Biodiversity Critical to Maintaining Healthy Ecosystems
Released: 1/15/2016 12:12:31 PM USGS
Researchers have found clear evidence that biological communities rich in species are substantially healthier and more productive than those depleted of species.
… Scientists have long hypothesized that biodiversity is of critical importance to the stability of natural ecosystems and their abilities to provide positive benefits such as oxygen production, soil genesis, and water detoxification to plant and animal communities, as well as to human society…. Although theoretical studies have supported this claim, scientists have struggled for the past half-century to clearly isolate such an effect in the real world. This new study does just that. “This study shows that you cannot have sustainable, productive ecosystems without maintaining biodiversity in the landscape,” said Grace. The scientists used data collected for this research by a global consortium, the Nutrient Network, from more than a thousand grassland plots spanning five continents. Using recent advances in analytical methods, the group was able to isolate the biodiversity effect from the effects of other processes, including processes that can reduce diversity., Using these data with “integrative modeling”–integrating the predictions from multiple theories into a single model—scientists detected the clear signals of numerous underlying mechanisms linking the health and productivity of ecosystems with species richness. “The ability to explain the diversity in the number of species is tremendously important for potential conservation applications,” said Grace. “The new type of analysis we developed can predict how both specific management actions (such as reduction of plant material through mowing or increase in soil fertility through fertilization), as well as shifts in climate conditions, may alter both productivity and the number of species.” According to Debra Willard, Coordinator for the USGS Climate Research & Development Program, “These results suggest that if climate change leads to reduced species or genetic diversity, which is a real possibility, that then could lead to a reduced capacity for ecosystems to respond to additional stresses.” As an indication of the global awareness of this issue, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services was recently created to help policy-makers understand and address problems stemming from the global loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems. The article, “Integrative modeling reveals mechanisms linking productivity and plant species richness,” is available online in the journal NATURE.
James B. Grace, et al, Integrative modelling reveals mechanisms linking productivity and plant species richness, Nature 529, 390–393, (21 January 2016) doi:10.1038/nature16524 Published online 13 January 2016
Benefits associated with the reduction of mercury emissions far outweigh industry cost
Posted: 16 Feb 2016 12:20 PM PST
After a review of the recent scientific literature, researchers concluded that the benefits associated with the reduction of mercury emissions far outweigh the cost to industry.
Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) spend most of their time on the open sea, where they feed on fish, crustaceans and other food near the surface. Thus, they can easily confuse litter with food. Credit: Tycho Anker-Nilssen/NINA
Fulmars contaminated more by food than microplastics
Posted: 17 Feb 2016 06:13 AM PST
Contrary to previous belief, new research has shown that microplastics are not a significant source of environmental pollutants in fulmars. Seabirds ingest most of these pollutants through food, the researchers concluded….“We found no significant differences in the pollutant concentrations in birds that had eaten a lot of plastic, compared to birds that had less plastic in their stomachs. Plastic is apparently not a major source of environmental pollutants in these birds,” Herzke concludes…ince seabirds are top predators, they ingest environmental pollutants from all stages of the food chain. High contaminant levels could have a number of negative effects on seabirds, and among other things lead to hormonal disturbances and thinner eggshells. “That the plastic does not increase the birds’ pollutant load is obviously good news in an otherwise bleak reality for most of our seabirds,” Tycho Anker-Nilssen adds. But the scientists are far from acquitting plastic. “We cannot exclude the possibility that plastic may transfer some environmental pollutants to the birds. But, now we know that it does so to a far lesser degree than the fulmars’ prey, says Anker-Nilssen. In addition, the plastic takes up space in the stomach, and may thus cause the birds to starve to death.” Although this study was directed specifically towards seabirds, the scientists believe that the results may have relevance for other vertebrates.
Dorte Herzke, Tycho Anker-Nilssen, Therese Haugdahl Nøst, Arntraut Götsch, Signe Christensen-Dalsgaard, Magdalene Langset, Kirstin Fangel, Albert A. Koelmans. Negligible Impact of Ingested Microplastics on Tissue Concentrations of Persistent Organic Pollutants in Northern Fulmars off Coastal Norway. Environmental Science & Technology, 2016; 50 (4): 1924 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b04663
J.J. Reed, foreground, and Sonny Mitchell, both fisheries technicians with the Karuk Tribe, search for Coho salmon that they spotted in Aikens Creek the day before on Wednesday December 8, 2015, near Orleans, Calif. After years of wrangling over water rights and the removal of several dams on the Klamath River between farmers, ranchers and Indian tribes, a bill in Congress missed the December 31st deadline. Randy Pench email@example.com
Coalition moving to demolish Klamath River dams without Congress’s assent
- States seeking to remove four hydroelectric dams
- Controversy over habitat restoration, water remains unsettled
- California water bond money could be used
Congress has adjourned for another year without approving agreements that would have reshaped how people used water in the Klamath River system. The groups who signed off on the accord — once enemies — are frustrated that lawmakers didn’t share their spirit of compromise. Ryan Sabalow The Sacramento Bee
By David Siders and Ryan Sabalow February 2, 2016 Sac Bee firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal officials and the states of California and Oregon said Tuesday they will press forward with plans to demolish four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, despite resistance from Congress.
The announcement comes after a set of demolition, water-sharing and habitat restoration agreements stalled in Washington. By separating dam removal from a broader pact, the states and power company that owns the dams, Portland, Ore.-based PacifiCorp, will seek to move forward with their own funding – and without congressional approval. …
High-tech river studies reveal benefits of habitat restoration for fish
Posted: 01 Feb 2016 07:40 AM PST
An emerging research method to gauge the benefits of stream restoration for salmon and other native fish is revealing improvements in fish numbers, survival and reproduction in key rivers across the Pacific Northwest, according to a new research paper describing the approach, known as intensively monitored watersheds.
Major storm events play key role in biogeochemistry of watersheds
Posted: 01 Feb 2016 07:39 AM PST
Heavy weather events cause an inordinate amount of organic material to bypass headwater systems, say researchers, pushing them downstream into larger rivers and coastal waters and inland basins — with profound implications for water quality through the watershed.
Photo by Sam Beebe / Ecotrust from: http://persquaremile.com/2011/09/01/spare-or-share-farm-practices-and-the-future-of-biodiversity/
How ‘more food per field’ could help save our wild spaces
Posted: 28 Jan 2016 12:19 PM PST
Increased farm yields could help to spare land from agriculture for natural habitats that benefit wildlife and store greenhouse gases, but only if the right policies are in place. Conservation scientists call on policymakers to learn from working examples across the globe and find better ways to protect habitats while producing food on less land.
Agricultural expansion is a leading cause of wild species loss and greenhouse gas emissions. However, as farming practices and technologies continue to be refined, more food can be produced per unit of land — meaning less area is needed for agriculture and more land can be ‘spared’ for natural habitats. While this may sound like good news for nature, conservation scientists warn that, without the right policies, higher farm yields could be used to maximise short-term profits and stimulate greater demand, resulting in less wilderness and more unnecessary consumption and waste. Now, leading conservationists writing in the journal Science are calling on policymakers to harness the potential of higher-yield farming to spare land for conservation, instead of solely producing more food and profit. By minimising the footprint of farming in this way, vital land could be spared for maintaining and restoring the rapidly dwindling natural world. The authors describe a series of “land-sparing mechanisms” that link yield increases with habitat protection, such as land-use zoning and smart subsidy schemes, along with real-world examples that show how they can work — from India to Latin America.
They write that replicating these mechanisms elsewhere depends on “the political will to deliver strong environmental governance.”…. Previous research from Cambridge and elsewhere has shown sparing land for nature by producing more food per field is the “least worst option” for both biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions, says co-author Andrew Balmford, Cambridge professor of conservation science.
“Sparing tracts of land as natural habitat is much better for the vast majority of species than a halfway house of lower-yielding but ‘wildlife-friendly’ farming, and we have recently shown that in the UK land spared through high-yield farming could even sequester enough greenhouse gases to mitigate the UK’s agricultural emissions*,” said Balmford. However, Phalan says that policies to encourage higher farm yields need to avoid the ‘rebound effect’. First identified by William Jevons in 1865 — when he noticed more efficient engines increased rather than reduced coal use, as engines were put into more widespread use — the rebound effect for higher yields could see food prices drop, encouraging greater consumption, more food waste and even more conversion of habitats to farmland….”Making space for nature is largely a question of societal and political priorities,” said Phalan. “The challenge is less whether it’s possible to reconcile farming and conservation, than whether those with power are willing to make it a priority.”
*A study published in Nature Climate Change earlier this month suggests that if the UK increased farm yields in line with what experts believe is possible, and turned spared land into forest and wetland, the resulting carbon ‘sink’ could balance out the nation’s agricultural emissions by 2050 — in line with government targets.
B. Phalan, R. E. Green, L. V. Dicks, G. Dotta, C. Feniuk, A. Lamb, B. B. N. Strassburg, D. R. Williams, E. K. H. J. z. Ermgassen, A. Balmford. How can higher-yield farming help to spare nature?
Science, 2016; 351 (6272): 450 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0055
Using acoustic data, researchers identified and mapped the calls of diverse marine mammal species in fish spawning grounds on Georges Bank, including (from top right, clockwise): blue (snout only is pictured), humpback, orca, fin, dolphin, sei, pilot, sperm, and minke. Credit: Jordan Beckvonpeccoz (with input from Purnima Ratilal and Nicholas C. Makris)
Whales dine with their own kind: Predators feed in species-specific hotspots
Posted: 02 Mar 2016 10:56 AM PST
Researchers have found that as multiple species of whales feast on herring, they tend to stick with their own kind, establishing species-specific feeding centers
along the 150-mile length of Georges Bank….
Delin Wang, Heriberto Garcia, Wei Huang, Duong D. Tran, Ankita D. Jain, Dong Hoon Yi, Zheng Gong, J. Michael Jech, Olav Rune Godø, Nicholas C. Makris, Purnima Ratilal. Vast assembly of vocal marine mammals from diverse species on fish spawning ground. Nature, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nature16960
Scripps researcher Lindsay Bonito holding a yellowfin tuna.
Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
Toxic pollutants found in fish across the world’s oceans
Posted: 28 Jan 2016 04:43 AM PST
A new global analysis of seafood found that fish populations throughout the world’s oceans are contaminated with industrial and agricultural pollutants, collectively known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The study also uncovered some good news: concentrations of these pollutants have been consistently dropping over the last 30 years…..
Lindsay T. Bonito, Amro Hamdoun, Stuart A. Sandin. Evaluation of the global impacts of mitigation on persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic pollutants in marine fish. PeerJ, 2016; 4: e1573 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1573
California’s commercial Dungeness crab season to stay closed
Landscape pattern analysis reveals global loss of interior forest
Posted: 28 Jan 2016 08:38 AM PST
Between 2000 and 2012, the world lost more forest area than it gained, according to researchers who estimated a global net loss of 1.71 million square kilometers of forest — an area about two and a half times the size of Texas. Furthermore, when researchers analyzed patterns of remaining forest, they found a global loss of interior forest — core areas that, when intact, maintain critical habitat and ecological functions.….Access the full text of the article at http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/49729
A comprehensive study reveals trends in the occurrence and causes of multiple mortality events in bats as reported globally for the past 200 years, shedding new light on the possible factors underlying population declines. (Stock image)
Credit: © Vitalii Hulai / Fotolia
Decades of bat observations reveal uptick in new causes of mass mortality
Posted: 20 Jan 2016 08:15 AM PST
Reports of bat deaths worldwide due to human causes largely unique to the 21st century are markedly rising, according to a new analysis. Collisions with wind turbines worldwide and the disease white-nose syndrome in North America lead the reported causes of mass death in bats. These new threats now surpass all prior known causes of bat mortality, natural or attributed to humans…..
Without humans in the region to clear trees for building materials, heating, cooking, and agriculture, the forest began to reclaim that territory, providing, literally, more fuel for fires. (Stock image) Credit: © uwimages / Fotolia
The aftermath of 1492: Study shows how Native American depopulation impacted ecology
Posted: 25 Jan 2016 12:57 PM PST
Among the Pueblo Indians of northern New Mexico, disease didn’t break out until nearly a century after their first contact with Europeans, following the establishment of mission churches in the seventeenth century, a team of researchers has shown. The depopulation was so extreme it led to changes in forest fires in the region, they say….
Ecotourism, natural resource conservation proposed as allies to protect natural landscapes
Posted: 26 Jan 2016 01:22 PM PST
If environmentalists want to protect fragile ecosytems from landing in the hands of developers — in the US and around the globe — they should team up with ecotourists, according to a study. Environmentalists often fear that tourists will trample all over sensitive natural resource areas, but tourism may bring the needed and only economic incentives to help drive conservation, said an author of the study.
Point Blue STRAW photo
A green view through a classroom window can improve students’ performance
Posted: 22 Jan 2016 02:09 PM PST
High school students perform better on tests if they are in a classroom with a view of a green landscape, rather than a windowless room or a room with a view of built space, according to new research….
Neighborhood watch and more: How reed warblers watch out when there’s a cuckoo about
Posted: 22 Jan 2016 05:34 AM PST
A study of reed warbler behavior reveals for the first time that in assessing the risks posed by cuckoos the birds combine information from multiple sources. An ‘information highway’ provides one set of clues and personal encounters another. Only when both add up, do the birds take defensive action.
This is a zebra finch. Credit: Rachel Muheim / Lund University
The magnetic compass of birds is affected by polarized light
Posted: 26 Jan 2016 08:09 AM PST
The magnetic compass that birds use for orientation is affected by polarized light. This previously unknown phenomenon was discovered by researchers at Lund University in Sweden.
Rachel Muheim, Sissel Sjöberg, Atticus Pinzon-Rodriguez. Polarized light modulates light-dependent magnetic compass orientation in birds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 201513391 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1513391113
Small birds prefer flying in company
Posted: 01 Feb 2016 05:50 AM PST
Until now, scientists had observed that some large birds are sociable among each other. However, a new study has confirmed that this unique characteristic can also be seen among smaller birds such as the Eurasian siskin, a bird which is able to form bonds that last for a number of years as well as travel long distances in the company of these birds. This intimacy may favor reproduction in addition to facilitating the process of adjusting to a new place….
Juan Carlos Senar, Jeff Kew, Allison Kew. Do Siskins have friends? An analysis of movements of Siskins in groups based on EURING recoveries. Bird Study, 2015; 62 (4): 566 DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2015.1089836
What Does a Parrot Know About PTSD?
[MUST READ- very moving]
By CHARLES SIEBERT NY Times Magazine January 31 2016
An unexpected bond between damaged birds and traumatized veterans could reveal surprising insights into animal intelligence…
It’s one of those unlikely natural outcomes of the so-called anthropocene, the first epoch to be named after us: the prolonged confinement of intelligent and social creatures, compelling them to speak the language of their keepers. And now, in yet another unlikely occurrence, parrots, among the oldest victims of human acquisitiveness and vainglory, have become some of the most empathic readers of our troubled minds. Their deep need to connect is drawing the most severely wounded and isolated PTSD sufferers out of themselves. In an extraordinary example of symbiosis, two entirely different outcasts of human aggression — war and entrapment — are somehow helping each other to find their way again…. Animal-assisted therapy is hardly a novel prescription, having been employed at least since the 18th century, when the York Retreat for the mentally ill opened in England in 1796 and began allowing patients to roam the outside grounds among farm animals. At his office in Vienna, Sigmund Freud regularly had his chow Jofi on hand during psychoanalysis sessions to reassure and relax his patients, allowing them to open up more readily. The U.S. military used dogs as early as 1919 as a therapeutic aid in the treatment of psychiatric patients at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington. Still, what distinguishes the mutually assuaging bond that the veterans and parrots are forming at Serenity Park is the intelligence — at once different from ours and yet recognizable — of the nonhuman part of the equation.
There is abundant evidence now that parrots possess cognitive capacities and sensibilities remarkably similar to our own. Alex, the now-deceased African gray parrot studied for years by his longtime companion, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, a psychology professor, is regularly held up as the paragon of parrot intelligence. His cognitive skills tested as high as those of a 5-year-old child. He mastered more than 100 words, grasped abstract concepts like absence and presence (Alex excelled at the shell game) and often gave orders to and toyed with the language of researchers who studied him, purposely giving them the wrong answers to their questions to alleviate his own boredom. Alex was also given to demonstrating what we would characterize in ourselves as ”hurt feelings.” When Pepperberg returned to Alex one morning after a three-week absence, he turned his back on her in his cage and commanded, ”Come here!”… Though the avian cerebrum possesses only the tiniest nub of the structures associated with mammalian intelligence, recent studies of crows and parrots have revealed that birds think and learn using an entirely different part of their brains, a kind of avian neocortex known as the medio-rostral neostriatum/hyperstriatum ventrale.
In both parrots and crows, in fact, the ratio of brain to body size is similar to that of the higher primates, an encephalization quotient that yields in both species not only the usual indications of cognitive sophistication like problem-solving and tool use but also two aspects of intelligence long thought to be exclusively human: episodic memory and theory of mind, the ability to attribute mental states, like intention, desire and awareness, to yourself and to others.
Nature, in other words, in a stunning example of parallel or convergent evolution, found an entirely other and far earlier path to complex cognition: an alien intelligence that not only links directly back to minds we’ve long believed to be forever lost to us, like the dinosaurs’, but that can also be wounded, under duress, in the same ways our minds can. In one recent psychiatric study conducted at Midwest Avian Adoption and Rescue Services, a parrot sanctuary and rehabilitation facility in Minnesota, a captive-bred male umbrella cockatoo who had been ”exposed to multiple caregivers who were themselves highly unstable (e.g. domestic violence, substance abuse . . . addiction)” was given a diagnosis of complex PTSD. ”When examined through the lens of complex PTSD,” Dr. Gay Bradshaw, a psychologist and ecologist and an author of the study, wrote, ”the symptoms of many caged parrots are almost indistinguishable from those of human P.O.W.s and concentration-camp survivors.” She added that severely traumatized cockatoos ”commonly exhibit rapid pacing in cage, distress calls, screams, self-mutilation, aggression in response to . . . physical contact, nightmares . . . insomnia.”
Veterans, of course, share similar psychological scarring, but whenever I asked any of them how it is that the parrots succeed in connecting where human therapists and fellow group-therapy members can’t, the answer seemed to lie precisely in the fact that parrots are alien intelligences: parallel, analogously wounded minds that know and feel pain deeply and yet at a level liberatingly beyond the prescriptive confines of human language and prejudices….
Lindner said she thinks that, using conventional measures of improvement for veterans suffering trauma — the ability to stay clean and sober; keeping up with their case-manager appointments; reuniting with family; finding gainful employment, and so on — the veterans who have been working with the parrots are doing better than those who spend time working at the garden.
”There’s definitely something different going on at this place,” Lindner said. ”We know that what’s preserved across species, all vertebrates truthfully, is the ability to feel compassion. As for birds and humans, we both have sympathetic nervous responses. We react the same way to trauma on the physiological level and in terms of the reparative nature of compassion and empathy. That’s what is doing the healing. That’s what is bringing the broken halves together. We don’t know what the actual healing factor is, but I believe that it has to do with mental mirroring. That the parrots get what the veterans are going through and, of course, the veterans get them, too, because, hey, they are all pretty much traumatized birds around here.”…
Breeding birds use alligators to protect nests from raccoons, opossums
Posted: 02 Mar 2016 03:17 PM PST
Breeding birds that nest above alligators for protection from mammalian predators may also provide a source of food for the alligators living in the Everglades, Florida, according to a new study
Photo by Dave Strauss, dscomposition.com
The Language of Sparrows
How Bird Songs Are Evolving To Compete With Urban Noise
by Kim Todd on January 20, 2016 BAY NATURE MAGAZINE
Lobos Creek trailhead in the Presidio looks wild. Flushed orange monkey flower, sage, and coyote bush spill over re-created sand dunes. Nearby, the creek empties into the ocean. But close your eyes. A water truck pulls up to a stop sign with a mechanical whine. Car engines growl, foghorns moan, a distant airplane whirs. The noise, which never stops even though it’s barely 7 a.m., makes it clear you’re in the middle of the city. In the parking lot, a white-crowned sparrow perches at the top of an evergreen tree next to a pickup truck and sings, launching a quick patter: whistle, buzz, two-part trill, and a scattering of notes. It’s music familiar to city dwellers, even if they couldn’t name it. The song is key to the white crown’s survival, helping him attract a mate and defend the territory around his nest, warning off other males with his vocal vigor. But the notes are almost drowned out as a bus sighs to a halt. Thanks to recent restoration efforts, the bird is surrounded by plants, such as lupine, that evolved here over centuries, along with the sparrow. But there is no restoring the silence, and the noise grows year by year. What will it take for white crowns like this one to survive in this new soundscape? What will it take to be heard?… “In the past ten years or so, there has been mounting evidence of how human noise is affecting these birds,” says Luther. Not just birds, he adds, but other animals, too. Studies in the developing field of “acoustic ecology” show whales, crickets, and frogs altering their behavior in response to man-made sounds.
While some flee the cacophony, others adjust their internal clocks. Along a river near the Madrid airport, nightingales and European goldfinches sing earlier in the morning before the roar of the planes starts up. In Sheffield, England, robin redbreasts in noise-cluttered areas have started to sing at night. The whole “dawn chorus” has moved away from dawn. And others, like the white-crowned sparrows, are changing their tunes. Bay Area white-crowned sparrows are famous in ornithological circles for their flexible songs. Like many songbirds, white crowns develop dialects specific to certain areas, the way a California drawl in Humboldt County differs from one in Los Angeles. But their dialects are so distinct, the boundaries so sharp, they have become a subject of choice for researchers studying song learning and evolution. As early as the 1960s, researchers found that San Francisco resident white crowns sound markedly different from those in Marin, just a few miles away. In the East Bay, white crowns in Tilden Park sang different songs than those in Richmond or ones that lived by the Bancroft Library, replacing a trill with a buzz, or swapping out a jumble of whistles. Scientists charted ten dialects in parts of the Bay Area and tracked patterns shifting as a bird became bilingual or a migrant singing a new variation passed through. But now a new pattern is being carved out. As Luther props up a wooden sparrow on a stick near a saddle between sand dunes, at a spot where a male guards a nest, he is taking 50 years of white-crowned sparrow studies in a fresh direction, gauging the impact of the increasingly noisy city on bird songs….
Name That Tune! BAY NATURE MAGAZINE
Listen to the songs, both past and present, of San Francisco’s white-crowned sparrows using our beautiful interactive map — and see if you can make out the differences in dialects over time!
New species of bird discovered in India, China by international team of scientists
Posted: 20 Jan 2016 11:15 AM PST
A new species of bird has been described in north-eastern India and adjacent parts of China by a team of scientists. The bird has been named the Himalayan Forest Thrush, Zoothera salimalii.
Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle Adrian Covert, a policy director for the Bay Area Council pictured next to wetlands he wants restored near Point Isabel Regional Shoreline Jan. 13, 2015 in Richmond, Calif. A proposed ballot measure in all nine … more
1st-ever parcel tax to restore San Francisco Bay headed to voters
By Peter Fimrite Updated 8:00 pm, Wednesday, January 13, 2016
A first-of-its-kind ballot measure that would use a parcel tax to pay for a suite of wetlands and habitat restoration projects on San Francisco Bay will be put before voters in all nine Bay Area counties, a government authority decided Wednesday. The unprecedented move by the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority is an attempt to bring back some of the historic marshlands that once ringed the bay — and to shore up bay communities against expected sea level rise in future decades. The authority, a special district formed by the state in 2009, agreed to ask voters on June 7 to approve a $12-a-year parcel tax for 20 years to fund clean water projects, pollution prevention programs and the restoration of some 35,000 acres of wetlands along the bay. The district’s governing board, which includes representatives of every region in the Bay Area, approved the ballot measure by a 6-0 vote at a meeting in Oakland, with the South Bay position vacant. “It is a once in a generation opportunity to support a restoration of the bay,” said Adrian Covert, policy director for the Bay Area Council, which supports the measure. “By harnessing nature, we can improve the bay ecosystem for our children while also making the Bay Area one of the most climate-resilient regions on Earth. This is our opportunity to do something big.”…. The proposed initiative, which is also supported by Save The Bay, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Ducks Unlimited, would raise $500 million over 20 years for a host of projects, including efforts to clean trash, decrease pollution and harmful toxins, improve water quality and restore fish, bird and wildlife habitat.
Improved shoreline access and flood control would also be funded, but the largest portion of the tax would go toward the restoration of thousands of acres of tidal marshes on former hay fields in the North Bay, salt ponds in the South Bay and diked-off areas from the Petaluma River to Santa Clara. Two-thirds of the combined voters in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma and San Francisco counties would have to approve the measure, a difficult task that supporters believe may be eased by a booming tech economy and a liberal, environmentally inclined populace. …The restoration goal remains well shy of the 350,000 acres of bay wetlands that conservationists believe existed before the Gold Rush, but ecologists believe 100,000 acres of marshland around the bay would be enough to create a healthy, self-sustaining ecosystem. Tidal marshes are vital to migratory birds and various rodents, fish and invertebrates, according to conservationists. The Bay Area lost about 85 percent of the marshlands when they were drained, dried out for farmland or paved over for urban development in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was a catastrophe for shorebirds and rodents like the salt marsh harvest mouse. The primary landing areas for thousands of migrating waterfowl along the Pacific Flyway were cut off. Today, there are only about 35,000 acres of wetlands, tidal mudflats and shallow ponds left around San Francisco Bay. They are home to about 1 million shorebirds every year. The abundant food and habitat in wetland areas also help sustain commercial fisheries, like herring. A concerted effort has been made over the past two decades to improve the situation. Large swaths of former hay fields, salt ponds and abandoned military bases have been restored in the Napa and Suisun areas, along the Petaluma River and in the South Bay. Some 30,000 acres of shoreline flats once owned by salt manufacturers Leslie and Cargill are ready to be restored, but bay advocates say there is no money available to do the job. Wren said the San Francisco area now gets about $5 million a year in water quality improvement funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, considerably less than other major projects such as Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, Puget Sound and the Florida Everglades. But it isn’t only wildlife that ballot measure proponents are worried about. Bay marshlands filter out pollutants, sequester carbon and act like giant sponges, protecting communities, roadways and businesses from flooding. Flooding is a critical issue given that a 2011 study predicted that the tidal marshes of San Francisco Bay would virtually disappear within a century if the sea rises as high as some scientists predict. The study, by Point Blue Conservation Science, said the rising sea would eliminate 93 percent of the bay’s tidal wetlands if carbon emissions continue unchecked and the ocean rises 5.4 feet, as predicted by scientists under a worst-case scenario. Areas closest to the Golden Gate, including Richardson Bay in Marin County and much of the East Bay coastline, were the most vulnerable, the study said….
Sonoma County leaders support June regional tax measure to support restoration
March 3 2016 Santa Rosa Press Democrat (via Maven)
Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday voiced strong support for a first-ever regional ballot measure this June seeking a $12 parcel tax increase. It would generate $500 million over the next 20 years for all nine Bay Area counties to pay for wetland and wildlife habitat restoration projects in the San Francisco Bay. Though the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, an independent agency spearheading the initiative, has power to place the tax increase on the June ballot, Bay Area counties are required to call a special election on behalf of the agency. …
Sylvia McLaughlin talks about her experiences as a co-founder of the Save the Bay organization at home in Berkeley, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 24, 2011. McLaughin, 94, and two friends formed the group to stop radical development plans for the Bay. (Kristopher Skinner/Staff)
She saved the bay
SF CHRONICLE EDITORIAL An Appreciation Fri Jan 22 2016
As you gaze out on the waters of our beloved San Francisco Bay today, take a moment to thank Sylvia McLaughlin and her friends for the view. McLaughlin, who died Tuesday at her Berkeley home at the age of 99, was the last of three women who founded Save the Bay in 1961. That’s when Berkeley had plans to fill its wetlands with garbage, and other cities had plans to dike, drain, pave over and reduce the bay from a magnificent estuary to a sliver of a shipping channel. McLaughlin and her two East Bay friends, Kay Kerr and Esther Gulick, mobilized. With the graciousness that characterized many women of that generation, McLaughlin worked to remind residents of the bay’s beauty and the threats to it. “They asked people to send in $1, and they saved the bay,” said Jane Morrison, 96, a former KNBR radio public affairs director. In so doing, they launched the first mass environmental movement in history, said UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Richard A. Walker. Today, efforts are afoot to significantly increase bay-lands restoration as a buffer against sea-level rise. What better better tribute to McLaughlin’s legacy than to join that cause?
CA BLM: WILDLIFE QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Photos: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; 1-R. Lowe; 2-Gus Van Vliet
One of the birds you might see flying overhead in the Headwaters Forest Reserve is Marbled murrelet. What might it be doing there?
(a.) Flying low, on the lookout for rotting tree trunks that might contain its favorite delicacy, termites.
(b.) Looking for a fork in a tree branch where it can build its nest with mud and sticks.
(c.) Flying among the trees looking for dead tree branches to carry back to the coast, to build nests.
(d.) Commuting up to 50 miles away to the sea to dive for fish and bring them back to their young, nesting in the trees.
(e.) Auditioning for “America’s Next Top Murrelet” on the All Birds All The Time cable network.
Keep reading for answer below
CLIMATE CHANGE AND EXTREME EVENTS and special DROUGHT section
It’s official: 2015 ‘smashed’ 2014’s global temperature record. It wasn’t even close
By Chris Mooney and Joby Warrick January 20 at 3:00 PM Washington Post
Last year shattered 2014’s record to become the hottest year since reliable record-keeping began, two U.S. government science agencies announced Wednesday in yet another sign that the planet is heating up.
2015’s sharp spike in temperatures was aided by a strong El Nino weather pattern late in the year that caused ocean waters in the central Pacific to heat up. But the unusual warming started early and steadily gained strength in a year in which ten of 12 months set all-time records, scientists said. The new figures, based on separate sets of records kept by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could fuel debate over climate change in an election year in which the two main political parties remain divided over what to do about global warming and, indeed, whether it exists. “2015 was by far the record year in all of the temperature datasets that are based on the instrumental and surface data,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, which made the announcement jointly with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It really underlines the fact that the planet really is still warming, there is no change in the long term global warming rate, and we know why that is,” he said. NASA reported that 2015 was officially 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 degrees Celsius) hotter than 2014, the prior record year, a sharp increase for a global temperature record in which annual variation is normally measured in the hundredths of a degree. NOAA’s figures showed slightly greater warming, of about 0.29 degrees Fahrenheit (0.16 degrees C) hotter than 2014….
Global Temperature in 2015 (pdf)
James Hansen et al January 19, 2016
January 2016 was Earth’s hottest month yet, with the most unusually warm temperatures concentrated in the Arctic. NASA
Earth Kicks Off 2016 With the Most Abnormally Warm Month Ever Measured
By Eric Holthaus
It would be hard to top 2015—a year unlike any other in human history—but 2016 seems to be giving it a shot. According to the latest data from NASA, issued over the weekend, January was the planet’s most unusually warm month since we started measuring temperature in 1880. No other month in the preceding 1,633 months has deviated this far from what was once considered “normal.” Data independently produced by Japan’s Meteorological Agency confirmed that last month was the hottest January on record globally. Last month broke the all-time January record by the widest margin of any month on record, a full one-third of a degree ahead of last year’s record pace. That means the planet is already on track for an unprecedented third straight year of record-setting temperatures.
There’s a single major reason that this global temperature spike is happening right now: The current El Niño is now officially the most intense ever measured, at least by the most common definition. But humans are also playing a major role, especially in the Arctic, where El Niño’s influence is limited…..
The increase in regional average temperatures around the world when global average temperatures reach 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Credit: From authors’ Nature paper, Allowable CO2 emissions based on regional and impact-related climate targets
How a 2°C rise means even higher temperatures where we live
Posted: 20 Jan 2016 11:15 AM PST
New research has quantified the change in regional extremes in a world where global average temperatures have risen by two degrees Celsius.
Regions around the Arctic may have passed a 2°C temperature rise as far back as 2000 and, if emissions rates don’t change, areas around the Mediterranean, central Brazil and the contiguous United States could see 2°C of warming by 2030.
This is despite the fact that under a business as usual scenario the world is not expected to see global average temperatures rise by 2°C compared to preindustrial times until the 2040s. New research published in Nature led by Prof Sonia Seneviratne from ETH Zurich with researchers from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS) has quantified the change in regional extremes in a world where global average temperatures have risen by 2°C.
The research shows worldwide warming extremes over land generally exceed the rise in this scenario, in some cases by as much as 6°C. “We even see starkly different rates of extreme warming over land even when global average temperatures reach just 1.5°C, which is the limit to the rate of warming agreed to at the Paris talks,” said lead author Prof Seneviratne.
“At 1.5°C we would still see temperature extremes in the Arctic rise by 4.4°C and a 2.2°C warming of extremes around the Mediterranean basin.”…. The researchers also note the paper did not take into account unexpected changes in the climate system.
“What this research cannot take into account are abrupt climate shifts known colloquially as “tipping points”,” said ARCCSS co-author Dr Markus Donat.
“We have no way of knowing when our climate may change abruptly from one state to another meaning we could potentially see even greater regional variation than these findings show.”
Sonia I. Seneviratne, Markus G. Donat, Andy J. Pitman, Reto Knutti, Robert L. Wilby. Allowable CO2 emissions based on regional and impact-related climate targets. Nature, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nature16542
Climate scientists worry about the costs of sea level rise
Posted on 2 March 2016 by John Abraham skekpticalscience.com
As humans add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, it not only warms the planet, but also raises the oceans. Ocean waters are rising for a number of reasons including thermal expansion of water (as water warms, it expands to a larger volume), as well as ice melt which then flows as liquid into the ocean. My next post will cover four recent studies that quantify how much ocean levels will rise in the future. However, here I will focus on the economic costs of rising seas. A paper was just published by Drs. Boettle, Rybski and Kropp that dealt with this question. The authors of this study note that if you are concerned about societal and economic costs, the rate of sea rise isn’t the entire story. Much of the damage is caused by extreme events that are superimposed on a rising ocean. Damage is highly nonlinear with sea rise. To explain this, let’s think about flooding. Consider a river that has a dike system capable of confining a rise of water up to six feet. Such a system would have little or no economic/societal damage for “floods” up to six feet, but just one more foot of water rise would put the waters over the dike and could cause significant losses. So what really matters is, do events overshoot some level that commences damage? How does this relate to climate change? Well as we warm the planet we are raising the baseline level of water from which extremes happen. Second, we are making some extreme weather events more likely. To measure the changes to extreme events in the future, the authors use a statistical method to estimate economic losses from coastal flooding. Using Copenhagen and other locations as test cases, they found that economic losses double when water rises only 11 cm. They also find that the costs rise faster than sea level rise itself. So, if we expect a linear increase in sea level over the next century, we should anticipate costs that increase more rapidly.
The authors also look at what are called “tail events” of storm surges. These are unusual events that can cause a large fraction of losses. Superstorm Sandy is an example; the storm surge from that event was very extreme and cause more loss than the combination of many smaller storm surge events.
I asked the authors why this study is important. They told me,
While there is considerable progress in the understanding and projections of future sea level rise, there is little understanding about the damage costs from coastal floods which are expected to intensify with sea level rise. Most work focuses on case studies and there was no general understanding. Due to limited funds for adaptation it is very valuable to have a transferable and comparable approach for any coastal region….
Ecosystems pulling apart as some plants shift habitats, possibly adapting to climate change
A UCLA-led study examining whether plant species in California have shifted to higher elevations, possibly in response to climate change, discovered that non-native plants are moving fastest, altering and potentially damaging ecosystems. The research, led by UCLA professor Jon Christensen, also showed significantly less movement by species that grow only in California, suggesting that these endemic species may have the hardest time adapting to the challenges of climate change.
“We see different kinds of species moving at different rates, and that raises the concern that California’s ecosystems are unraveling,” said Christensen, an adjunct assistant professor of history and a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “Native species may face not only a changing climate, but also competition from invasive species which are moving more quickly.”
It’s concerning that some endemic species, like giant sequoias, and many native species, like redwoods, show little to no sign of shifting as their local habitats change, the researchers said. Their analysis showed that 15 percent of plant species in California are creeping higher. However, 27 percent of non-native species are on the move, compared to 15 percent of native species and just 12 percent of endemic species, according to their study, “Altitudinal shifts of the native and introduced flora of California in the context of 20th-century warming,” which appeared Jan. 22 in the journal of Global Ecology and Biogeography….
Adam Wolf et al. Altitudinal shifts of the native and introduced flora of California in the context of 20th-century warming,
Global Ecology and Biogeography (2016). DOI: 10.1111/geb.12423
Dan Kitwood—Getty Images Waves crash into each other off the sea front in Dawlish on February 8, 2014 in Devon, England.
Study: Man-made heat put in oceans has doubled since 1997
By SETH BORENSTEIN Jan. 18, 2016 11:02 AM EST
WASHINGTON (AP) — The amount of man-made heat energy absorbed by the seas has doubled since 1997, a study released Monday showed. Scientists have long known that more than 90 percent of the heat energy from man-made global warming goes into the world’s oceans instead of the ground. And they’ve seen ocean heat content rise in recent years. But the new study [published in Nature Climate Change], using ocean-observing data that goes back to the British research ship Challenger in the 1870s and including high-tech modern underwater monitors and computer models, tracked how much man-made heat has been buried in the oceans in the past 150 years. The world’s oceans absorbed approximately 150 zettajoules of energy from 1865 to 1997, and then absorbed about another 150 in the next 18 years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
To put that in perspective, if you exploded one atomic bomb the size of the one that dropped on Hiroshima every second for a year, the total energy released would be 2 zettajoules. So since 1997, Earth’s oceans have absorbed man-made heat energy equivalent to a Hiroshima-style bomb being exploded every second for 75 straight years.
“The changes we’re talking about, they are really, really big numbers,” said study co-author Paul Durack, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California. “They are nonhuman numbers.” Because there are decades when good data wasn’t available and computer simulations are involved, the overall figures are rough but still are reliable, the study’s authors said. Most of the added heat has been trapped in the upper 2,300 feet, but with every year the deeper oceans also are absorbing more energy, they said. But the study’s authors and outside experts say it’s not the raw numbers that bother them. It’s how fast those numbers are increasing.
“After 2000 in particular the rate of change is really starting to ramp up,” Durack said.
This means the amount of energy being trapped in Earth’s climate system as a whole is accelerating, the study’s lead author Peter Gleckler, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore, said.
Because the oceans are so vast and cold, the absorbed heat raises temperatures by only a few tenths of a degree, but the importance is the energy balance, Gleckler and his colleagues said. When oceans absorb all that heat it keeps the surface from getting even warmer from the heat-trapping gases spewed by the burning of coal, oil and gas, the scientists said.
The warmer the oceans get, the less heat they can absorb and the more heat stays in the air and on land surface, the study’s co-author, Chris Forest at Pennsylvania State University, said….
Peter J. Gleckler, Paul J. Durack, Ronald J. Stouffer, Gregory C. Johnson, Chris E. Forest. Industrial-era global ocean heat uptake doubles in recent decades. Nature Climate Change, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2915
Antarctica could be headed for major meltdown
February 23, 2016 University of California Los Angeles UCLA
In the early Miocene Epoch, temperatures were 10 degrees warmer and ocean levels were 50 feet higher — well above the ground level of modern-day New York, Tokyo and Berlin. Now a geochemist reports finding striking similarities between climate change patterns today and millions of years ago….
Earth is warming 50x faster than when it comes out of an ice age
Posted on 24 February 2016 by dana1981
Recently, The Guardian reported on a significant new study published in Nature Climate Change, finding that even if we meet our carbon reduction targets and stay below the 2°C global warming threshold, sea level rise will eventually inundate many major coastal cities around the world.
20% of the world’s population will eventually have to migrate away from coasts swamped by rising oceans. Cities including New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Calcutta, Jakarta and Shanghai would all be submerged.
The authors looked at past climate change events and model simulations of the future. They found a clear, strong relationship between the total amount of carbon pollution humans emit, and how far global sea levels will rise. The issue is that ice sheets melt quite slowly, but because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time, the eventual melting and associated sea level rise are effectively locked in. As a result, the study authors found that due to the carbon pollution humans have emitted so far, we’ve committed the planet to an eventual sea level rise of 1.7 meters (5.5 feet). If we manage to stay within the 1 trillion ton carbon budget, which we hope will keep the planet below 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels, sea levels will nevertheless rise a total of about 9 meters (30 feet). If we continue on a fossil fuel-heavy path, we could trigger a staggering eventual 50 meters (165 feet) of sea level rise. Predicting how quickly sea levels will rise is a challenge. However, two other studies just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the Antarctic ice sheet could melt more quickly than previously thought, and thus contribute to relatively rapid sea level rise. Over the past century, global sea level has risen faster than at any time in the past two millennia, and most of the recent sea level rise is due to human-caused global warming. Several feet of sea level rise this century is likely, with a possibility of 5 feet or more….
Climate change: Ocean warming underestimated
Posted: 25 Jan 2016 12:59 PM PST
To date, research on the effects of climate change has underestimated the contribution of seawater expansion to sea level rise due to warming of the oceans. A team of researchers has now investigated, using satellite data, that this effect was almost twice as large over the past twelve years than previously assumed. That may result in, for example, significantly increased risks of storm surges….Until now, it was assumed that sea levels rose an average of 0.7 to 1.0 millimeters a year due to this “thermometer effect.” According to the new calculations, however, the ocean’s expansion contributed with about 1.4 millimeters a year — in other words, almost twice as much as previously assumed. “This height difference corresponds to roughly twice the volume from the melting ice sheets in Greenland,” says Dr. Rietbroek. In addition, the sea-level rise varies strongly due to volume expansion in various ocean regions along with other effects. According to the research team’s calculations, the Philippines hold the record with about 15 millimeters a year, while the levels are largely stable on the West Coast of the United States — because there is hardly any ocean warming in that region….
Roelof Rietbroek, Sandra-Esther Brunnabend, Jürgen Kusche, Jens Schröter, Christoph Dahle. Revisiting the contemporary sea-level budget on global and regional scales. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 201519132 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1519132113
2014 – 2015 Pacific Anomalies Science and Technology-
El Nino and the Blob: view workshop videos here (see especially the second and last talks in the morning).
- 9:40-‐10:00 Canada: Richard Dewey, Ocean Networks Canada and University of Victoria
- 11:30-‐12:00 The 2015-16 El Niño: Mike McPhaden, NOAA PMEL
Warming Ocean May Bring Major Changes for U.S. Northeast Fishery Species
NOAA Fisheries Service Releases First Regional Climate Vulnerability Assessment
February 4, 2016
NOAA scientists released the first multispecies assessment of just how vulnerable U.S. marine fish and invertebrate species are to the effects of climate change. The study examined 82 species that occur off the Northeastern U.S., where ocean warming is occurring rapidly. Researchers found that most species evaluated will be affected, some species are highly vulnerable to changes in abundance and/or distribution, and that some are likely to be more resilient to changing ocean conditions than others.
The study appears in PLOS ONE, an online scholarly science journal…. “Our method identifies specific attributes that influence marine fish and invertebrate resilience to the effects of a warming ocean and characterizes risks posed to individual species,” said Jon Hare, a fisheries oceanographer at NOAA Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) and lead author of the study. “This work will help us better account for the effects of warming waters on our fishery species in stock assessments and when developing fishery management measures.”
The study is formally known as the Northeast Climate Vulnerability Assessment and is the first in a series of similar evaluations planned for fishery species in other U.S. regions. Conducting climate change vulnerability assessments of U.S. fisheries is a priority action in the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy. Similar assessments are now underway for the Bering Sea and California Current Ecosystems.
The 82 Northeast species evaluated include all commercially managed marine fish and invertebrate species in the Northeast, a large number of recreational marine fish species, all marine fish species listed or under consideration for listing on the federal Endangered Species Act, and a range of ecologically important marine species…..
School of Jacks. Credit: © ead72 / Fotolia
Rising carbon dioxide emissions pose ‘intoxication’ threat to world’s ocean fish
Posted: 20 Jan 2016 11:15 AM PST
Researchers have found that carbon dioxide concentrations in seawater could reach levels high enough to make fish ‘intoxicated’ and disoriented many decades earlier than previously thought, with serious implications for the world’s fisheries. UNSW Australia researchers have found that carbon dioxide concentrations in seawater could reach levels high enough to make fish “intoxicated” and disoriented many decades earlier than previously thought, with serious implications for the world’s fisheries. The UNSW study, published in the journal Nature, is the first global analysis of the impact of rising carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels on natural variations in carbon dioxide concentrations in the world’s oceans.
“Our results were staggering and have massive implications for global fisheries and marine ecosystems across the planet,” says lead author, Dr Ben McNeil, of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre. “High concentrations of carbon dioxide cause fish to become intoxicated — a phenomenon known as hypercapnia. Essentially, the fish become lost at sea. The carbon dioxide affects their brains and they lose their sense of direction and ability to find their way home. They don’t even know where their predators are.
“We’ve shown that if atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution continues to rise, fish and other marine creatures in CO2 hotpots in the Southern, Pacific and North Atlantic oceans will experience episodes of hypercapnia by the middle of this century — much sooner than had been predicted, and with more damaging effects than thought.
“By 2100, creatures in up to half the world’s surface oceans are expected to be affected by hypercapnia.”…
Ben I. McNeil, Tristan P. Sasse. Future ocean hypercapnia driven by anthropogenic amplification of the natural CO2 cycle. Nature, 2016; 529 (7586): 383 DOI: 10.1038/nature16156
Scientists on a research cruise in the central equatorial Pacific collected seafloor sediments showing that nutrient cycling in one part of the ocean may affect another region far away. Here, a researcher from Georgia Institute of Technology checks out newly retrieved mud. Credit: Pratigya Polissar/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
With climate, fertilizing oceans could be zero-sum game
Posted: 27 Jan 2016 11:14 AM PST
Scientists plumbing the depths of the central equatorial Pacific Ocean have found ancient sediments suggesting that one proposed way to mitigate climate warming — fertilizing the oceans with iron to produce more carbon-eating algae — may not necessarily work as envisioned….
K. M. Costa, J. F. McManus, R. F. Anderson, H. Ren, D. M. Sigman, G. Winckler, M. Q. Fleisher, F. Marcantonio, A. C. Ravelo. No iron fertilization in the equatorial Pacific Ocean during the last ice age. Nature, 2016; 529 (7587): 519 DOI: 10.1038/nature16453
How ocean acidification and warming could affect the culturing of pearls
Posted: 20 Jan 2016 08:57 AM PST
Pearls have adorned the necklines of women throughout history, but some evidence suggests that the gems’ future could be uncertain. Increasingly acidic seawater causes oyster shells to weaken, which doesn’t bode well for the pearls forming within. But the mollusks might be more resilient to changing conditions than previously thought.
New research helps solve the riddle of the ocean carbon conundrum
Posted: 01 Mar 2016 08:47 AM PST
Initially, the fact that the oceans are absorbing a significant amount of the carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere by burning biomass and fossil fuels would appear to be a good thing. However, as more carbon dioxide dissolves into the oceans, it changes the pH of the seawater (a process called ocean acidification), making it difficult for some marine life to survive…..
The Blob as captured in NOAA imaging in 2014.
The Blob’ Disrupts What We Think We Know About Climate Change, Oceans Scientist Says
By Judith Lavoie • Saturday, January 23, 2016 – 12:30
Deep in the northeast Pacific Ocean, The Blob is acting strangely. When the abnormally warm patch of water first appeared in 2013, fascinated scientists watched disrupted weather patterns, from drought in California to almost snowless winters in Alaska and record cold winters in the northeast. The anomalously warm water, with temperatures three degrees Centigrade above normal, was nicknamed The Blob by U.S climatologist Nick Bond. It stretched over one million square kilometres of the Gulf of Alaska — more than the surface area of B.C. and Alberta combined — stretching down 100-metres into the ocean. And, over the next two years that patch of water radically affected marine life from herring to whales. Without the welling-up of cold, nutrient-rich water, there was a dearth of krill, zooplankton and copepods that feed herring, salmon and other species.
“The fish out there are malnourished, the whole ecosystem is malnourished,” said Richard Dewey, associate director for science with Ocean Networks Canada, speaking at Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney on Thursday. A change of three degrees is an “extraordinary deviation — something you would expect to happen once in a millennium,” he said. Pink salmon returned last year, after two years in the ocean, weighing about half their usual weight, sea lion pups, seabirds and baleen whales had difficulty finding adequate food, but jellyfish thrived. Now, after more than two years of disruption to marine ecosystems, it looks as if The Blob is dissipating, said Dewey, who has studied the phenomenon since it appeared. Cold winter storms, that have been absent for almost three years allowing the anomaly to develop, swept across the Gulf of Alaska in November and December, finally dispersing the warm surface waters. But, as oceanographers try to predict what will happen next, Dewey believes it is too early to pronounce the death of The Blob…..”Maybe it is going to happen now every 10 years, or maybe every 20 years and that will be a major change,” he said. Among other effects is the reduced absorption of carbon dioxide by a warm ocean, opposed to a cold ocean….
“Cold water absorbs CO2 and warm water puts it back into the atmosphere. The Blob has stopped a considerable amount of CO2 from being absorbed by the ocean and that accelerates global warming,” said Dewey, who estimates that, over two years, the rate of CO2 absorbed by the ocean has been reduced by five per cent because of The Blob….
The cause of The Blob was not an accumulation of warm water, but a lack of cooling because of a weak Aleutian low — the low pressure system with winds that usually mix the surface water of the north Pacific with the cold, nutrient-rich water from below — Dewey explained. In September 2012, after massive cyclones, there was the lowest sea ice pack ever recorded in the Arctic and, with more ocean exposed, heat was absorbed into the Arctic Ocean.
“It delayed the freezing of the Arctic. The Arctic vortex was very weak and small, so there was no northern boundary to the jet stream and [that allows] the jet stream to go into huge meanders,” Dewey said. And a wandering jet stream means wacky weather. “The Blob is not driving the weather, the weather is driving The Blob,” Dewey said. The first group to notice that something odd was happening in 2013 were surfers off Jordan River, who experienced poor surfing conditions, he said.
Next were the skiers and operators of ski resorts, who in 2013/14 were painfully aware that conditions were not normal. In some areas, runs or even entire resorts closed because of lack of snow.
Then there were the gardeners in areas such as Vancouver Island who were picking garden-ripened tomatoes from June until November 2014 and mowing their lawns from December until February.
So, with The Blob’s power, at least temporarily, dissipating, the question for many is what happens next and whether the last two years are a symptom of climate change. It could be an indication of what climate change will look like, with large-scale shifts in weather patterns, said Dewey, pointing out that The Blob was not anticipated by climatologists because it did not fit into existing climate models.
“Climate change may look like a whole new model we haven’t seen before,” Dewey said.
“It could be we’re getting a glimpse into what the future might hold.”
What happened to our big El Niño?
Experts say there’s still time — and hope — for lots of rain
By Kurtis Alexander SF Chronicle February 10, 2016
February wasn’t supposed to be like this. Winter held promise of biblical rains, driven by a strong El Niño that would relieve California of its crushing drought. Instead, it has barely rained a drop this month, record heat has descended on the Bay Area, and there’s no sign of a storm anytime soon. “It’s half of February that’s on track to be dry. This is not what you want to see if you’re trying to have a wetter-than-average winter and spring and reinvigorate the hydrology,” said Mike Anderson, state climatologist with California’s Department of Water Resources. “This is much different than what we’ve seen in past El Niño events.” Anderson and other climate experts caution that it’s too soon to call this year’s El Niño a bust. Even California’s wettest winters have had prolonged dry periods, and the nearly two months that remain in the rainy season could still deliver. The current dry spell — with its record high temperatures for Tuesday’s date of 70 degrees at Oakland International Airport, 76 degrees in San Jose and 85 degrees in Santa Cruz — is the result of high pressure off the California coast that is diverting Pacific storms well to the north. This high-pressure pattern has been common during the drought. However, El Niño had its characteristic effect of pushing the storm track southward and ensuring California a healthy dose of rain — at least until this month. The storm track is now pushing storms toward Canada. “It definitely brings us back to what we saw during the past four years, and it’s not what you want to see during one of your three wettest months,” Anderson said. The past seven days have been bone dry in the Bay Area. National Weather Service models don’t show any rain in the forecast for at least another week. For comparison, the longest dry spell in February 1998, during an El Niño winter that wreaked havoc on California, was just three days, according to the National Weather Service. The longest rainless period in February during the monster 1982-83 El Niño was four days. Neither year saw more than 10 days without rain during the month. Daniel Swain, a climate researcher at Stanford University, said the success of the wet season doesn’t hinge on February. “It’s not to say the dry spell is great news from a drought perspective, but the fact that’s it’s dry for a week or two amid a wet winter is neither surprising or concerning,” Swain said. The high-pressure system that’s preventing rain, Swain said, is not likely to stick around. Swain, who has studied the pattern as much as anyone over the past four years and famously coined it the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, said the atmospheric mass, while widespread, probably won’t out-compete El Niño. “Historically, these strong El Niños have had strong finishes,” he said. “That’s often what ends up happening in the end.”
February’s balmy weather has turned a wetter-than-average rain year for much of Northern California into a slightly drier-than-normal one. Through Monday, San Francisco had received 13.9 inches of rain since July 1, or 93 percent of average, and Sacramento had seen 9.4 inches, or 77 percent of average.
Snowpack in the Sierra was at 102 percent of average as of Tuesday, though most of the big reservoirs fed by the snow remain emptier than normal for this time of year.
National Weather Service forecaster Steve Anderson said there’s hope that a wet system brewing in the northern Pacific will provide some relief by the middle of next week.
“It’s abnormally dry for February, but the rainy season isn’t over,” he said. “The pattern coming down from the Gulf of Alaska may beat down the ridge of high pressure that’s over us now. That will allow the jet stream to dive farther south and bring the storm track to where it normally is in the winter.”
Extreme tornado outbreaks have become more common, says study
Posted: 02 Mar 2016 03:17 PM PST
Most death and destruction inflicted by tornadoes in North America occurs during outbreaks — large-scale weather events that can last one to three days and span huge regions. Now, a new study shows that the average number of tornadoes in these outbreaks has risen since 1954, and that the chance of extreme outbreaks — tornado factories like the one in 2011 — has also increased.
Beekeepers using a smoker to calm colonies before transferring them to another crop near Columbia Falls, Me. Plants that depend on pollination make up 35 percent of global crop production volume with a value of as much as $577 billion a year. Credit Adrees Latif/Reuters
Decline of Species That Pollinate Poses a Threat to Global Food Supply, Report Warns
By JOHN SCHWARTZ NY Times February 26, 2016
Many pollinator species are facing extinction, including some 16 percent of vertebrates like birds and bats, according to the document…. The birds and the bees need help. Also, the butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles and bats. Without an international effort, a new report warns, increasing numbers of species that promote the growth of hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of food each year face. The first global assessment of the threats to creatures that pollinate the world’s plants was released by a group affiliated with the United Nations on Friday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The summary will be posted online Monday. Pollinators, including some 20,000 species of wild bees, contribute to the growth of fruit, vegetables and many nuts, as well as flowering plants. Plants that depend on pollination make up 35 percent of global crop production volume with a value of as much as $577 billion a year. The agricultural system, for which pollinators play a key role, creates millions of jobs worldwide. Many pollinator species are threatened with extinction, including some 16 percent of vertebrates like birds and bats, according to the document. Hummingbirds and some 2,000 avian species that feed on nectar spread pollen as they move from flower to flower. Extinction risk for insects is not as well defined, the report notes, but it warned of “high levels of threat” for some bees and butterflies, with at least 9 percent of bee and butterfly species at risk. The causes of the pressure on these creatures intertwine: aggressive agricultural practices that grow crops on every available acre eliminate patches of wildflowers and cover crops that provide food for pollinators. Farming also exposes the creatures to pesticides, and bees are under attack from parasites and pathogens, as well.
Climate change has an effect, as well, especially in the case of bumblebees in North America and Europe, said Sir Robert Watson, vice chairman of the group and director of strategic development at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. A warming world changes the territories of plants and pollinators, and changes the plants’ time of flowering, as well, leading to a troubling question, posed by Dr. Watson: “Will the pollinators be there when the flowers need them?”…
Impact of climate change on food production could cause over 500000 extra deaths in 2050
Posted: 02 Mar 2016 05:45 PM PST
Climate change could kill more than 500,000 adults in 2050 worldwide due to changes in diets and bodyweight from reduced crop productivity, according to new estimates. The research is the strongest evidence yet that climate change could have damaging consequences for food production and health worldwide….
Climate Change Impact on American Pika using Improved Species Distribution Models
Species distribution models (SDMs) are used to project the impact of climate change on species’ ecological niches, but often paint an overly simplistic picture that is limited to climate-occupancy interactions. In this new study, Oregon State University scientists used more complex modeling to research the impact of climate change on the American pika. The study incorporated climate, gene flow, habitat configuration, and microhabitat complexity to build separate SDMs for pika populations inhabiting eight U.S. National Park Service units, a distribution that represents pika variety across the U.S. The results displayed highly variable occupancy patterns across the western U.S., suggesting important local-scale differences in the realized niche of the American pika. The study also found that habitat composition and connectivity were among the most influential variables in predicting pika occupancy for all study areas. This is an important result because SDMs rarely include these two variables, stressing the importance of including fine-scale factors when assessing current and future climate impacts on species’ distributions.
Climate vulnerability of California’s Terrestrial Vegetation
James H. Thorne, et al. Information Center for the Environment, UC Davis. January 2016
This new report has been published by the California Department of Fish and Game. See more on the webpage for the State Wildlife Action Plan.
Science, Tech & Health / Earth, Environment & Sustainability | February 11, 2016 GRAPHIC: The projected melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets throughout future millennia produce an average sea-level rise illustrated on the left. In the center, the impact of global deformation – prompted by the conversion of ice to seawater – adds to rising sea levels. At right, both long-term projections combine to show projected sea level rise around the globe in 10,000 years. (Courtesy of Nature Climate Change)
The climate ahead
Thursday, February 18, 2016
To view the full Nature Climate Change report “Consequences of 21st Century Policy for Multi-Millennial Climate and Sea-Level Change,” visit: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923
The damaging climate consequences of carbon emissions will grow and persist for millennia without a dramatic new global energy strategy, according to a new set of research-based climate change scenarios developed by an international team of scientists. Rising global temperatures, ice field and glacial melting and rising sea levels are among the climatic changes that could ultimately lead to the submergence of coastal areas that are home to 1.3 billion people today, according to the report, published online by the journal Nature Climate Change. The findings, the authors write, hold implications for policy makers because the projections reveal the intractability of a climate change across millennia. This long view, they note, should add urgency to efforts to significantly curb carbon emissions within the next few decades, not gradually across the remainder of the 21st century. “This long-term view shows that the next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far,” the team concluded in its report “Consequences of 21st Century Policy for Multi-Millennial Climate and Sea-Level Change.” The new projections are based on leading research into contemporary and historical climate data, but also new scientific reconstructions of the only comparable period in human history: the last Ice Age.
“What our analysis shows is that this era of global warming will be as big as the end of the Ice Age. And what we are seeing is a massive departure from the environmental stability civilization has enjoyed during the last 10,000 years of its development.”
— BC paleo-climatologist Jeremy Shakun.
“This is the most comprehensive look at global climate in the past, present and future,” said Boston College paleo-climatologist Jeremy Shakun, a co-author of the report. “What our analysis shows is that this era of global warming will be as big as the end of the Ice Age. And what we are seeing is a massive departure from the environmental stability civilization has enjoyed during the last 10,000 years of its development.” The international team of co-authors, led by Peter Clark of Oregon State University, generated new scenarios for temperature rise, glacial melting, sea-level rise and coastal flooding based on state-of-the-art climate and ice sheet models. Under the most conservative scenario, the researchers used a projected global output of 1,280 billion tons of carbon across the next few centuries, far below estimated reserves of at least 9,500 billion tons. The projected consequences at this level of carbon emissions include:
- Global average temperature increase will exceed the recognized “guardrail” limit of 2 degrees Celsius.
- Melting of glaciers and the massive ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica will combine for a rise in sea levels of 25 meters, or about 80 feet.
- Coastal submersion could displace as many as 1.3 billion people worldwide, a number that now accounts for approximately 19 percent of the world’s population.
- As many as 25 “megacities” around the world could see rising oceans force at least 50 percent of their populations from their homes and businesses….
Bird in the hand: Professor Simon Griffith and one of his zebra finches. Photo: Macquarie University
Climate change will remove birds’ control over hatching eggs: study
February 3, 2016 Peter Hannam Environment Editor, The Sydney Morning Herald
It’s an odd quirk of nature that birds – even chickens – typically lay just one egg a day, and many species rely on all the eggs in the clutch hatching on the same day. Parent birds control incubation by modifying the temperature that triggers embryo development, which is one way that species ensure roughly synchronous hatching. However, climate change – particularly the increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves – will take some of that control away from birds, causing some eggs to hatch earlier than others, according to new research published in the
Royal Society Open Science journal on Wednesday….
Credit: Aldina Franco, University of East Anglia
Diverse migration helps birds cope with environmental change
Posted: 26 Jan 2016 05:57 AM PST
Migratory birds that are ‘set in their ways’ could be more vulnerable to environmental impacts, according to new research. Many species of migratory birds are in decline as a result of human impacts such as climate change and habitat loss. New research reveals why some species are more vulnerable than others……. species that migrate to a more diverse range of winter locations during their non-breeding season — such as White Storks, Marsh Harriers and Reed Warblers — are less likely to suffer population decline. However species that tend to ‘funnel’ into smaller areas during the winter — such as Turtle Doves and Wood Warblers — have been more vulnerable to declining numbers, caused by human impacts.
Lead researcher Dr James Gilroy from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences said: “Birds are well-known for their remarkable long-distance migrations, often involving extreme feats of navigation and endurance. Unfortunately, many migratory birds are in decline, and there is an urgent need to understand what determines their vulnerability to human impacts. We wanted to know whether ‘migratory diversity’ — the variability of migratory behaviour within species — plays a role in determining their population trends.”
The research team studied the migration patterns of 340 bird species in relation to their status across Europe over the last two decades (1990-2012). Dr Gilroy said: “We found that the species which scatter across wider areas in the non-breeding season have been more resilient, whereas those that converge along narrower routes, and hence occupy smaller wintering areas, have been more likely to decline.
“This suggests that these species may be particularly vulnerable to impacts like habitat loss and hunting in their non-breeding ranges. Species that spread across wider wintering areas, by contrast, might have a greater chance of reaching safe habitats in at least some parts of their range.” The research team also found that species classed as ‘partial migrants’ — meaning that their populations include both migratory individuals and others that remain in the breeding area all year round — were less likely to decline than fully migratory species, or even those that are fully resident….
James J. Gilroy, Jennifer A. Gill, Stuart H. M. Butchart, Victoria R. Jones, Aldina M. A. Franco. Migratory diversity predicts population declines in birds. Ecology Letters, 2016; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12569
How do mushrooms contribute to global warming?
Posted: 29 Jan 2016 06:07 AM PST
Global warming is increasing with each day that passes and the poles begin to thaw. New research shows that fungi in Alaska begin to adapt to high temperatures, speeding up their metabolism, growing and reproducing at a faster pace.
Timely action needed to meet climate targets
Posted: 21 Jan 2016 06:31 AM PST
The Paris Agreement of the UN climate change conference is deemed a historic step for climate protection, but its success depends on rapid implementations. The consequences of delaying global carbon dioxide emission reductions for the climate and the world oceans are assessed in a new study by climate physicists…. As long as emissions continue to increase, this future peak warming increases much faster than observed warming, namely 3 to 7.5 times as fast. “Short-term variations in the current warming rate could distract us from the urgency of the problem,” says Patrik Pfister, lead author of the study. Due to the inertia of the Climate System and the long atmospheric lifetime of CO2, “delaying emission reductions by 10 years causes an additional increase in peak warming of 0.3 to 0.7°C,” Pfister continues. In 10 years without global reductions, a 2.5°C target will have become about as ambitious as the 2°C target is today. Little time remains to initiate reductions, if the Paris Agreement is to be met…. Following the atmospheric warming, the ocean also warms globally and expands in the process. This thermal expansion is a major contributor to sea level rise, and increases drastically while emission reductions are delayed. “Until emission reductions start, the long-term thermal expansion increases even 7 to 25 times as fast as the now observed thermal expansion,” Pfister cites from the study. A decade of delay in global emission reductions increases the long-term sea level rise by a total of roughly 0.4 to 1.2 meters, depending on the achievable rate of emission reductions. “For islands and coastal cities, the timing and rate of global emission reductions is therefore of existential importance,” says Pfister. Furthermore, ongoing emissions also cause ocean acidification, with substantial impacts on marine ecosystems. For example, the acidification diminishes the extent of of ocean areas that provide ideal chemical conditions for the growth of tropical coral reefs. A near-complete loss of such areas becomes imminent if emission reductions are delayed by few years to decades, again depending on the achievable reduction rate. “The results of our study underscore the urgency of action,” says Thomas Stocker, co-author of the study and past Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “With every decade of delaying global emission reductions, we lose roughly 0.5°C of climate target,” Stocker remarks. This means that the most ambitious targets already become unachievable within the next few years.
Patrik L Pfister, Thomas F Stocker. Earth system commitments due to delayed mitigation. Environmental Research Letters, 2016; 11 (1): 014010 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/1/014010
Why Big Blizzards In Winter Don’t Disprove Global Warming
by Joe Romm Jan 22, 2016 8:40 am
Another epic blizzard threatens 50 million people on the East Coast, with a bulls-eye on Washington DC. And leading climatologists again explain how human-induced climate change, especially warming-fueled ocean temperatures, are super-charging the amount of moisture in the atmosphere the storm will dump on us….. Besides upwards of two feet of snow and high winds over a 36-hour period, coastal regions can also expect some record storm surges. I asked two of the country’s top climatologists, Michael Mann and Kevin Trenberth, to comment on the role climate change has on this latest superstorm, which is forecast to break records. Mann, Director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, explained: “There is peer-reviewed science that now suggests that climate change will lead to more of these intense, blizzard-producing nor’easters, for precisely the reason we’re seeing this massive storm — unusually warm Atlantic ocean surface temperatures (temperatures are in the 70s off the coast of Virginia).” When you mix extra moisture with “a cold Arctic outbreak (something we’ll continue to get even as global warming proceeds),” as Mann points out, “you get huge amounts of energy and moisture, and monster snowfalls, like we’re about to see here.”
Mann’s bottom line: While critics like to claim that these massive winter storms are evidence against climate change, they are actually favored by climate change. Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, agrees: “At present sea surface temperatures are more the 3F above normal over huge expanses (1000 miles) off the NE coast and water vapor in the atmosphere is about 10 to 15% higher as a result. Up to half of this can be attributed to climate change.“…
(Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)
Battered East Coast begins digging out from deadly blizzard
Doyle Rice and John Bacon, USA TODAY 11:02 p.m. EST January 24, 2016
The sun came out, travel bans slowly lifted, and the great dig-out of 2016 was in full force Sunday across much of the East after a brutal, record-setting snowstorm paralyzed much of the region…..
The snowstorm was the biggest ever recorded for three cities — Baltimore (29.2 inches), Allentown, Pa. (31.9) and Harrisburg, Pa. (34), the National Weather Service said. New York City picked up 26.8 inches of snow, missing its all-time record by one-tenth of an inch. …
Sea surface temperature anomalies off the East Coast on Jan. 22, 2016.
The blizzard of 2016 was influenced by manmade global warming
By Andrew Freedman January 27, 2016 mashable.com
The blizzard of 2016 was an exceptional storm that broke all-time snowfall records in multiple locations. Yet for many people it hit, this storm was not a complete shock; a string of severe winter storms have slammed the East Coast in recent years. This could be random chance, since the atmosphere does tend to unleash more major winter storms during some decades compared to others. Or it could be due to another factor: Manmade global warming could be tilting the scale in favor of exceptional snowfall outcomes. Many scientists are beginning to suspect that this is the case.
In New York’s Central Park, for example, the 26.8 inches of snow was just one-tenth of an inch shy of tying the all-time record for the biggest snowstorm at that location, and greater than the city typically receives in an entire winter. But it was also the sixth top-10 snowstorm to hit the city since the year 2000. And the record of 26.9 inches was set recently — in 2006…..
In addition to global warming, there is the large role that El Niño plays in these storms, too.
Severe snowstorms are about twice as likely to occur in the Northeast and Southeast during El Niño winters compared to years when there is no El Niño or La Niña present in the Pacific Ocean, Lawrimore said.
“It is to be determined the role that factors such as ocean surface temperatures, the influence of El Niño, conditions in the Arctic, and other factors have had on the severity of this week’s snowstorm,” he said. Right now, a record-strong El Niño is in the process of peaking in the tropical Pacific, altering weather patterns worldwide. This made the blizzard of 2016 more likely to occur, even if global warming influenced its severity.
Gulf Stream slowdown?
A more novel idea of what’s behind the increase in blockbuster East Coast snowstorms is the slowing down of the Gulf Stream current, which is formally known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Studies show that the Gulf Stream may be slowing down due in part to glacier melt runoff from Greenland. This freshwater is less dense than the salty waters of the North Atlantic, and it tends to sit on the surface of the sea, rather than sinking to deeper depths as denser, saltier waters do in this area. The AMOC involves the northward movement of warm, salty water in the upper layers of the Atlantic, as well as the southward return flow of cold, dense water in the deep Atlantic. It is sometimes known as the “Global Conveyor Belt.” …According to Stefan Rahmstorf, scientist with Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research who has studied the Gulf Stream slowdown, the weakening of this current has favored the development of unusually mild waters off the East Coast. Meanwhile, it has also created a cold pool of water south of Greenland. This cold pool sticks out on climate maps, since it’s the only area that was significantly cooler than average during the record warm year in 2015. Writing for the climate science blog RealClimate, Rahmstorf said the slowdown of the Gulf Stream could set the East Coast up for more years with extreme winter storms, since it favors the continuation of warmer than average waters just off the coast. …
Eating less meat might not be the way to go green, say researchers
January 19 2016
Reduced meat consumption might not lower greenhouse gas emissions from one of the world’s biggest beef producing regions, new research has found. The finding may seem incongruous, as intensive agriculture is responsible for such a large proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to research by University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), reducing beef production in the Brazilian Cerrado could actually increase global greenhouse gas emissions. The findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Lead author Rafael Silva, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Mathematics, explains: “Much of Brazil’s grassland is in poor condition, leading to low beef productivity and high greenhouse gas emissions from cattle. However, increasing demand for meat provides an incentive for farmers to recover degraded pastures. This would boost the amount of carbon stored in the soil and increase cattle productivity. It would require less land for grazing and reduce deforestation, potentially lowering emissions.” While grasslands are not as effective as forests at storing carbon, Brazilian grass — mostly Brachiaria genus — has a greater capacity to do so than grass found in Europe, due to its long roots. High quality grasslands will cause more carbon to be stored in the soil, which will lead to a decrease in CO2 emissions. Grassland improvement involves chemical and mechanical treatment of the soil, and use of better adapted seeds along with calcium, limestone and nitrogen fertilisers. Most Brazilian grassland soils are acidic, requiring little nitrogen. In the case of the Brazilian Cerrado, reduced meat consumption could remove the incentive for grassland improvement and therefore lead to higher emissions. The researchers worked out that if demand for beef is 30% higher by 2030 compared with current estimates, net emissions would decrease by 10%. Reducing demand by 30% would lead to 9% higher emissions, provided the deforestation rates are not altered by a higher demand. However, if deforestation rates increase along with demand, emissions could increase by as much as 60%….
R. de Oliveira Silva, L. G. Barioni, J. A. J. Hall, M. Folegatti Matsuura, T. Zanett Albertini, F. A. Fernandes, D. Moran. Increasing beef production could lower greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil if decoupled from deforestation. Nature Climate Change, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2916
When a snowshoe hare stands out against its background, it’s more vulnerable to predators. A new study details just how disastrous this mismatch can be. L. Scott Mills research photo
Climate change may be deadly for snowshoe hares
by Sarah Zielinski
2:00pm, January 26, 2016
One of the predicted consequences of climate change is that in areas that regularly get snow, that precipitation will arrive later in the winter and melt earlier in the spring. While that may be great for people who hate to shovel, it’s a problem for animals that change their camouflage to match the seasons, such as the snowshoe hare of North America. Because these animals don’t have control over when they change from dun brown to snowy white, if snow comes later or melts earlier, they may be ill-dressed for the weather. Scientists had suspected that this mismatch could have disastrous repercussions for the animals — and possibly entire species — but they had little data to back that up.
Now a new study has quantified the consequences for the snowshoe hare and discovered just how deadly standing out can be. nMarketa Zimova of North Carolina State University in Raleigh and colleagues tracked the fates of 186 radio-collared snowshoe hares at two sites in Montana over three years. They used that data to calculate the cost of a mismatch between coat color and the background landscape. Their study appears January 21 in Ecology Letters.
Snowshoe hares are all brown in the summer and all white in the winter. The transition between the two colors, though, doesn’t happen overnight: The animals go through some period of being a mix of brown and white and don’t completely match the landscape. Also, the timing of the molt isn’t consistent from hare to hare, so some may stand out more than others. This transition period can be deadly because predators, such as lynx and coyote, can much more easily spot their prey.
In the new study, a snowshoe hare that matched its background had about a 96 percent probability of surviving from week to week, the researchers calculated. That probability dropped to 92 percent when hares had a roughly 60 percent mismatch between coat color and background, and to 89 percent when hare color and landscape were completely mismatched.
Those findings mean that a snowshoe hare that completely mismatched its background had a 7 percent lower probability of weekly survival than did one that completely blended in, Zimova and colleagues say. For now, that’s not such a big deal. On average, each hare experienced less than a week of mismatch. But mismatches could have big consequences later in the century, as snows arrive later and later and spring melts come earlier and earlier. By 2100, the team predicts, the snowshoe hares could experience as many as eight weeks of mismatch, which could lead to a steep population decline.
But there are two ways that the animals might survive the coming change, the researchers note. Individual hares might have enough wiggle room in when they molt that they can adapt to the changes in snow cover — there’s some evidence that this might occur in the spring, though not in fall. Or there might be enough genetic variability among snowshoe hares that the population could evolve the timing of molting. That would let the hares keep up with the changing climate. But scientists can’t predict whether either of these routes will be able to save the snowshoe hares.
Rice farms like the one shown above in California as well as in Arkansas and Mississippi are getting involved in carbon offset projects, which could become a trend for U.S. farmers. Photo courtesy of California Water Service.
Rice growers on the front lines of U.S. carbon markets
Niina Heikkinen, E&E reporter ClimateWire: Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Dan Hooks isn’t one to take chances with his rice crop, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a pioneer of sorts.
The Arkansas native is one of a small group of rice farmers in the United States who are changing the way they grow their crops to cut back on methane emissions from their fields. In exchange, they will be eligible for the first-ever carbon credits for crops through California’s cap-and-trade program.
“We’re looking for whatever dollar improvement we can make,” Hooks said. “We farmers tend to be hard to convince to change things unless there is a reward.”
So far, the American Carbon Registry has listed three rice cultivation offset projects involving 21 rice growers in California, Arkansas and Mississippi. Their collective 22,000 acres of farmland make up just shy of 1 percent of the total 2.5 million acres devoted to rice in the United States.
That is a small fraction of growers. But supporters of the carbon credits like Robert Parkhurst, director of agriculture greenhouse gas markets for the nonprofit group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), say rice is just the beginning. In the coming years, a rising number of U.S. growers will likely become eligible for adopting practices that both cut emissions and help farmers use resources like water and fertilizer more efficiently, he said.
“We figured out how to execute on renewable energy; agriculture is the next frontier. That’s what makes it so cool and exciting,” Parkhurst said. “I think we are seeing a real convergence of opportunities for the agricultural sector to take their sustainability up another level.”
‘Like taking a few steps into a pool’
Starting last November, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) began accepting projects under the new rice protocol. Credits will likely become available for purchase in the next few months, Parkhurst said.
Rice farmers who are able to document methane emissions reductions from their paddies will be eligible to receive carbon credits. They can make those reductions by implementing one of three management approaches: planting seeds into dry soil, a process known as dry seeding; draining water from fields early; or using an alternate wetting and drying planting method. Farmers must also have at least two years of baseline data on soil types, crops and fallow time to show the practice has been in place.
….”It’s like taking a few steps into a pool. We’re not asking them to take a cannonball off the deep end. At some point they will go all the way in,” he said.
Rice only a slice of methane emissions
But EPA data show that even universal rice farmer participation wouldn’t make much of dent in overall methane emissions.
Altogether, the methane from U.S. rice farms accounted for 8.3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2013. That is a small fraction of the 630 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent produced by the country as a whole, according to U.S. EPA’s “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2013.”
…The broader benefit of rice farmer credits will be that they will pave the way for two new protocols under development: one that focuses on nitrogen fertilizer and a second on reducing grassland conversion to farmland.
….He and his colleagues are focusing on creating a protocol that would reduce nitrogen fertilizer use on just two crops — corn and almonds. According to EPA, the application of nitrogen fertilizers on agricultural soils is responsible for 74 percent of the country’s nitrous oxide emissions.
“We are designing the protocol to be modular so then when the research on nitrous oxide emissions is completed, it can be added into the protocol without completely having to rewrite it,” Parkhurst said. “It took more than two years for the ARB to adopt the rice protocol, and if it takes that long for every crop, it would be a long time before we have the entire agriculture sector covered.”
Is the science there?
….Parkhurst said EDF focused on gaining offsets for rice before other agricultural crops because the farmers were among the most progressive in their thinking on environmental issues. Scientists also have a good sense of how different farming practices affect methane emissions, which helped in the development of standards for evaluating emissions reductions.
But for Bruce Linquist, an assistant cooperative extension specialist at the University of California, Davis, the move to gain credits for methane reductions from rice is a bit ahead of the science.
To date, much soil methane research has been on small plots of half an acre to an acre where scientists have been able to measure how a certain level of soil moisture correlates to emissions. The picture gets much more complicated as the field size increases because different parts of the same field could release different amounts of methane, he said.
“Fields are also very different from each other, some are flat and some are sloped so water can saturate one part, and the [other] part is dry. How do you measure and quantify that? It’s a big challenge,” Linquist said.
Because researchers don’t yet have a reliable way to quantify methane emissions at a field level, Linquist said he has been critical of the efforts to generate carbon credits for methane, at least right now.
“To be honest, I don’t know how they will be able to accurately predict it,” he said. “I would suggest it’s gone a bit fast.”
‘We saw the savings’
Some of the seeding approaches also are raising questions.
Draining fields early, for example, might not have much of an impact on methane emissions. The approach is designed to reduce the amount of time that the rice field is in an oxygenless or anaerobic state so that methane-producing microbes will produce less of the gas. While that may help somewhat, overall emissions at the end of the growing cycle tend to be low at that point, Linquist said.
Even if other approaches like dry seeding or alternate wetting and drying do reduce methane, they can also cause additional risks for farmers. Rice plants are very sensitive to dry conditions that can make the plants more susceptible to weeds, disease and destroyed crops. Advocates, though, point out that the rice protocols are based on nearly a century of data from fields in multiple states using modeling that has been tested around the world.
For Hooks, the experience so far has gone smoothly. He is currently growing two fields, one 26 acres and the other 28 acres, using the alternate wetting and drying method.
“We actually had good success with it,” he said. “We saw the savings from the water, it made sense to keep going.” Hooks noted that when he first heard about carbon credits, they were worth half of what they are today.
“Looking forward four to five years, that value could change and get a little more enticing later on,” he said.
California snowpack shrinks to below-average levels
Los Angeles Times | March 1, 2016 | 1:57 PM
After a promising start to winter, California’s snowpack has shrunk to below-average levels, causing state water officials today to redouble their calls for water conservation. The statewide snowpack stood at only 83% of average for March 1, officials said….
Animation of an atmospheric river storm that occurred on Jan. 28 through 30, bringing half an inch to an inch of rain to many locations in central and southern California. Credit: University of Wisconsin/CIMSS.
Study: Atmospheric river storms can reduce Sierra snow
NASA March 2, 2016
A new study by NASA and several partners has found that in California’s Sierra Nevada, atmospheric river storms are two-and-a-half times more likely than other types of winter storms to result in destructive “rain-on-snow” events, where rain falls on existing snowpack. Those events increase flood risks in winter and reduce water availability the following summer. The study, based on NASA satellite and ground-based data from 1998 through 2014, is the first to establish a climatological connection between atmospheric river storms and rain-on-snow events. Partnering with NASA on the study were UCLA; Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego; and the Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado. Atmospheric rivers are narrow jets of very humid air that normally originate thousands of miles off the West Coast, in the warm subtropical Pacific Ocean. When the warm, moist air hits the Sierra Nevada and other high mountains, it drops much of its moisture as precipitation. Only 17 percent of West Coast storms are caused by atmospheric rivers, but those storms provide 30 to 50 percent of California’s precipitation and 40 percent of Sierra snowpack, on average. They have also been blamed for more than 80 percent of the state’s major floods….
Drought in Eastern Mediterranean worst of past 900 years
Posted: 01 Mar 2016 02:41 PM PST
A new study finds that the recent drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region, which comprises Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey, is likely the worst drought of the past nine centuries….
What California can learn from Australia’s 15-year millennium drought
by Stuart White, Andrea Turner & Joanne Chong, The Conversation AU, Feb 26, 2016
California has experienced, over the past few years, its most severe drought on record. In response to worsening conditions, Governor Jerry Brown announced the first ever statewide mandatory reduction in urban water use in April 2015. This calls on Californians to reduce their use of potable (safe for drinking and food preparation) urban water by 25% from pre-drought levels. Californians are meeting the mandate. California is entering its fifth consecutive year of drought, with many areas experiencing “exceptional” drought levels. While rain and snowfall have improved recently, water storages remain low and the long-term drought signal has not changed. US agencies have turned to Australia to learn how urban water utilities and water agencies might best respond to drought. In particular, there is keen interest in the experience of Australian cities during the worst drought on record: the “millennium” drought that lasted 15 years from 1997 until it officially ended in 2012.
In a report prepared for Californian water agencies, we have reflected on some of the key lessons from the millennium drought experience to assess opportunities for California.
Water efficiency, the quiet achiever…
The millennium drought affected mostly southeastern Australia, producing major declines in winter rainfall. …. In Australia, urban water efficiency was the quiet achiever. These measures included changing washing machines, toilets, cooling towers, shower heads, taps and industrial processes to do more with less. In many locations in Australia, water efficiency provided the cheapest, quickest and most effective contribution to managing demand during the drought. Without it, many cities and towns would have run out of water. California could benefit from long-term structural changes in water use by implementing similar efficiency measures.
Australia survived the drought by demonstrating world-leading innovation and water planning and management. …However, more can be done in California, as shown by our research. Australia made much larger, comprehensive investments in water conservation and efficiency involving households, businesses and local governments. These investments helped cities cope with the millennium drought and also reduce vulnerability to future droughts. Another strategy for California is to ensure any infrastructure options – dams, desalination plants or recycling capacity – are flexible.
This means applying a strategy of “readiness to construct”, which involves identifying the best options and putting in place the arrangements to start at short notice, but stopping short of contractually committing to construct until needed. This has the potential to save a lot of money and prevent “stranded assets”. The New South Wales government adopted this strategy for its proposed Sydney desalination plant on Botany Bay. However, that was overturned and the contract signed when dam levels were above 50% and rising. The result was a A$1.9 billion (US$1.4 billion) stranded asset and a plant that is still in mothballs.
During Australia’s millennium drought, there were many innovations but also missed opportunities. Examples include recycling waste water from commercial buildings, factories and sports fields, and recovering water from the sewage system for recycling….Although attention to innovative and cost-effective water solutions and water efficiency quickly subsided after the drought, the technical and practical knowledge from the Australian water industry’s response to drought provides many key lessons for California’s response.
This research was conducted in collaboration with the US Alliance for Water Efficiency and the Pacific Institute and several Australian urban water utilities and agencies.
Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images A firefighter monitors a backfire as he battles the King Fire on Sept. 17, 2014, in Fresh Pond (El Dorado County), east of Sacramento.
Drought’s harm ravaging forests, researchers find
By Peter Fimrite February 1, 2016 Updated: February 2, 2016 5:45pm
Worsening drought conditions may be doing more damage to forests in California and throughout the West than their ecosystems can handle, causing a spiral of death that could have a devastating impact, a U.S. Forest Service study concluded Monday. The 300-page report, “Effects of Drought on Forests and Rangelands in the United States,” outlines how hotter, drier and more extreme weather will spark massive insect outbreaks, tree and plant die-offs, bigger and more costly wildfires, and economic impacts to timber and rangeland habitat. “There are growing concerns that extreme precipitation events, droughts and warmer temperatures will accelerate tree and shrub death,” said report co-author Toral Patel-Weynand, the Forest Service’s director of sustainable forest research. “In addition to that, we obviously have impacts on timber, seed production, water and recreational activities.” The study — by 77 scientists from the Forest Service, universities, non-governmental organizations and national labs — seeks to bring together years of peer-reviewed research and provide the best science to forest and rangeland managers as they grapple with the effects of climate change on the 193 million acres of national forest. There are 21 million acres in California’s 18 national forests. “Our forests and rangelands are national treasures, and because they are threatened, we are threatened,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Every region of the country is impacted by the direct and indirect effects of drought conditions and volatile weather patterns.” ….
A photograph of a farmer showing his affected plot due to drought in Karnataka, India, 2012. Credit: Pushkarv/Wikipedia
Severe drought no longer caused just by nature
February 2, 2016
Scientists at the University of Birmingham are calling on drought researchers and managers around the world to consider both human activity and natural phenomena in their battle to preserve increasingly scarce global water supplies. The experts say that severe droughts experienced recently in countries such as China, Brazil and the United States can no longer be seen as purely natural hazards. Changes to the way people use the water and the landscape contribute to extreme water shortages. The University’s Water Science Research Group is leading key researchers from 13 organisations in eight countries to redefine how the world should study and tackle drought. The researchers propose broadening the definition of drought to include water shortage caused and made worse – or sometimes improved – by human activity. Drought research should no longer view water availability as a solely natural, climate-imposed phenomenon and water use as simply a socio-economic issue. It should, instead, more carefully consider the complex interactions between nature and society.
The current California drought has severely affected the state’s environment and economy. Storing water in reservoirs and extracting groundwater increase evaporation and decrease groundwater levels, making the drought worse. It demonstrates how strongly water and society are intertwined during drought periods….
Anne F. Van Loon et al. Drought in the Anthropocene, Nature Geoscience (2016). DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2646
While nearly all of California is expected to be above average in terms of season-to-date precipitation after this weekend’s Southern California storm, only the northern 2/3 of the state is above average for the full season to date. (NOAA via WRCC)
El Niño remains among strongest ever recorded, but California impacts (so far) a bit different than anticipated
Reminder: when it comes to El Niño, strength matters.
Daniel Swain on February 1, 2016 • 524 Comments
The prospect of an El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean always generates quite a bit of interest in California. This attention largely stems from the fact that two of California’s wettest years on record—1982-1983 and 1997-1998—occurred during the strongest El Niño years in living memory. The popular perception that El Niño always brings a lot of water to the Golden State, though, is not particularly accurate. The reality is a bit more nuanced: particularly strong El Niño events exert a powerful influence upon the atmosphere over the northeastern Pacific Ocean, and really do have a tendency to enhance the storm track in a way that favors greatly enhanced precipitation across the entire state of California. But more middling weak to moderate events don’t have nearly as pronounced an effect, and in many cases don’t meaningfully affect the odds of seeing wetter or drier than average conditions in California. The main reason for this nonlinear effect is that other periodic oceanic and atmosphere oscillations (other than El Niño) still play a major role in California’s winter weather, and unless El Niño is powerful enough to consistently outweigh all of them, the net effect can swing either way. The key message here: strong El Niño events are the ones to watch out for from a California weather perspective, and it’s reasonable to expect that such events greatly increase the odds of wet conditions throughout the state.
How is the present El Niño different from other big ones in the past 40 years?
…well, depending on the exact metric, the present El Niño is either the strongest or among the strongest events in the observed record going back to at least 1950. Ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean—the most traditional measure of El Niño’s amplitude—have been at or above their record highest values for at least several months now. So despite assertions to the contrary, the 2015-2016 El Niño is not “a bust” by any means. But absolute sea surface temperatures don’t always tell the whole story. While the present El Niño is indeed among the strongest ever recorded, the atmospheric response to the warm ocean temperatures this year has been a bit different than we have observed during other big historical events. Over the northeastern Pacific, El Niño acts to deepen the semi-permanent Gulf of Alaska low while simultaneously strengthening (and, literally, straightening) the jet stream over the eastern Pacific Ocean. This enhanced and “more zonal” (i.e. more west-to-east) jet stream is what tends to bring increased winter precipitation to California (and, sometimes, even the Pacific Northwest) during strong El Niño years. These atmospheric effects occur due to a fairly complex chain of events that link the tropics to the mid-latitude atmosphere. Warmer than usual ocean temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific increase thunderstorm activity there, which pumps vast quantities of heat into the upper atmosphere. This tropically warm air at upper levels eventually flows northward and descends back toward the surface of the Earth in the subtropics (at a latitude roughly equivalent to that of Hawaii). This enhanced “Hadley circulation” during El Niño years increases the temperature differential between the warm tropics and cool Gulf of Alaska, which is what causes the jet stream to strengthen over the East Pacific.
…..this year, the Hadley cell has actually strengthened a bit more than expected.
The descending air on its northern side has occurred closer to California, which means that the enhanced temperature differential is occurring farther to the north than during previous big El Niño events. Subtropical ridging between Hawaii and California has been more pronounced, and the El Niño-strengthened jet stream has set up shop primarily across Northern California and even the Pacific Northwest, rather than Southern California.
From a global climate perspective, this is a relatively minor detail; if you happen to live in Los Angeles, though, it makes all the difference in the world. The net effect so far in 2015-2016: Northern California and the Pacific Northwest have gotten soaked, while Southern California has been left pretty dry (with a few notable exceptions). …
Some thoughts regarding the bigger picture
Finally, there has been considerable discussion lately regarding why the atmospheric response to El Niño this year has been different than historically observed (and also than foreseen by some of the flagship seasonal forecast models). It’s impossible to ignore the fact that global temperatures in late 2015 and early 2016 have reached their highest levels in recorded human history. Part of this very recent warming is likely due to our record El Niño event, but the rest is pretty clearly attributable to the long-term warming trend associated the with human emission of greenhouse gases. While global mean temperature doesn’t directly affect El Niño teleconnections, per se, the Earth hasn’t been warming in a spatially uniform way. This year in particular, the subtropics and the polar regions have been especially warm relative to other parts of the world. It is possible that this spatial pattern of warming may be playing a role in the particular atmospheric configuration that has resulted from the 2015-2016 El Niño event….
The Role of Snowpack, Rainfall, and Reservoirs in Buffering California Against Drought Impacts
USGS, CA Water Science Center
California’s vast reservoir system, fed by annual snow- and rainfall, plays an important part in providing water to the State’s human and wildlife population. There are almost 1,300 reservoirs throughout the State, but only approximately 200 of them are considered storage reservoirs, and many of the larger ones are critical components of the Central Valley and State Water Project facilities. Storage reservoirs capture winter precipitation for use in California’s dry summer months. In addition to engineered reservoir storage, California also depends on water “stored” in the statewide snowpack to significantly augment the State’s water supply as it melts slowly over the course of the summer.
The Role of Storage Reservoirs
Of the State’s almost 200 storage reservoirs, about a dozen major reservoirs hold about half of the water stored in California’s reservoirs (Dettinger and Anderson, 2015). Each of these major reservoirs is multipurpose, and operated to meet environmental mandates, including providing flows and cold water storage for anadromous fish….
Snow & Reservoirs
Snowpack plays an important role in keeping California’s reservoirs full. Winter and spring snowpack typically melt gradually throughout the year, flowing into and refilling reservoirs. Snowpack accounts for the bulk of California’s water source and storage, as early spring snowpack “contains about 70% as much water, on average, as the long-term average combination of the major and ‘other’ reservoirs” (Dettinger and Anderson, 2015).….In April 2015, the California Department of Water Resources measured the snow water content as essentially zero. Because the April snow water content helps recharge surface reservoir storage during the spring and summer months, a snow water deficit results in storage reservoirs—depleted throughout the year—to go without crucial refilling. Dettinger and Anderson determined that reservoir replenishment in winter 2015 was only about 9% of normal. Thus in 2015, California’s major reservoirs—which are important tools to manage water supply through drought conditions—did not receive the snowpack runoff necessary to refill them after three years of drought. The authors state, “The current challenge to statewide water managers is less the lack of water in the reservoirs and much more the lack of water in snowpack that normally would be expected to melt soon and replenish our reservoirs.” Unfortunately, due to the expected consequences of climate change, the lack of snow storage experienced in the current drought could become more the norm than the exception in years to come.
Rain, Soils, & Reservoirs
Rainfall is another essential water source. It replenishes water in soils, groundwater, streams, lakes, and reservoirs alike. During droughts, dry soils absorb and store a substantial amount of water in the watersheds above reservoirs, preventing rainfall from flowing into and refilling reservoirs.
USGS scientists Alan Flint and Lorraine Flint recently analyzed the current drought conditions for two of California watersheds—the Feather and Tuolumne. The Feather and Tuolumne watersheds flow into the Oroville and Don Pedro Reservoirs, respectively. They examined the dry soil in the watersheds, seeking to estimate the rainfall needed to recover them from the drought. Although intense rain could cause enough runoff to be generated without the soil moisture deficit being corrected, Flint and Flint determined that significant rainfall would first be needed to fill the current soil moisture deficit. … …One concept scientists use to understand soil water deficit is the climatic water deficit (CWD). This indicator is calculated as potential evapotransipiration (the amount of water used by plants), minus actual evapotranspiration, and reflects the loss of water in the soil, as well as the soil-water deficit accumulated throughout the year as a result of landscape vegetation demands. Water-year 2015 accumulated between 125% and 400% greater CWD than baseline over about 90% of the state….
Climatic water deficit (CWD) accumulated through water-year 2015 as a percent of the baseline CWD (average year for 1951-1980). Source: Updated from Flint and others, 2013.
Low water levels are visible behind the Folsom Dam at Folsom Lake on August 19, 2014 in El Folsom, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Reservoirs In Drought-Stricken California Dump Billions Of Gallons Of Water In Case Of Storms
March 2, 2016 2:47 PM SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — Some of drought-stricken California’s biggest reservoirs are regularly releasing billions of gallons of water – much of it going into San Francisco Bay – and keeping only partial capacity under water rules developed in the 19th century, according to a report.
KQED reported that a handful of reservoirs, including Folsom Lake, are releasing water to maintain empty space to guard against flooding during winter storms.
Folsom Lake reached 60 percent of its capacity only last month after dropping to 17 percent capacity in October of last year. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency rules mandate that Folsom Lake can only by 60 percent full during winter, as average storm could send a huge amount of water into the reservoir, according to the report. The empty space works as a buffer to guard against flooding, which would affect hundreds of thousands of people in the Sacramento area, while putting the dam itself at risk of failure. Flood control rules for western states were created in the 19th century, research meteorologist Dr. Marty Ralph told KQED. “And yet here we live in the 21st century with its special and new needs: greater population and a changing climate,” Ralph said….
Study documents drought’s impact on redwood forest ferns
Posted: 01 Feb 2016 09:28 AM PST
The native ferns that form a lush green understory in coastal redwood forests are well adapted to dry summers and periodic droughts, but California’s current prolonged drought has taken a toll on them. A comprehensive study of water relations in native ferns, conducted during one of the worst droughts in California’s recent history, shows that extreme conditions have tested the limits of drought tolerance in these plants.
Nick Blom looks over almond trees in Modesto. He’s a volunteer in an experiment run by UC Davis that could offer a partial solution to California’s perennial water shortages. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Researchers test a possible drought solution by flooding an almond farm
LA Times January 20, 2016
The El Niño rainstorm had already turned Nick Blom’s almond orchard into a quagmire. Still, he wheeled open the lid of a massive irrigation pipe. Fifteen minutes later, a gurgling belch heralded a gush of water that surged over the lip of the pipe and spread across five acres of almond trees. Blom is neither crazy nor self-destructive. He’s a volunteer in an experiment run by UC Davis that could offer a partial solution to California’s perennial water shortages, and in the process, challenge some long-standing tenets of flood control and farming in the Central Valley. The first notion that could be washed away is that the abundant rains spawned by the El Niño currents in the Pacific Ocean should be banked behind new or enlarged reservoirs. Instead, researchers believe they should pour that water onto fields and let it replenish groundwater overdrafted by farmers and cities during the state’s five-year drought.
That hypothesis, however, runs counter to how many growers care for their trees in winter, how irrigation districts operate, how water rights are managed, and how state and federal authorities have controlled floods for a century. Each will have to expand their notion of how to use water for the greater good so they can smooth out the state’s wild swings between drought and abundance, researchers say.
So they started small Tuesday — three, five-acre plots southwest of Modesto, on the 1,300 acres Blom farms with his father, Nick Sr. and brother, Pete.
“We can build more reservoirs and we can raise the dams of reservoirs, but that’s a very costly undertaking,” said UC Davis hydrologist Helen Dahlke. “Basically we’re trying to make use of the system that has been in place 40 or 50 years, when most farmers irrigated their fields using surface water, by just letting water run onto fields, and down a furrow.”
Gravity did most of the work Tuesday, as storm runoff flowed down irrigation canals and forced its way up and over the lip of Blom’s pipe. What Blom didn’t use will flow downstream to other farms and eventually back to the Tuolumne River, which joins the San Joaquin River nearby.
Hydrologists, plant scientists and others will monitor the fields to see how the water flows through the coarse soil below Blom’s feet, and what effect it will have on the trees and their roots. Water could spur more fungal diseases, for instance. But it also could drown out worms and mites that can damage crops, said Roger Duncan, agricultural extension director for Stanislaus County.
Researchers also will check to see if the flood water washes contaminants, such as the nitrogen from fertilizers and naturally occurring salts, into the groundwater. They’ll also compare yields on three fields treated different ways: leaving the trees’ fate to the weather, adding the normally small amount of winter irrigation, and pouring out several extra feet of water. Blom said he seldom irrigates over the winter, and gets about 2,200 pounds of almonds per acre….
South Africa’s Drought Leads to Job Cuts, Surging Food Prices
Bloomberg News Feb 25, 2016
South Africa’s worst drought in more than a century is taking its toll on the economy as farms cut jobs and the cost of producing food surged.