Conservation Science News October 9, 2015

Focus of the Week – Governor Brown Signs Climate Resilience Legislation; Co-benefits of addressing climate change can motivate action











NOTE: Please share this news update that has been prepared for
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staff.  You can find these news compilations posted on line by clicking here.  For more information please see The items contained in this update were drawn from,,,,, and many other online sources. This is a compilation of information available on-line, not verified and not endorsed by Point Blue Conservation Science.  You can receive this news compilation by signing up for the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative  Newsletter or the Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consortium listserve.  You can also email me directly at ecohen at with questions or suggestions. 


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



Focus of the WeekGovernor Brown Signs Climate Resilience Legislation ; Co-benefits of addressing climate change can motivate action



Governor Brown Signs Climate Resilience Legislation

Adapted from The Nature Conservancy/California, Climate-Smart Policy Listserve

October 8, 2015


California has passed broad sweeping climate adaptation legislation. Following Governor Brown’s bold Executive Order issued in April (EO B-30-15), the legislature passed three bills aimed at enhancing California’s resilience and protecting its communities and ecosystems from the growing threats posed by climate change.

Earlier this year, the Governor issued an executive order that charted a proactive course for the state to respond to the impacts of climate change by directing state agencies to:


  • Update the Safeguarding California Plan – the state climate adaption strategy – to identify how climate change will affect California infrastructure and industry and what actions the state can take to reduce the risks posed by climate change;
  • Factor climate change into state agencies’ planning and investment decisions;
  • Incorporate climate change impacts into the state’s Five-Year Infrastructure Plan;
  • Implement measures under existing agency and departmental authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and,
  • Prioritize natural infrastructure in state agencies’ planning and investments.

The package of resilience bills builds on these goals and is an important step in safeguarding California from a changing climate. The bills hit all levels of government: state, regional, and local. They will enhance local climate planning efforts, coordinate statewide adaptation efforts, update the state’s adaptation plans and implement the strategies called for in the plans, and create a clearinghouse for climate research…. Nature and natural infrastructure is an essential part of any program to reduce climate impacts to human and natural communities and is most cost-effective climate adaptation strategy due to its multiple benefits.  While providing the same level of protection as gray or hard infrastructure, natural infrastructure also preserves habitat for wildlife, improves water quality, recharges aquifers, and increases surrounding property value.


The bills are summarized below:


SB 379 (Jackson) Land use: general plan: safety element

Requires cities and counties to include a climate vulnerability assessment and adaptation strategies in the Safety Element of their County General Plan, beginning January 1, 2017 or upon the next revision of the Hazard Mitigation Plan. Furthermore, it would require the plan to include a set of adaptation and resilience goals, policies, and objectives based on the vulnerability assessment, as well as feasible implementation measures, including the identification of natural infrastructure actions that may be used in adaptation projects. Planning this way would enhance the resiliency of California’s communities to climate change and ensure that local governments are planning early. 


AB 1482 (Gordon) Climate Resilience

Establishes a framework to coordinate climate adaptation efforts across state agencies and departments.  AB 1482 requires the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), in coordination with the Strategic Growth Council, to oversee and coordinate state agency actions to adapt to climate change.


The bill further requires CNRA to update the Safeguarding California Plan (SCP) (the state’s climate adaptation strategy) every three years and report back to the Legislature on the implementation of the Plan. The SCP will guide the development of policies and guidelines at the state level to inform planning decisions and ensure that state investments consider climate change impacts, as well as promote the use of natural infrastructure,
when developing physical infrastructure to address adaptation.


Finally, AB 1482 requires the Strategic Growth Council to review and comment on the state’s Five-Year Infrastructure Plan and the State Environmental Goals and Policy Report and coordinate alignment with the strategies and priorities in the SCP.


SB 246 (Wieckowski) Climate change adaptation

Fosters climate adaptation planning at the local level by establishing the Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program to be administered by the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to coordinate
state, regional, and local agency
adaptation efforts. SB 246 also requires the Office of Emergency Services, in coordination with the Natural Recourses Agency and OPR, to update the state’s Adaptation Planning Guide (APG) to provide tools and guidance to local governments in implementing climate adaptation and climate resiliency projects.


SB 246 further establishes an advisory council, made up of members with expertise in a variety of sectors, to support the goals of the OPR. Finally, SB 246 requires OPR to establish and maintain an information clearinghouse on adaptation that includes the most current science, projections, models, case studies, white papers, and tools on climate change and adaptation practices. 


For full text of the bills, visit:



Mountain meadoww


Emphasizing co-benefits motivates people to take action on climate change

A study shows people are more likely to support climate action if they know about the many extra benefits of doing so.


John Abraham Thursday 1 October 2015 06.00 EDT Last modified on Thursday 1 October 2015 06.03 EDT


A new paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change provides encouragement that people can be motivated to act on climate change. The title of the paper is, “Co-benefits of Addressing Climate Change can Motivate Action Around the World.”

Lead author Dr. Paul Bain and his colleagues wanted to know if emphasizing co-benefits when talking about climate change would motivate people to take action. They found that in many cases, the answer is yes.

First of all, what are co-benefits? Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Joel Pett provided some good examples in this cartoon.


Let’s say that you design a city so that there are green spaces and parks in a hope that you will reduce pollution. You might find out that the green spaces and parks cool the city, provide places of recreation and exercise, and generally improve the quality of life beyond merely pollution. These would be called co-benefits; they are extra benefits you get from your action.


The authors of this new study surveyed more than 6,000 people in 24 different countries to find out whether emphasizing co-benefits would make people more likely to act on climate. They classified co-benefits into four categories: development, benevolence, dysfunction, and competence.


Economic development is an example of a potential development co-benefit. For instance, installing wind turbines would lower greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs (jobs are a co-benefit). Benevolence relates to the how caring and moral people are in society and competence relates to whether people are skilled and/or capable. Dysfunction deals with negative effects such as pollution and disease. For instance, decreased disease and airborne pollution are a co-benefits.


The authors then asked how these co-benefits would influence peoples’ motivation to act on climate. People can act in a variety of ways, through citizenship (public action or voting for instance); they can act through personal choices (using energy more wisely, purchasing clean energy for example); or by donating to non-polluting causes and organizations.

When the authors reviewed the results of the surface, they found a consistent story. Motivations to act on climate change were clearly related to beliefs about co-benefits, especially for economic and scientific development (development co-benefit) and for building a more caring community (benevolence co-benefit).


So, how can this information be used? The authors wrote,

Communicating climate science and co-benefits of action should be complementary, not competing, strategies … Crucially, addressing co-benefits can motivate action independently of views about climate change importance, even for those unconvinced climate change is real.

When I communicated with Dr. Bain for further comment, he responded,

Our research shows that some co-benefits of addressing climate change can motivate public support and action around the world. Critically, the influence of these co-benefits did not depend on believing climate change is real or important or people’s political ideology, showing the potential of co-benefits in overcoming ideological hurdles that are currently holding back widespread action. This can help in targeting climate change policies and communication more effectively, so that climate change initiatives can not only address climate change but also achieve the broader social benefits people value.


Co-benefits of addressing climate change can motivate action around the world

Paul G. Bain et al Nature Climate Change (2015) doi:10.1038/nclimate2814

Received 02 August 2015 Accepted 01 September 2015 Published online 28 September 2015

Personal and political action on climate change is traditionally thought to be motivated by people accepting its reality and importance. However, convincing the public that climate change is real faces powerful ideological obstacles1, 2, 3, 4, and climate change is slipping in public importance in many countries5, 6. Here we investigate a different approach, identifying whether potential co-benefits of addressing climate change7 could motivate pro-environmental behaviour around the world for both those convinced and unconvinced that climate change is real. We describe an integrated framework for assessing beliefs about co-benefits8, distinguishing social conditions (for example, economic development, reduced pollution or disease) and community character (for example, benevolence, competence). Data from all inhabited continents (24 countries; 6,196 participants) showed that two co-benefit types, Development (economic and scientific advancement) and Benevolence (a more moral and caring community), motivated public, private and financial actions to address climate change to a similar degree as believing climate change is important.
Critically, relationships were similar for both convinced and unconvinced participants, showing that co-benefits can motivate action across ideological divides. These relationships were also independent of perceived climate change importance, and could not be explained by political ideology, age, or gender. Communicating co-benefits could motivate action on climate change where traditional approaches have stalled.






This photograph shows wild boar in a former village near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Credit: Valeriy Yurko

Chernobyl: At site of world’s worst nuclear disaster, the animals have returned

Posted: 05 Oct 2015 10:25 AM PDT

In 1986, after a fire and explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant released radioactive particles into the air, thousands of people left the area, never to return. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on October 5 have found that the Chernobyl site looks less like a disaster zone and more like a nature preserve, teeming with elk, roe deer, red deer, wild boar, and wolves. The findings are a reminder of the resilience of wildlife. They may also hold important lessons for understanding the potential long-term impact of the more recent Fukushima disaster in Japan….



New, ultra-detailed maps of Great Lakes recreational use will inform restoration priorities

Posted: 01 Oct 2015 06:37 AM PDT

Exceptionally detailed maps of five Great Lakes recreational activities have now been mapped by researchers who say the information can be used to help prioritize restoration projects….



Drones could make forest conservation monitoring significantly cheaper

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 05:24 AM PDT

Drones could monitor the success of forest regeneration in the tropics, suggests a new study. The researchers say automating the monitoring process leads to equally accurate results and could save a significant amount of time and money.


An estimated 70,000 pairs of gannets breed on Bass Rock each year

Offshore wind farms ‘threaten gannets’

By David Miller BBC Scotland environment correspondent 28 September 2015

Offshore wind farms could pose a more serious threat to Scotland’s globally important gannet population than previously thought, scientists claim. It is thought 12 times as many gannets could be killed by the turbines than previous estimates. It follows research which showed the seabirds fly at greater heights when searching for food than other studies have suggested. That is said to increase the risk of being hit by spinning turbine blades. The calculation was made by scientists from the universities of Leeds, Exeter, and Glasgow. Sources in the offshore wind industry have told BBC Scotland they believe the research must be treated with caution because it involved only a “tiny percentage” of the gannet population on the Bass Rock. But conservationists have responded by pointing out the size of the colony means the scientists would have had to study 800 individual birds if they were to achieve a sample size of only 0.5 per cent of the population. The Scottish government approved plans for four new offshore wind farms on the east coast in October 2014. RSPB Scotland is already challenging the Scottish government’s support for the developments in the courts, after arguing they “would be amongst the most deadly for birds anywhere in the world.”….


To breathe or to eat: Blue whales forage efficiently to maintain massive body size

Posted: 02 Oct 2015 11:48 AM PDT

As the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth, blue whales maintain their enormous body size through efficient foraging strategies that optimize the energy they gain from the krill they eat, while also conserving oxygen when diving and holding their breath, a new study has found….


Insect diversity decreases in gardens with non-native plants, study shows

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 12:59 PM PDT

Non-native plants reduce the diversity of insect populations in gardens, even where the non-native plants are closely related to the native plants, new research shows. The goal of this research was to understand how the composition of the plants that homeowners plant in their yards affects herbivore communities.


A three-egg western snowy plover nest is shown. Nests consist of a shallow scrape or depression on the surface of the beach, and are sometimes lined with shell fragments, plant debris, small pebbles, and other beach debris. Credit: Daniel Elbert, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Panel identifies most-effective methods for protecting western snowy plovers from raptors

Posted: 02 Oct 2015 07:33 AM PDT

Wildlife managers now have a technical report that can help them address raptors in their existing western snowy plover predation management plans. The report explores the effectiveness and feasibility of more than two dozen humane raptor control measures that can aid western snowy plover recovery. For breeding western snowy plovers–small, federally protected shorebirds that nest along the Pacific coast–the list of predators is long. Predation management for the species serves to control some of the bird’s most common predators–including coyotes, foxes, crows, and ravens–but less so for others, like raptors. Wildlife managers in the West now have a technical report that can help them address raptors in their existing western snowy plover predation management plans. Produced by the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, the report explores the effectiveness and feasibility of more than two dozen humane raptor control measures that can aid western snowy plover recovery. It is available online at

“Although many raptor control options exist, there has not been a comprehensive evaluation of which may be best for helping recovery of the plover,” said Bruce Marcot, a research wildlife biologist with the station and lead author of the report….

Researchers in Northwestern Hawaiian Islands finds highest rates of unique marine species

Posted: 01 Oct 2015 12:41 PM PDT

Scientists returned from a 28-day research expedition aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai exploring the deep coral reefs within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. During the trip, scientists recorded numerous species of marine life never before seen, including a possible new species of seahorse, and a sea star not previously found in Hawaii.


Collaborative behaviours, traditional practices

Posted: 01 Oct 2015 06:54 AM PDT

A new report on information practices in the physical sciences has been released by researchers. While cross-border and cross-disciplinary collaborations are breaking down subject siloes across the physical sciences, a culture of traditional and DIY information practices still holds sway among scientists when it comes to the curation, management and publication of formal research findings, the authors say.


Upfront: Rising up – Pacific Sun

July 2015 by Peter Seidman.

Could sea level rise be a good thing for Bolinas Lagoon? A climactic irony has led to altering previous assumptions about restoring the lagoon. Read more…



Soil Health Tools, Videos, Slides and Information from NRCS:

Soil Health is soil managed to its maximum potential through a system of conservation practices, including no-till, cover crops, advanced nutrient and pest management, and buffers and drainage systems where appropriate.

Dear Conservation Partner,


Like many of you, we at NRCS believe that Healthy Soil Offers Sustainable Solutions for a Changing World. Even while we in California cope with a punishing drought, prepare for the threat of El Nino, and recover from recurring wildfires, we can’t help thinking there is no longer any such thing as getting back to “normal.”
 Rather there appears to be a new normal that requires not so much a series of solutions but a nimbleness and resiliency to the changing threats of our times. And a key to this resiliency lies just beneath our feet—in the health of our soil. Healthy soil can absorb water during wet times and make it available during dry times. Boosting a farm’s soil organic matter by one percent can increase the soil’s ability to hold water by 25,000 gallons per acre.  When we build organic matter we take carbon out of the atmosphere—where it can trap greenhouse gases—and sequester it underground where it can feed the microbiological machine that fertilizes and supports plant life on earth.  It is a win-win for farmers and the environment.


NRCS is not the only group passionate about soil health.  Resource Conservation Districts, state agencies, universities, non-profits and others are also energized and making valuable contributions.
 Today we are highlighting a few of these groups and several farmers in our soil health partnership video on our web site.
 Each day for the next two weeks NRCS California will add information to our web site to support this effort.  We will bring you video and feature stories from five local farmers who have successfully and profitably increased the health of the soil on their farms. Come back to our web site often to catch these and more .


Three years ago NRCS launched its highly successful national soil health initiative on Dave Brandt’s Ohio farm.  Since then thousands of farmers in the Midwest have adopted soil health practices like reduced tillage, cover crops, residue management and more. But California’s diverse, high-value farms, with irrigation and pollination requirements pose more challenges in crafting our soil health systems. Ever-innovative, California farmers and conservationists are finding a way.  The five farmers we are highlighting—and dozens of others—are proving that.  Our intention is to connect and support those who are committed to soil health and the resiliency it promises across California. 


Stay tuned.

CARLOS SUAREZ (NRCS, CA State Conservationist)





POINT BLUE, NOAA and Partners in the news: Farallon Ocean Wildlife, El Nino and the Blob:



A research team hauls in nets designed to collect krill and other small sea creatures in the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
Photo credit: Joe Rosato Jr.

Dolphins, Pelagic Red Crab, Sun Fish Point to El Nino Coming to Northern California
[see video]

By Joe Rosato Jr. NBC Bay Area News September 30, 2015

The subjects of science are often witnessed through microscopes, tiny squiggly things writhing in a petri dish. But last week as a large research boat drifted through the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, science was getting scrutinized through binoculars and even the naked eye. Joe Rosato Jr. reports. (Published Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015) The subjects of science are often witnessed through microscopes, tiny squiggly things writhing in a petri dish. But last week as a large research boat drifted through the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, science was getting scrutinized through binoculars and even the naked eye. For the 12th year in a row, researchers from Point Blue Conservation Science, the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuaries were spending 10 days on the ocean outside the Golden Gate Bridge taking a scientific snapshot of ocean life. “Our goal is to understand how ocean conditions affect food for birds and whales,” said Jaime Jahncke of Point Blue.
Over several days the team collected krill samples, tested for signs of ocean acidification and attempted to lay eyes on as many critters as possible.
“Our sampling effort looks at birds, mammals, krills, boat activity ,” said Jan Roletto, research coordinator for Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary..
But this year’s gathering turned-up some unusual phenomenon, which scientists believe are signs of an El Nino year – which draws unusually warm waters to Northern California. For the first time in decades, scientists saw schools of hundreds of common dolphins which aren’t common to the Bay Area, but rather the typically warm waters of Southern California. “It’s a sign the water is more warm than we normally see,” Roletto said. “And that’s a sign of El Nino.” Scientists have recorded large pockets of warm water along the West Coast over the last two years – which they’ve affectionally nicknamed “the blob.” “This year has been particularly interesting,” Jahncke said. “The ocean has been really warm because of ‘the blob.’ “….




Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle Capt. Chris Eubank (left) and researcher Danielle Lipski survey the ocean aboard the research vessel Fulmar. It was quiet — eerily quiet — as the research vessel Fulmar motored slowly over open ocean looking for wildlife west of the Farallon Islands, but the five scientists and one educator on the boat were ready for anything. The researchers, concerned about the effect of rising ocean temperatures on the marine ecosystem, had seen everything from breaching whales to frolicking dolphins during nine data-gathering trips last month outside the Golden Gate.

Farallones crew tracks predators, prey in changing ecosystem

By Peter Fimrite SF Chronicle October 6, 2015 Updated: October 5, 2015 8:45am

They had documented a mishmash of skyrocketing humpback populations, record seabird mortality, weird changes in the food web and a profusion of alien species.
Suddenly, a shiny black serpentine figure burst from water, and within seconds the sea was a churning cauldron of activity, with hundreds of sea lions leaping, diving and splashing in every direction around the 67-foot, twin-engine catamaran. “There’s 300, no 400,” Dru Devlin, the marine mammal observer for the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, yelled as the scientists on the boat jumped off their seats and rushed to the rail, grabbing binoculars and spotting scopes. “There are 500 sea lions out there!”

Documenting trends

The pinniped party, which ended as quickly as it began, was one of many unexplained occurrences during the multiday survey that ended Sept. 27 of the newly enlarged Farallones sanctuary. The project…. is an attempt by researchers, with help from the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and Point Blue Conservation Science, to document wildlife populations and trends in one of the world’s most abundant marine ecosystems. “This is a project where we look at the oceanographic conditions, the prey availability in the oceans and the predators,” said Danielle Lipski, a research coordinator at the Cordell Bank sanctuary. “We put all these parameters together and get a pretty good picture of the health of the ocean marine ecosystems.” This year’s survey[s] is particularly important, researchers said, because of the incredibly high ocean temperatures caused by a strengthening El Niño weather pattern in the tropics. The water off the Farallones is usually around 53 or 54 degrees during the summer, but temperatures have recently been as high as 63 degrees.

Toll of climate change

The warming ocean is forcing sea life, from microscopic plankton to giant whales, to adapt, migrate or die. The scientists want to document the cascading effect as climate change threatens to make the condition permanent. The skylarking sea lions were among many curious sightings. The crew spotted migrating seabirds, including the black-footed albatross, the northern fulmar, and sooty and pink-footed shearwaters. They saw ocean sunfish and fur seals, but it was the enormous humpback and blue whale migrations that were most confounding. “It was amazing,” said Jaime Jahncke, a marine biologist with Point Blue, formerly the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, recalling a day when at least 100 whales surrounded the boat. “We have had record abundances since 2004 of humpbacks and blue whales.”
It’s hard to explain considering the number of gray whale deaths last spring — the highest one-year death toll in the past 15 years. ….

California sea lions have also suffered. More than 1,300 sick or dying juvenile sea lions have washed ashore this spring and summer, apparently because there are not enough sardines or anchovies in the ocean to sustain them.

Disruption in food chain

Some things can’t be explained, said Kirsten Lindquist, a marine ecologist and manager of the beach watch program for the Greater Farallones sanctuary. For instance, thousands of common murres, a native fish-eating seabird with a large nesting population on the Farallon Islands, have been found dead on beaches along the coast. Lindquist said 480 dead murres were counted just during ocean surveys in August. That’s compared with an August average of 80 dead murres over the past 23 years. Thursday alone, she said, 131 dead murres were seen floating in the water. “We’re in the midst of a common murre die-off,” Lindquist said, noting that murre breeding failures occurred in 1982-83 and 1991-92, both El Niño years, but that the toll was not as bad as this year. “To date, all signs point to starvation from a lack of forage fish,” she said, adding that the same problem has been documented along the Oregon, Washington and Alaska coastlines. “But other species that haven’t been affected eat the same kind of fish. It is abnormal that we’re seeing this all the way to Alaska, so that is something that we’ll be looking into.”
Food is clearly an issue, said Jahncke. The number of krill, the tiny shrimplike crustacean that whales, salmon and seabirds eat, has been fluctuating wildly. There was a similar die-off last year of the Cassin’s auklet, a small gray diving seabird, attributed mainly to a lack of krill, but Linquist said the murre problem seems to be more complicated.

Oceanic transformation

Meanwhile, the anchovy population, which tanked in 2008, hasn’t completely recovered largely because of fluctuating ocean temperatures. Federal scientists also documented a 91 percent decline in sardine numbers along the West Coast since 2007. The Brandt’s cormorant, a black bird with white plumes that can dive as deep as 300 feet for prey, has been reduced by two-thirds since 2007, largely as a result of the disappearance of anchovies, Jahncke said. Global warming may have a lot to do with what appears to be an oceanic transformation off the San Francisco coast, according to the scientists. Besides warm water, spring has been arriving in the area an average of 20 days earlier than it did in 1970, Jahncke said. …..



The summer of 2015 was Earth’s hottest on record, multiple datasets show

By Jason Samenow September 17 2015 Washington Post

Planet Earth has never, in recorded history, had a hotter summer than 2015, NOAA, NASA, and Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) data indicate.
Temperatures soared about 1.5 degrees warmer than the long-term average, passing 1998 and 2014, which were the previous hottest summers on record depending on the dataset. These records date back to the late 1800s. The record summer (using the Northern Hemisphere definition) was comprised of the hottest June, July and August periods in NOAA’s and JMA’s analyses (in NASA’s analysis, June and July were hottest on record, while August was narrowly second hottest, behind 2014). Six of the first eight months this year have ranked warmest on record according to NOAA (the only exceptions being January and April, which ranked third-warmest). August’s average global temperature, according to NOAA, was about 1.58 degrees warmer than the 20th century average, surpassing the previous record by 0.16 degrees. “August 2015 tied with January 2007 as the third warmest monthly highest departure from average for any month since record keeping began in 1880,” NOAA said. Both land and ocean temperatures were warmest on record in August. “Record warmth was observed across much of South America and parts of Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia,” NOAA said. The ocean temperature difference from the long-term average of 1.4 degrees was “nominally” the highest observed in any month, NOAA added. “Large portions of the seven seas … recorded much-warmer-than-average temperatures, with some locations across all oceans experiencing record warmth,” it said.

Year-to-date, 2015 easily ranks as the warmest year and is virtually assured to finish in the top spot. “[W]e estimate a 97% probability that 2015 will become the warmest year on record,” several NOAA scientists wrote on its ‘Beyond the Data’ blog. “[T]he historical data suggest it would take a remarkable and abrupt reversal in the NOAAGlobalTemp time series over the remainder of the year to upend 2015’s drive toward record-breaking status. In other words, it appears extremely unlikely that 2015 will lose its commanding lead.” A strong El Nino event, characterized by much warmer than normal temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, is venting large quantities of heat into the atmosphere. Coupled with the pressure from the long-term increase in greenhouse gas concentrations from the burning of fossil fuels, temperatures are soaring to ever-new heights. The global temperature has been above the 20th century average now for 366 consecutive months – dating back to February, 1985.



ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory


Synopsis: There is an approximately 95% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, gradually weakening through spring 2016.

During September, sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies were well above average across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean (Fig. 1). The Niño indices generally increased, although the far western Niño-4 index was nearly unchanged (Fig. 2). Also, relative to last month, the strength of the positive subsurface temperature anomalies decreased slightly in the central and eastern Pacific (Fig. 3), but the largest departures remained above 6oC (Fig. 4). The atmosphere was well coupled with the ocean, with significant low-level westerly wind anomalies and upper-level easterly wind anomalies persisting from the western to the east-central tropical Pacific. Also, the traditional and equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values became more negative (stronger), consistent with enhanced convection over the central and eastern equatorial Pacific and suppressed convection over Indonesia (Fig. 5). Collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic anomalies reflect a strong El Niño…. All models surveyed predict El Niño to continue into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2016, and all multi-model averages predict a peak in late fall/early winter (Fig. 6). The forecaster consensus unanimously favors a strong El Niño, with peak 3-month SST departures in the Niño 3.4 region near or exceeding +2.0oC. Overall, there is an approximately 95% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, gradually weakening through spring 2016 (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome for each 3-month period). Across the United States, temperature and precipitation impacts from El Niño are likely to be seen during the upcoming months (the 3-month seasonal outlook will be updated on Thursday October 15th). Outlooks generally favor below-average temperatures and above-median precipitation across the southern tier of the United States, and above-average temperatures and below-median precipitation over the northern tier of the United States.



California is experiencing its record warmest year-to-date. (NCDC)

El Niño now among strongest in modern history; unusually warm and unsettled conditions persist in California

Filed in Uncategorized by Daniel Swain on October 8, 2015 • 156 Comments

All-time record warmth despite Southern California rain

It has been a relentlessly warm year across essentially all of California. Not only is 2015 California’s warmest year on record to date (beating the previous record set all the way back in 2014), but the details of the persistently elevated temperatures have been particularly oppressive. Heatwaves have been a frequent occurrence throughout the state this summer and now continuing into early autumn, but it’s not just afternoon highs that have been stifling: overnight minimum temperatures, buoyed by the incredible warmth of the nearshore Pacific waters, have been far above their typical levels. This has been especially true in Southern California, where water water temperatures as high as 80 F (!) have essentially shut off the natural ocean “air conditioner.” Extremely warm ocean temperatures have also interacted with an unusually high number of atmospheric disturbances to bring highly anomalous warm season precipitation to Southern California. Some of these disturbances have been tropical in nature (most memorably, the remnants of Hurricane Dolores back in July), but more recently the culprit has been a series of erratic and slow-moving cut-off lows….

….Central Pacific Hurricane Oho is making a virtually unprecedented northward beeline for the Gulf of Alaska. After weakening from a category 2 storm, Oho is expected to slowly transition into an extratropical (non warm-core) system as it accelerates northward in the coming days. Very impressively, it appears likely that Oho will retain some tropical characteristics (and perhaps hurricane strength winds) as far north as San Francisco (but out over the open ocean well to the west of California). While Oho will not bring any noticeable impacts to California (aside from some unusual surf conditions), it may bring very heavy precipitation and powerful near hurricane-force winds to parts of southeastern Alaska and far northern British Columbia, where it will make landfall this weekend…. El Niño already top-3 event in modern history; further strengthening still expected…..everything’s still on track for a very strong event during the coming winter. In fact, the most recently observational data now clearly indicates that the present event is already comparable in magnitude to both the 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 events, which were the strongest in the long-term record. North American and international forecast models continue to project further strengthening of warm topical Pacific Ocean temperature anomalies for another 1-3 months, with peak magnitude arriving sometime during Northern Hemisphere winter. California impacts—in the form of wetter-than-average conditions–are still expected to be greatest during the core rainy season months of January-March (and perhaps also December), which means that we shouldn’t necessarily expect to see wetter than average conditions in October and November. It does, however, look very warm over the next couple of months, which virtually assures that 2015 will become California’s warmest year on record.



This is an extensive stand of severely bleached coral at Lisianski Island in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (Hawaii) documented during an August 2014 NOAA research mission. Credit: NOAA

NOAA declares third ever global coral bleaching event

Bleaching intensifies in Hawaii, high ocean temperatures threaten Caribbean corals

October 8, 2015 NOAA Headquarters

As record ocean temperatures cause widespread coral bleaching across Hawaii, NOAA scientists confirm the same stressful conditions are expanding to the Caribbean and may last into the new year, prompting the declaration of the third global coral bleaching event ever on record. … “The coral bleaching and disease, brought on by climate change and coupled with events like the current El Niño, are the largest and most pervasive threats to coral reefs around the world,” said Mark Eakin, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator. “As a result, we are losing huge areas of coral across the U.S., as well as internationally. What really has us concerned is this event has been going on for more than a year and our preliminary model projections indicate it’s likely to last well into 2016.” While corals can recover from mild bleaching, severe or long-term bleaching is often lethal. After corals die, reefs quickly degrade and the structures corals build erode. This provides less shoreline protection from storms and fewer habitats for fish and other marine life, including ecologically and economically important species. This bleaching event, which began in the north Pacific in summer 2014 and expanded to the south Pacific and Indian oceans in 2015, is hitting U.S. coral reefs disproportionately hard. NOAA estimates that by the end of 2015, almost 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs will have been exposed to ocean conditions that can cause corals to bleach. The biggest risk right now is to the Hawaiian Islands, where bleaching is intensifying and is expected to continue for at least another month. Areas at risk in the Caribbean in coming weeks include Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and from the U.S. Virgin Islands south into the Leeward and Windward islands. The next concern is the further impact of the strong El Niño, which climate models indicates will cause bleaching in the Indian and southeastern Pacific Oceans after the new year. This may cause bleaching to spread globally again in 2016. “We need to act locally and think globally to address these bleaching events. Locally produced threats to coral, such as pollution from the land and unsustainable fishing practices, stress the health of corals and decrease the likelihood that corals can either resist bleaching, or recover from it,” said Jennifer Koss, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program acting program manager. “To solve the long-term, global problem, however, we need to better understand how to reduce the unnatural carbon dioxide levels that are the major driver of the warming.”….


Rock Creek, shown here, is part of Trask River Watershed in the north Coast Range of Oregon, USA. The creek is a coastal cutthroat trout stream that was simulated in a new Forest Service study. Credit: Brooke Penaluna, US Forest Service

Local habitat conditions can safeguard cutthroat trout against harvest, climate change

Posted: 01 Oct 2015 11:22 AM PDT

Local habitat variability in northwest streams can help shield coastal cutthroat trout from the effects of forest harvest and climate change, a new study has found….We were curious about how trout in different streams respond to the same forest harvest scenario and how those responses may change when climate change is also considered,” Penaluna said. Climate change generally is projected to increase stream temperatures year-round and decrease stream flows in fall and winter. Both of these factors can negatively affect fish populations…The simulations show that variability in habitat conditions among the streams–like stream depth and available habitat–mediated the effects of forest harvest and climate change on trout populations. Simulated climate change most strongly affected trout by triggering early emergence of trout fry, but also by reducing numbers of older trout and increasing numbers of younger trout. In contrast, simulated forest harvest changes in temperature and flow produced fewer and less consistent responses in the simulated populations and, even, in some cases, countered the effects of climate change through increased summer flow….


Brooke E. Penaluna, Jason B. Dunham, Steve F. Railsback, Ivan Arismendi, Sherri L. Johnson, Robert E. Bilby, Mohammad Safeeq, Arne E. Skaugset. Local Variability Mediates Vulnerability of Trout Populations to Land Use and Climate Change. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (8): e0135334 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0135334


Global warming can alter shape of the planet, as melting glaciers erode the land

Posted: 01 Oct 2015 11:22 AM PDT

Climate change is causing more than just warmer oceans and erratic weather. According to scientists, it also has the capacity to alter the shape of the planet.


Arctic fritillary (Boloria chariclea) is one of the two species that have become smaller due to climate change. This is demonstrated in a new study by Danish researchers. The scientists have measured the wing length of nearly 4,500 individuals collected annually between 1996 and 2013 from Zackenberg, Greenland and found that the blade length decreased significantly in response to warmer summers. Credit: Photo: Toke T. Hoye

High-arctic butterflies shrink with rising temperatures

Posted: 07 Oct 2015 12:32 AM PDT

New research shows that butterflies in Greenland have become smaller in response to increasing temperatures due to climate change. It has often been demonstrated that the ongoing rapid climate change in the Arctic region is causing substantial change to Arctic ecosystems. Now Danish researchers demonstrate that a warmer Greenland could be bad for its butterflies, becoming smaller under warmer summers…. Body size change in response to rising temperature is an anticipated response to climate change, but few studies have actually demonstrated it in the field. The response can go both ways; for some animal species, a longer feeding season results in increased body size, and for others the changes in metabolism causes a net loss of energy which reduces the body size. The results of the new study are consistent with earlier lab experiments and broad spatial scale studies suggesting that higher temperatures during rearing result in smaller adult body size.

“We humans use more energy when it is cold, because we must maintain a constant body temperature. But for butterfly larvae and other cold-blooded animals whose body temperature depends on the environment, the metabolism increases at higher temperatures because the biochemical processes are simply faster. Therefore, the larvae use more energy than they are able to gain from feeding. Our results indicate that this change is so significant that larval growth rate decreases. And when the larvae are smaller, the adult butterflies will also be smaller,” explains Toke T. Hoye….


Joseph J. Bowden, Anne Eskildsen, Rikke R. Hansen, Kent Olsen, Carolyn M. Kurle, Toke T. Høye. High-Arctic butterflies become smaller with rising temperatures. Biology Letters, 2015 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0574



King crabs threaten Antarctic ecosystem due to warming ocean

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 12:58 PM PDT

King crabs may soon become high-level predators in Antarctic marine ecosystems where they haven’t played a role in tens of millions of years, according to a new study.


How ocean circulation changed atmospheric CO2

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 09:34 AM PDT

Changes to overturning circulation in the Southern Ocean as a result of temperatures over Antarctica play key role in carbon uptake by the oceans.


2015: Still No Let Up in Ocean Warming

By Rob Painting Skeptical Science posts: 7 October 2015

Ocean warming has made up 93% of global warming in the last 5 decades (IPCC AR5 Chapter 3)
and the first six months of ocean heat data for 2015 are now available from the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). Armed with the knowledge that increasing industrial greenhouse gas emissions trap ever more heat in the atmosphere and ocean, it will come as no surprise whatsoever to learn that the strong ocean heating of recent years has continued into 2015…..



Antarctic warming stimulates diversity of soil fungi

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 09:34 AM PDT

A landmark study predicts that climate change will have a major impact on life in Antarctica this century. Scientists say that results indicated that by 2100 there would be 25 percent more soil fungal ‘species’ in the most rapidly warming parts of Antarctica.


Many young fish moving north with adults as climate changes

Posted: 01 Oct 2015 09:58 AM PDT

Numerous studies in the Northeast US have shown that adult marine fish distributions are changing, but few studies have looked at the early life stages of those adult fish to see what is happening to them over time. A new study has some answers, finding that distributions of young stages and the timing of the life cycle of many fish species are also changing.



A Late Permian scene features one of that period’s famed extinction survivors, Lystrosaurus. Scene by Marlene Hill Donnelly. Credit: Copyright California Academy of Sciences and Marlene Hill Donnelly

Ancient ecosystem response to ‘big five’ mass extinction

Posted: 01 Oct 2015 12:30 PM PDT

A new study explores one of the ‘big five’ mass extinctions, the Permian-Triassic event, revealing unexpected results about the types of animals that were most vulnerable to extinction, and the factors that might best predict community stability during times of great change. The authors say cutting-edge modeling techniques helped highlight the critical importance of understanding food webs (knowing ‘who eats what’) when trying to predict what communities look like before, during, and after a mass extinction…. Every line in an intricate food web represents powerful ecosystem interactions and exchanges of energy. Clues from past systems that recovered or failed following disasters help scientists peer into the future of the ever-changing natural world. This study’s results are an urgent call for an increased focus on modern food webs–an area of research Roopnarine says needs increased attention in a time of unprecedented environmental stress. “We need to understand the relationships between the species we’re driving to extinction, and the roles they play in ecosystem stability,” says Roopnarine. “We know the collapse of Atlantic cod wreaked havoc on marine ecosystems, but we know very little about the ways most species’ ecologies relate to stability. It can be surprising which species help hold ecosystems together. We desperately need more data for the modern environment.”….



P. D. Roopnarine, K. D. Angielczyk. Community stability and selective extinction during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. Science, 2015; 350 (6256): 90 DOI: 10.1126/science.aab1371


Flood risk on rise for New York City, New Jersey coast, study finds

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 12:58 PM PDT

For the first time, climate researchers compared both sea-level rise rates and storm surge heights in prehistoric and modern eras and found that the combined increases of each have raised the likelihood of a devastating 500-year flood occurring as often as every 25 years.


Simpler way to estimate feedback between permafrost carbon, climate

Posted: 05 Oct 2015 10:28 AM PDT

A simple model of permafrost carbon based on direct observations has been developed by a team of scientists. Their approach could help climate scientists evaluate how well permafrost dynamics are represented in Earth system models used to predict climate change.

Shark culling could indirectly accelerate climate change, study warns

The findings come as shark experts meet at a summit at Taronga zoo in Sydney to discuss emerging technologies that can deter the marine predators

September 28, 2015 The guardian

Shark experts will gather in Sydney on Tuesday to discuss new safety measures, as new research warns the culling of sharks could indirectly accelerate climate change. The New South Wales premier, Mike Baird, will launch the shark summit at Taronga zoo, featuring more than 70 experts from Australia and around the world. …. Niall Blair, NSW minister of primary industries, said the state government is “leaving no stone unturned to make sure we look at new and innovative ways to protect our beaches.” However, some surfers have called for more drastic action to be taken, such as a partial cull of sharks seen near beaches. This stance has been opposed by environmentalists, and most policymakers, as being cruel or inappropriate. But new research suggests that killing sharks also exacerbates climate change. A paper published in Nature Climate Change warns the removal of top ocean predators such as sharks causes a “trophic cascade” throughout the food chain that results in the release of carbon into the atmosphere. The Nature Climate Change paper says removal of top ocean predators causes a ‘trophic cascade’ in food chain, resulting in release of carbon into the atmosphere….


Gone fishing: Loss of ocean predators has impact on climate change strategies

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 09:33 AM PDT

As Australia engages in debate over shark culling, new research says unsustainable harvesting of larger fish will affect how we tackle climate change. A group of scientists warns the loss of top order predators through excessive culling or over-fishing has serious environmental ramifications.



Heat waves hit heat islands hardest

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 03:21 PM PDT

A new study details how extreme temperatures affect urban heat islands — densely built areas where heat-retaining asphalt, brick and concrete make things hotter than their nonurban surroundings.



Study finds weather extremes harmful to grasslands

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 12:58 PM PDT

Fluctuations in extreme weather events, such as heavy rains and droughts, are affecting ecosystems in unexpected ways — creating ‘winners and losers’ among plant species that humans depend upon for food….We found that not all species could respond effectively to extreme weather events including both dry and wet conditions,” said Osvaldo Sala, senior sustainability scientist and professor with ASU School of Life Sciences. “Grasses don’t fare as well as shrubs, which is really important to know because cattle ranchers depend on grasslands to graze their herds. Humans could see a reduction in the production of food — mostly cattle for meat — as the provision of ecosystem services like this one change.”

The findings were published in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Interestingly, the effect of precipitation variability was amplified over the six years the experiment lasted and we still don’t know its end point,” said Laureano Gherardi, a School of Life Sciences postdoctoral research associate and co-author of the paper. “Therefore, the effect of the expected climatic variance may be even larger and the ecosystem may shift into a different state,” he added….


Laureano A. Gherardi, Osvaldo E. Sala. Enhanced precipitation variability decreases grass- and increases shrub-productivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201506433 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1506433112







DROUGHT: 2015 water year is hottest and driest on record

The average minimum temperature this winter in the Sierra Nevada was 32.1 degrees Fahrenheit — the first time it was above freezing in 120 years of record keeping

BY JANET ZIMMERMAN / STAFF WRITER Published: Sept. 29, 2015 Updated: 5:08 p.m.

This probably comes as no surprise: California’s 2015 water year, which ends Wednesday, Sept. 30, was one of the warmest and driest on record. The water year begins Oct. 1, the start of the rainy season, and ends Sept. 30.
State hydrologists measure precipitation and runoff in key watersheds and forecast the supply for the spring and summer. The average minimum temperature this winter in the Sierra Nevada was 32.1 degrees Fahrenheit, the first time it was above freezing in 120 years of record keeping, according to the California Climate Tracker. Runoff from the Sierra supplies 30 percent of the state’s fresh water. On April 1, the statewide snowpack held only 5 percent of the average water content on that date in records dating to 1950. That broke the previous low record of 25 percent of average, set in 1977 during one of California’s most significant droughts. Shortages can be seen in the state’s 154 reservoirs, which are fed by snowmelt. They are at 54 percent of average for this time of year. Lake Oroville, the primary reservoir supplying Southern California, is at 48 percent of its historic average. It’s too early to know if El Niño will deliver enough precipitation where it counts to provide relief from the four-year drought. “A fifth year of drought certainly is a possibility,” state water officials said in a statement.



Photo: Eriver Hijano, Special To The Chronicle
Russell Pell’s Pell Family Farms in Wyuna, Australia modernized his irrigation system, regraded and installed soil sensors and now saves 63 million gallons of water yearly.

Drought survival: What Australia’s changes can teach California

By Kevin Fagan p A1 SF Chronicle September 25, 2015 Updated: September 26, 2015 5:41pm

MELBOURNE, Australia — Four years into what degenerated into this country’s worst drought ever, John Harvey would have been recognizable to anyone now living through California’s driest days. First, the retired photo-equipment salesman let his grass go dead. Next, his decorative plants turned brown.  But then came the fifth and sixth years of the sun baking the landscape like a heat lamp, with water bills rising each year — and Harvey finally had enough. He did something he would have never done if not forced to by wretched circumstance: With the government’s help, he installed a home water-recycling system.

That same awakening blossomed again and again in Australia, as what came to be known as the Big Dry dragged on for 13 punishing years. By the time the rains finally returned in 2010, the country had utterly changed in ways that California — with a similar landscape and economy, struggling to cope after four years of its own epic drought — could learn from. Cities sprouted backyard water tanks. Modern-day rooftop rain-barrel systems spread through the suburbs, fueled by government incentives. Farmers who once had the right to use all the water they wanted, just because it had always been that way, were forced to change. And John Harvey’s yard not only survived, it thrived. Today, his water bill is zero, and his plants are always green. That’s because his water comes from rain that flows into his gray-water system, and he reuses every drop — over and over. “I never even notice anymore if it’s a dry year or not,” Harvey, 75, said as he cleaned the filters on his network of pipelines at his Craftsman brick home in suburban Melbourne. “All I need is one good rainstorm to fill my tanks, and I’m good to go for months. I don’t spend a single dollar on water, and let me tell you, mate, I don’t miss that one bit.” Faced with disaster — with the prospect of its lifeblood running out — Australia learned to manage its water like the rare treasure it is. “What we finally realized was we can’t just rely on building more dams and hoping there’s more rain,” said Kelly O’Shanassy, architect of some of the most fundamental changes in Australia’s water usage. “It’s just a brick wall if there’s no water behind it, and during our drought we were one or two years away from actually running out of water. So we had to be creative. “The climate is going to be very dry going forward in Australia, drier than before,” O’Shanassy said. “But we are better prepared for it than ever.” As in California, scientific studies indicate that about half of all the years going forward in Australia are likely to be stricken by drought. To ignore that is to summon disaster, O’Shanassy said. “The future,” she said, “looks nothing like the past.”

Cutting usage in half

At the end of the Big Dry, Australia’s cities and farms had cut their water use in half, double the 25 percent target that California has set this year. Farmers and environmentalists had been forced to share rivers and reservoirs equally, after sweeping away a rat’s-maze system of unassailable water rights similar to the Golden State’s.

Today, two-thirds of Australia’s houses use gray-water systems that recycle water from dishwashers, showers and clothes-washing for their toilets and gardens and, in many cases, for their drinking water. More than half of all homes have barrels to catch rain from the roof for those gray-water systems — and one good rainstorm can supply enough for a house all summer. In California, just 13 percent of homes use gray water, and rain barrels have never caught on. Water rates in Australia are more expensive for heavy users, and in times of drought, inspectors patrol neighborhoods, issuing on-the-spot fines of up to $500 for exceeding government-set limits. And just to make sure wrenching changes won’t be needed in the future, Australia’s government subsidized the private construction of six giant desalination plants that together can supply 30 percent of the country’s metropolitan water needs when — not if — the cousin of the Big Dry comes to call. The changes didn’t come cheap. Encouraging recycling and water-saving plumbing, plus helping farmers improve conservation, cost Australian taxpayers more than $13 billion. Water rates rose, and for customers in cities that built desalination plants, they nearly doubled. “It wasn’t all rose-colored glasses making this happen,” said Rebecca Nelson, a professor of water law at the University of Melbourne who doubles as a fellow at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment. “But, basically, everyone here was accepting of the need to share resources in the public interest. It really seemed like we all had no choice. 

“And it helped that the federal government backed it all up with sacks of money.”

In many cases, the investment was not a hard sell. The country’s will was there.

“One thing that really struck me about Australia was that everyone thought in the drought, ‘We’re all in this together,'” said Matthew Heberger, a researcher at the Pacific Institute in Oakland who has studied how Australia handled the Big Dry. “But here in California, there’s a sense of blaming — farmers blaming cities, cities blaming farmers, environmentalists and non-environmentalists.

“One of the lessons we can learn from Australia is that we need to stop thinking of drought as an exceptional thing, but rather as a normal and recurring part of our climate,” Heberger said. “And then move forward on that, together.” 

Radical change

The cities are where the changes are most obvious. In the arid Outback, rain barrels and other makeshift gray-water systems have been common for hundreds of years. But Australia’s cities are much like California’s — especially Melbourne, a modern enclave of lovely architecture and a laid-back San Francisco feel — and they didn’t really sweat the whole recycling thing until the Big Dry.

Melbourne and its suburbs at the southern tip of the nation boast a population of 4.3 million, identical to the inner Bay Area. Both areas get about 24 inches of rain in a normal year. But while the average Bay Area person’s water use is 84 gallons a day, in Melbourne it’s a stingy 40 gallons. The secret is purple: the international color of piping for gray-water systems. As Australia’s reservoir levels plunged to 25 percent of capacity, everything from tract homes to high-rise office buildings began sporting purple pipes. Out on the eastern edge of Melbourne, in a pretty little neighborhood of meat-pie shops and trim homes, John Harvey was one of the most ambitious gray-water enthusiasts. Many followed his lead, which is why their vegetable gardens — a fixture of many Aussie homes — and small trees never died out.

“At first the neighbors wondered what I was about, but then they caught on,” Harvey said. “It’s not hard to see the worth of purple pipes once you hear that your neighbor doesn’t have water bills anymore.”

His gray-water system is pretty standard stuff for Australian homes. A couple of downspouts route water from the roof into a debris-screening tank. From there, it flows into two thick-rubber, 1,300-gallon tanks under his house. The tanks were easy to install — they were shoved below the floorboards into the crawl space, no digging required. A small electric pump pulls the rubber-tank water up through a series of three progressively finer filters in a closet, then off to the bathrooms, kitchen and yard. The filters screen the water into potable state, with no chemicals needed. Harvey makes sure to use only biodegradable soaps — which, driven by gray-water usage, are the main ones sold in Australia anyway. Government rebates can total more than $1,000 to anyone installing gray-water and rain-barrel systems. Although Harvey spent $15,000 on his setup, a simple, non-potable system for gardens and toilets can cost as little as $2,000 — a bargain, considering that the water bill for the average house that doesn’t recycle is about $2,000 a year. “Just because it’s been raining this winter doesn’t mean there won’t be a drought next year, or the year after that,” Harvey said. “I reckon farmers in the Outback and bush have been drinking rainwater since colonization days. It’s only right that we’re all starting to do it now.” As recycling spread, the techniques got more sophisticated. The very way a garden is grown in the backyard became an art, and one of that art’s pioneers was Karen Sutherland, who owns the Edible Eden Design gardening firm in a leafy suburb on the north end of Melbourne.  Sutherland uses her home’s spread of grapes, avocados and other crops as a showcase for how to make every drop count — from the gray-water system with moisture-sensitive drip irrigation to the practice of growing shady fruit trees over crops to protect them from drying heat. Her business exploded during the Big Dry. “I think the drought was a gift for city people, in a way,” Sutherland said. “It forced everyone to be more creative.”

Saving at the office

Also riding the purple-pipe bandwagon are Melbourne’s downtown office buildings. About half of them have installed at least minimal gray-water systems since the beginning of the drought. Leading the way was a downtown high-rise known as the 60L Building, headquarters of an environmental advocacy organization run by O’Shanassy, the Australian Conservation Foundation. It opened in 2002 with the help of government subsidies as “the greenest building in Australia,” but its signature colors are more properly described as gray and black — the soapy and the sewage water, respectively, that is recycled in such quantities that the building’s consumption is just 10 percent of average for a structure its size. While the neighborhoods and downtowns were transforming, the government was making fundamental changes of its own. Melbourne has spent more than $100 million on storm-water systems, which include “rain gardens” to filter runoff through the ground into a series of underground tanks, some of them the size of Olympic swimming pools. Most of the water used in the city’s public parks comes from this supply.  “The fact is, we can’t rely solely on rainwater anymore for all our needs,” said O’Shanassy, who was hired by the government during the drought to redraw water policy for Melbourne and the surrounding countryside. “You need efficiency, redistributed supplies and alternatives like desalination. You have to try to make use of every drop, everywhere.” California has started taking baby steps toward desalination, with a plant set to open this fall in Carlsbad, near San Diego, to turn 50 million gallons a day of the Pacific Ocean into potable water. It will be the first major metropolitan area in the state to tap the ocean for drinking water, and more than a dozen other plants are in planning stages. However, such plants have faced opposition from critics who say they are too expensive, kill fish as they suck in briny water, and spew greenhouse gases from the energy they require to run.  Not everyone in Australia was a fan, either. Melbourne’s plant 84 miles east of the city cost $5.7 billion, and by the time it was done in 2012, the rains were falling again and it wasn’t needed — so, like most of the nation’s desalination plants, it has sat idle. This draws grumbles from people like Peter Wilson, head of Waterwise Systems, the country’s biggest gray-water systems installer, who called it a “white elephant that we would never have had to build if we’d had better water education and conservation measures earlier.” O’Shanassy said those complaints will dry up faster than an Outback raindrop when the next big drought hits. Melbourne’s plant can supply a third of the city’s water needs, and it’s run largely by wind and hydro power. “Government studies show us we can’t count on rainfall and that in fact, by midcentury, we’ll have up to 50 percent less water available to us,” she said. “So it’s simple. We will need the extra supply.”

Water rights transformed

The recycling efforts in the cities are a drop in the bucket compared with the changes that have swept over farm country. As in California, Australia’s agricultural operations suck up about 80 percent of the water supply. And for Melbourne, just as for the Bay Area, the main farming region of the nation is just a couple of hours away. Australia’s version of the Central Valley is the Murray-Darling Basin, named after the rivers that cut through the farmlands north of Melbourne. Both regions are the size of small states in themselves and grow similar crops ranging from almonds to grapes, and both historically have wrestled with cities and environmental advocates for water. Driving from Melbourne into farmland that Aussies call the Food Basket has an oddly familiar feel for a Californian. Skyscrapers give way to suburbs that quickly surrender to rolling, tree-studded hills known here as the bush.  Just 120 miles north of Melbourne, the Food Basket opens up like an endless flatland — field after field of crops laced with canals, forests and tiny farm towns. 

It looks like the hillocks and flats of Fresno County. And it is here, as the ag center of the country, that the most radical changes of the Big Dry took place. When the drought hit, Australia had a water rights system much like California’s — those with senior claims tied into their land could tap as much as they liked, and everyone else had to make due with less. For all the conservation edicts that California has imposed during its drought, this water-rights system is viewed in the Golden State as all but unassailable — no serious efforts have been made to change it. Australia approached things differently. It turned the system on its head. The government set stiff limits on water supplies for farmers and cities alike during the drought, spreading out allotments from rivers and reservoirs equally according to need. Then it canceled the historic practice of tying water rights to land plots, and set up a robust water-trading system, encouraging anyone to sell their rights to anyone, anywhere. That created a market that still trades briskly at $1 billion a year, as farmers bandy water back and forth depending on which crop needs it the most at what time of year — oranges or pumpkins here, livestock or almonds there.

The most significant player in this game is the government. Australia bought billions of gallons of water rights from farmers to recharge starving ecosystems, including the Murray River, which at one point ran dry at its mouth. The changes had a rocky birth — at one meeting, thousands of farmers burned copies of the proposals. But the government’s purchase price for water rights was generous, and it came with a requirement that growers use the money to improve their irrigation systems. Many farmers found they could grow just as much — and make just as much money at it — while using less water.

That’s how it played out for Rocky Varapodio, who grows 500 acres of fruit in the country town of Ardoma. He sold 2.6 million gallons of his annual water rights toward the end of the drought to the government for $25,000, and the drip irrigation, timer and soil moisture sensors he installed enabled him to cut his yearly usage by 5 million gallons. “We used to manually open our water valves and let the water run through the channels into our crop rows until it looked about right,” Varapodio said while he inspected his arrow-straight rows of apple and pear trees. “But now we have sensors planted into the soil that say exactly when enough water has been absorbed, and computerized controls then turn off the valves. “We still use common farmer sense, but it doesn’t hurt to have a little help from science, too,” he said.

A few miles away in Wyuna, dairy farmer Russell Pell got the same deal on a bigger scale. He keeps 1,300 cows on 2,000 acres, and he sold his rights to 32 million gallons of the water to the government for $316,000. With modernized channel controls tied to soil sensors, and new grading he was able to carve onto his pastures to more evenly distribute his irrigation, Pell saved 63 million gallons of water a year.

“We did well, and the next time a drought comes, I reckon we’ll feel even better,” Pell said. He straddled one of his irrigation canals to check one of the timing clocks, then nodded in satisfaction. “Stuff always works right now,” he muttered. “Water is the golden goose, not just here in Australia but everywhere,” Pell said. “When you have it, everyone does well.”


Zackary Canepari/NYT/Redux/eyevine Wildfires have proliferated during California’s ongoing drought.

California agriculture weathers drought — at a cost

El Niño might bring relief, but longer and deeper dry spells are predicted.

Erika Check Hayden 30 September 2015 Nature 526, 14–15 (01 October 2015) doi:10.1038/526014a

Three brown, withered lawns surround David Behar’s home in Marin County, north of San Francisco in California. Behar, who directs the climate programme at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, no longer waters his grass — after several years with next to no rainfall, he gave in and brought greenery to his home in the form of drought-resistant plants instead. It is just one of the many adjustments that Californians have had to make as the state enters its fifth year of drought (see ‘Dry state’). As of 30 September — the end of the 2015 ‘water year’ — the state’s water supplies are desperately low. The spring snowpack is the paltriest ever measured — by April it contained just 5% of a normal year’s water — and by the end of August the major reservoirs held 59% of their historical average. Wildfires have burned through almost three times more land than they do in an average year. And there are myriad ecological impacts, including more patches of dead foliage than usual in the canopies of the state’s iconic giant sequoia trees. Yet despite the severe lack of rainfall, the state’s biggest consumer of water has fared remarkably well. Agriculture last year generated revenues that were just 1.4% lower than in 2013, when it took in a record US$34 billion, according to the Pacific Institute, a think tank in Oakland, California. Agriculture-related employment reached a record high of 417,000, and the amount of land being used for farming had fallen by less than 10% from pre-drought levels. But that has come at a cost. Farmers have sustained production mainly by pumping up huge amounts of groundwater. “The massive overdraft of groundwater to make up for lost surface water has buffered farmers, and that can’t continue forever,” says Pacific Institute president Peter Gleick. In August, NASA reported that the massive increase in pumping has caused parts of the state to sink by 33 centimetres in less than a year. Some households that rely on wells have been left without water to shower or wash dishes. Efforts to regulate water use are being hampered by a lack of data on groundwater withdrawals, Gleick says. “We don’t know who’s using how much,” he says. “There are really big gaps in the data.”

Clouds on the horizon

The weather looks set to change, although only in the short term. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that this winter will see a strong El Niño, a storm pattern that has delivered extremely wet winters to California in the past. But plentiful rains are by no means certain, especially for regions outside southern California. “It remains to be seen whether an El Niño will provide relief this year,” Behar says. But the rains are unlikely to last for long. A team led by climatologist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University in California has used historical data and climate models to show that global warming is increasing the odds of the state seeing warm, dry conditions similar to those that spawned the current drought (N. S. Diffenbaugh et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 3931–3936; 2015). The droughts could even last for many decades. By incorporating paleoclimate data into climate models, Benjamin Cook of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and two co-authors are predicting droughts that could last as long as 35 years (B. I. Cook et al. Sci. Adv. 1, e1400082; 2015). “We’re in a new climate, and it’s a climate in which the probability of severe drought conditions is elevated,” Diffenbaugh says. “That recognition is really critical.” The state is working hard to respond to the dire warnings. In April, governor Jerry Brown called for a 25% reduction in municipal water consumption. Californians managed to save even more than that in both June and July, even though that is when irrigation needs tend to be highest. Last September, Brown signed legislation that takes the first steps towards regulating groundwater use by asking localities to make plans to ensure the sustainability of their groundwater supplies. However, some complain that he has not been tough enough. The path to sustainability does not need to be in place until 2040 — that is hardly an aggressive timeline, says Gleick. And in June, the state’s water board ordered some of the most-senior water-rights holders — the farmers and irrigation districts entitled to draw first in times of shortage — not to take water from rivers and streams. Some irrigators have responded with lawsuits that are still working their way through the courts. The state’s water-rights system is said to discourage conservation, because rights holders with priority may see their water allotments cut if they do not use their allocations in a given year.

Push to recycle

Meanwhile, Behar and other planners around the state are pushing technological fixes that range from less-water-intensive agriculture and more-efficient home appliances to treating wastewater for reuse. Orange County already pumps treated wastewater into its groundwater; San Diego is developing a similar system and, on 8 September, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission approved a plan to recycle wastewater to irrigate Golden Gate Park.

Steven Ritchie, the commission’s assistant general manager for water, says that some regions are even looking into the long-discussed idea of desalination — a perennial option that is seldom used because it is energy intensive and therefore expensive.
Ritchie says that one idea on the table for the region would be to cut the cost by desalinating brackish water from the San Francisco Bay Delta, rather than ocean water. Water produced in that way would cost about as much as that pumped from wells, Ritchie says, but would still be more costly than surface water. “The choice might be: expensive water, or no water,” Ritchie says. “We have to continue to plan for the future and diversify our supply; we cannot take anything for granted.”



Living trees soak up greenhouse gas and store it for a long time in their woody tissues, but dying trees release it–a carbon sink becomes a carbon source. Credit: © korvit /Fotolia

Large trees — key climate influencers — die first in drought

Posted: 29 Sep 2015 11:22 AM PDT

In forests worldwide, drought consistently has had a more detrimental impact on the growth and survival of larger trees, new research shows. In addition, while the death of small trees may affect the dominance of trees in a landscape, the death of large trees has a far worse impact on the ecosystem and climate’s health, especially due to the important role that trees play in the carbon cycle. In forests worldwide, drought consistently has had a more detrimental impact on the growth and survival of larger trees, new research shows. In addition, while the death of small trees may affect the dominance of trees in a landscape, the death of large trees has a far worse impact on the ecosystem and climate’s health, especially due to the important role that trees play in the carbon cycle. “Previous studies at a few sites had shown that large trees suffer more than small trees during and after droughts, and our theory suggested this should be a globally consistent pattern, but this project was the first to test this hypothesis globally.” said Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Nate McDowell, a renowned forest ecologist and plant physiologist who coauthored a paper in the journal Nature Plants highlighting this research. In a landmark study published this week, a team of researchers studied forests worldwide, ranging from semi-arid woodlands to tropic rainforests, to determine how a tree’s size impacts its response to drought. The team also included researchers from the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute and Tropical Research Institute, the University of New Mexico and the U.S. Geological Survey. Whereas previous studies documented processes at a single site, this team analyzed data from 40 drought events at 38 forest locations, systematically reviewing forests’ size-death correlation worldwide for the first time.….


Amy C. Bennett, Nathan G. McDowell, Craig D. Allen, Kristina J. Anderson-Teixeira. Larger trees suffer most during drought in forests worldwide. Nature Plants, 2015; 1 (10): 15139 DOI: 10.1038/nplants.2015.139


Drought stunts tree growth for four years, study says

Posted on 28 September 2015 by Guest Author This is a re-post from Carbon Brief by Robert McSweeney

Trees could take up to four years to return to normal growth rates in the aftermath of a severe drought, a new study finds.  With the frequency and severity of droughts likely to increase with climate change, we might not be able to rely on forests to absorb as much of our carbon emissions, the researchers say. Forests hold almost half of the carbon found on the Earth’s surface, storing it in their woody trunks and branches. Studies show that forests are sensitive to droughts, causing tress stress and limiting how much they can grow and store carbon. During the European heatwave in 2003, for example, tree and plant growth fell by 30%. That meant the land surface in Europe actually produced more carbon dioxide than it absorbed that year. The new study, published in Science, suggests that it takes longer for trees to recover after a severe drought than previously thought. Using data from the International Tree Ring Data Bank, researchers analysed tree growth at over 1,300 sites across the northern hemisphere countries. The sites are predominantly in North America and Europe, and oak and pine trees make up the majority of the species the researchers considered. Tree rings provide a handy estimate of how quickly a tree has grown. As a tree grows, it puts on extra layers of wood around its trunk, creating a new ring each year. The quicker a tree grows, the bigger the gap between tree rings from one year to the next. …..


New water-tracing technology to help protect groundwater

Posted: 30 Sep 2015 06:25 AM PDT

New water-tracing technology has been used in the Sydney Basin for the first time to determine how groundwater moves in the different layers of rock below the surface. The study provides a baseline against which any future impacts on groundwater from mining operations, groundwater abstraction or climate change can be assessed. The research has global relevance because this new technology provides a quick and cheap alternative to having to install numerous boreholes for groundwater monitoring.


Caroline Zsambok, left, and Bruce McConnell, with the fire and safety team for the Fountaingrove II Open Space Maintenance Association, look at leaves on a California Bay Laurel that has tested positive for the sudden oak death pathogen in an open space area of Fountaingrove, in Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Drought slows spread of sudden oak death in Sonoma County


Four years of drought have slowed the spread of sudden oak death to its lowest level in a decade, but western Sonoma County remains one of the hot spots in the 15 infested counties from Monterey to Humboldt, and when rain comes again the tree-killer will resume its rampage through Northern and Central California woodlands. Analysis of more than 2,100 bay laurel tree leaves sampled during an annual citizen-powered survey last spring found a 3.7 percent estimated rate of sudden oak death infection, down from 4.4 percent in 2014 and possibly the lowest level since the disease erupted in 1995. “I think we’re at the bottom of the infection rate,” said Matteo Garbelotto of the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Lab. Drought conditions thwart the spread of sudden oak death, which largely depends on wet, windy weather to blow infectious spores from bay laurel trees, which host the pathogen, to oak and tanoak trees that die within a few years of infection.

Predictions of a strong El Niño weather pattern this winter could mean heavy rains for the North Coast. And when rain starts falling again, the as-yet unstoppable tree-killer will renew its assault, Garbelotto said. “We know the sudden oak death pathogen can respond readily to wet conditions,” he said. A relatively wet climate, even during the drought, explains why west Sonoma County had an estimated 12.6 percent infection rate this year, up from 7.1 percent in 2014, he said. The Big Sur area in Monterey County had the highest rate this year, at 19.2 percent, while the Santa Cruz Mountains were at 13.5 percent, according to results from the 2015 Sudden Oak Death Blitz organized by Garbelotto’s lab….



The Truckee River in Tahoe City is dry. It usually drains out of Lake Tahoe, beneath the Fanny Bridge and heads to Reno. Scott Sonner / Associated Press

Don’t depend on El Niño

By Michael L. Connor Opinion SF Chronicle October 9, 2015 Michael L. Connor is deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior and a former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Hopes have been raised recently that a strong El Niño may end California’s drought. Pinning hopes on El Niño is not a solution to our long-term water shortages, and it certainly is no substitute for the kinds of farsighted, aggressive drought response measures already instituted at the federal, state and local levels.
While those measures have not fully alleviated the effect of drought, they have shown we can improve overall water management by supporting and building upon the work of creative local partners….Institutional changes are just as important as these investments. Water-sharing agreements between water users, communities, states, and even the United States and Mexico, are not only critical to addressing the drought today but also to building long-tern resiliency in the face of climate change. Californians have made remarkable progress in exceeding their governor’s conservation mandate for a third month in a row, in some cases beating the goals. Continued household commitment to the water conservation goals will be critical to our progress, alongside voices of encouragement for a collaborative, broad-based approach to water management. Drought resiliency is a work in progress. The federal government is absolutely committed to continuing to work with the state of California to build upon our achievements of the past several years. Whatever hopes El Niño is raising, and whatever temporary relief it does or does not bring, it’s no substitute for the sustained commitment and reasoned actions we need to address the long-term water challenges facing the American West.



Fort Bragg orders restaurants to use disposable plates, cups– Water Emergency declared

By Peter Fimrite Updated 8:06 am, Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fine dining in Fort Bragg may look something like this staged photo under the city’s new water emergency regulations. Water Manager At Sierra Foothills Reservoir Fears El Nino May Bring Too Much Rain, Too Fast

CBS San Francisco

Things are bad everywhere in California, but the big dry has gotten so severe in the coastal city of Fort Bragg that fancy restaurants are now being ordered to plop their filet mignons on disposable plates and pour wine into plastic cups to avoid washing dishes. The rugged former lumber town in Mendocino County declared a “Stage 3” water emergency after the normally mighty Noyo River, a primary source of drinking water, got so low that ocean water began leaching into municipal pipes.

The emergency order, declared Sept. 30 by the City Council, requires residents and businesses to cut water use 30 percent compared with the same time last year. Residents may not wash cars, irrigate lawns or maintain landscaping. Restaurants and hotels must use disposable plates, cups and flatware, serve customers water only when asked, and drastically cut back on the laundering of tablecloths, napkins, sheets and towels. The city of 7,300 residents was given until Wednesday to comply.
“The Noyo is a critical component of our water supply, and it is too salty to use. The flows are so low, it’s off charts,” said Linda Ruffing, Fort Bragg’s city manager. “We have to lower our water use to the absolute minimum.”,,,







Photo: Thanasssis Stavrakis, AP In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, a local resident takes a photo of the tiny CityMobil2 driverless bus in Trikala town, Greece. Trials of the French-built CityMobil2 buses have started in Trikala, a town of some 80,000 people, chosen to test a driverless bus in real traffic conditions for the first time, as part of a European project to revolutionize mass transport, guided by GPS, lasers, and wireless cameras, and the rides are free.

Town glimpses transit future — driverless buses

ASSOCIATED PRESS October 9 2015 TRIKALA, Greece — There’ll be no arguing with the driver on this bus: The rides are free, and there’s no driver anyway.
Trikala, a rural town of 80,000 inhabitants in northern Greece, has been chosen to test a driverless bus in real traffic conditions for the first time, part of a European project to revolutionize mass transport and wean its cities off oil dependency over the next 30 years. Trials of the French-built CityMobil2 buses started last week and will last through late February. Over the past year, CityMobil2 has been tried out near its base in La Rochelle in western France, on a campus in Lausanne, Switzerland, and near Helsinki, all in controlled conditions that produced no accidents. But in Greece, a country of narrow, winding, hilly streets, stray dogs, bicycle riders and impatient drivers, the buses are up against real traffic. The Greek government had to amend its laws to allow the testing and the city had to build a dedicated bus lane that deprived residents of downtown parking spaces. The robot buses don’t look like science fiction vehicles — more like golf cart meets ice-cream truck. Still, heads turn as the skinny, battery-powered buses hum through the streets. They seat only 10 people and are guided by GPS and supplementary sensors, including lasers and cameras that send live data to a control center….


The $470 million “Class A” Biosolids and Energy Facilities section at D.C. Water’s Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

D.C. Water begins harnessing electricity from every flush

By Katherine Shaver October 7 Washington Post

The next time you flush in the nation’s capital, you might consider this: You — or, more precisely, whatever you have flushed — will help generate clean energy. D.C. Water, which also treats sewage from much of the Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs, recently became the first utility in North America to use a Norwegian thermal hydrolysis system to convert the sludge left over from treated sewage into electricity. Yes, to put it bluntly, the city’s sewage treatment plant is turning poop into power. “It’s a huge deal on so many fronts,” D.C. Water General Manager George S. Hawkins said after Wednesday’s official unveiling of the system. “It’s a public utility leading the world in innovation and technology. We have private and public water companies coming from all over the world to see this.”….


EPA launches new tool to support community interest in green infrastructure

September 30, 2015

As part of a commitment to make a visible difference in communities, EPA is releasing a new web-based tool that helps local officials and other community members consider the benefits and uses of green infrastructure. Green infrastructure relies on vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage stormwater and create healthier urban environments. The Green Infrastructure Wizard, or GIWiz, responds to growing community interest in using green infrastructure as a means of addressing water quality and a range of other local goals. Users can navigate the self-guided format to find EPA tools and resources to:

  • Learn the basics of green infrastructure;
  • Explore options for financing green infrastructure;
  • Visualize and design rain gardens, permeable pavement, and other types of green infrastructure;
  • Understand how other communities are using green infrastructure to revitalize neighborhoods and enhance land use; and
  • Develop green infrastructure public education and outreach campaigns. 

EPA developed the Green Infrastructure Wizard with input from local, state, and tribal partners. EPA is inviting additional input on this beta version of the tool, with the goal of making continued improvements going forward.


Source: Bloomberg The virtuous cycle has begun.

Solar and Wind Just Passed Another Big Turning Point

It has never made less sense to build fossil fuel power plants.

Tom Randall October 6, 2015 — 3:00 AM PDT Bloomberg Business

Wind power is now the cheapest electricity to produce in both Germany and the U.K., even without government subsidies, according to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). It’s the first time that threshold has been crossed by a G7 economy.1 But that’s less interesting than what just happened in the U.S.  To appreciate what’s going on there, you need to understand the capacity factor. That’s the percentage of a power plant’s maximum potential that’s actually achieved over time. Consider a solar project. The sun doesn’t shine at night and, even during the day, varies in brightness with the weather and the seasons. So a project that can crank out 100 megawatt hours of electricity during the sunniest part of the day might produce just 20 percent of that when averaged out over a year. That gives it a 20 percent capacity factor. One of the major strengths of fossil fuel power plants is that they can command very high and predictable capacity factors. The average U.S. natural gas plant, for example, might produce about 70 percent of its potential (falling short of 100 percent because of seasonal demand and maintenance). But that’s what’s changing, and it’s a big deal.  For the first time, widespread adoption of renewables is effectively lowering the capacity factor for fossil fuels. That’s because once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero—free electricity—while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. If you’re a power company with a choice, you choose the free stuff every time.  It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. As more renewables are installed, coal and natural gas plants are used less. As coal and gas are used less, the cost of using them to generate electricity goes up. As the cost of coal and gas power rises, more renewables will be installed.  Wind and solar have long made up a small fraction of U.S. electricity—about 5 percent in 2014. But production has been rising at an exponential rate, and those two energy sources are now big enough to influence when coal and natural gas plants are kept running, according to BNEF.2

There are two reasons this shift in capacity factors is important. First, it’s yet another sign of the rising disruptive force of renewable energy in power markets. It’s impossible to brush aside renewables in the U.S. in the same way it might have been just a few years ago.  “Renewables are really becoming cost-competitive, and they’re competing more directly with fossil fuels,” said BNEF analyst Luke Mills. “We’re seeing the utilization rate of fossil fuels wear away.” 

Second, the shift illustrates a serious new risk for power companies planning to invest in coal or natural-gas plants. Historically, a high capacity factor has been a fixed input in the cost calculation. But now anyone contemplating a billion-dollar power plant with an anticipated lifespan of decades must consider the possibility that as time goes on, the plant will be used less than when its doors first open. …



Citigroup, Citing Climate Change, Will Reduce Coal Financing

Alex Nussbaum October 5, 2015 — 12:53 PM PDT Updated on October 5, 2015 — 2:16 PM PDT

  • Pushing transition from `high-carbon to a low-carbon economy’
  • Becomes third bank this year to reduce coal-mining financing

Citigroup Inc., the third-biggest U.S. bank, said it will cut back on financing for coal mining projects, in the latest blow to the industry that’s viewed as a key contributor to global warming. Citigroup said its credit exposure to coal mining had “declined materially” since 2011 and that the trend would continue into the future. The policy applies to companies that use mountaintop removal methods as well as coal-focused subsidiaries of diversified mining companies, according to the New York-based company’s Environmental & Social Policy Framework guidelines posted online Monday. “This new policy reflects our declining exposure and our continued commitment to managing environmental and social risks and opportunities,” Elizabeth Patella, a Citigroup spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement. Bank of America Corp. and Credit Agricole SA both previously said they were turning away from financing coal this year, as activists and policy makers zero in on the fuel as the biggest source of the emissions blamed for heating up the planet to dangerous levels. Almost 200 countries will meet in Paris starting next month to negotiate a global deal reining in fossil-fuel pollution. The U.S. issued rules this year to wean its power-generating industry off coal…..

E.P.A. Strategist Is Appointed to [Push] Global Warming Agenda

CORAL DAVENPORT NY Times October 6, 2015

The White House has named Thomas Reynolds, a top communications strategist at the Environmental Protection Agency, to a new position dedicated solely to pushing President Obama’s global warming message. Mr. Reynolds has already spent the past two years at the E.P.A. running an aggressive public relations campaign to build support for Mr. Obama’s climate change push. That push is anchored in a set of ambitious new E.P.A. regulations on coal-fired power plants, which Republicans have attacked as a “war on coal.” In defending and promoting the E.P.A.’s climate rules, Mr. Reynolds injected the agency’s typically staid public affairs office with the brash sensibility of a political campaign, derived from his experience directing regional media operations for Mr. Obama’s 2012 re-election. He arranged for the agency’s administrator, Gina McCarthy, to speak about the rule in events around the country – from the Iowa State Fair to a major oil industry meeting, and flooded social media with Twitter messages, videos and Facebook shares about the impacts of climate change. But the stakes for the rules – and opposition against them – have been climbing. This fall in Paris, Mr. Obama hopes to be a broker in the forging of a new deal committing every nation on Earth to enacting climate change plans at home – those E.P.A. rules are key to the United States’ leverage in the deal. But the push against them is fierce: The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has urged governors not to comply with the rules, and has also told international climate negotiators that the United States’ plan may be repealed. …



Catalog of federal resilience programs for Alaskan communities released

A federal agency working group has released a catalog of programs and funding resources that may help Arctic coastal communities address their resilience needs. The catalog describes a variety of programs and authorities available for Arctic villages and communities to prepare for and respond to coastal erosion issues. The resources can help communities build their capacity to mitigate weather- and climate-related risks, implement on-site measures to increase their resilience, and–if necessary–relocate community assets….


Carbon Engineering unveils groundbreaking carbon capture project in Squamish, B.C.

Project backed by Bill Gates would suck carbon out of the air and turn it into energy

Oct 08, 2015 6:49 PM PT
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

The mountain air in Squamish, B.C., could soon be even fresher with the launch of a groundbreaking carbon capture operation. The pilot project will suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, not from an industrial plant like other such operations, with the goal of turning the gas into fuel.
Built and operated by Calgary-based Carbon Engineering, the $9-million plant will capture about one tonne of CO2 per day, which is the equivalent of taking about 100 cars off the road annually.
Founded by Harvard climate scientist David Keith and backed by big-name investors including Bill Gates, Carbon Engineering has spent several years turning academic research into technology that could be commercialized.
The company will unveil its pilot plant in Squamish on Friday….



(Photo: David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit Zoo no longer sells bottled water

James David Dickson, The Detroit News 5:56 p.m. EDT October 2, 2015

Royal Oak — Visitors to the Detroit Zoo have one less option if they get thirsty walking the grounds. The zoo no longer sells bottled water, part of a multi-year effort to make changes that are environmentally friendly. It’s an effort other zoos are watching closely, said Rob Vernon, spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. He said he believes Detroit is the first zoo in the nation to stop selling water in plastic bottles….





Some lawmakers have questioned whether certain National Science Foundation grants, including those examining changes in ocean pH, are in the “national interest.” Above is a a map of ocean pH, with higher values shown in orange and red. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

NSF peer review remains target for Congress

By Jeffrey Mervis 8 October 2015 2:00 pm Posted in Policy
Science| DOI: 10.1126/science.aad4690 Comments

Republican legislators today reiterated their distrust of the National Science Foundation (NSF), with the science committee for the U.S. House of Representatives approving legislation that would tighten its oversight of NSF’s merit-review process. The vote is the latest twist in a bitter fight between many House Republicans and the U.S. scientific establishment over the rules of engagement on federal funding for research. The bill (H.R. 3293), which had the support of two Democrats, is a form of déjà vu: Its two pages are ripped from a much larger bill (H.R. 1806) governing NSF’s practices that passed the House in May but has not been taken up by the Senate. Both bills would require NSF officials to explain why every grant they make is “in the national interest,” using seven criteria that range from “increased economic competitiveness” to “promotion of the progress of science.” The committee’s chairman, Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), said during today’s markup of the bill that he has reviewed several dozen “questionable” grants that do not meet that definition. Smith’s list includes many grants for political and social science studies, as well as environmental research. Smith said his goal is to “assure U.S. taxpayers that their money is spent only on high-priority research.” Most Democrats on the committee, however, think that Smith’s real motive is to suppress research that he dislikes. “The clear intent of the bill is to require NSF to fund what chairman Smith thinks should or should not be funded,” said the top Democrat on the panel, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX)…..



Western senators hold hope of water accord

By Carolyn Lochhead SF Chron Oct 9 2015

WASHINGTON — Four years into California’s epic drought, a Senate committee heard Thursday from California lawmakers proposing two wildly conflicting approaches to water shortages, hoping to meld a compromise that could come together by the time El Niño arrives in the state. Led by two Western women — Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, and Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell — the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee may be the most promising arena yet for a compromise on water between House Republicans, representing the state’s farming interests, and California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. “I’m so glad you two are sitting up there,” Boxer said, referring to Murkowski and Cantwell in her testimony to the committee. After years of stalemate among California’s congressional delegation, Murkowski, who chairs the committee, seems determined to pass drought legislation that would include California but cover the entire West. After two visits by Murkowski to the San Joaquin Valley, her sympathies appear to lie with farming interests. But by holding the hearing, she and Cantwell, who has worked successfully on compromises between salmon and farming interests in Washington, appear serious about getting legislation enacted. Earlier this year, the House passed a drought bill squarely aimed at transferring more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in Northern California to farms and cities in the San Joaquin Valley, relaxing environmental protections for salmon and other fish. The bill, which President Obama has threatened to veto, also calls for a major push for new dams in the state to store more water when and if it arrives. Feinstein and Boxer have much broader legislation that would authorize funding for dams but also make a big push to expand water recycling and desalination to increase overall water supplies rather than simply shifting water from one user to another. It also would increase the latitude of water managers to move water to farms during droughts, but would not, as the House bill does, repeal elements of the Endangered Species Act and other key environmental laws.
Feinstein, who parted with Boxer last year in a failed effort to compromise with House Republicans, said Thursday that she and Boxer are “joined at the hip” on this legislation. Boxer said she will refuse to participate in any legislation that “reignites the water wars” between farmers and others, and pointed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s success passing a $7.5 billion water bond last year as an example of how long-warring interests can find compromise. She and Feinstein said that their legislation has drawn support from interests as divergent as the California Farm Bureau and the Nature Conservancy….





Hoesung Lee was previously a vice chair of the IPCC (Pic: IISD)

South Korea’s Hoesung Lee wins top UN climate science job

Energy economist beat Belgium’s Jean-Pascal van Ypersele to claim prestigious chair of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
at election in Dubrovnik

By Megan Darby Last updated on 06/10/2015, 9:23 pm

South Korean energy economist Hoesung Lee is chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), after a tense election in Dubrovnik on Tuesday. He beat Belgium’s Jean-Pascal van Ypersele to the prestigious post by 78 votes to 56 in a run-off, having knocked out four candidates in the first round. In his CV for the post, Lee set out a vision to make the UN climate science authority more relevant to policy, seeking inputs from business, industry and finance communities. “I will pay special attention to climate change issues associated with job creation, health, innovation and technology development, energy access and poverty alleviation,” he wrote. Lee named carbon pricing as the most important area for research in climate change, in an interview with specialist blog Carbon Brief. “That’s because it is the driver to put us into the right track.”


Global climate agreements could be counterproductive

Posted: 05 Oct 2015 07:01 AM PDT

International climate agreements like the Kyoto Protocol may discourage much-needed investment in renewable energy sources, and hence be counterproductive, according to new research….



Environmental activists in kayaks protested the arrival of the Polar Pioneer, an oil drilling rig owned by Shell Oil, on May 14, 2015, in Seattle. Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Huge Win for Activists Over Industry: Shell Abandons Offshore Oil Drilling in the Arctic

By Eric Holthaus September 28, 2015

In a pretty stunning reversal, Royal Dutch Shell announced on Monday that it would abandon its offshore oil drilling activities in the Alaskan Arctic “for the foreseeable future.” Shell’s Arctic exploration had become a favorite target for environmental activists in recent months, as controversy swirled over the Obama administration’s decision to green-light the project. Earlier this year, hundreds of brightly colored boats briefly blockaded one of Shell’s Arctic-bound ships in Portland, Oregon, citing climate change concerns. It’s unclear how central these protests were in motivating Shell’s turnaround, but, as the Guardian
notes, Shell has “privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.” And activists are taking credit: The primary reason Shell gave for its decision was that it just didn’t find enough oil. Shell also cited an “unpredictable federal regulatory environment”—likely a nod to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s recent decision to break with the Obama administration and oppose the project—as well as high costs associated with the drilling. Shell has spent $7 billion and eight years working toward developing offshore oil in the Arctic. According to an industry analyst who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, Shell’s investors should be pleased with the economics of the decision to stop the project. Even activists were worried about the money: Chief among concerns of environmentalists, in addition to the additional greenhouse gases, was that a large oil spill in the sensitive Arctic would be particularly difficult to clean up—and would likely come with a huge price tag….


Emissions targets are out of reach without a massive technological shift in Europe’s basic industries

Posted: 05 Oct 2015 05:06 AM PDT

The targets for lower emissions of carbon dioxide from Europe’s basic industries are out of reach, without urgent introduction of innovative carbon dioxide mitigation technologies, say researchers who draw this conclusion after several years of research into carbon-intensive industry in Europe.


New dietary guidelines must be sustainable, regardless of politics

Posted: 01 Oct 2015 12:30 PM PDT

The new iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans must incorporate sustainability considerations — both for the health and wellbeing of Americans and the world in which we live, urges a new article.


One of the World’s Most Powerful Central Bankers Is Worried About Climate Change


The governor of the Bank of England warns about risks to global financial stability….


An area of the Amazon rain forest burned to make way for pasturelands. Brazil has pledged to end illegal deforestation. Credit Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times

Limited Progress Seen Even as More Nations Step Up on Climate


The pledges that countries are making to battle climate change would still allow the world to heat up by more than 6 degrees Fahrenheit, a new analysis shows, a level that scientists say is likely to produce catastrophes ranging from food shortages to widespread extinctions of plant and animal life. Yet, in the world of global climate politics, that counts as progress. The new figures will be released Monday in New York as a week of events related to climate change comes to an end. The highlight was an urgent moral appeal at the United Nations on Friday from Pope Francis, urging countries to reach “fundamental and effective agreements” when they meet in Paris in December to try to strike a new global climate deal. For much of this year, countries have been issuing pledges about how much emissions they are willing to cut in coming decades. With a plan announced by Brazil on Sunday, every major country except for India has now made a commitment to take to the Paris conference. An analysis by researchers at Climate Interactive, a group whose calculations are used by American negotiators and by numerous other governments, is expected to be released Monday and was provided in advance to The New York Times. It shows that the collective pledges would reduce the warming of the planet at century’s end to about 6.3 degrees, if the national commitments are fully honored, from an expected 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit, if emissions continue on their present course…..



Altaf Qadri/Associated Press


A Big Boost for the Climate Summit

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD NY Times October 3, 2015

India becomes the last big nation to make a pledge to fight rising greenhouse gas emissions….


India Announces Plan to Lower Rate of Greenhouse Gas Emissions


India, the world’s third-largest carbon polluter, was the last major country to issue its plan before a major summit meeting in Paris in December.


Big business creates a new non-profit to help fix climate change

Shell, Dow, and GE have helped create the Energy Transitions Commission to help move us to a low carbon economy.

by Brian Dumaine September 28, 2015, 6:21 PM EDT

A growing number of influential business and government leaders now believe that it will be possible to expand the global economy while meeting our climate goals. But the real challenge is exactly how to do that? Decision makers, when grappling with climate change, often face mountains of detailed and sometimes contradictory information about how their organizations can become more sustainable. What’s needed, says Shell Chairman Chad Holliday, “is a trusted source. The data is out there—someone needs to collect it and make sure it’s in a usable form and then distribute it. So if you’re the President of Brazil and you want to make decision about biofuels, you’d have good information to make your decisions.”
Enter the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC), an advisory group with a star-studded roster of former government officials, heads of green NGOs and Fortune Global 500 executives. Besides Shell, corporate members include Norway’s Statoil, Germany’s RWE utility, Schneider Electric, Dow Chemical DOW -4.49% , GE GE -2.45% , and mining giant BHP Billiton BHP -4.36% . Mexico’s former Mexican president Felipe Calderon is on the board as well as Hank Paulson, the form U.S. Treasury secretary and British economist, Nicholas Stern. Two prominent green NGOs have joined: The European Climate Foundation and the World Resources Institute.
The ETC’s goal is to create a roadmap for a more sustainable economy over the next 15 years. This means finding ways to provide the energy needed to support a growing global population and greater economic prosperity, without damaging our environment beyond repair….


Is the fossil fuel industry, like the tobacco industry, guilty of racketeering?

By dana1981 & Skeptical Science posts: 29 September 2015

ExxonMobil has become infamous for its secretive anti-climate science campaign, having spent $30 million funding groups denying the scientific evidence and consensus on human-caused global warming.

Read more…


Top, the loss of sea ice due to climate change has taken a toll on wildlife. (Mike Lockhart / U.S. Geological Survey, Associated Press) Bottom, rapidly thawing permafrost is changing the landscape in Canada’s Northwest Territories. (Scott Zolkos / The Canadian Press)

What Exxon knew about the Earth’s melting Arctic

Los Angeles Times | October 9, 2015 | 1:39 PM

Back in 1990, as the debate over climate change was heating up, a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil companies, imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities. The board’s response: Exxon had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action.
The company’s “examination of the issue supports the conclusions that the facts today and the projection of future effects are very unclear.” Yet in the far northern regions of Canada’s Arctic frontier, researchers and engineers at Exxon and Imperial Oil were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet. Ken Croasdale, senior ice researcher for Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, was leading a Calgary-based team of researchers and engineers that was trying to determine how global warming could affect Exxon’s Arctic operations and its bottom line. “Certainly any major development with a life span of say 30-40 years will need to assess the impacts of potential global warming,” Croasdale told an engineering conference in 1991. “This is particularly true of Arctic and offshore projects in Canada, where warming will clearly affect sea ice, icebergs, permafrost and sea levels.” Between 1986 and 1992, Croasdale’s team looked at both the positive and negative effects that a warming Arctic would have on oil operations, reporting its findings to Exxon headquarters in Houston and New Jersey. The good news for Exxon, he told an audience of academics and government researchers in 1992, was that “potential global warming can only help lower exploration and development costs” in the Beaufort Sea. But, he added, it also posed hazards, including higher sea levels and bigger waves, which could damage the company’s existing and future coastal and offshore infrastructure, including drilling platforms, artificial islands, processing plants and pump stations. And a thawing earth could be troublesome for those facilities as well as pipelines. As Croasdale’s team was closely studying the impact of climate change on the company’s operations, Exxon and its worldwide affiliates were crafting a public policy position that sought to downplay the certainty of global warming. The gulf between Exxon’s internal and external approach to climate change from the 1980s through the early 2000s was evident in a review of hundreds of internal documents, decades of peer-reviewed published material and dozens of interviews conducted by Columbia University’s Energy & Environmental Reporting Project and the Los Angeles Times. Documents were obtained from the Imperial Oil collection at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and the ExxonMobil Historical Collection…

…The most pressing concerns for the company centered on a 540-mile pipeline that crossed the Northwest Territories into Alberta, its riverside processing facilities in the remote town of Norman Wells, and a proposed natural gas facility and pipeline in the Mackenzie River Delta, on the shores of the Beaufort Sea. The company hired Stephen Lonergan, a Canadian geographer from McMaster University, to study the effect of climate change there. Lonergan used several climate models in his analysis, including the NASA model. They all concluded that things would get warmer and wetter and that those effects “cannot be ignored,” he said in his report. As a result, the company should expect “maintenance and repair costs to roads, pipelines and other engineering structures” to be sizable in the future, he wrote. A warmer Arctic would threaten the stability of permafrost, he noted, potentially damaging the buildings, processing plants and pipelines that were built on the solid, frozen ground. In addition, the company should expect more flooding along its riverside facilities, an earlier spring breakup of the ice pack, and more-severe summer storms. But it was the increased variability and unpredictability of the weather that was going to be the company’s biggest challenge, he said. Record-breaking droughts, floods and extreme heat — the worst-case scenarios — were now events that not only were likely to happen, but could occur at any time, making planning for such scenarios difficult, Lonergan warned the company in his report. Extreme temperatures and precipitation “should be of greatest concern,” he wrote, “both in terms of future design and … expected impacts.” The fact that temperatures could rise above freezing on almost any day of the year got his superiors’ attention. That “was probably one of the biggest results of the study and that shocked a lot of people,” he said in a recent interview….

….Today, as Exxon’s scientists predicted 25 years ago, Canada’s Northwest Territories has experienced some of the most dramatic effects of global warming. While the rest of the planet has seen an average increase of roughly 1.5 degrees in the last 100 years, the northern reaches of the province have warmed by 5.4 degrees and temperatures in central regions have increased by 3.6 degrees….

…Croasdale, who still consults for Exxon, said the company could be “taking a gamble” the ice will break up soon, finally bringing about the day he predicted so long ago — when the costs would become low enough to make Arctic exploration economical.





California water wars heat up over $15B tunnel plan

Opponents rally against the cost of WaterFix plan and disruption to farms in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta

October 5, 2015 8:00PM ET by Haya El Nasser

LOS ANGELES — Water wars are part of California’s history, but amid the state’s current epic drought, the fights over the precious resource are intensifying. The latest flashpoint is California WaterFix, a proposed more than $15 billion project to build two 30-mile-long tunnels up to 150 feet belowground to divert water from the northern edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which now supplies water to 25 million residents and 3 million acres of farmland. The state says the tunnels would protect against disruption when aging levees fail because of rising sea levels and earthquakes. Levee failures have caused the flooding of delta islands 158 times since 1900. The debate pits farmers, politicians and some environmentalists against the state and is heating up as the public comment period nears its close at the end of October. Opponents say that farmers will shoulder the high cost of the project, which will not increase their water supplies. Plus, they charge it would devastate the already fragile delta ecosystem. “In a time of severe drought, we need to conserve water and augment our water supply throughout the entire state,” congressional opponents, led by  Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-California, wrote in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown late last month. Central Valley farmers “will pay a steep increase in costs without a real return in water,” the letter said. And they fear that delta farms and communities will no longer be guaranteed help when levees fail. “Red flags have been raised across the board on the governor’s tunnels plan that does nothing to fix the state’s existing water supply managements and severe drought problems,” McNerney said Monday at a an opposition rally in Stockton, in the heart of the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. “The only thing clear is that the tunnels are a repackaging of old ideas that waste billions of dollars and threaten the way of life for an entire region without creating a single new drop of water.” Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, the executive director of Restore the Delta, a grass-roots organization, said that 14 years of tunnel construction “will decimate the delta’s $5.2 billion annual agricultural economy and destroy family farms dating back to the 1850s.” Opponents call for redirecting funds toward existing conservation and recycling programs and more water storage facilities. California officials say the criticism is unfounded. “You might ask critics how they can complain that the proposed project would both take too much water from the delta and not enough to be worth the investment,” said Nancy Vogel, the deputy secretary of communications for the California Natural Resources Agency.


The Republican Party stands alone in climate denial

Amid internal calls for climate action, a study finds that Republicans are the only climate-denying conservative party in the world

Dana Nuccitelli Monday 5 October 2015 06.00 EDT Last modified on Monday 5 October 2015 10.40 EDT

A paper published in the journal Politics and Policy by Sondre Båtstrand at the University of Bergen in Norway compared the climate positions of conservative political parties around the world. Båtstrand examined the platforms or manifestos of the conservative parties from the USA, UK, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Germany. He found that the US Republican Party stands alone in its rejection of the need to tackle climate change and efforts to become the party of climate supervillains.

Republicans would be fringe in any other country

As Jonathan Chait wrote of Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s proposals to eliminate all significant American national climate policies,

In any other democracy in the world, a Jeb Bush would be an isolated loon, operating outside the major parties, perhaps carrying on at conferences with fellow cranks, but having no prospects of seeing his vision carried out in government. But the United States is different. Here in America, ideas like Bush’s fit comfortably within one of the two major political parties. Indeed, the greatest barrier to Bush claiming his party’s nomination is the quite possibly justified sense that he is too sober and moderate to suit the GOP. So, what’s different about the United States? One factor is the immensely profitable and politically influential fossil fuel industry. However, Canada and Australia serve as useful analogues. With Australian coal reserves and Canadian tar sands, fossil fuels account for a larger share of both countries’ economies. Nevertheless, Båtstrand noted, The [Republican] party seems to treat climate change as a non-issue … this appears to be consistent with the U.S. national context as a country with large reserves of coal. Båtstrand also found that the emphasis on free market ideology is relatively strong in the Republican Party platform. However, the appropriate free market approach to climate change involves putting a price on the external costs of climate pollution. In fact, that’s why the President George H. W. Bush administration invented cap and trade as a free market alternative to government regulation of pollutants. So, free market ideology can’t explain the abnormal behavior of the Republican Party on climate change…..


———-Bottom of Form



Water Source for Alberta Tar Sands Drilling Could Run Dry

New research finds the Athabasca River might not be a sustainable source of water oil companies need for the tar sands.

By Katherine Bagley, InsideClimate News Sept 21 2015

The source of water used for drilling in the Alberta tar sands could dry up in the coming decades, according to new research released Monday. The questionable future of the Athabasca River threatens the longevity of fossil fuel extraction in the world’s third-largest crude oil reserve. Scientists at the University of Regina and University of Western Ontario in Canada looked at 900 years of tree ring data and found water levels have dwindled along the 765-mile river at various points throughout its history.

The analysis, published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the waterway has shrunk over the past 50 years as global warming has melted the glaciers that feed it. It also found the region has experienced several droughts that have lasted more than a decade in the last few centuries. Such a drought could likely happen in the near future, the scientists said.

“Conventional water management assumes that what you had for river flow the last 50 years is what you will have for the next 50,” said Dave Sauchyn, a climate scientist at the University of Regina in Canada and lead author of the study. This short-term data is what officials use to determine how much water tar sands operators can take from the Athabasca, he said. “No one can predict the future, but if the region’s past 900 years is any indication, and you factor in climate change, you’re going to have a warmer situation that could mean the river will no longer be a sustainable water source for the tar sands,” he said. The Alberta tar sands, which cover  55,000 square miles in western Canada, are estimated to contain approximately 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen, a sticky, thick form of petroleum that can be extracted through both surface mining and drilling. Water is used to separate the bitumen from surrounding sediment, as well as to create steam that heats the oil so it flows into production wells. It currently takes as many as  3.1 barrels of water to produce one barrel of crude oil from the Alberta tar sands, according to the paper. In 2012, fossil fuel operators drew 187 million cubic meters of fresh water out of the Athabasca River, equal to 4.4 percent of the river’s annual flow and the water usage of 1.7 million Canadians. This amount is expected to more than double in the next decade, to 505 million cubic meters per year, if mining operations expand as expected. Tar sands projects are already threatened by a slump in oil prices, as well as pending global action to address climate change. Tar sands drilling is a prominent target of environmental groups and climate activists because the oil emits an estimated three to four times more carbon dioxide when burned than conventional crude. Its water use only adds to the environmental costs. This research “clearly demonstrates that oilsands extraction will continue to place significant demands on Alberta’s environment,” said Erin Flanagan, an expert on tar sands and water issues for the Pembina Institute. “Ultimately, the question to policymakers is around fairness – is it appropriate for oilsands to increase its access to Alberta’s freshwater resources as they become more scarce over time?”….



Are solar panels now as cheap as fossil fuels?

SolarCity has released the most efficient and most affordable solar panels. Does this make solar a viable alternative to traditional energy sources? 

By Annika Fredrikson, Staff October 4, 2015 Christian Science Monitor

Earlier this year, Green Tech Media Research said they expected “U.S. module prices to fall to 64 cents per watt this year,” if tariffs on Chinese cells were reduced. SolarCity’s model produces energy at 55 cents per watt. SolarCity has already secured itself a position as the largest solar panel installer in the US, but it could also become the largest manufacturer, as Musk continues to position the company as one that can both produce and install. “With full control of the process, SolarCity can now start to control the cost per kilowatt hour directly,” says Extreme Tech. However, demand is too high for the company to manufacture all of their own panels, Digital Trends says….



New research puts us closer to DIY spray-on solar cell technology

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 05:31 AM PDT

A new study puts us closer to do-it-yourself spray-on solar cell technology—promising third-generation solar cells utilizing a nanocrystal ink deposition that could make traditional expensive silicon-based solar panels a thing of the past.


Making batteries with portabella mushrooms

Posted: 29 Sep 2015 11:25 AM PDT

Can portabella mushrooms stop cell phone batteries from degrading over time? Researchers think so. They have created a new type of lithium-ion battery anode using portabella mushrooms, which are inexpensive, environmentally friendly and easy to produce.


Diesel cars: High emissions in real traffic

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 12:27 PM PDT

Emission measurements show that new Euro 6 cars with diesel engines are struggling with too high NOx emissions in real traffic. After Volkswagen has admitted cheating in emission tests in the United States by making its cars appear more environmentally friendly than they are, this study is no less relevant for a European context. 






California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment

California’s leadership in climate change policy is built on a strong foundation of research addressing the impacts of climate change on the state, as well as strategies to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In turn, the state’s research responds directly to policy needs related to safeguarding California from these impacts.] California’s recently released Climate Change Research Plan articulates near-term climate change research needs to ensure that the state stays on track to meet its climate goals. The Fourth Climate Change Assessment is the first inter-agency effort to implement a substantial portion of the Climate Change Research Plan. The Resources Agency, in collaboration with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and the Climate Action Team (CAT) Research Working Group, has developed a proposed portfolio of projects for California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment. This document identifies key research themes, describes specific projects included in each theme, and indicates funding allocations for the non-energy sectors. Additionally, this document indicates how the proposed research portfolio will be integrated with a suite of energy-related studies that will also support the Fourth Assessment but draw on different funding sources from the projects identified here. This document is ultimately intended to serve as the basis for the request for proposal (RFP) to be released by the Natural Resources Agency. The Natural Resources Agency anticipates release of this RFP during the first quarter of FY 2015-2016. The Fourth Assessment builds on the success of three prior assessments to address California-specific policy questions and information needs detailed below. This latest assessment is being supported through two funding sources, one managed by the California Energy Commission (CEC) and another by CNRA. The former focuses on energy-related research needs and the latter on non-energy research needs. The proposed research focuses on the CNRA-managed, non-energy funding stream. To download the Fourth Climate Change Assessment Scope of Work, click here.

To receive status updates on the Fourth Assessment, which will include when the non-energy sector RFP solicitation process begins,  please sign up for the Natural Resources Agency climate list-servs: click here.

When energy-sector RFPs are released, they will be distributed through the California Energy Commission’s research list-servs: click here.

The California Energy Commission will hold a workshop on “Selecting Climate Scenarios for the Energy Sector” on February 27, 2015. These scenarios will be used to support the energy-related vulnerability and adaptation studies for the Fourth Assessment. (These scenarios will also be available for non-energy sector research).

To download public workshop presentations for proposed energy sector research click here.

Notice of workshop (Monday December 1, 2014 [9:00 AM to 3:00 PM]), click here.



Presented by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service – Science and Technology – National Technology Support Centers

Using the Stream Visual Assessment Protocol 2 – October 20, 2015, 2PM Eastern / 11AM Pacific, 60 Minutes

Jennifer Anderson-Cruz, State Biologist, Georgia State Office, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service  Join the Webinar

NRCS’s Stream Visual Assessment Protocol 2 (SVAP2) is a national protocol that provides an initial evaluation of the overall condition of wadeable streams as well as their riparian zones and instream habitats. This is a simple resource assessment tool with the goal of providing education, problem (resource concern) identification, before / after evaluation, and a sense of ownership by users. Target users include field conservationists, partners/volunteers, landowners, and citizens who may have little training or experience. This presentation will introduce participants to SVAP2, covering the assessment of 16 elements as they relate to potential resource concerns….





The Wildlife Society 22nd Annual Conference
October 17-21, 2015 Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

The Wildlife Society’s Annual Conference is one of the largest gatherings of wildlife professionals, students and supporters in North America.  More than 1,500 attendees gathered to learn, network and engage at our 2014 Annual Conference in Pittsburgh, PA…


Drought Symposium 15- tentatively scheduled for Oct 20-21, So CA

This October, CalCoast™ and its allies in government, academia, and the private sector (including Strategic Advocacy Partners) will hold “Drought Symposium 15,” tentatively scheduled for Oct 20-21. We have been scouting sites in Ontario, CA; San Diego, CA; and Orange County.  A call for presentations will be circulated soon, but if you have an idea for a presentation or (better yet) a whole panel (90 mins), please send a message to Steve Aceti at and John Helmer at If your organization is interested in becoming a sponsor or exhibitor for Drought Symposium 15, please send a message to Gracie Parisi, CalCoast’s COO, at If you know of any conflicts with other events this October 20-21, please let us know. And stay tuned!



2015 Southwest Climate Summit  November 2-3, 2015 Holiday Inn Capital Plaza Sacramento, CA
Join us for the 2015 Southwest Climate Summit when we’ll promote Climate-Smart Conservation by bringing together managers and scientists from across the Southwest to:

  • Discover emerging climate science
  • Explore adaptive management application
  • Share Climate-Smart Conservation results 
  • Discuss management and policy responses

The California LCC, Southwest Climate Science Center, USDA Southwest Climate Hub, Great Basin LCC, and Desert LCC are hosting the Summit to foster sharing of lessons learned and collaboration across the Southwestern landscape. Click here for more information.


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.


An Overview of Climate-Smart Conservation November 6, 2015 at The San Diego Foundation

This one day overview class is being hosted by the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative (CA LCC) and is based on the guide Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice. This publication is the product of an expert workgroup on climate change adaptation convened by the National Wildlife Federation in collaboration with the FWS’s National Conservation Training Center and other partners. The course is designed to provide an introduction to climate adaptation for application to on-the-ground conservation. It will provide an overview of how to craft climate-informed conservation goals, to carry out adaptation with intentionality, and how to manage for change and not just persistence…. The San Diego Foundation, 2508 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego, CA 92106 Register Now– contact Christy Coghlan –


California Association of Resource Conservation Districts:

Healthy Forests, Healthy Soils, A Resilient California” 70th Annual Conference November 18—21, 2015 Tenaya Lodge, Yosemite, CA

Don’t miss out on being part of the change. California’s future is the crucial discussion at this year’s CARCD Annual Conference November 18th—21st at the Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite, CA. The Sierra National Forest, backdrop for Yosemite National Park, will provide a perfect classroom and case study of the challenges California will face if we cannot enact effective and efficient management strategies at the local, regional and statewide levels.  We will discuss how smart, integrated management projects on a seemingly small-scale are the building blocks that affect water abundance, water quality, soil health, tree/ plant health, forest health, groundwater, and climate change throughout the state.  In addition, we will examine innovative developments to solve new world challenges like the  latest developments in carbon markets, building partnerships to solve complex, multi-jurisdictional issues, state programs focused on solving California’s problems, capacity building for RCDs and much more.



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.



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


Point Blue: Coastal Adaptation Program Leader

The Coastal Adaptation Program Leader (CAPL) will be responsible for executing the strategy and achieving the outcomes of Point Blue’s Protecting Our Shorelines Initiative. As such, the CAPL will help natural resource managers and policy makers advance their adaptation efforts in the face of accelerating climate change, ocean acidification, increased storm frequency and intensity, habitat loss, and other stressors, leveraging Point Blue and partner scientific, data, and informatics resources. The CAPL will also develop science-based policy and natural resource management recommendations. Learn more and how to apply here.

Point Blue: Institutional Philanthropy Director  The Director of Institutional Philanthropy (Director) will be responsible for securing foundation and agency funding for priority programs, and managing all aspects of Point Blue’s foundation relations to advance our innovative climate-smart conservation science strategies. Reporting to the Chief Advancement Officer, the Director will collaborate with the Chief Science Officer, Group Directors, and other organizational leaders on the development and planning of strategic initiatives, assist staff scientists in the production of technical proposals and reports, write foundation proposals and reports, and support the advancement staff in written communications to major donors…


For other jobs at Point Blue, see here.






CDFW Now Accepting Proposals for Proposition 1 Restoration Grant Programs

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is now accepting proposals for restoration projects that further the objectives of the California Water Action Plan (CWAP). For Fiscal Year (FY) 2015-2016, a total of $31.4 million in Proposition 1 funds will be made available through CDFW’s two Proposition 1 Restoration Grant Programs. The Watershed Restoration Grant Program will fund up to $24 million in projects of statewide importance outside of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, while the Delta Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration Grant Program will fund up to $7 million in projects that specifically benefit the Delta….


Breakdown and Tips on Prop 1 Funding and Permits 

Sustainable Conservation September 4, 2015

Many of you are busy with project implementation right now and may not have had the time to evaluate Prop 1 funding sources. Sustainable Conservation has put together a breakdown of top funding sources, application tips, and which simplified permits for restoration you can use to increase your “project readiness” scoring and save time/resources on permitting. Simplified permits will be essential to getting projects implemented quickly and spending more money for on-the-ground work. Note that we are continually working on new permits where coverage doesn’t already exist, so be sure to check our website for updates. The following tables have summary information to guide you:

1.            Summary of 2015-16 Prop 1 Funding Sources and Application Tips

2.            Coastal Areas and Anadromous Fisheries Simplified Permits

3.            Inland Simplified Permits









J. Murray Mitchell, Jr. at his home weather station. Photo from Emilio Segrè Visual Archives via AIP website.

Was Broecker really the first to use the term Global Warming?

Posted on 30 September 2015 by Ari Jokimäki

“Global warming” is a term that is most commonly used to describe an increase in global mean surface temperature. Sometimes global warming has been used more broadly to also include temperature evolution in troposphere. In some cases the term has been falsely used in the place of the term “climate change”, which has a different meaning. “Climate change” can be any change in climate parameters (for example rainfall or wind) and it doesn’t have to be global. The usage of global warming can be traced back at least to 1961 by J. Murray Mitchell Jr. (more on this below). However, NASA has a page by Eric Conway on the terminology which mistakenly claims on the origin of the term global warming: “Its first use was in a 1975 Science article by geochemist Wallace Broecker of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory: “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”” Let us see what earlier papers we can find that used the term. What is interesting, among other things, in Broecker’s paper is that it uses both climate change (in the form of climatic change) and global warming in its title…. Still going further back, and this time taking a larger leap in years, we finally find Mitchell (1961): “In attempting to identify the ultimate causes of secular climatic variation, it should be ascertained whether this global warming trend has actually leveled off in recent years, as suggested by latter-day studies of Arctic data in the Scandinavian sector (WallCn and Ahlmann, 1955; Hesselberg and Johannessen, 1958) where the warming in earlier years was particularly noticeable.” And this is as far back as I can go. So, we find that global warming has been used at least as early as 1961As a sidenote, Mitchell uses also the term climatic change in this 1961 paper, and he also uses it in his earlier paper (Mitchell, 1953), so even this limited analysis shows that climatic change/climate change was around earlier as a term than global warming. This of course addresses the false claims that global warming was supposedly switched to climate change in 2000s. But who was this J. Murray Mitchell Jr.? In his climate research he studied different factors affecting climate, such as aerosols, greenhouse gases, and natural variability. Here are some of the titles and quotes of his papers to give you an idea of his work:…



Local and National Weather Forecasts with a Climate Twist from Climate Central



Nice Montana Hunter Forgives Bear Who Tried to Eat His Head

By Ben Mathis-Lilley

A bear tried to eat 26-year-old Chase Dellwo’s head while he was bow hunting for elk in Montana. From the Great Falls Tribune: It wasn’t until he was just three feet away that he realized he was approaching a bear that had been sleeping. The windy conditions meant the bear was as surprised as Dellwo. “I had an arrow nocked, and I put my bow up in front of me and took two or three steps back,” he said. “There wasn’t any time to draw my bow back.”

After biting him several times, the bear left when Dellwo shoved his arm down its throat after remembering that he once read an article that said that “large animals have bad gag reflexes.” (I couldn’t find such an article in the Nexis news database, though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.) He was treated with hundreds of stitches on his head, face, and leg. But: “I want everyone to know that it wasn’t the bear’s fault, he was as scared as I was,” Dellwo said from his hospital bed at Benefis Health System Sunday afternoon. Very nice! Forgiveness is a wonderful blessing. “For lo, the poor and the children and the bears of the forest shall be forgiven unto the Lord,” Jesus (may have) said….



Why Tom Steyer’s latest fight against climate change involves raising his own cattle

Evan Halper LA Times Oct 2 2015

Tom Steyer’s crusade to force politicians to confront climate change is well known, manifesting itself in millions of dollars of campaign funding, including the windfall he raised for Hillary Rodham Clinton recently in his San Francisco home. Less well known is the billionaire’s crusade to force farmers to confront it. At an 1,800-acre cattle ranch that Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, own near Half Moon Bay, they are plotting to upend agribusiness with the same precision – and even some of the same tools – that served Steyer well in the hedge fund business. They are also surprising some allies in the climate movement by cattle ranching at all. Many see the presence of massive numbers of cows on the planet as incompatible with efforts to contain global warming. The couple have a different take. “We would continue raising cattle even if no one ever ate another steak,” said Taylor. That’s how beneficial she and Steyer think these large farm animals can be. They want the cows to mimic the ancient migratory patterns of wild ungulates and naturally fertilize and aerate soil to reverse the mass erosion believed to be accelerating climate change. Steyer and Taylor are among the ultra-rich climate activists whose impatience with the impact of food production on the environment has them moving beyond writing checks for research projects and scientific institutes to personally picking up cattle prods and pitchforks. Former Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison, the world’s fifth-richest man, purchased nearly the entire Hawaiian island of Lanai with futuristic plans to revive a long-defunct pineapple-growing industry there by desalinating seawater with solar and wind power. On a farm in Arizona, Howard G. Buffett, son of the world’s third-richest man, Warren E. Buffett, is fine-tuning climate-friendly growing techniques with the help of a couple of oxen, which he brought on board to demonstrate how the practices could work on subsistence farms in Africa that have no tractors….



MacArthur ‘genius’ Gary Cohen: Health industry’s epiphany creates science opportunity

By Lena H. Sun September 29 at 2:45 PM [Here’s the list of this year’s MacArthur “genius” grants

Cohen runs Health Care Without Harm, an organization he co-founded in 1996. It advocates for health-care corporations and hospital systems to become ecologically sustainable in the face of climate change. The nonprofit is headquartered in Reston, Va., but has offices around the world….In what he labels a “coming-to-Jesus” moment, Americans now recognize that the nation spends more money on health care than any other country on the planet, and yet often has worse health. “Everybody is seeing that, and it creates an opportunity in health care to re-evaluate what we’re doing,” Cohen said. That means hospital executives and others are more willing to address fundamental issues that make people sick in the first place, such as poor housing, poor food and a polluted environment. Hundreds of hospitals around the country are now using their purchasing power to support local farmers, which benefits their employees, patients and the local economy, he said. In California, his organization is working with 55 hospitals and five school systems to link their combined purchasing clout. There’s also been a big change in hospitals’ attitudes on climate change. “Three years ago, you couldn’t talk about it,” Cohen recalled. But hospitals and health systems now are realizing they can lock in better energy pricing by using renewable sources and “that’s happening in a dramatic way.” The organization has created a health-care climate council, with participation from 15 of the country’s largest hospital systems, which represent 400 facilities….


Why We Need Hospitals to Help Lead the Fight Against Climate Change

Posted on September 29, 2015 By Josh Karliner [From Huffington Post

As we approach COP21 in Paris this December, leading health authorities are recognizing climate change as one of the great public health crises of our time. So it’s quite the paradox that health care contributes much more than it should to rising global temperatures. Every year, to simply operate, hospitals must burn through gigatons of fossil fuel energy. This doesn’t just contribute to global warming, it also creates the kind of local air pollution that kills seven million people every year. That’s more than double the toll of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. It’s a vicious and ironic cycle and, there is a pressing need for doctors, nurses, hospitals, and health systems around the world to respond to this emergency. Many are already stepping up to the plate and forging essential, sustainable solutions. Major U.S. health systems such as Kaiser Permanente, Dignity Health, and Partners Health Care are taking aggressive steps to reduce their carbon footprint and are leading not just within the health care sector, but are setting an example for private and public sector leaders across the board…




Coastal Commission bans captive orca breeding at SeaWorld San Diego

Los Angeles Times | October 8, 2015 | 8:03 PM

The California Coastal Commission dealt an unexpected blow to SeaWorld San Diego by banning captive breeding of orcas and drastically restricting the transfer of whales in and out of the park.

The commission approved the $100-million project to enhance the orca habitat, but the vote was largely seen as a victory for animal rights activists.



L.A. City Council approves nation’s toughest earthquake safety laws

Los Angeles Times | October 9, 2015 | 11:06 AM

Los Angeles City Council today adopted the nation’s strongest earthquake safety laws, requiring that the owners of an estimated 15,000 buildings most at risk of collapse during a major quake make their structures stronger.

The 12-0 vote caps decades of debate over whether the city — located in the heart of California earthquake country — should force building owners to retrofit structures that could fail. 


Waste water treatment plants fail to completely eliminate new chemical compounds

Posted: 08 Oct 2015 08:05 AM PDT

Fish caught near waste water plants display a higher rate of endocrine disruptors, researchers have found. Deformities, feminization and fall in reproductive capacity are some of the effects that living organisms can be afflicted by due to changes in the endocrine system caused by these compounds.



























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