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Taking the long view: US scientists affirm value of long term research

  • “But what came out of this survey is that long-term, multi-site, observational and experimental research was the approach that is generating the most knowledge.”
  • When asked which topics or questions should be targeted in future long-term research, respondents most commonly identified the impacts of global change — including climate change, invasion by non-native species, and anthropogenic disturbance.

January 31 2018 Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies read full article here and link to corrected proof pdf here.

For many years, long-term research has played a key role in revealing the planet’s complex ecological and evolutionary dynamics. But some scientists argue that there’s a need to revise strategies for long-term research to fill gaps in research, better examine underrepresented fields, and address limits in design and data collection.

What’s more, many contend that the benefits and failings of long-term research are typically argued only by a limited number of scientists who have published reports in the field.

A Yale-led survey of 1,179 ecological and evolutionary scientists, published in the journal Ecological Monographs, provides a detailed glimpse into how the U.S. ecological community views the direction of long-term research, the important role it plays in the advancement of knowledge, and specific research areas scientists believe should be treated as priorities. (The researchers defined “long-term research” as projects lasting at least five years.)

According to the survey, which was done in collaboration with polling experts from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, nearly 80 percent of respondents believe that long-term experiments have contributed a “great deal” to improved ecological understanding.

In fact, multi-site, long-term research — in comparison with, for instance, short-term, single-site, modeling, or lab experiments — was by far the most highly ranked approach for developing new theory. Observational research methods (monitoring) and experimental approaches were considered equally important.

Respondents also called for a more supportive research environment and funding structure, including stronger institutional acknowledgement of the contributions of long-term research and greater support during the establishment and maintenance of research programs.

When asked which topics or questions should be targeted in future long-term research, respondents most commonly identified the impacts of global change — including climate change, invasion by non-native species, and anthropogenic disturbance.

“Long-term research has been a primary tool for being able to understand how global changes are happening on the ground, particularly as a result of climate change,” said Sara Kuebbing, a postdoctoral associate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and lead author of the study. “Almost everyone agrees that it is critically important and needs to be continued.”

http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecm.1289

Correct proof pdf (not published yet?)

Managing land to be cooler- including changing crops, moving to no till agriculture and lightening infrastructure – can reduce heat extremes by 2-3 degrees Celsius

  • The researchers modeled how changing only the radiative properties of agricultural land and high population areas across North America, Europe and Asia would impact average temperatures, extreme temperatures and precipitation. The results showed small impacts on average temperatures, little change in precipitation — except in Asia — but significant reductions in extreme temperatures.
  • Albedo-related climate benefits of land management should be considered more prominently when assessing regional-scale climate adaptation and mitigation as well as ecosystem services.

January 29, 2018 University of New South Wales read full ScienceDaily article here

New research shows how simple, proven land-based geo-engineering measures can reduce the hottest days by 2-3 degrees C. Lightening buildings, roads and infrastructure in densely populated areas and changing crop types and using no till agricultural practices over farmland can all take the edge off the hottest days as climate change raises extreme temperatures…
…Unlike many other climate-engineering methods proposed to tackle climate change, many of these regional modifications have already been tested and proven to work. Critically, this method has fewer risks compared with injecting aerosols into the atmosphere.“Extreme temperatures are where human and natural systems are most vulnerable. Changing the radiative properties of land helps address this issue with fewer side effects,” said Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, Prof Andy Pitman.”This research suggests that by taking a regional approach, at least in temperate zones, policy and investment decisions can be pragmatically and affordably focused on areas of greatest need…….The researchers gained their results by modelling how changing only the radiative properties of agricultural land and high population areas across North America, Europe and Asia would impact average temperatures, extreme temperatures and precipitation.The results showed small impacts on average temperatures, little change in precipitation — except in Asia — but significant reductions in extreme temperatures…..”We must remember land-based climate engineering is not a silver bullet, it is just one part of a possible climate solution, and it would have no effects on global mean warming or ocean acidification. There are still important moral, economic and practical imperatives to consider that mean mitigation and adaption should still remain at the forefront of our approach to dealing with global warming.”…

Sonia I. Seneviratne, Steven J. Phipps, Andrew J. Pitman, Annette L. Hirsch, Edouard L. Davin, Markus G. Donat, Martin Hirschi, Andrew Lenton, Micah Wilhelm, Ben Kravitz. Land radiative management as contributor to regional-scale climate adaptation and mitigation. Nature Geoscience, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41561-017-0057-5

ABSTRACT: Greenhouse gas emissions urgently need to be reduced. Even with a step up in mitigation, the goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 °C remains challenging. Consequences of missing these goals are substantial, especially on regional scales. Because progress in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions has been slow, climate engineering schemes are increasingly being discussed. But global schemes remain controversial and have important shortcomings. A reduction of global mean temperature through global-scale management of solar radiation could lead to strong regional disparities and affect rainfall patterns. On the other hand, active management of land radiative effects on a regional scale represents an alternative option of climate engineering that has been little discussed. Regional land radiative management could help to counteract warming, in particular hot extremes in densely populated and important agricultural regions. Regional land radiative management also raises some ethical issues, and its efficacy would be limited in time and space, depending on crop growing periods and constraints on agricultural management. But through its more regional focus and reliance on tested techniques, regional land radiative management avoids some of the main shortcomings associated with global radiation management. We argue that albedo-related climate benefits of land management should be considered more prominently when assessing regional-scale climate adaptation and mitigation as well as ecosystem services.

Warming temperatures may cause birds to shrink

  • Clinal variation in avian body size is better explained by summer maximum temperatures during development than by cold winter temperatures

January 24, 2018 American Ornithological Society Publications Office read full ScienceDaily article here

Biologists have known for a long time that animals living in colder climates tend to have larger bodies, supposedly as an adaptation to reduce heat loss. However, a new study shows that this trend in birds might actually be due to the effects of high temperatures during development — raising new alarms about how populations might be affected by global warming...

….”If variation in body size is linked directly or indirectly to adapting to different climates, then body size could be useful for monitoring the extent to which bird populations are capable of adapting rapidly to changing climates,” says Andrew. “Our work on this common species helps us to understand the adaptive responses of birds to a changing climate and their constraints, and this fundamental knowledge will help future workers and managers focus their work on other species and potentially identify those species most at risk from climate change.“…

Samuel C. Andrew, Monica Awasthy, Amanda D. Griffith, Shinichi Nakagawa, Simon C. Griffith. Clinal variation in avian body size is better explained by summer maximum temperatures during development than by cold winter temperatures. The Auk, 2018; 135 (2): 206 DOI: 10.1642/AUK-17-129.1

Wetlands provide landscape-scale reduction in nitrate pollution

  • This research shows that wetland restoration could be one of the most effective methods for comprehensive improvement of water quality in the face of climate change and growing global demand for food.

January 29, 2018 University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering read full ScienceDaily article here

A new study provides new insights to demonstrate that multiple wetlands or ‘wetland complexes’ within a watershed are extremely effective at reducing harmful nitrate in rivers and streams. These wetlands can be up to five times more efficient per unit area at reducing nitrate than the best land-based nitrogen mitigation strategies

…Significant research findings include:

  • When stream flows are high, wetlands are five times more efficient per unit area at reducing nitrate than the best land-based conservation practices. Other common conservation practices are effective at lower flow conditions but overwhelmed with higher stream flows.
  • The arrangement of wetlands within a watershed is a key predictor of the magnitude of nitrate reduction. If wetlands intercept 100 percent of the drainage area, they are three times more effective at nitrate removal compared to interception of 50 percent of the drainage area.
  • Nitrate reduction due to ephemeral (temporary) wetlands, such as riparian floodplains and more geographically isolated wetlands (wetlands not connected to the river network by surface water), was measurable and was highest during high stream flows, when such features are hydrologically connected to surface water.

….Our work shows that wetland restoration could be one of the most effective methods for comprehensive improvement of water quality in the face of climate change and growing global demand for food,” said study co-author Jacques Finlay, a professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior in the College of Biological Sciences….

Amy T. Hansen, Christine L. Dolph, Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, Jacques C. Finlay. Contribution of wetlands to nitrate removal at the watershed scale. Nature Geoscience, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41561-017-0056-6

Hurricane Harvey’s ‘Overwhelming’ Rains were Likely Nation’s Most Extreme Event

Floodwaters from Harvey overflowed from the bayous around Houston in late August. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Hurricane Harvey dispensed an unprecedented 33 trillion gallons+ of water over Texas and the southern United States.
  • Peak rainfall totals reached record-crushing levels, just over 5 feet (60 inches) near Nederland and Groves, Tex., near Port Arthur….exceeding the previously accepted United States tropical cyclone storm total rainfall record of 52.00 inches at Kanalohuluhulu Ranger Station, Hawaii, in August of 1950 from Hurricane Hiki.
  • Isolated rainfall in southeastern Texas.was estimated even higher at 65-70 inches.
  • Independent analyses published in peer-reviewed journals found the heating of the air and sea from climate warming may have boosted Harvey’s rainfall output by at least 15 percent.
January 25 2018 read full Washington Post article here
Hurricane Harvey unleashed a tropical deluge probably unsurpassed in U.S. history, the National Hurricane Center says. In an in-depth meteorological review of the storm released Thursday, the center said it was unable to identify any past storm that had unloaded so much rain over such a large area
Different color shades show the likelihood of the amount of rain in different areas of Southeast Texas in a given year. For example, the dark blue shaded area indicates less than a 1 in 1,000 chance of happening in a given year in that location. (NOAA Office of Water Prediction)

“[I]t is unlikely the United States has ever seen such a sizable area of excessive tropical cyclone rainfall totals as it did from Harvey,” the report said. By one estimate, the storm dispensed more than 33 trillion gallons of water over Texas and the southern United States.

….The report confirmed that peak rainfall totals reached record-crushing levels, just over 5 feet near Nederland and Groves, Tex., near Port Arthur. “Both of these values (and from five other stations) exceed the previously accepted United States tropical cyclone storm total rainfall record of 52.00 inches at Kanalohuluhulu Ranger Station, Hawaii, in August of 1950 from Hurricane Hiki,” the report said.

Isolated rainfall amounts might have even been more extreme. The report noted that radar estimated totals “as high as 65-70 inches in southeastern Texas.”

The excessive rainfall was caused in large part when the monster storm stalled over the Lonestar state, drawing moisture from the warm Gulf of Mexico and dumping punishing torrents over an extended duration. Additional factors helped intensify and focus some of the extreme rainfall. “While Harvey was very slow moving over Texas, not all drifting cyclones produce such torrential rain totals,” the report explained. It said Harvey interacted with a weak cold front over the region, which “hardly moved” and intensified the rainfall.

The consequence of such excessive rainfall was one of the most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history. “Harvey is the second-most costly hurricane in U.S. history, after accounting for inflation, behind only Katrina (2005),” the report said.

The report does not discuss the possibility that Harvey’s rains were affected by human-induced climate change, but independent analyses published in peer-reviewed journals found the heating of the air and sea from climate warming may haveboosted Harvey’s rainfall output by at least 15 percent….

Eric S. Blake and David A. Zelinsky. Hurricane Harvey, 17 August – 1 September 2017, National Hurricane Center/NOAA Report, January 23 2018
Floodwaters from Harvey overflowed from the bayous around Houston in late August. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Governor Brown Takes Action to Increase Zero-Emission Vehicles, Fund New Climate Investments

Jan 26 2018  see full news release here

….California Climate Investments projects include affordable housing, renewable energy, public transportation, zero-emission vehicles, environmental restoration, more sustainable agriculture and recycling, among other projects. At least 35 percent of these investments are made in disadvantaged and low-income communities….

The $1.25 billion climate investment plan can be found here.

 

Some specifics include:

  • Healthy and Resilient Forests (p 5)—$160 million of Cap and Trade funding for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to support forest improvement, fire prevention, and fuel reduction projects.
  • Healthy Soils (p 10):  Includes $5m in the budget and another $9 m from SB5 (the new bond measure) for a total of $14m.

 

 

 

Dangerously Low on Water, Cape Town Now Faces ‘Day Zero’; A Warning for California and the American West?

The Theewaterskloof Dam, the city’s largest, is just 13% full. (AP Photo)

  • After a three-year drought, Cape Town is now at serious risk of becoming one of the few major cities in the world to lose piped water to homes and most businesses.
  • As far back as 2007, South Africa’s Department of Water Affairs warned that the city needed to consider increasing its supply with groundwater, desalination and other sources, citing the potential impact of climate change….
  • New water supplies have been part of the city’s plans but “it was not envisaged that it would be required so soon.”
  • Cape Town’s problems embody one of the big dangers of climate change: the growing risk of powerful, recurrent droughts

CAPE TOWN — It sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster. “Day Zero” is coming to Cape Town this April. Everyone, be warned.

The government cautions that the Day Zero threat will surpass anything a major city has faced since World War II or the Sept. 11 attacks. Talks are underway with South Africa’s police because “normal policing will be entirely inadequate.” Residents, their nerves increasingly frayed, speak in whispers of impending chaos.

The reason for the alarm is simple: The city’s water supply is dangerously close to running dry.

If water levels keep falling, Cape Town will declare Day Zero in less than three months. Taps in homes and businesses will be turned off until the rains come. The city’s four million residents will have to line up for water rations at 200 collection points. The city is bracing for the impact on public health and social order.

“When Day Zero comes, they’ll have to call in the army,” said Phaldie Ranqueste, who was filling his white S.U.V. with big containers of water at a natural spring where people waited in a long, anxious line.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for Cape Town. This city is known for its strong environmental policies, including its careful management of water in an increasingly dry corner of the world….

But after a three-year drought, considered the worst in over a century, South African officials say Cape Town is now at serious risk of becoming one of the few major cities in the world to lose piped water to homes and most businesses.

Hospitals, schools and other vital institutions will still get water, officials say, but the scale of the shut-off will be severe.

Cape Town’s problems embody one of the big dangers of climate change: the growing risk of powerful, recurrent droughts. In Africa, a continent particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, those problems serve as a particularly potent warning to other governments, which typically don’t have this city’s resources and have done little to adapt.

the-south-african-weather-service-says-climate-change-is-making-its-historical-models-useless- theeshop dam AP PhotoThe Theewaterskloof Dam, the city’s largest, is just 13% full. (AP Photo)

For now, political leaders here talk of coming together to “defeat Day Zero.” As water levels in the dams supplying the city continue to drop, the city is scrambling to finish desalination plants and increase groundwater production. Starting in February, residents will face harsher fines if they exceed their new daily limit, which will go down to 50 liters (13.2 gallons) a day per person from 87 liters now…

…As far back as 2007, South Africa’s Department of Water Affairs warned that the city needed to consider increasing its supply with groundwater, desalination and other sources, citing the potential impact of climate change. Mike Muller, who served as the department’s director between 1997 and 2005, said that the city’s water conservation strategy, without finding new sources, has been “a major contributor to Cape Town’s troubles.”

“Nature isn’t particularly willing to compromise,” he added. “There will be severe droughts. And if you haven’t prepared for it, you’ll get hammered.” Ian Neilson, the deputy mayor, said that new water supplies have been part of the city’s plans but “it was not envisaged that it would be required so soon.”…

….So far, only 55 percent of Cape Town residents have met the target of 87 liters per day. Helen Zille, the premier of Western Cape Province, which includes Cape Town, wrote in The Daily Maverick last week that she considers a shut-off inevitable. The question now, she said, is, “When Day Zero arrives, how do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy?”

Cutting back is a difficult message to convey in one of the world’s most unequal societies, where access to water reflects Cape Town’s deep divisions. In squatter camps, people share communal taps and carry water in buckets to their shacks. In other parts of the city, millionaires live in mansions with glistening pools….

Nearly Half of California’s Vegetation at Risk From Climate Stress

  • Slashing emissions to Paris climate agreement targets could reduce impacts on CA vegetation 20-30% per new UC Davis, USGS, CDFW, NPS study
  • Cutting emissions so that global temperatures increase by no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) could reduce those impacts by half, with about a quarter of the state’s natural vegetation affected.
  • It projects that at current rates of greenhouse gas emissions, vegetation in southwestern California, the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains becomes more than 50 percent impacted by 2100, including 68 percent of the lands surrounding Los Angeles and San Diego.
  • Areas projected to be more resilient include some coastal areas and parts of northwestern California.
By Kat Kerlin on January 25, 2018  read full UCDavis article her

Current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are putting nearly half of California’s natural vegetation at risk from climate stress, with transformative implications for the state’s landscape and the people and animals that depend on it, according to a study led by the University of California, Davis. However, cutting emissions so that global temperatures increase by no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) could reduce those impacts by half, with about a quarter of the state’s natural vegetation affected.

The study, published in the journal Ecosphere, asks: What are the implications for the state’s vegetation under a business-as-usual emissions strategy, where temperatures increase up to 4.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, compared to meeting targets outlined in the Paris climate agreement that limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius?

“At current rates of emissions, about 45-56 percent of all the natural vegetation in the state is at risk, or from 61,190 to 75,866 square miles,” said lead author James Thorne, a research scientist with the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis. “If we reduce the rate to Paris accord targets, those numbers are lowered to between 21 and 28 percent of the lands at climatic risk.”…

…“This is the map of where we live,” Thorne said. “The natural landscapes that make up California provide the water, clean air and other natural benefits for all the people who live here. They provide the sanctuary for California’s high biodiversity that is globally ranked. This map portrays the level of climate risk to all of those things. In some cases, the transformation may be quite dramatic and visible, as is the case with wildfire and beetle outbreaks. In other cases, it might not be dramatically visible but will have impacts, nevertheless.”…

…the data is helping the agency understand not only which parts of the state are vulnerable to climate change, but also which areas are more resilient, such as some coastal areas and parts of northwestern California, so they can ensure they remain resilient….

Jim Thorne, Hyeyeyong Choe, Ryan Boynton, Jacqueline Bjorkman, Whitney Albright, Koren Nydick, Alan Flint, Lorraine Flint, Mark Schwartz. The impact of climate change uncertainty on California’s vegetation and adaptation management. Ecosphere.  DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2021  Volume 8, Issue 12 December 2017 e02021

Think of honeybees as ‘livestock,’ not wildlife, argue experts

  • The scientists recommend policies to limit the impact of managed honeybees, including hive size limits, the moving of colonies to track the bloom of different crops, and greater controls on managed hives in protected areas.
  • As with other intensively farmed animals, overcrowding and homogenous diets have depressed bee immune systems and sent pathogen rates soaring in commercial hives. Diseases are transferred to wild species when bees feed from the same flowers, similar to germs passing between humans through a shared coffee cup

January 25, 2018 University of Cambridge read full ScienceDaily article here

Contrary to public perception, die-offs in honeybee colonies are an agricultural not a conservation issue, argue researchers, who say that manged honeybees may contribute to the genuine biodiversity crisis of Europe’s declining wild pollinators….
…”Levels of wild pollinators, such as species of solitary bumblebee, moth and hoverfly, continue to decline at an alarming rate. Currently, up to 50% of all European bee species are threatened with extinction,” Geldmann said.Honeybees are vital for many crops — as are wild pollinators, with some assessments suggesting wild species provide up to half the needed “pollinator services” for the three-quarters of globally important crops that require pollination.

However, generating honeybee colonies for crop pollination is problematic. Major flowering crops such as fruits and oilseed rape bloom for a period of days or weeks, whereas honeybees are active for nine to twelve months and travel up to 10km from their hives. This results in massive “spillover” from farmed honeybees into the landscape, potentially out-competing wild pollinators….

…As with other intensively farmed animals, overcrowding and homogenous diets have depressed bee immune systems and sent pathogen rates soaring in commercial hives. Diseases are transferred to wild species when bees feed from the same flowers, similar to germs passing between humans through a shared coffee cup.

This puts added pressure on endangered wild European bee species such as the great yellow bumblebee, which was once found across the UK but has lost 80% of its range in the last half century, and is now limited to coastal areas of Scotland…

Jonas Geldmann, Juan P. González-Varo. Conserving honey bees does not help wildlife. Science, 2018; 359 (6374): 392 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2269

11 Billion Pieces of Plastic Are Smothering Reefs, Infecting Corals

  • When plastic debris meets coral the likelihood of disease increases from 4 to 89 percent — a 20-fold change.
  • About 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on reefs across the Asia-Pacific region, and this will likely increase 40% over the next 7 years.
  • “While we can’t stop the huge impact of global warming on coral health in the short term, this new work should drive policy toward reducing plastic pollution.”

January 25, 2018 Cornell University read full ScienceDaily article here

For coral reefs, the threat of climate change and bleaching are bad enough. An international research group has now found that plastic trash — ubiquitous throughout the world’s oceans — intensifies disease for coral, adding to reef peril.

Plastic pollution carries diseases to coral reefs. Credit: © whitcomberd / Fotolia

“Plastic debris acts like a marine motorhome for microbes,” said the study’s lead author, Joleah Lamb, a postdoctoral research fellow at Cornell. She began collecting this data as a doctoral candidate at James Cook University in Australia.

Plastics make ideal vessels for colonizing microscopic organisms that could trigger disease if they come into contact with corals,” Lamb said. “Plastic items — commonly made of polypropylene, such as bottle caps and toothbrushes — have been shown to become heavily inhabited by bacteria. This is associated with the globally devastating group of coral diseases known as white syndromes.”

When plastic debris meets coral, the authors say, the likelihood of disease increases from 4 to 89 percent — a 20-fold change. The scientists estimate that about 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on reefs across the Asia-Pacific region, and that this will likely increase 40 percent over the next seven years.

Coral are tiny animals with living tissue that cling to and build upon one another to form “apartments,” or reefs. Bacterial pathogens ride aboard the plastics, disturbing delicate coral tissues and their microbiome…..

Joleah B. Lamb, Bette L. Willis, Evan A. Fiorenza, Courtney S. Couch, Robert Howard, Douglas N. Rader, James D. True, Lisa A. Kelly, Awaludinnoer Ahmad, Jamaluddin Jompa, C. Drew Harvell. Plastic waste associated with disease on coral reefs. Science, 2018 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar3320

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Related story from News Deeply:

11 Billion Pieces of Plastic Are Smothering Reefs, Infecting Corals

Scientists surveyed nearly 125,000 coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific region, finding that 11.1 billion pieces of plastic debris are entangled in corals and are drastically increasing the likelihood that they will contract deadly diseases.

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