Ellie's picks of news & opinion from across the web to catalyze climate action through natural and working ecosystems for carbon drawdown, water, biodiversity and our communities
Ellie Cohen is a leader in catalyzing nature-based solutions to climate change, habitat loss & threats to ocean health. From 1999 - 2018, she served as CEO of Point Blue Conservation Science where she and the work force of 200 (160 scientists, 20 grad students and 20 support staff) worked hand-in-hand with public & private natural resource managers to innovate climate-smart conservation science approaches to benefit wildlife and people. Collaborative accomplishments include:
• Grew Point Blue by >5 fold to 180+ staff & ~$14m budget in 2018.
• Secured official Observer NGO status to global UN climate body, UNFCCC.
• Catalyzed ~$100 million of conservation investments on 2+ million acres of ag land (rangelands, croplands, creeks, forests) for water, wildlife, carbon & people.
• Engaged 1000 ranchers and farmers.
• Guided 95% of urbanized CA coast (70+ agencies) in preparing for sea level rise.
• Played key science role in protecting 800,000 acres of post-fire Sierra forest habitat;
• Established new shipping lanes off CA to reduce whale strikes and identified key ocean food web hot spots for protection off the west coast;
• Helped establish the world's largest Marine Protected Area at Ross Sea, Antarctica with key science leadership.
• Manage 1.5+ billion ecological observations from across Americas to advance conservation.
Ellie received her undergraduate degree with honors in Botany from Duke University and Master's in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where she was honored with the Policy Analysis Exercise Award for highly distinguished performance & the 1st annual Robert F. Kennedy Public Service Award. In 2001, she was awarded a Stanford Graduate School of Business' Executive Program for Non-profit Leaders fellowship.
Ellie served as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Observer NGO rep for Point Blue in 2017 (COP23 in Bonn, Germany) and 2018 (COP24 in Katowice, Poland). She was an invited member of the National Adaptation Forum's Steering Committee and she co-authored the national “Guide to Climate-Smart Conservation” (2014; National Wildlife Federation). Ellie received Bay Nature's 2012 Environmental Hero Award for her climate change leadership & was named one of "100 Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet" in the US (National Women's History Project 2009).
The forecast for the global average surface temperature for the five-year period to 2023 is predicted to be near or above 1.0 degree C above pre-industrial levels, says the United Kingdom’s Met Office. If the observations for the next five years track the forecast, that would make the decade from 2014 to 2023 the warmest run of years since records began.
Records for annual global average temperature extend back to 1850.
Professor Adam Scaife, Head of Long-Range Prediction at the Met Office said: “2015 was the first year that global annual average surface temperatures reached 1.0 °C above pre-industrial levels and the following three years have all remained close to this level. The global average temperature between now and 2023 is predicted to remain high, potentially making the decade from 2014 the warmest in more than 150 years of records.”
Averaged over the five-year period 2019-2023, forecast patterns suggest enhanced warming is likely over much of the globe, especially over land and at high northern latitudes, particularly the Arctic region….
A group of top hurricane experts, including several federal researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, published striking new research Thursday suggesting that hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean have grown considerably worse, and climate change is part of the reason why.
The study focused on rapid intensification, in which hurricanes may grow from a weak tropical storm or Category 1 status to Category 4 or 5 in a brief period. They found that the trend has been seen repeatedly in the Atlantic in recent years. It happened before Hurricane Harvey struck Texas and before Hurricane Michael pummeled the Gulf Coast with little warning last fall. Hurricane Michael, for example, transformed from a Category 1 into a raging Category 4 in the span of 24 hours….
…. “Rapid intensification is a nightmare for hurricane forecasters especially for storms nearing land,” added Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with Weather.us. “As the climate warms, some ocean regions may disproportionately see more intense and rapidly intensifying storms.” …
Earth’s global surface temperatures in 2018 were the fourth warmest since 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Globally, 2018’s temperatures rank behind those of 2016, 2017 and 2015. The past five years are, collectively, the warmest years in the modern record.
“2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.
Samuel V. Panno, Walton R. Kelly, John Scott, Wei Zheng, Rachael E. McNeish, Nancy Holm, Timothy J. Hoellein, Elizabeth L. Baranski. Microplastic Contamination in Karst Groundwater Systems. Groundwater, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/gwat.12862
Microplastics contaminate the world’s surface waters, yet scientists have only just begun to explore their presence in groundwater systems. A new study is the first to report microplastics in fractured limestone aquifers — a groundwater source that accounts for 25 percent of the global drinking water supply. …
…The researchers identified a variety of household and personal health contaminants along with the microplastics, a hint that the fibers may have originated from household septic systems.
“Imagine how many thousands of polyester fibers find their way into a septic system from just doing a load of laundry,” Scott said. “Then consider the potential for those fluids to leak into the groundwater supply, especially in these types of aquifers where surface water interacts so readily with groundwater.”…
Niklas Boers, Bedartha Goswami, Aljoscha Rheinwalt, Bodo Bookhagen, Brian Hoskins, Jürgen Kurths. Complex networks reveal global pattern of extreme-rainfall teleconnections. Nature, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0872-x
An analysis of satellite data has revealed global patterns of extreme rainfall, which could lead to better forecasts and more accurate climate models…
For extreme rainfall events in Northern India (red diamond), the red lines show local weather patterns, and the blue lines show global patterns linking extreme rainfall events represented by the blue shapes. In particular, the blue shapes over Europe indicate that extreme rainfall in Northern India can be predicted from preceding events in Europe.Credit: Boers et al. 2019
The research, led by a team at Imperial College London and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, could help better predict when and where extreme rainfall events will occur around the world. The insights can be used to test and improve global climate models, leading to better predictions.
The study additionally provides a ‘baseline’ for climate change studies. By knowing how the atmosphere behaves to create patterns of extreme rainfall events, scientists will be able to gain new insights into changes that may be caused by global warming….
S. E. Nelms, J. Barnett, A. Brownlow, N. J. Davison, R. Deaville, T. S. Galloway, P. K. Lindeque, D. Santillo, B. J. Godley. Microplastics in marine mammals stranded around the British coast: ubiquitous but transitory?Scientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-37428-3
Microplastics have been found in the guts of every marine mammal examined in a new study of animals washed up on Britain’s shores.
Researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) examined 50 animals from 10 species of dolphins, seals and whales — and found microplastics (less than 5mm) in them all.
Most of the particles (84%) were synthetic fibres — which can come from sources including clothes, fishing nets and toothbrushes — while the rest were fragments, whose possible sources include food packaging and plastic bottles.
“It’s shocking — but not surprising — that every animal had ingested microplastics,” said lead author Sarah Nelms, of the University of Exeter and PML.
“The number of particles in each animal was relatively low (average of 5.5 particles per animal), suggesting they eventually pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated.
“We don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.
“More research is needed to better understand the potential impacts on animal health.”…
They found that the largest gains in yield occurred between concentrations of 0.1 percent and 2 percent of soil organic matter. “…we now have numbers, not just unverified ideas, that if you build organic matter you can improve outcomes — such as less fertilizer and increased yield.”
Emily E. Oldfield, Mark A. Bradford, Stephen A. Wood. Global meta-analysis of the relationship between soil organic matter and crop yields. SOIL, 2019; 5 (1): 15 DOI: 10.5194/soil-5-15-2019
While policymakers often tout the benefits of increasing soil organic matter as a way to boost agricultural yield, there is limited evidence that this strategy actually works. A new study quantifies this relationship, finding that greater concentrations of organic matter indeed produce greater yields — but only to a certain point.
Specifically, they find that increasing soil organic carbon — a common proxy for soil organic matter — boosts yields until concentrations reach about 2 percent, at which level they tend to hit a saturation point. Thereafter, the researchers say, the increase in SOM begins to deliver diminished returns.
Even still, they find that roughly two-thirds of agricultural soils dedicated to two of the world’s most important staple crops — maize and wheat — fall below that 2-percent threshold, suggesting the vast potential for agricultural policies that promote increased soil organic matter.
…It is well understood that building and maintaining soil organic matter is key to soil health. (SOM refers to organic matter found in the soil, including plant and animal materials that are in the process of decomposition.) It strengthens the capacity of soils to retain water and nutrients, supports structure that promotes drainage and aeration, and helps minimize the loss of topsoil through erosion.
For years, policymakers have emphasized the role of soil organic matter in a series of programs, including the “4 per 1,000” initiative of the Soils for Food Security — which emerged from the COP21 negotiations — and the U.S.’s “Framework for a Federal Strategic Plan for Soil Science.”
And yet when it comes to its role in promoting crop production, there’s been a surprising dearth of quantitative evidence, Bradford says. For Bradford, this gap in knowledge has been a nagging concern for nearly a decade; a 2010 National Research Council report on sustainable agriculture described organic matter as the cornerstone of most sustainability and soil quality initiatives, he recalls, yet offered no information on how much was actually needed to increase crop yields and reduce fertilizer application.
Greenland is melting faster than scientists previously thought — and will likely lead to faster sea level rise — thanks to the continued, accelerating warming of the Earth’s atmosphere, a new study has found.
…The key finding from their study: Southwest Greenland, which previously had not been considered a serious threat, will likely become a major future contributor to sea level rise.
“We knew we had one big problem with increasing rates of ice discharge by some large outlet glaciers,” he said. “But now we recognize a second serious problem: Increasingly, large amounts of ice mass are going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea.”
The findings could have serious implications for coastal U.S. cities, including New York and Miami, as well as island nations that are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.
….”The only thing we can do is adapt and mitigate further global warming — it’s too late for there to be no effect,” he said. “This is going to cause additional sea level rise. We are watching the ice sheet hit a tipping point.”
he solar panels in the fields at the University of Massachusetts Crop Research and Education Center don’t look like what most of us have come to expect. Instead of hunkering close to the earth, they’re mounted seven feet off the ground, with ample room for farmers or cows to wander underneath. Panels are separated by two- and three-foot gaps, instead of clustering tightly together. Light streams through these spaces and, underneath, rows of leafy kale and Brussels sprouts replace the typical bare earth or grass.
This unusual arrangement is one of the first examples of a dual-use solar installation—sometimes called agrivoltaics. It’s a photovoltaic array that’s raised far enough off the ground and spaced in such a way that some crops can still grow around and beneath the panels. The goal is to help farmers diversify their income through renewable energy generation, while keeping land in agricultural use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions….
Policymakers and investors have perceived securing soil organic carbon as too difficult, with uncertain returns. But new technical, policy and financial opportunities offer hope for rapid progress.
Sonja Vermeulen, Deborah Bossio, Johannes Lehmann, Paul Luu, Keith Paustian, Christopher Webb, Flore Augé, Imelda Bacudo, Tobias Baedeker, Tanja Havemann, Ceris Jones, Richard King, Matthew Reddy, Ishmael Sunga, Moritz Von Unger and Matthew Warnken. Nature Sustainability | VOL 2 | JANUARY 2019 | 2–4 | www.nature.com/natsustain Read full NATURE article here and Nature4Climate article here (and below)
“It’s too hard and too uncertain,” has long been the response of policymakers and investors in response to working on ways to conserve and improve carbon in soil. But, recent new momentum summarised in a paper in Nature Sustainability and authored by actors from government, science and the private sector offers hope in the form of technical, policy and ﬁnancial opportunities for rapid progress.
Building soil organic carbon helps water cycling, agricultural productivity, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation. The amount of soil carbon globally is triple that of the atmosphere, making soil a useful tool for combatting climate change. A new global analysis … shows that building soil organic carbon on all corn and wheat lands could close the yield gaps for those crops by between 1/3 and 2/3 while also minimizing dependence on synthetic fertilizers.
“Momentum for action on soil organic carbon is indeed growing in political, financial and technical circles to address multiple sustainability goals, but not nearly fast enough.” says Deborah Bossio, Lead Soil Scientist at The Nature Conservancy and co-author of the paper published in Nature Sustainability. Authors of the paper conclude that ‘a clear focus on early wins and on continued collaboration will lay the ground for gains in soil organic carbon at scale within an urgent timeframe.’
Under the UN Climate Convention (UNFCCC) only eight countries include targets for soil organic carbon within their intended mitigation options – (Armenia, Burkina Faso, China, Japan, Malawi, Namibia, Uruguay and Zambia). That said, a few have policies that support stronger action, ranging from Canada, which recognizes the potential of soil organic carbon under conserved forests and wetlands, to Bhutan, with its sustainable soil policy.
Pioneering initiatives – both regulatory and voluntary – at national and sub-national levels, also provide evidence of economic viability and rapid results at the local level. Australia and California are examples of early adopters of market-based approaches to raising soil organic carbon. Australia’s Carbon Farming Initiative, a legislated voluntary offsets scheme implemented by the Emission Reduction Fund, has awarded contracts with an approximate value of A$200 million to landholders and farmers to earn carbon credits from soil organic carbon projects on degraded land, supporting a wide range of activities from rotational grazing to reduced tillage.
In the private sector, a growing number of companies are also including soil organic carbon within their set of options to build resilience and long-term profitability of agricultural value chains. Danone, Mars, Bayer, Coca Cola, Fonterra, Diageo and Olam are multinational examples.
“We need a new mindset,” said Deborah Bossio. “We need to give up on the idea that it’s all too hard. To combat climate change and to produce healthy diets, we need every tool in the toolbox. We might not think about soil all the time, but boy we notice it when it’s gone.”