Conservation Science News November 23, 2012Leave a Comment
5- RENEWABLES, ENERGY AND RELATED
6–OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST
7–IMAGES OF THE WEEK
Highlight of the Week–
Posted: 19 Nov 2012 09:30 AM PST
And So The Bank Must Stop Funding All New Fossil Fuel Plants
Another day, another staid international organization reviews the latest climate science and rings the loudest possible alarm. The World Bank’s sobering new report, “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,” warns that “we’re on track for a 4°C warmer world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.” Bank President Jim Yong Kim sums up the report with this blunt headline in the UK Guardian: “The latest predictions on climate change should shock us into action— A world four degrees warmer could be too hot to handle, but the exciting prospect of low-carbon living could stop it happening….”
This report should end the delusion that humanity can risk the preferred strategy of either the deniers (inaction) — or the hand-waving centrists (more research and development). The findings of this report match those of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which found, limiting warming to even 7°F requires “nearly quadrupling the current rate of decarbonisation.”
That means the only rational clean-tech strategy for a non-suicidal species is “Deploy, Deploy, Deploy, R&D, Deploy, Deploy, Deploy“ [yes, not in that order].
Drained Wetlands Give Off Same Amount of Greenhouse Gases as Industry
November 23, 2012 — Drained wetlands in Sweden account for the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as Swedish industry. This is shown by a summary of research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. .. Forests and agricultural fields on drained previous wetlands make up between five and ten percent of Sweden’s surface area. When these wetlands are drained, they become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. “We note that drained wetlands which have been forested or used for agricultural purposes are a significant potential source of greenhouse gases of a magnitude that is at least comparable with the industrial sector’s greenhouse gas emissions in Sweden.” Emissions from these drained wetlands can be reduced, but that involves rewetting the land — resulting in a negative impact on forestry production. According to the researchers, compromises may be necessary. “As long as wetlands remain wet, only methane is given off,” says Åsa Kasimir Klemedtsson from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Gothenburg. “However, for more than a hundred years land has been drained for agriculture and forestry, producing large quantities both carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.”…. > full story
PRBO OBSERVER– Climate Smart Conservation:
Observer 170 Climate-Smart Conservation (Fall): During a time of intensifying change, especially climate change, PRBO focuses our rigorous science and powerful conservation partnerships toward ensuring healthy ecosystems into the future.
Tough turkeys run amok in Marin
November 22, 2012 Marin IJ – Once on the brink of extinction, wild turkeys — tougher, leaner and smarter than the birds mass-produced for Thanksgiving Day platters — are …
How does groundwater pumping affect streamflow?
(November 16, 2012) — Groundwater provides drinking water for millions of Americans and is the primary source of water to irrigate cropland in many of the nations most productive agricultural settings. Although the benefits of groundwater development are many, groundwater pumping can reduce the flow of water in connected streams and rivers. … > full story
Scientists pioneer method to predict environmental collapse
(November 19, 2012) — Scientists are pioneering a technique to predict when an ecosystem is likely to collapse, which may also have potential for foretelling crises in agriculture, fisheries or even social systems. The researchers have applied a mathematical model to a real world situation, the environmental collapse of a lake in China, to help prove a theory which suggests an ecosystem ‘flickers,’ or fluctuates dramatically between healthy and unhealthy states, shortly before its eventual collapse. … > full story
Bias in ecology and climate studies? How leaves shrink as they dry out is often overlooked
(November 20, 2012) — The simple observation that leaves shrink when they dry out has far-reaching consequences for scientists studying how ecosystems work, a graduate student has discovered. Enlisting a team of 40 middle school students, he set out to study a phenomenon that has been largely overlooked by the scientific community but is likely to bias ecology and climate studies. … > full story
BBC News - November 19, 2012
The UK bird population has declined by 44 million since 1966, according to a report by conservation groups. The study is the first of its kind to give an overall view of how birds in the UK have fared over the decades. It found that while certain species had increased in number, populations of some common birds had diminished dramatically. The report, “State of the UK’s Birds 2012” (8MB download), was compiled from volunteers’ observations of birds since the 1960s. According to the report, carried out by experts from organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the British Trust for Ornithology, there are an estimated 166 million birds nesting in the UK compared with 210 million in 1966. House sparrows were found to be among the worst hit, with numbers down by 20 million compared with the 1960s. Since 2000 a modest increase has been reported in sparrow numbers, but causes of the overall decline of the bird population remain unclear…. The State of the UK’s Birds 2012 report is produced by a coalition of the RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and the WWT, and the UK Government’s statutory nature conservation agencies.
|Phys.Org||– November 20, 2012||
Stewart is studying these small, migratory birds to better understand the trade-offs they make between reproduction and immunity.
|Discovery News||November 21, 2012||
Evidence is mounting that modern birds descended from gliding, feathered non-avian dinosaurs. Two dinosaurs could be candidates for the bottom of the bird family tree, and each helps to reveal how feathers first evolved. “The oldest known feathered …
P Fimrite SF Chronicle November 18, 2012
The hikers paused amid the cool dampness of the ancient forest to get a better look at a truly remarkable specimen of redwood jutting out of a lush hillside across Peters Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The huge sequoia looked to be at least as large as the Patriarch Tree, a 285-foot giant a short walk away in Portola Redwoods State Park, but none of the walkers could accurately gauge the height of the tree, obscured as it was by the thick canopy. “That’s a big one,” said Larry Holmes, admiring the tree’s tremendous girth, unusual light-brownish color and the enormous striations in the bark creasing upward along the trunk. The stroll through this 145-acre forest in a canyon south of the San Mateo County town of La Honda was a walk back in time – to a place dominated by 1,000- and 2,000-year-old redwoods – but it is the future of the colossal trees that Holmes is concerned about. Preserving redwoods The 72-year-old Holmes, whose family has for 38 years owned what experts say is the third-largest old-growth redwood grove in the Santa Cruz Mountains, agreed this month to sell it to the San Francisco conservation group Save the Redwoods League. If the $8 million deal goes through, it would forever protect the land and establish a conservation easement on 214 acres of forest at nearby Boulder Creek. In all, 359 acres of some of the last remaining old-growth redwoods along the Peninsula would be preserved.
“The residual amount of old growth in California is 5 percent or less of what it once was, so these trees are precious,” Holmes said. “We’ve always felt they should be part of the pak…
New species literally spend decades on the shelf
(November 19, 2012) — Many of the world’s most unfamiliar species are just sitting around on museum shelves collecting dust. That’s according to a new report showing that it takes more than 20 years on average before a species, newly collected, will be described. … > full story
Eating right key to survival of whales and dolphins
(November 21, 2012) — In the marine world, high-energy prey make for high-energy predators. And to survive, such marine predators need to sustain the right kind of high-energy diet. Not just any prey will do, suggests a new study. … > full story
Emperor penguins budget time for short rests on ice during chick-rearing season
(November 21, 2012) — For the first time, researchers tracking the behavior of emperor penguins near the sea have identified the importance of sea ice for the penguins’ feeding habits. The research describes emperor penguin foraging behavior through the birds’ chick-rearing season. … > full story
New evidence on dinosaurs’ role in evolution of bird flight
(November 21, 2012) — A new study looking at the structure of feathers in bird-like dinosaurs has shed light on one of nature’s most remarkable inventions — how flight might have evolved. … > full story
Fragile Western Isles Ecosystem Under Threat: Misconceived Sea Defense Measures Will Destroy Machair, Says Expert
November 20, 2012 — The traditional crofting way of life is under threat in Scotland’s Western Isles because of a fundamental misunderstanding of how Atlantic wave action affects their coastlines, a academic has … > full story
Mosquitos fail at flight in heavy fog, though heavy rain doesn’t faze them
(November 19, 2012) — Mosquitos have the remarkable ability to fly in clear skies as well as in rain, shrugging off impacts from raindrops more than 50 times their body mass. But just like modern aircraft, mosquitos also are grounded when the fog thickens. … > full story
We’re in this together: A pathbreaking investigation into the evolution of cooperative behavior
(November 19, 2012) — The origins of cooperative behavior are not altruism, but mutual interest, according to a new study. … > full story
New model reveals how huddling penguins share heat fairly
(November 17, 2012) — Penguins that face the bitter cold and icy winds of Antarctica often huddle together in large groups for warmth during storms. Mathematicians have created a model that shows how the penguins share heat fairly in the huddle. … > full story
Urban noise makes flycatchers change length of their songs
(November 20, 2012) — Do birds change their tune in response to urban noise? It depends on the bird species, according to new research. Their work shows that while some birds do adapt their songs in noisy conditions by means of frequency changes, others like the vermilion flycatchers adapt their song by means of changes in song lengths. … > full story
AP-Bruce Smith- November 18, 2012– Officials at the Center for Birds of Prey say it’s thought to one of the only places where modified marine radar is being used to help count raptors. A small, rotating radar dish linked to a computer was set up this year in a field adjoining the… more »
Water wars– NATURE
Environmental protections must not wait until a population is about to disappear.
21 November 2012
Where there are serious threats to the environment, governments should not postpone cost-effective preventative measures because the scientific evidence is inconclusive. So says the precautionary principle, an idea enshrined in several international treaties, including the declaration signed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Many scientists think that this principle should have long ago triggered action to curb the damage to aquatic wildlife caused by the synthetic hormone ethynyl oestradiol (EE2), an ingredient of birth-control pills that passes through wastewater treatment plants and into streams and lakes (see page 503). In 2004, for example, the UK Environment Agency declared that the hormone feminizes male fish and is likely to damage entire fish populations. It later concluded that this damage is unacceptable in the long term…..
Bornean Elephant: Genomics helps with conservation
(November 21, 2012) — Studying the genetic variability of endangered species is becoming increasingly necessary for species conservation and monitoring. But, endangered species are difficult to observe and sample, and typically harbour very limited genetic diversity. Until now, the process of finding genetic markers was time consuming and quite expensive. Scientists have now contributed to change the odds when looking for diversity. Taking advantage of cutting edge DNA sequencing methodology they were able to identify the genetic markers for the Bornean elephant, an endangered species, using blood from very few animals. … > full story
November 20, 2012 (AP) — State wildlife officials say recent photographs taken by a hunter of an ocelot appear to show the endangered cat is the same one spotted in the Huachuca Mountains last year. The Arizona Game and Fish Department says the latest… more »
Tom Stienstra SF Chronicle November 17, 2012
Indirect effects of climate change could alter landscapes
(November 16, 2012) — Studies of a northern hardwood forest in New England point to unexpected ecological trends resulting from documented changes in the climate over 50 years. Some of the changes now taking place can be expected to alter the composition of the forest and the wildlife present. The observations may have implications for other northern forests and suggest directions for future research and monitoring. Much biological research on climate change focuses on the impacts of warming and changes in precipitation over wide areas. Researchers are now increasingly recognizing that at the local scale they must understand the effects of climate change through the intertwined patterns of soils, vegetation, and water flowpaths — not forgetting the uses humans have made of the landscape. In the December issue of BioScience researchers describe how aboveground and belowground responses to springtime warming are becoming separated in time in a forest in New England. This and other indirect effects of climate change could alter the dominant trees and other plants in the region as well as the wildlife present, with likely consequences for local industry and tourism. … > full story
What goes down must come back up: Effects of 2010-11 La Niña on global sea level
(November 19, 2012) — In 2010-11, global sea level fell nearly a quarter inch. But, when it comes to long-term sea level, what comes down must eventually come back up. For most of the past two decades, the NASA and European Topex/Poseidon, Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellites have tracked the gradual rise of the world’s ocean in response to global warming. In August 2011, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the University of Colorado in Boulder reported that global sea level rise had hit a speed bump. The researchers found that between early 2010 and summer 2011, global sea level fell sharply, by about a quarter of an inch, or half a centimeter. Using data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft, they showed that the drop was caused by the very strong La Niña that began in late 2010. This periodic Pacific Ocean climate phenomenon changed rainfall patterns all over our planet, moving huge amounts of Earth’s water from the ocean to the continents, primarily to Australia, northern South America and Southeast Asia.
Now, a new paper published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters documents the effects of the 2010-11 La Niña on global sea level and updates the measurements. The result: as predicted, by mid-2012, global mean sea level had not only recovered from the more than 0.2 inches (5 millimeters) it dropped in 2010-11, but had resumed its long-term mean annual rise of 0.13 inches (3.2 millimeters) per year. … > full story
Conserving biodiversity and sustaining livelihoods are essential components for achieving climate change mitigation goals in long run
(November 15, 2012) — The world’s rapidly dwindling forests should be valued as more than just “carbon warehouses” to mitigate climate change, according to a new report released November 17 from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations(IUFRO), the world’s largest network of forest scientists. In fact, biodiversity is found to be a critical determinant of a forest’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases. The assessment also stresses that accounting for those who live in or near forests when implementing REDD+ increases the likelihood of achieving carbon and biodiversity goals.
The report is the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date of the relationship between biodiversity, forest management and climate change mitigation in the framework of the United Nations-backed initiative REDD+ (reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and enhancing forest carbon stocks in developing countries). It examines the social implications of forest and land management interventions envisaged under REDD+, emphasizing the need for an integrated landscape management approach and the fine-tuning of local strategies that involve all people who have a stake in forests. > full story
Climate Change: Believing and Seeing Implies Adapting
November 22, 2012 — To communicate climate change and adaptation to stakeholders such as European forest owners is a challenge. A capacity to adapt to climate change has, until now, mainly been understood as how trees and forest ecosystems can adapt to climate change and which socio-economic factors determine the implementation of adaptive measures. … The new study lead by Kristina Blennow from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), shows, for the first time, the importance of two personal factors; when forest owners believe in and see the effects of climate change, they are more likely to have taken adaptive measures. These two personal factors almost completely explain and predict forest owners’ adaptation to climate change… Fifty percent of the forest area in Europe is privately owned. Hence, the results of the study show that the personal climate change belief and perception of those who make decisions for adaptation at the local level strongly influences the adaptive capacity of a substantial proportion of the European forest sector. The findings of the team of researchers have implications for effective climate change policy communication. They indicate that gathering and disseminating evidence of climate change and its effects could be an efficient strategy to increase people’s perceptions of having experienced climate change and hence to consider the need to take adaptive measures…..> full story
Kristina Blennow, Johannes Persson, Margarida Tomé, Marc Hanewinkel. Climate Change: Believing and Seeing Implies Adapting. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (11): e50182 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050182
|Lower satellite-gravimetry estimates of Antarctic sea-level contribution ▶|
|Matt A. King, Rory J. Bingham, Phil Moore, Pippa L. Whitehouse, Michael J. Bentley et al. NATURE November 22, 2012|
|A new model of glacial isostatic adjustment used in conjunction with GRACE satellite data suggests that ice loss from Antarctica is contributing 0.19 millimetres per year to global mean sea level, which is substantially less than previous GRACE-based estimates. … We resolve 26 independent drainage basins and find that Antarctic mass loss, and its acceleration, is concentrated in basins along the Amundsen Sea coast. Outside this region, we find that West Antarctica is nearly in balance and that East Antarctica is gaining substantial mass.|
US drought worsens after weeks of improvement – SFGate ST. LOUIS (AP) November 23, 2012— The worst U.S. drought in decades has deepened again after more than a month of encouraging reports of slowly improving conditions, a drought-tracking consortium said Wednesday, as scientists struggled for an explanation other than a simple lack of rain. While more than half of the continental U.S. has been in a drought since summer, rain storms had appeared to be easing the situation week by week since late September. But that promising run ended with Wednesday’s weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report, which showed increases in the portion of the country in drought and the severity of it. The report showed that 60.1 percent of the lower 48 states were in some form of drought as of Tuesday, up from 58.8 percent the previous week. The amount of land in extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst classifications — increased from 18.3 percent to 19.04 percent…
Trenberth slams new Nature article on drought: “The conclusions of the paper are likely wrong.”
By Joe Romm on Nov 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm
A flawed new article in Nature has a title that sums up its controversial conclusion, “Little change in global drought over the past 60 years.” I generally judge an article at odds with the broad literature in two ways. How well does it cite and respond to the literature? What do the other leading experts in the field say? This new article comes up short in both areas. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the climate analysis section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has sent me a strong critique which is printed below. NCAR’s Aiguo Dai also sent me a critique.
The new article simply ignores or dismisses a considerable amount of the drought literature and focuses instead on one narrow metric of soil moisture. But as I wrote last year in a Comment that reviewed much of the recent literature for Nature, “The Next Dust Bowl” (subs. req’d, full text here), climate change worsens droughts in three synergistic ways: A basic prediction of climate science is that many parts of the world will experience longer and deeper droughts, thanks to the synergistic effects of drying, warming and the melting of snow and ice.
Precipitation patterns are expected to shift, expanding the dry subtropics. What precipitation there is will probably come in extreme deluges, resulting in runoff rather than drought alleviation. Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the Sun’s energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temp- erature. That is why, for instance, so many temperature records were set for the United States in the 1930s Dust Bowl; and why, in 2011, drought-stricken Texas saw the hottest summer ever recorded for a US state. Finally, many regions are expected to see earlier snowmelt, so less water will be stored on mountain tops for the summer dry season. Added to natural climatic variation, such as the El Niño–La Niña cycle, these factors will intensify seasonal or decade-long droughts. Although the models don’t all agree on the specifics, the overall drying trends are clear.
There is simply little doubt that many dry areas have gotten drier and/or warmed up and/or seen earlier snowmelt. I think it bizarre to claim that there is little change in global drought over the past 60 years when there are so many studies and analyses to the contrary directly linking severe droughts to climate change:
- NOAA Bombshell (Hoerling et al 10/11): Human-Caused Climate Change Already a Major Factor in More Frequent Mediterranean Droughts
- Study (10/10): Global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse
- USGS Expert Explains How Global Warming Likely Contributes to East Africa’s Brutal Drought
The World Bank’s must-read new report, “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,” gets this right: “One affected region is the Mediterranean, which experienced 10 of the 12 driest winters since 1902 in just the last 20 years (Hoerling et al. 2012). Anthropogenic greenhouse gas and aerosol forcing are key causal factors with respect to the downward winter precipitation trend in the Mediterranean (Hoerling et al. 2012)…. East Africa has experienced a trend towards increased drought frequencies since the 1970s, linked to warmer sea surface temperatures in the Indian-Pacific warm pool (Funk 2012), which are at least partly attributable to greenhouse gas forcing (Gleckler et al. 2012). Furthermore, a preliminary study of the Texas drought event in 2011 concluded that the event was roughly 20 times more likely now than in the 1960s (Rupp, Mote, Massey, Rye, and Allen 2012).”
You won’t find any of those studies referenced in the new Nature article. You can find Funk 2012 and Rupp et al 2012 in the The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Special Issue, “Explaining Extreme Events of 2011 from a Climate Perspective.”
I find it is especially surprising that Nature would publish this piece when three months ago its sister publication, Nature Climate Change, published a piece by Dai, “Increasing drought under global warming in observations and model” that is utterly at odds with it. There is simply no way both of these papers can be true — and yet the new Nature piece never discusses the Nature Climate Change piece. Dai’s paper notes: “Historical records of precipitation, streamflow and drought indices all show increased aridity since 1950 over many land areas….I conclude that the observed global aridity changes up to 2010 are consistent with model predictions, which suggest severe and widespread droughts in the next 30– 90 years over many land areas resulting from either decreased precipitation and/ or increased evaporation.” The new Nature paper dismisses previous work by Dai, unjustifiably according to Dai and Trenberth, but in any case, Dai’s Nature Climate Change goes much further in reconciling models with observations. Nature shouldn’t have published this new paper without a serious effort first to reconcile these two papers……
By Mark Kinver Environment reporter, BBC News 21 November 2012
The effects of climate change are already evident in Europe and the situation is set to get worse, the European Environment Agency has warned. = In a report, the agency says the past decade in Europe has been the warmest on record. It adds that the cost of damage caused by extreme weather events is rising, and the continent is set to become more vulnerable in the future. The findings have been published ahead of next week’s UN climate conference. They join a UN Environment Programme report also released on Wednesday showing dangerous growth in the “emissions gap” – the difference between current carbon emission levels and those needed to avert climate change. “Every indicator we have in terms of giving us an early warning of climate change and increasing vulnerability is giving us a very strong signal,” observed EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade. “It is across the board, it is not just global temperatures,” she told BBC News. “It is in human health aspects, in forests, sea levels, agriculture, biodiversity – the signals are coming in from right across the environment.” The report – Climate Change, Impacts and Vulnerabilities in Europe 2012 – involving more than 50 authors from a range of organisations, listed a number of “key messages”….On Monday, the World Bank published a report that warned that the world was “on track to a 4C [increase by the end of the century] marked by extreme heatwaves and life-threatening sea-level rise”. It added that the world’s poorest regions would be hardest hit by the warming, which was “likely to undermine efforts and goals”. “A 4C warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2C,” said World Bank group president Jim Yong Kim. “Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today.”…
Warming to Shift Heavy Rainfall Patterns in the UK
November 20, 2012 — It appears that it’s not just us Brits who are fascinated with the UK weather. A group of researchers from Germany has taken to investigating the potential changes in extreme rainfall patterns … > full story
Published November 21, 2012 Associated Press
STOCKHOLM – A U.N. report on rising greenhouse gas emissions reminded world governments Wednesday that their efforts to fight climate change are far from enough to meet their stated goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).
The report by the U.N. Environment Program, released just days ahead of a major climate conference, said the concentration of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is up about 20 percent since 2000. Scientists say those emissions are contributing to climate change and that failure to contain them could have dangerous consequences, including rising sea levels inundating coastal cities, dramatic shifts in rainfall disrupting agriculture and drinking water, the spread of diseases and the extinction of species. Emissions levels, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, need to come down by 14 percent by 2020 for the world to reach a pathway that could keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, compared with pre-industrial levels, UNEP said. That’s the stated goal of U.N. climate negotiations, which resume next week in Doha, Qatar. But it won’t happen if countries don’t come ahead with more ambitious plans to cut emissions than what’s currently on the table. The U.N. agency said if no swift action is taken, emissions are likely to hit 58 gigatons in 2020 — 14 gigatons too much to have a chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees. The projected gap is now bigger than it was last year and in 2010….
Clocks are ticking and climate is changing: Increasing plant productivity in a changing climate
(November 16, 2012) — Scientists are looking to cellular biological clocks as a target for genetic modification for increasing plant productivity. … > full story
Himalayan glaciers will shrink by almost 10 percent, even if temperatures hold steady
(November 16, 2012) — If Bhutan’s climate did not warm, glaciers in the monsoonal Himalayas would still shrink by almost 10 percent within the next few decades. What’s more, the amount of melt water coming off these glaciers could drop by 30 percent. … > full story
Melting sea ice. (Credit: © Patrick Poendl / Fotolia)
Ocean currents play a role in predicting extent of Arctic sea ice
(November 21, 2012) — Researchers have developed a new method to accurately simulate the seasonal extent of Arctic sea ice and the ocean circulation beneath. … Each winter, wide swaths of the Arctic Ocean freeze to form sheets of sea ice that spread over millions of square miles. This ice acts as a massive sun visor for Earth, reflecting solar radiation and shielding the planet from excessive warming. The Arctic ice cover reaches its peak each year in mid-March, before shrinking with warmer spring temperatures. But over the last three decades, this winter ice cap has shrunk: Its annual maximum reached record lows, according to satellite observations, in 2007 and again in 2011.
Understanding the processes that drive sea-ice formation and advancement can help scientists predict the future extent of Arctic ice coverage — an essential factor in detecting climate fluctuations and change. But existing models vary in their predictions for how sea ice will evolve.
Now researchers at MIT have developed a new method for optimally combining models and observations to accurately simulate the seasonal extent of Arctic sea ice and the ocean circulation beneath. The team applied its synthesis method to produce a simulation of the Labrador Sea, off the southern coast of Greenland, that matched actual satellite and ship-based observations in the area. Through their model, the researchers identified an interaction between sea ice and ocean currents that is important for determining what’s called “sea ice extent” — where, in winter, winds and ocean currents push newly formed ice into warmer waters, growing the ice sheet. Furthermore, springtime ice melt may form a “bath” of fresh seawater more conducive for ice to survive the following winter….”Until a few years ago, people thought we might have a seasonal ice-free Arctic by 2050,” Heimbach says. “But recent observations of sustained ice loss make scientists wonder whether this ice-free Arctic might occur much sooner than any models predict … and people want to understand what physical processes are implicated in sea-ice growth and decline.”… In a novel approach, they developed a method known in computational science and engineering as “optimal state and parameter estimation” to plug in a variety of observations to improve the simulations….Martin Losch, a research scientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, says the feedback mechanism identified by the MIT group is important for predicting sea-ice extent on a regional scale. “The dynamics of climate are complicated and nonlinear, and are due to many different feedback processes,” says Losch, who was not involved with the research. “Identifying these feedbacks and their impact on the system is at the heart of climate research.”
Plant ecology: Forests on the brink
Bettina M. J. Engelbrecht
Nature (2012) doi:10.1038/nature11756 Published online 21 November 2012 (subs only)
An analysis of the physiological vulnerability of different trees to drought shows that forests around the globe are at equally high risk of succumbing to increases in drought conditions.
JIM FITZGERALD, Associated Press Associated Press November 17, 2012
NEW YORK (AP) — They fell by the thousands, like soldiers in some vast battle of giants, dropping to the earth in submission to a greater force. The winds of Superstorm Sandy took out more trees in the neighborhoods, parks and forests of New York and New Jersey than any previous storm on record, experts say. Nearly 10,000 were lost in New York City alone, and “thousands upon thousands” went down on Long Island, a state parks spokesman said. New Jersey utilities reported more than 113,000 destroyed or damaged trees. “These are perfectly healthy trees, some more than 120 years old, that have survived hurricanes, ice storms, nor’easters, anything Mother Nature could throw their way,” said Todd Forrest, a vice president at the New York Botanical Garden. “Sandy was just too much.”
Storm surge barriers for Manhattan could worsen effects on nearby areas: Other options proposed
(November 19, 2012) — The flooding in New York and New Jersey caused by Superstorm Sandy prompted calls from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials to consider building storm surge barriers to protect Lower Manhattan from future catastrophes. But, such a strategy could make things even worse for outlying areas that were hit hard by the hurricane, such as Staten Island, the New Jersey Shore and Long Island’s South Shore, a City College of New York landscape architecture professor warns. …
Barack Obama is being pressed for proof of his intent to act on climate change ahead of next week’s United Nations global warming summit in Doha.
The proof might boil down to just two words: two degrees. An early statement at Doha that America remains committed to the global goal of limiting warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels would be a clear sign. Every statement from US diplomats at the Doha negotiations will be closely scrutinised for signs that Obama will indeed make climate change a priority of his second term – and that America remains committed to the global agreement diplomats have been seeking for 20 years. Campaigners say Obama’s re-election, superstorm Sandy and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement – predicated on climate change – put climate change back on the domestic agenda. Opinion polls suggest public concern in the US about climate change was rising even before Sandy. Campaigners argue Obama needs to engage on climate, if he wants to safeguard his legacy as president. “President Obama’s re-election provides him with an opportunity to seal his legacy as a truly transformative leader, but he needs to address climate change,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute. “I think history will judge any president from now onwards not to have succeeded if he doesn’t really grapple with this issue seriously.”…
BEIJING | Wed Nov 21, 2012 5:55am GMT (Reuters) – Talks on a new climate change treaty in Qatar next week will not advance unless rich countries promise more ambitious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, four major developing nations said. The four nations, Brazil, China, India and South Africa -known in climate talks as the BASIC bloc – released a joint ministerial statement late on Tuesday saying responsibility for the outcome of the latest round of U.N. climate talks in Doha lay in the hands of rich countries.
World’s Largest Investors Call For Climate Change Action
By David Fogarty SINGAPORE, Nov 20 (Reuters) – A coalition of the world’s largest investors called on governments on Tuesday to ramp up action on climate change and boost clean-energy investment or risk trillions of dollars in investments and disruption to economies.
In an open letter, the alliance of institutional investors, responsible for managing $22.5 trillion in assets, said rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions and more extreme weather were increasing investment risks globally.
The group called for dialogue between investors and governments to overhaul climate and energy policies.
The call comes less than a week before major U.N. climate talks in Doha, Qatar. Almost 200 nations will meet in Doha from Nov. 26 to Dec. 7 to try to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the existing plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations that runs to the end of 2012.On Sunday, the World Bank said current climate policies meant the world was heading for a warming of up to 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. That will trigger deadly heat waves and droughts, cut food stocks and drive up sea levels.
“Current policies are insufficient to avert serious and dangerous impacts from climate change,” said the group of investors from the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia….
Call to modernize antiquated climate negotiations
(November 18, 2012) — The structure and processes of United Nations climate negotiations are “antiquated”, unfair and obstruct attempts to reach agreements, according to new research. … > full story
2012-11-21 (Xinhua) BEIJING – China on Wednesday published a report detailing policies and efforts that have been made over the past year in facing up to the challenges of global climate change. The report, titled China’s Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change (2012), was released before the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be held from Nov 26 to Dec 7 in Doha, Qatar. The report outlines actions taken by the Chinese government to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It also documents measures to promote the building of low-carbon communities and advance international negotiation and cooperation. During the 2006-2010 period, the aggregate energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 19.1 percent from that of 2005, which is equivalent to a reduction of 1.46 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This means China has accomplished its energy conservation goals listed in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), said the report. By 2015, the nation aims to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 16 percent, cut CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 17 percent, and raise the proportion of non-fossil fuels in the overall primary energy mix to 11.4 percent, said the report. In 2011, natural disasters caused by extreme weather and climate events affected 430 million people in the country and caused economic losses of 309.6 billion yuan ($49.6 billion). The upcoming Doha Climate Change Conference is of great significance for maintaining the basic legal framework of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, the report said.
By Climate Guest Blogger on Nov 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm by Tom Wittig
Even as the Obama Administration backs away from making climate change an immediate priority in its second term, the world’s leading companies — some of them fossil fuel companies — are calling for more action.
Last week, Exxon reiterated its support for a carbon tax in order to “address rising emissions.” And this week, Royal Dutch Shell has come out in support of a global initiative to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The oil giant cosigned a letter with Statoil and 100 other companies asking politicians worldwide to put a predictable price on carbon. The joint letter will be presented to Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner on Climate Change: A clear, stable, ambitious and cost-effective policy framework is essential to underpin the investment needed to deliver substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions by mid-century. As business leaders, we believe that the certainty created by this policy framework and the investment it will unlock offers the prospect of increased business success and job creation in key sectors including energy, transport and the built environment.
Released ahead of the UN climate talks in Doha, Qatar, the letter points out that “a convincing strategy to reduce emissions… continues to evade the global community,” but warns against considering carbon pricing a “silver bullet.” Instead, the companies advocate combining carbon pricing “with other locally appropriate policies.”….
By Stephen Lacey on Nov 20, 2012 at 10:51 am
Some weeks, a few news stories come together to illustrate just how dire the situation is for the world’s climate. This week is one of them. This morning, new data from the World Meteorological Organization showed that carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide levels hit record highs in 2011. As of last year, concentrations of CO2 — one of the most abundant heat-trapping gases — hit 390.9 parts per million. (350 ppm is what many scientists say is the upper limit on “safe” levels of CO2). According to WMO, we’ve seen a 30 percent increase in “radiative forcing” — i.e. the amount of heat trapped on earth — since 1990. These record levels of greenhouse gas emissions aren’t a huge surprise considering that other organizations have reported similar findings. The real news is what the world intends to do about it. And according to a new report on the global pipeline for coal-fired power plants — a technology that accounted for 45 percent of CO2 in 2011 — there’s not much hope for slowing the record pace of global warming pollution. According to a new analysis released today by the World Resources Institute, there are nearly 1,200 new coal plants planned for construction around the world. Most of those plants will be built in China and India, but there are dozens planned for America, Australia, Europe, and Russia……
Published 2:49 p.m., Saturday, November 17, 2012
Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that cutting and burning trees adds more global warming pollution to the atmosphere than all the cars and trucks in the world combined? — Mitchell Vale, Houston, Texas By most accounts, deforestation in tropical rainforests adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than the sum total of cars and trucks on the world’s roads. According to the World Carfree Network, cars and trucks account for about 14 percent of global carbon emissions, while most analysts attribute upwards of 15 percent to deforestation. The reason that logging is so bad for the climate is that when trees are felled they release the carbon they are storing into the atmosphere, where it mingles with greenhouse gases from other sources and contributes to global warming accordingly. The upshot is that we should be doing as much to prevent deforestation as we are to increase fuel efficiency and reduce automobile usage. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, a leading green group, 32 million acres of tropical rainforest were cut down each year between 2000 and 2009 — and the pace of deforestation is only increasing. “Unless we change the present system that rewards forest destruction, forest clearing will put another 200 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere in coming decades,” the EDF reported. “Any realistic plan to reduce global warming pollution sufficiently — and in time — to avoid dangerous consequences must rely in part on preserving tropical forests,” the EDF reported. But it’s hard to convince the poor residents of the Amazon basin and other tropical regions of the world to stop cutting down trees when the forests are still worth more dead than alive. “Conservation costs money, while profits from timber, charcoal, pasture and cropland drive people to cut down forests,” the EDF reported.
By Zack Colman – 11/21/12 01:14 PM ET thehill.com
Former Vice President Al Gore says a window is opening to work on climate change legislation in Congress. “I’m not saying we’re right on the tipping point. I know better than that. But neither do I think it’s accurate to say that we’re stuck in neutral. I don’t think we are,” he said in an interview with Grist.
He said former climate change deniers are shifting their opinions in response to extreme weather events. And while Gore said “you wouldn’t wanna bet money” on getting a carbon tax passed, he noted the softening anti-climate rhetoric is positive. He said the mere fact conservatives raised the idea of a carbon tax — only to have some Republican leaders shoot it down — is a sign of progress. “I think there is a great deal of movement beneath the surface,” Gore said. But words are one thing — action is another. Gore said the Obama administration decision on the Keystone XL project is the first test to see whether the two match up. “I am strongly opposed to that tar-sands pipeline. I think it’s crazy. Again, you have the realpolitik/business logic, but I just think it is morally wrong for us to open a brand new source of even dirtier carbon-based energy when we are desperately trying to bend down the curves,” he said….
JOAN LOWY, Associated Press Associated Press November 21, 2012
WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s lifelines — its roads, airports, railways and transit systems — are getting hammered by extreme weather beyond what their builders imagined, leaving states and cities searching for ways to brace for more… Each time you replace a bridge, states have to be thinking about not just what kind of traffic demand there is, but how do I make sure this is a bridge that will withstand the future given the erratic weather patterns and climate change we’re seeing,” Hammond said. “It’s a new layer of analysis.” About half the states have taken some steps toward assessing their most critical vulnerabilities, experts said. But few have gone to the next step of making preparations. New York was an exception. Not only had transit officials made detailed assessments of the potential effects of climate change, but they’d started to put protections in place. Subway entrances and ventilation grates were raised in low-lying areas to reduce flooding, but that effort was overwhelmed by Sandy…..
David R. Baker San Francisco Chronicle November 16, 2012
California Gov. Jerry Brown urged thousands of entrepreneurs attending a green-building convention in San Francisco on Friday to push for more national action on climate change. Brown’s appearance at the Greenbuild conference came two days after California began the country’s first large-scale cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gases. The system will put a price on carbon dioxide emissions – something the federal government has failed to do. “California can only go so far,” Brown told the conference’s closing session, attended by several thousand people at the Moscone Center. “We can be a little bit in front, but we can’t be too far. So it’s up to you to galvanize all the other states, and the United States, to get with it.”…..
The allowances sell for a few cents above the minimum price of $10 for the right to emit a ton of greenhouse gases. Still, state officials call it a success.
By Ricardo Lopez, Los Angeles Times November 20, 2012
In California’s first auction of greenhouse gas pollution credits, companies paid just a few cents more than the minimum price per ton of carbon, generating almost $290 million from the sale held last week.
The state Air Resources Board announced Monday that it sold all 23.1 million allowances available for 2013 at $10.09 each, generating $233.3 million. The minimum price was $10. Additionally, the state sold only 14% of almost 40 million credits available for 2015. That generated an additional $55.8 million.
“The auction was a success and an important milestone for California as a leader in the global clean-tech market,” board Chairwoman Mary D. Nichols said in a statement. “By putting a price on carbon, we can break our unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels.” The price per credit came in lower than what analysts and traders had expected. Some had predicted the allowances would sell for $11 to $15 a ton of carbon…..
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) November 20 2012— The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a petition seeking to have a small fish in the Virgin River Basin listed as an endangered species by the federal government. The federal government, Utah and conservation… more »
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer Date: 16 November 2012 Time: 03:00 PM ET
Wildlife officials at Galapagos National Park have rounded up 30 hawks on Pinzón Island for safekeeping while the island is carpeted with poisonous bait pellets designed to eradicate invasive rats.
The temporary captivity will keep the hawks from eating any poison-contaminated rodents during the eradication project, which began in the park in 2011. Black rats, Norway rats and house mice snuck onto the islands after hitching rides on pirate and whaling ships in the 1600 and 1700s. Since then, they’ve threatened the islands’ bird and reptile species by scavenging their eggs — a major problem given that many Galapagos species are found nowhere else in the world. The invasive rats have also edged out native rodent species, driving the endemic Galapagos rice rat (Aegialomys galapagoensis) to extinction on Santa Cruz Island. As of 2010, black rats roamed over 90 percent of Galapagos land area, spread among at least 35 islands and islets. [Photos: The Peskiest Alien Mammals] Starting in the early 1980s, scientists and wildlife officials have attempted to control the rats and have successfully eradicated them from some islets. Last year, officials successfully eradicated rats on Rabida Island and a number of smaller landmasses. In the latest phase of the project, wildlife officials are dropping about 40 tons of poisoned bait via helicopter onto Pinzón Island and Plaza Sur, a small islet. Neither island has human residents, but officials are taking steps to protect the native Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis), which hunts small rodents. The 30 Galapagos hawks that live on Pinzón Island were captured last week and will be kept in captivity for two months, by which time the poisons will no longer be a threat. A similar technique was used on Rabida Island and other areas last year. The Galapagos aren’t the only islands to have problems with rat invaders. One Aleutian island actually earned the named “Rat Island” after a Japanese ship ran aground in the 1700s and flooded the place with invasive rodents. In 2008, a similar rat-bait project eliminated rats on the island….
As Coasts Rebuild and U.S. Pays, Repeatedly, the Critics Ask Why
Jeff Haller for The New York Times Multiple storms have shifted the sands on Dauphin Island. More Photos »
DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. — Even in the off season, the pastel beach houses lining a skinny strip of sand here are a testament to the good life. They are also a monument to the generosity of the federal government. The western end of this Gulf Coast island has proved to be one of the most hazardous places in the country for waterfront property. Since 1979, nearly a dozen hurricanes and large storms have rolled in and knocked down houses, chewed up sewers and water pipes and hurled sand onto the roads. Yet time and again, checks from Washington have allowed the town to put itself back together. Across the nation, tens of billions of tax dollars have been spent on subsidizing coastal reconstruction in the aftermath of storms, usually with little consideration of whether it actually makes sense to keep rebuilding in disaster-prone areas. If history is any guide, a large fraction of the federal money allotted to New York, New Jersey and other states recovering from Hurricane Sandy — an amount that could exceed $30 billion — will be used the same way. Tax money will go toward putting things back as they were, essentially duplicating the vulnerability that existed before the hurricane. “We’re Americans, damn it,” said Robert S. Young, a North Carolina geologist who has studied the way communities like Dauphin Island respond to storms. “Retreat is a dirty word.” This island community of roughly 1,300 year-round residents has become a symbol of that reflexive policy. Like many other beachfront towns, Dauphin Island has benefited from the Stafford Act, a federal law that taps the United States Treasury for 75 percent or more of the cost of fixing storm-damaged infrastructure, like roads and utilities. At least $80 million, adjusted for inflation, has gone into patching up this one island since 1979 — more than $60,000 for every permanent resident. That does not include payments of $72 million to homeowners from the highly subsidized federal flood insurance program. Lately, scientists, budget-conscious lawmakers and advocacy groups across the political spectrum have argued that these subsidies waste money, put lives at risk and make no sense in an era of changing climate and rising seas. Some of them contend that reconstruction money should be tightly coupled with requirements that coastal communities begin reducing their vulnerability in the short run and that towns along shorelines facing the largest risks make plans for withdrawal over the long term. “The best thing that could possibly come out of Sandy is if the political establishment was willing to say, ‘Let’s have a conversation about how we do this differently the next time,’ ” said Dr. Young, a coastal geologist who directs the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University. “We need to identify those areas — in advance — that it no longer makes sense to rebuild.” A coalition in Washington called SmarterSafer.org, made up of environmentalists, libertarians and budget watchdogs, contends that the subsidies have essentially become a destructive, unaffordable entitlement. “We simply can’t go on subsidizing enormous numbers of people to live in areas that are prone to huge natural disasters,” said Eli Lehrer, the president of the conservative R Street Institute, part of the coalition.
By JOHN M. BRODER November 20, 2012,
The Central Intelligence Agency has disbanded its Center on Climate Change and National Security, a unit formed in 2009 to monitor the interplay between a warming planet and intelligence and security challenges…. The creation of the office drew fire at the time from some Republicans, who said it was an unnecessary expense and a distraction from the agency’s focus on terrorism and other more immediate threats. The agency did not say whether the closing was related to budget constraints or other political pressures. Todd Ebitz, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency would continue to monitor the security and humanitarian challenges posed by climate change as part of its focus on economic security, but not in a stand-alone office…. Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, has been the most vocal critic of the C.I.A.’s climate change work. He welcomed the closing of its office. “Closing the Climate Change Center at the C.I.A. was the right decision,” Mr. Barrasso said in a statement. “I offered an amendment on the Senate floor to eliminate the center because it was unnecessary, wasteful and totally out of place. It’s critically important for the C.I.A. to focus its resources on preventing terrorism and keeping Americans safe.”
MARCELA CREPS, The Herald-Times Published 11:37 a.m., Saturday, November 17, 2012 BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — To take an overall approach to conservation, a group of researchers is advocating for a network for wildlife conservation to bring together governmental and private entities to work toward common goals. Indiana University professor Vicky Meretsky and the co-authors of a recently released article finished a program involving eight universities. Across the U.S., graduate students looked at state wildlife action plans that were completed in 2005. The students also interviewed wildlife managers and even reviewed press releases to see how the plans had progressed. “It was a good time to sort of look at what had been done on those plans,” Meretsky told The Herald-Times (http://bit.ly/T89Ix2 ).
The students found that many states were expanding on what they were doing and increasing partnerships to help achieve their goals. By expanding their collaborations, state wildlife officials can garner access to new sources of funding and expertise. But not all states were as successful.
“Overall, it was a pretty uneven story. Some states had embraced the opportunity. Some states found it a pain. Some states had capacity to respond readily and were able to do things like respond to funding opportunities,” Meretsky said…..
(AP) November 18, 2012— About 3,000 acres of scenic backcountry in the Sierra Nevada north of Truckee will be permanently protected under a deal announced by two conservation groups. A fishing campground will remain in private hands for four years, then a… more »
Lois Kazakoff San Francisco Chronicle November 19, 2012
An independently conducted study of the toxic contamination produced by the Aug. 6 Chevron refinery fire in detailed what the regional air board also should have known: the fire produced health-affecting toxic fallout. The Bay Area Air Quality… more »
by David Remnick November 19, 2012 The New Yorker
….. As President, however, he is faced with an infinitely larger challenge, one that went unmentioned in the debates but that poses a graver threat than any “fiscal cliff.” Ever since 1988, when NASA‘s James Hansen, a leading climate scientist, testified before the Senate, the public has been exposed to the issue of global warming. More recently, the consequences have come into painfully sharp focus. In 2010, the Pentagon declared, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that changes in the global climate are increasing the frequency and the intensity of cyclones, droughts, floods, and other radical weather events, and that the effects may destabilize governments; spark mass migrations, famine, and pandemics; and prompt military conflict in particularly vulnerable areas of the world, including the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. The Pentagon, that bastion of woolly radicals, did what the many denialists in the House of Representatives refuse to do: accept the basic science.
The economic impact of weather events that are almost certainly related to the warming of the earth—the European heat wave of 2003 (which left fifty thousand people dead), the Russian heat waves and forest fires of 2010, the droughts last year in Texas and Oklahoma, and the preëlection natural catastrophe known as Sandy—has been immense. The German insurer Munich Re estimates that the cost of weather-related calamities in North America over the past three decades amounts to thirty-four billion dollars a year. Governor Andrew Cuomo, of New York, has said that Sandy will cost his state alone thirty-three billion. Harder to measure is the human toll around the world—the lives and communities disrupted and destroyed.
“If we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it,” Obama said, when he clinched the Democratic nomination in 2008, future generations will look back and say, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Those generations assuredly will not. Although Obama, unlike his predecessor, recognized the dimensions of the problem, he never pursued measures remotely equal to it. To his credit, his Administration has directed ninety billion dollars to investments in clean energy, and has secured several billion for energy-conservation upgrades; he got Detroit to agree to better gas-mileage standards, and finally introduced CO2 emission standards for commercial trucks and buses. For the most part, though, the accumulating crisis of climate change has been treated as a third-tier issue.
Last week, in his acceptance speech, Obama mentioned climate change once again. Which is good, but, at this late date, he gets no points for mentioning. The real test of his determination will be a willingness to step outside the day-to-day tumult of Washington politics and establish a sustained sense of urgency. There will always be real and consuming issues to draw his and the political class’s attention: a marital scandal at the C.I.A., a fiscal battle, an immigration bill, an international crisis. But, all the while, a greater menace grows ever more formidable.
Inaction on climate change has an insidious ally: time. As the writer and activist Bill McKibben writes in The New York Review of Books, “Global warming happens just slowly enough that political systems have been able to ignore it. The distress signal is emitted at a frequency that scientists can hear quite clearly, but is seemingly just beyond the reach of most politicians.” When the financial system collapsed, the effects were swift and dramatic. People could debate how best to fix the problem, but they could not doubt that there was a problem and it had to be fixed. Yet, as Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, who studied the costs of climate change for the British government, has observed, the risks are vastly greater than those posed by the collapse of the Western financial system.
Meanwhile, the paltry attempts to reduce global warming are being overtaken elsewhere by the attempt to raise hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty. Advances in living standards in China, India, and Africa will radically increase the demand for cars, televisions, air-conditioners, washing machines—in short, the demand for power and the burning of fossil fuels. There will be time to deal with climate change, politicians have persuaded themselves. But there will not be a better time. There will only be worse times.
This election hinted at the defeat of a certain kind of magical thinking. It was a defeat for the idea that deficits can be reduced with across-the-board tax breaks. It was a defeat for Rovian analysts who defy statistics and infer from the “enthusiasm” of rallies that their man will win in a landslide. It was a defeat for the fantasy that the President was born in Kenya and has a secret socialist agenda.
But Obama must now defeat an especially virulent form of magical thinking, entrenched on Capitol Hill and elsewhere: that a difficulty delayed is a difficulty allayed. Part of American exceptionalism is that, historically, this country has been the exceptional polluter and is therefore exceptionally responsible for leading the effort to heal the planet. It will be a colossal task, enlisting science, engineering, technology, regulation, legislation, and persuasion. We have seen the storms, the droughts, the costs, and the chaos; we know what lies in store if we fail to take action. The effort should begin with a sustained Presidential address to the country, perhaps from the Capitol, on Inauguration Day. It was there that John Kennedy initiated a race to the moon—meagre stakes compared with the health of the planet we inhabit. ♦
Peter Fimrite SF Chronicle Updated 4:34 p.m., Wednesday, November 21, 2012
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar toured a popular oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore on Wednesday that Park Service officials are trying to evict, saying he wanted a look at the operation before deciding whether it should stay. The visit comes amid a legal and philosophical slugfest over the fate of the shellfish operation on picturesque Drakes Bay.
Salazar said he will make a decision next week on whether to extend Drakes Bay Oyster Co.‘s lease for 10 years, which would effectively prevent the National Park Service from turning the estuary into a marine wilderness. The option to extend the lease is on his desk largely because of Sen. Dianne Feinstein‘s criticism of what she and others have said was the Park Service’s unfair and, in some cases, dishonest attempts to kick the oyster farm out.
WEBINAR Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM EST
This webinar will feature a discussion of a model sea-level rise ordinance developed by the Georgetown Climate Center and insights from three experienced planners from Iowa, New Hampshire, and Mississippi. Practitioners will share lessons learned and their experiences enhancing regulatory standards in floodplains in the wake of extreme weather events – lessons that may prove particularly valuable as the northeastern U.S. recovers from Superstorm Sandy.
Add to Calendar
The nonpartisan Georgetown Climate Center seeks to advance effective climate and energy policies in the United States. Recent work on sea-level rise has included the development of an adaptation toolkit and a model ordinance that implements adaptive measures and includes extensive policy analysis. Look for summary case studies on the Georgetown Climate Center website and in the Adaptation Clearinghouse following the webinar.
Santa Clara County: A Conservation Vision: Water, Wildlife, and Working Lands
As you may know, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority is in the process of developing a 30-year vision to guide our future land protection, stewardship, and recreation & education efforts. Please check out our project website at www.cvw3.org to share your ideas and learn more about A Conservation Vision: Water, Wildlife, and Working Lands! Help us spread the word by sharing the link to our project website with other folks who may be interested in participating in the project and shaping the conservation future of Santa Clara County.
New Blog on Agriculture and Food Systems (source cattlenetwork.com)
Farm Foundation hopes to broaden agriculture and food system conversations with a new blog titled “AgChallenge2050.” The blog provides a forum for agriculture and food system stakeholders to share their perspectives about food and agriculture issues. Contributors to AgChallenge2050 offer perspectives in four key areas of the Dialogue Project: farm and food policy; adaptability and resilience, the role of science and technology in agriculture, and human capital needs in agriculture and the food system. Farm Foundation intends for the site to provide an agenda-free space where people can engage in civil conversations about the food and agricultural systems. To access the blog click here
Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership Coordinator job description. Please encourage qualified applicants to apply at nature.org/careers
The Partnership Coordinator supports the management and operations of the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership, a collaboration of The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California and PRBO Conservation Science. The Coordinator will provide high-level partnership support requiring a wide range of skills, including the ability to manage projects independently, as well track the progress of projects being led by others. S/he will identify, develop and manage an internet-based file sharing system and develop a partnership calendar. With supervision, s/he will manage contractors and contracts. S/he will develop and edit a partnership newsletter and help develop marketing materials for external audiences, including website design and content. S/he will assist with fundraising by helping to write funding proposals and drafting reports to funders. S/he will support key partnership meetings by scheduling, helping to draft agendas, preparing staff for presentations, coordinating and synthesizing committee updates, and taking and distributing meeting notes. The Coordinator will coordinate an annual retreat for ~50 staff. S/he will have frequent interaction with staff from all three organizations, as well as external partners, donors and vendors. The Coordinator must have a positive attitude, patience, the ability to deal with and manage multiple personality types, through clear and frequent communications. It is essential that the
Coordinator take the initiative to solve problems as they arise, seeking input and equitable solutions. The Partnership Coordinator should have a passion for conservation and be highly motivated. S/he will report to the Project Director for the Migratory Bird Initiative at The Nature Conservancy and will be based in Sacramento. This is an 18 month position with the possibility of renewal.
Student Trainee- US Fish and Wildlife Service
The Region 8 Division of Habitat Restoration (located in Auburn, CA) is recruiting for a student trainee. The posting is currently open until Thursday November 15, but may be extended if necessary. Specific questions can be addressed to Carolyn Kolstad (Schoolyard Habitat Coordinator and Supervisor of this position) at email@example.com or 530-889-2308. For more information click here
Executive Officer – Alameda County Resource Conservation District
The Alameda County Resource Conservation District (ACRCD) has an
opportunity for a highly motivated Executive Officer to manage the ACRCD, and partner with and support the agricultural and conservation community within Alameda County and the East Bay. The Executive Officer leads and manages the District team in the delivery of services as outlined by the Board of Directors and the District’s strategic plan. This highly collaborative position requires the ability to effectively communicate the District’s goals, activities, roles, and responsibilities to other agencies, organizations, and individuals. The ACRCD works in collaboration with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as the Conservation Partnership in Alameda County. Deadline for applications is December 5. For more information click here.
Mixing processes could increase impact of biofuel spills on aquatic environments
(November 16, 2012) — Ethanol, a component of biofuel made from plants such as corn, is blended with gas in many parts of the country, but has significantly different fluid properties than pure gasoline. A group of researchers wondered how ethanol-based fuels would spread in the event of a large aquatic spill. They found that ethanol-based liquids mix actively with water, very different from how pure gasoline interacts with water and potentially more dangerous to aquatic life. … > full story
Invisibility cloaking to shield floating objects from waves
(November 19, 2012) — A new approach to invisibility cloaking may one day be used at sea to shield floating objects – such as oil rigs and ships – from rough waves. Unlike most other cloaking techniques that rely on transformation optics, this one is based on the influence of the ocean floor’s topography on the various “layers” of ocean water. At the American Physical Society’s (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics (DFD) meeting, being held November 18-20, 2012, in San Diego, Calif., Reza Alam, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, will describe how the variation of density in ocean water can be used to cloak floating objects against incident surface waves. … > full story
- OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST
By JIM DWYER NY TIMES Published: November 1, 2012
Tucked into a few lines is a clue to long-forgotten chapters in the natural history of New York City. Looking out the window, Carraway describes the scene: “This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” The valley of ashes evoked by F. Scott Fitzgerald was, in history, the Corona Ash Dump, a receptacle for incinerated garbage; not long after the novel was published, Robert Moses, the shaper of 20th century New York, bought the dump, hauled off millions of tons of garbage, and staged the 1939 World’s Fair there. Today, it is Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, where the United States Open is played. But before it was anything shaped by humans, that ground was the kind of natural place that, this week showed, we urgently need: salt marsh, a living bumper that would protect the lands behind it by absorbing the force of surging tides.
About 300,000 acres of tidal wetlands around New York City have been filled in by human development in the 19th and 20th centuries. All that remains are 15,500 acres, according to a 2009 report prepared by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Those wetlands, on the margins of the islands and the coastline, act like sponges, slowing and baffling tidal forces. The 2009 report proposed restoring or creating 18,000 acres. Over time, these natural sponges were replaced — in New York and in many port cities — by hundreds of miles of sea walls, hardened edges. They allowed the land closest to the water to be developed, but the hard edges are in a losing war with rising sea levels and strong storms. This week, the ruins are everywhere: dozens killed, billions in property destroyed, transportation shut down, blackouts for millions.
A professor at Queens College, Nicholas Coch, has described the unique vulnerability of the metropolitan area to hurricanes. Because New York and New Jersey form a kind of right angle, the counterclockwise forces of hurricanes are amplified. A Category 3 hurricane hitting New York would have the same power as a 4 or 5 farther south along the coast, Dr. Coch has warned. Water could reach 28 feet in Howard Beach and Jamaica, in Queens, he has said. The surge in this week’s storm was reported to have reached 17 feet. After Hurricane Katrina leveled much of New Orleans, many authorities spoke about the folly of building at or below sea level. “They talk about New Orleans, but the sad truth is that nearly all our infrastructure is below sea level,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said this week. Thinking out loud, he suggested the construction of huge sea gates. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Thursday he didn’t think they were realistic.
That they disagreed, and did so in public, is one of the healthiest developments in civic life this year.
The consensus of scientists globally is that climate change has taken place and has contributed to the rise of sea levels by close to a foot over the last century. Some forecasts suggest that in the years ahead, the increase will be more than 10 times greater. Yet climate change has been close to unmentionable during the presidential campaign. The agenda has been set by minority voices, some of them quietly financed by industries that might be threatened by measures to curb greenhouse gases. Somehow, by denying the existence of climate change, they managed to shut down debate over what to do about it. That is why a disagreement between the governor and the mayor about sea gates is so refreshing. The climate change issue led Mr. Bloomberg to endorse President Obama on Thursday. Wherever the debate goes nationally, New York will have to look hard at where and how it stands in the natural world. “We haven’t thought about redesigning for radically higher sea levels,” said Adrian Benepe, who recently left city government after three decades of service, most recently as commissioner of parks and recreation. Mr. Benepe, now an executive with the Trust for Public Land, said he had been intrigued by proposals included in “Rising Currents,” a 2010 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. “It may be that for the city to exist for the next century,” he said, “we’re going to have think in ways that we haven’t before.”
Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN Published: November 19, 2012
Patrick Ward/Corbis A flood barrier on the Thames, one of the ideas American experts are looking at in the wake of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy.
New York clearly ought to have taken certain steps a while back, no-brainers after the fact. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority ought to have installed floodgates and louvers at vulnerable subway entrances and vents. Consolidated Edison should have gotten its transformers, and Verizon its switching stations, out of harm’s way, and Congress should have ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to study the impact of giant barriers to block parts of the city from the sea. Scientists, architects, planners and others have, of course, been mulling over these issues for years. They’ve pressed for more parkland and bike lanes, green roofs and energy-efficient buildings, and warned about the need for backup generators, wetland edges along Lower Manhattan and barrier islands for the harbor to cushion the blow of rushing tides. Hurricane Sandy was a toll paid for procrastination. The good news? We don’t need to send a bunch of Nobel laureates into the desert now, hoping they come up with some new gizmo to save the planet. Solutions are at hand. Money shouldn’t be a problem either, considering the hundreds of billions of dollars, and more lives, another Sandy or two will cost. So the problem is not technological or, from a long-term cost-benefit perspective, financial. Rather it is the existential challenge to the messy democracy we’ve devised. The hardest part of what lies ahead won’t be deciding whether to construct Eiffel Tower-size sea walls across the Verrazano Narrows and Hell Gate, or overhauling the city’s sewage and storm water system, which spews toxic waste into rivers whenever a couple of inches of rain fall because the sea levels have already risen so much. These are monumental tasks. But more difficult still will be staring down the pain, dislocation and inequity that promise to upend lives, undo communities and shake assumptions about city life and society. More than requiring the untangling of colossal red tape, saving New York and the whole region for the centuries ahead will become a test of civic unity….. Now the task is to create a whole new ecological infrastructure for the region. The hurdles go beyond just a single state authority fearful to concede even a footbridge. They include an alphabet soup of agencies and public officials: Congress and the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; the Corps of Engineers; FEMA; the Homeland Security Department; the New York State Public Service Commission (which in principle has the leverage to compel companies like Con Ed and Verizon to safeguard its equipment); Amtrak; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the city’s planning, transportation, parks and environmental protection departments; and the Port Authority, devised as the organization in charge of such epic undertakings, today a shadow of its former self.
The Australians have a mantra for battling climate change: Protect, Redesign, Rebuild, Elevate, Relocate and Retreat. Guy Nordenson, a New York engineer who has spent years researching the subject, talks about controlling floods and controlled flooding, accepting that the water will ultimately get in. This means thinking like the Australians, long term about evolving nature. Our election cycle tends to thwart infrastructural improvements that can take decades and don’t provide short-term ribbon-cutting payoffs for politicians, which is why it’s a wry commonplace among engineers and architects that autocratic regimes make the most aggressive builders of massive projects.
ILC Dover The giant 16-foot diameter tunnel plug design is tested for inflation at manufacturer ILC Dover’s facility in Delaware.
By HENRY FOUNTAIN Published: November 19, 2012
As air flowed into it through a hose, the bundle inflated until it was crammed tight inside the 16-foot-diameter tunnel, looking like the filling in a giant concrete-and-steel cannoli. The three-minute procedure, conducted on a chilly morning this month in an airport hangar not far from West Virginia University, was the latest test of a device that may someday help guard real tunnels during disasters — whether a terrorist strike or a storm like Hurricane Sandy, whose wind-driven surge of water overwhelmed New York City’s subway system, shutting it down for days.
“The goal is to provide flooding protection for transportation tunnels,” said John Fortune, who is managing the project for the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. The idea is a simple one: rather than retrofitting tunnels with metal floodgates or other expensive structures, the project aims to use a relatively cheap inflatable plug to hold back floodwaters. In theory, it would be like blowing up a balloon inside a tube. But in practice, developing a plug that is strong, durable, quick to install and foolproof to deploy is a difficult engineering task, one made even more challenging because of the pliable, relatively lightweight materials required. “Water is heavy, there’s a lot of pressure,” said Greg Holter, an engineer with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who helps manage the project. “So it’s not as simple as just inflating and filling the space. The plug has to be able to withstand the pressure of the water behind it.” The idea has been in development for more than five years — this test was the 21st — and Dr. Fortune says there are at least a few more years of testing and design work ahead. If the plugs are shown to be effective, they will be made available to transit systems around the country; at least initially, they are expected to cost about $400,000 each. ….
By Stephen Lacey on Nov 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm
….Joined by other leaders of the climate activism movement, McKibben was at the Warner Theater yesterday — just blocks from the White House — discussing his new “Do The Math” campaign, which lays out the case for divesting from fossil fuel companies. It’s a no-nonsense, make-no-apologies approach to limiting carbon emissions by attempting to weaken the finances of companies responsible for climate change. When the lights dimmed and McKibben walked on stage to a theater full of roughly 1,800 cheering supporters, the large screen above his head prominently displayed a new mantra within the climate activism movement. “We’re going after the fossil fuel companies.”
Simple. Aggressive. And a campaign waged almost completely outside the paralysis of national politics.
Do The Math is based on a very simple premise. In order to have a serious chance (better than 3 in 4) of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius — a threshold needed to prevent catastrophic climate change — the world can only emit about 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050. We will burn through that carbon in 16 years at our current rate. Fossil fuel companies have reported their intent to burn reserves of carbon five times that amount. So preventing uncontrollable global warming means keeping roughly 80 percent of proven carbon reserves in the ground.
The International Energy Agency backed up those calculations in a report last week that concluded two thirds of carbon reserves need to stay in the ground by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Rather than wait on a weak signal from Washington that would likely result in very modest carbon reductions, activists are attempting to create a carbon price of their own by exposing the financial unhealthiness of fossil fuel companies…..
Greenland’s viking settlers gorged on seals
(November 19, 2012) — Greenland’s viking settlers, the Norse, disappeared suddenly and mysteriously from Greenland about 500 years ago. Natural disasters, climate change and the inability to adapt have all been proposed as theories to explain their disappearance. But now a Danish-Canadian research team has demonstrated the Norse society did not die out due to an inability to adapt to the Greenlandic diet: an isotopic analysis of their bones shows they ate plenty of seals. …
“Nothing suggests that the Norse disappeared as a result of a natural disaster. If anything they might have become bored with eating seals out on the edge of the world. The skeletal evidence shows signs that they slowly left Greenland. For example, young women are underrepresented in the graves in the period toward the end of the Norse settlement. This indicates that the young in particular were leaving Greenland, and when the numbers of fertile women drops, the population cannot support itself,” Lynnerup explains…. > full story
Posted: 21 Nov 2012 08:23 AM PST
Food waste is a big deal in America. As grocery stores stock their shelves with holiday goodies, preparing for the rush of feasting consumers, much of what retailers sell won’t end up in people’s stomachs — it’ll end up in the trash.
Each year, 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted around the world, much of it in rich countries where grocery stores throw out imperfect products and consumers toss uneaten food. Since the 1970′s, America has seen a 50 percent jump in the amount of food wasted, according to the National Resources Defense Council. Consumers play a major role, tossing away roughly 250 pounds of food per person every year. But supermarkets play an even bigger role, discarding 10 percent of America’s total food supply at the retail level.
All that uneaten food accounts for nearly one quarter of U.S. methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that traps 25 times more heat than CO2.
This problem has spawned a range of reports and education programs designed to get Americans and retailers to waste less. But there’s another option that often gets overlooked: why don’t we just eat more of the food that grocery stores are throwing in the dumpster? That cuts back on both consumer and retailer waste.
Could fruit help to improve vascular health?
(November 22, 2012) — New research aims to identify whether the nutrients in everyday fruit and vegetables could help to improve people’s cardiovascular health and protect them from Type-2 diabetes. … > full story
PRBO ecologists attaching radio transmitter on Dowitcher in CA’s Central Valley. Photo by Michelle Gilbert/PRBO.
Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio
URBAN WETLANDS A rendering of Lower Manhattan that shows tidal marshes to absorb waves.
WATERWORLD A reef constructed from rock and shell piles to host oyster growth, as seen in a rendering for a proposal in Brooklyn. Such a structure could filter water and mitigate storm surge.
AQUACULTURE Oyster beds as depicted in a rendering for a proposal in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The shellfish could be cultivated by community groups and seeded on a planned reef, part of a water filtration and surge-mitigating system.