and data centers powered by electricity from coal. But Apple’s moves away from those practices in recent years have won accolades from groups like Greenpeace, which issued a statement praising the Chinese project Thursday. Jackson declined to say how much Apple is investing in the Chinese project, which is being built in partnership with U.S. energy company SunPower and four Chinese firms. Although China is known for heavy reliance on coal, its government has set aggressive goals for solar, wind and hydroelectric power….




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Workers install solar panels on a rooftop on February 20, 2015, at a home in Palmetto Bay, Florida. KERRY SHERIDAN/AFP/Getty Images

Report: The way we power our homes may be on the verge of a major change

By Chris Mooney April 7 2015 Washington Post

In recent years, the growth of the rooftop solar market has been astounding. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the growth rate for at-home solar has been above 50 percent for three years running (2012, 2013, and 2014).But if a new study is to be believed, the changes have only begun. The way we get power is “at a metaphorical fork in the road,” says the new report released today by the Rocky Mountain Institute, an influential energy policy think tank. The reason is not just rooftop solar but, beyond that, the growing feasibility of home electricity systems combining solar panels with batteries for storage of energy. “Grid-connected self-consuming solar will become economic for nearly all customers imminently, with grid-connected solar plus-battery systems following soon after,” notes the study, which was co-authored by Homer Energy. Customers will chose these options, the study finds, because they’ll save money on their bills. And once they can not only generate their own power from the sun, but can also store it until they need it (including overnight, when there’s no sun shining), the old model of buying all your power from a single utility company could be strongly challenged.

The new report agrees with another recent study, just out in the journal Energy Policy, that people will not be abandoning the grid en masse. But over time, more and more of the electrons that they use to power their homes and lives could. While most people will stay connected so that they’ll always have backup power, they’ll increasingly generate and store more and more of their own, and potentially sell it back to the grid (a key reason to remain connected)…..


U.S. Carbon Emissions Falling to Two-Decade Low in Coal Shift

April 9, 2015

Carbon dioxide emissions will slip to the lowest since 1994 as U.S. utilities shift away from coal in favor of solar, wind and natural gas. The power grid will add a record amount of solar energy as coal plants idle in response to cheap gas and tighter environmental regulations, according to a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance released Thursday. As a result of the shift, emissions blamed for global warming from power generation will fall 15 percent below 2005 levels. Developers will install 9.1 gigawatts of solar panels and 8.9 gigawatts of wind turbines this year, helping to replace the 23 gigawatts from coal plants that are expected to close. The rest will come from gas, which power producers will burn at a record rate. “In 2015, we’ll take a giant, permanent step toward decarbonizing our entire fleet of power plants,” William Nelson, head of North American analysis at BNEF, said in a statement. The trend will continue over the next four years at a slower pace than in 2015 as incentives for wind and solar energy decline, he said. U.S. President Barack Obama in November pledged to cut emissions by at least 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.


Dispersant used to clean deepwater horizon spill more toxic to corals than the oil

Posted: 09 Apr 2015 07:19 AM PDT

The dispersant used to remediate the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is more toxic to cold-water corals at lower concentrations than the spilled oil, according to a new study that comes on the eve of the spill’s fifth anniversary, April 20th.



Illustrated by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan

Mysterious Hot Spot Shows Up On US Thermal Map, East of Four Corners

April 12, 2015

There is a magical land in the American Southwest called “The Four Corners.” This is the only place in the United States where four states come to meet at a perfect intersection—one corner of each of four states meet at the same point, hence the name. Those states are Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Ok, it is not a “magical place,” but it is pretty cool. However, at least for now, the Four Corners is a bit more mysterious as researchers from NASA and the University of Michigan have noticed a hot spot about 2,500 sq miles wide just due east of the famous landmark. For all intents and purposes, this thermal distortion is about half the size of Connecticut. The researchers noticed this spot by looking at old mappings from satellite data collected between 2003 and 2009. They conclude that the hotspot is a collection of very potent greenhouse gas (like methane) and suspect that, perhaps, it is leaking from a natural gas operation somewhere within the San Juan Basin. This is the most productive coalbed methane site in the whole country; so that theory certainly holds water.







Science for Parks, Parks for Science – Now Online!

Summit Now Online Thanks to the National Park Service, we were able to livestream the opening ceremony, the keynote by E.O. Wilson and all the plenary lectures. The livestream of E.O. Wilson’s keynote “Saving half the world for the rest of life” was the most watched livestream in the history of UC Berkeley! You can now view all these recordings here. …Our recent conference “Science for Parks, Parks for Science: The Next Century” was a great success. We welcomed over 530 participants from as far away as Israel, Australia, Mexico and Canada. Our youngest participants were 5 week old “Flora” and 10 week old “Bodie” – who rely on good results from our conversations about science for parks, parks for science: the next century.




Vernal Pool Restoration – How to Restore the Landscape Tuesday, April 21, 2015 – Noon PT or 3:00 p.m. ET 

Mick Micacchion, Midwest Biodiversity Institute; Christina M. Schaefer, Schaefer Ecological Solutions; and Aram J.K. Calhoun, The University of Maine

For more information and to register, click here.


Human-Climate Interactions and Evolution: Past and Future Friday, May 15, 2015, from 1:005:30 pm at the Salk Institute, Conrad T. Prebys Auditorium.  

You must Login or Create An Account in order to register for events on this site.

Speakers listed below. Our early ancestors evolved on a drying, cooling, and highly variable planet, which has led to competing ideas as to how climate may have shaped human evolution. Equally compelling is the question of how and when humans began to affect their surroundings to such an extent as to become a force of climate change, with disruptions affecting the globe today. According to earth scientists, paleontologists, and scholars in other fields, the planet has entered a new geological phase – the Anthropocene, the age of humans. How did this transition of our species from an apelike ancestor in Africa to the current planetary force occur?  What are the prospects for the future of world climate, ecosystems, and our species?  This symposium presents varied perspectives on these critical questions from earth scientists, ecologists, and paleoanthropologists. Admission is free and open to the public; however, registration is required.  To register, go to:
LIVE WEBCAST Note that the entire symposium will once again be viewable online via a live webcast.   A link to the live webcast will be posted on the event page on the day of the event.  You will need to log in to your CARTA account in order to access the live webcast. If you have any questions about this event, feel free to send e-mail to






Communicating about Climate Impacts and Engaging Stakeholders in Solutions April 30 & May 1, 2015, 9:00am – 5:00pm, Romberg Tiburon Center, Tiburon, CA

With Cara Pike from Climate Access. $310 includes lunch and all materials — Limited scholarships are available

Bay Conference Center, Romberg Tiburon Center, 3152 Paradise Drive, Tiburon, CA 94920


16th Bay Area Conservation Biology Symposium
on May 2nd, 2015 Call for Abstracts & Opening of Registration

The Berkeley Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology would like to announce the 16th Bay Area Conservation Biology Symposium on May 2nd, 2015. Since the 1990s, this one-day conference has showcased the pioneering conservation biology science by graduate students at Bay Area universities and researchers at local agencies and NGOs. Our theme for this year is “Bridging Boundaries for Effective Conservation,” which will foster discussion around connectivity across institutions, disciplines, research methods, and landscapes. We now welcome abstract submissions for oral presentations and posters. Please visit the Registration & Abstracts page to submit your abstract.

  • Abstract submission closes: March 14th
  • Decisions on submitted abstracts: March 30th
  • Early registration closes: April 18th

Please visit our website at for more information including plenary speakers, schedule, and directions. This event is sponsored by UC-Berkeley’s Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management. Questions? Email us at


2015 Bay Area Open space Conference May 14, 2015
The 2015 Open Space Conference will focus on innovation, attempts, and lessons learned across the broad field of land conservation. Join 500+ Bay Area leaders in conservation, parks and recreation, and resource management – as well as leaders in health, business, and policy – to learn how we can try, learn and repeat individually and collectively. The conference is on May 14 at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, next to the Rosie the Riveter Museum, and on the Bay Trail. Registration is here.



National Adaptation Forum
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.



22nd annual conference

California Society for Ecological Restoration (SERCAL)

“Restoration for the Next Generation” May 12-14 2015 San Diego

The annual SERCAL conference is attended by a diverse mix of researchers, students, consultants, nonprofit and agency scientists, planners, and landowners/managers, and is a great venue for professional development and for staying current with new advances in ecological restoration.  “Call for Abstracts” document ( The deadline for abstract submission is Feb. 4, 2015. Please note the five additional conference sessions (Wetlands/Water, Urban, Mitigation Banks, Special-status Plant Species, and Using Restoration to Accomplish Non-restoration Goals) – abstracts are being sought for these sessions as well. A poster session will also be held, and abstracts for this event are also welcome. The conference (May 13-14) will be proceeded by a day of field trips related to restoration in Southern California.



First San Joaquin River Restoration Program Science Symposium

June 11-12, 2015, Los Banos Community Center, Los Banos, CA.  More information will follow soon, but save the date!  


American Water Resources Association (AWRA): “Climate Change Adaptation”  June 15 – 17, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana
Abstracts due to AWRA website: 02/13/2015  

The focus of the conference is on ACTION – how we more effectively develop and use climate change adaptation information to respond, build resilient systems, and influence decision makers. The conference will bring water professionals from federal, state, local, and private sectors together to focus on the issues that need to be addressed to develop effective strategies for mitigating climate change impacts such as sea-level rise, changes in precipitation patterns, increased severe weather events, and worsening droughts, AND more effectively communicate such information to decision makers. Conference sessions will be devoted to addressing the following questions:


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

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


Grand Challenges in Coastal & Estuarine Science: Securing Our Future 8 – 12 November, 2015 Oregon Convention Center | Portland, Oregon
Registration for the CERF 23rd Biennial Conference is now open! The CERF 2015 scientific program offers four days of timely, exciting and diverse information on a vast array of estuarine and coastal subjects. Presentations will examine new findings within CERF’s traditional scientific, education and management disciplines and encourage interaction among coastal and estuarine scientists and managers. Plus, there are plenty of workshops, field trips, and special events to get involved with that will make this conference one you won’t want to miss.


December 13-18, 2015 San Francisco

Abstract Submissions are OPEN for the 21st Biennial. We are currently accepting abstract submissions for workshops, oral, speed and poster presentations for the 21st Biennial Society for Marine Mammalogy Conference, to take place in San Francisco from December 13-18, 2015.  The submission deadline is May 15th, 2015.  Workshops will be held on December 12-13th.



The 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting will be held 21-26 February 2016 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, located at 900 Convention Center Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70130. Cosponsored by AGU, ASLO, and TOS, the Ocean Sciences Meeting will consist of a diverse program covering topics in all areas of the ocean sciences discipline. The abstract submission site will open 15 July 2015; stay tuned for more details about how to be a part of the scientific program.




JOBS  (apologies for any duplication; thanks for passing along)


Rangeland Watershed Initiative Partner Biologist, Petaluma, CA 

For more info: Breanna Owens,, Rangeland Watershed Initiative Coordinator

The Rangeland Watershed Initiative Partner Biologist is a Point Blue Conservation Science position in partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that will focus on providing value added delivery of wildlife conservation programs on working lands through Farm Bill and other federal and state funding programs.  The Partner Biologist will actively participate with NRCS Field Conservationists, working lands producers, and other resource professionals in the development of ranch and farm conservation plans, including resources assessments, conservation practice design and implementation.  In particular, they will seek to expand the adoption of prescribed rangeland and cropland management practices under NRCS Farm Bill habitat conservation programs.  The Partner Biologist will also be involved with assessment and monitoring of conservation practices that have been applied on those working lands.  This position will provide technical assistance with NRCS field conservationists to working lands producers whose primary focus is on the implementation of conservation in rangeland cropland, wetland, and riparian habitats.  This position, dependent on funding, is intended to be a full time position for a 3-year term with benefits.  The position will be located in the NRCS Petaluma Field Office, covering Sonoma and Marin Counties of California.


President & CEO of NatureBridge

Do you know a leader who is passionate about connecting kids to nature? I am conducting a search for the next President & CEO of NatureBridge, a leading environmental education nonprofit headquartered in San Francisco. We are seeking a skilled senior-level executive with a deep commitment to the preservation of the natural world.   NatureBridge believes environmental education should be part of every child’s experience. Over 40 years, the organization has helped over 1 million kids connect with nature. Approximately 30,000 students participate in their residential field environmental programs each year in Yosemite National Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Olympic National Park, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Channel Islands National Park, and at their newest site in Prince William Forest Park in Virginia. NatureBridge is in the process of transforming into a truly national organization, and becoming more integrated across multiple program sites. The organization is reorienting from a loose federation of local campuses to a single national educational institution that is focused on engaging and empowering young people so that they can grow into environmentally literate citizens who support a sustainable future. Successful candidates will have a breadth of successful general management and leadership experiences in the nonprofit, public and/or private sector, and experience moving a complex organization from ambitious vision to successful execution. Strong external relations skills and a deep connection to the mission are also required. To learn more about this opportunity or to apply, please see the full opportunity announcement on our website.









Black flamingo spotted in Cyprus may be only bird of its type ever seen 

REUTERS Published: Friday, April 10, 2015, 9:17 AM Updated: Friday, April 10, 2015, 10:13 AM

A black flamingo is seen in a salt lake at the Akrotiri Environmental Centre on the southern coast of Cyprus.

An extremely rare black flamingo has been spotted on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, exciting nature lovers who said it may be the only bird of its type ever seen.

The flamingo, seen on the banks of a salt lake on Wednesday morning, is thought to have a genetic condition known as melanism, which causes it to generate more of the pigment melanin, turning it dark, rather than the usual pink color.

“From what have seen on the Internet, there was only one other sighting … in Israel, so maybe this is the second one,” said Pantelis Charilaou, head of the environmental department of the British Sovereign Bases, territory under the control of former colonial power where the bird was seen.

The flamingo, entirely black, save for a tuft of white feathers on its rear, was feeding with others on the banks of the lake on Wednesday afternoon. Experts said it may be the same one that was spotted in Israel in 2014.

The sighting in Cyprus happened during a flamingo count at a sprawling salt lake at the Akrotiri environmental center on the southern coast of Cyprus.

“A melanistic individual is a very, very rare sighting … basically its the opposite of an albino when the individual produces more melanin than normal,” Charilaou told Reuters Television.

Up to 20,000 greater flamingos descend on Aktoriri salt lake each year.


Focus on Oakland’s avian ambassadors: Group seeks to raise awareness of black-crowned night herons

CHIP JOHNSON SF Chronicle April 17, 2015

Oakland residents will awake Friday to find a chalk outline on the sidewalk — no not that kind. This one is for the birds. Literally. As part of a Golden Gate Audubon Society public awareness and education campaign, Oakland artists will draw chalk art of black-crowned night herons on the sidewalk outside the U.S. post office on Alice and 13th streets to commemorate the site of last spring’s gut-wrenching destruction of nests holding bunches of the baby birds. Night herons are found all over the world. Cindy Margulis, director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, calls them cultural ambassadors because they are familiar to Oak land residents, no matter their native country. They’re nocturnal creatures that hunt the Oakland estuary and Lake Merritt by night and grace downtown Oakland sidewalks by day. They can grow to be 2 feet tall and, yes, they are capable of making a prodigious mess with their … leavings. It’s that mess that led to another kind of mess last May that got a whole lot of people in trouble. It began when the post office hired tree trimmers to cut back a bunch of city-owned trees whose branches were hanging over into the post office parking lot….


Microbes help produce serotonin in gut

Posted: 09 Apr 2015 11:30 AM PDT

Although serotonin is well known as a brain neurotransmitter, it is estimated that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract. In fact, altered levels of this peripheral serotonin has been linked to diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. New research shows that certain bacteria in the gut are important for the production of peripheral serotonin.


Eight nutrients to protect the aging brain

Posted: 15 Apr 2015 05:33 PM PDT

Brain health is the second most important component in maintaining a healthy lifestyle according to a 2014 AARP study. As people age they can experience a range of cognitive issues from decreased critical thinking to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers write about eight nutrients that may help keep your brain in good shape.

1. Cocoa Flavanols: Cocoa flavanols have been linked to improved circulation and heart health, and preliminary research shows a possible connection to memory improvement as well. A study showed cocoa flavanols may improve the function of a specific part of the brain called the dentate gyrus, which is associated with age-related memory (Brickman, 2014).

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids have long been shown to contribute to good heart health are now playing a role in cognitive health as well. A study on mice found that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation appeared to result in better object recognition memory, spatial and localizatory memory (memories that can be consciously recalled such as facts and knowledge), and adverse response retention (Cutuli, 2014). Foods rich in omega-3s include salmon, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds.

3. Phosphatidylserine and Phosphatidic Acid: Two pilot studies showed that a combination of phosphatidylserine and phosphatidic acid can help benefit memory, mood, and cognitive function in the elderly (Lonza, 2014).

4. Walnuts: A diet supplemented with walnuts may have a beneficial effect in reducing the risk, delaying the onset, or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in mice (Muthaiyah, 2014).

5. Citicoline: Citicoline is a natural substance found in the body’s cells and helps in the development of brain tissue, which helps regulate memory and cognitive function, enhances communication between neurons, and protects neural structures from free radical damage. Clinical trials have shown citicoline supplements may help maintain normal cognitive function with aging and protect the brain from free radical damage. (Kyowa Hakko USA).

6. Choline: Choline, which is associated with liver health and women’s health, also helps with the communication systems for cells within the brain and the rest of the body. Choline may also support the brain during aging and help prevent changes in brain chemistry that result in cognitive decline and failure. A major source of choline in the diet are eggs.

7. Magnesium: Magnesium supplements are often recommended for those who experienced serious concussions. Magnesium-rich foods include avocado, soy beans, bananas and dark chocolate.

8. Blueberries: Blueberries are known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity because they boast a high concentration of anthocyanins, a flavonoid that enhances the health-promoting quality of foods. Moderate blueberry consumption could offer neurocognitive benefits such as increased neural signaling in the brain centers.



Powerful—and (be warned) very disturbing – preview of film on albatross and plastic pollution at Midway.














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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