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Ecology, climate change and related news Jan 8 2016

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Focus of the Week Global Warming Spurt; 15 numbers for 2015










NOTE: Please feel free to pass along this news update that has been prepared for
Point Blue Conservation Science
staff.  You can find these news compilations posted on line by clicking here.  


The items contained in this update were drawn from,,,,, and many other online sources. This is a compilation of information available on-line, not verified and not endorsed by Point Blue Conservation Science.  You can receive this news compilation by signing up for the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative  Newsletter or the Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consortium listserve.  You can also email me directly at ecohen at with questions or suggestions. 


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Focus of the Week– Global Warming Spurt; 15 numbers for 2015


High temperatures are bleaching corals, such as this bent sea rod off Florida.
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey/Flickr

Earth is Experiencing a Global Warming Spurt

Published: January 5th, 2016 By John Upton

Cyclical changes in the Pacific Ocean have thrown earth’s surface into what may be an unprecedented warming spurt, following a global warming slowdown that lasted about 15 years. While El Niño is being blamed for an outbreak of floods, storms and unseasonable temperatures across the planet, a much slower-moving cycle of the Pacific Ocean has also been playing a role in record-breaking warmth. The recent effects of both ocean cycles are being amplified by climate change.

A 2014 flip was detected in the sluggish and elusive ocean cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO, which also goes by other names, including the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. Despite uncertainty about the fundamental nature of the PDO, leading scientists link its 2014 phase change to a rapid rise in global surface temperatures. The effects of the PDO on global warming can be likened to a staircase, with warming leveling off for periods, typically of more than a decade, and then bursting upward.

It seems to me quite likely that we have taken the next step up to a new level,” said Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The 2014 flip from the cool PDO phase to the warm phase, which vaguely resembles a long and drawn out El Niño event, contributed to record-breaking surface temperatures across the planet in 2014. The record warmth set in 2014 was surpassed again in 2015, when global temperatures surged to 1°C (1.8°F) above pre-industrial averages, worsening flooding, heatwaves and storms.

Trenberth is among an informal squadron of scientists that in recent years has toiled to understand the slowdown in surface warming rates that began in the late 1990s, which some nicknamed a global warming “pause” or “hiatus.” A flurry of recent research papers has indicated that the slowdown was less pronounced than previously thought, leading some scientists to renew claims that those nicknames are inaccurate and should be abandoned. “The slowdown was not statistically significant, I suppose, if you properly take into account natural variability, which includes the PDO,” Trenberth said. “That’s sort of the argument that people have been making; that even if it was a little bit of a slowdown, or pause, or call it what you will, it’s not out of bounds, and as a result we shouldn’t really put a label on it.”

The approximately 15-year warming slowdown was linked to the negative phase of the PDO, which is also called its cool phase. That phase whips up strong trade winds that bury more heat beneath sea surfaces, contributing to extraordinary levels of warming recorded in the oceans. A similar phase led to a slight cooling of the planet from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Cold PDO phases have a blue background; warm phases are red. Credit: Essay by Kevin Trenburth, “Has there been a hiatus?,” which was published in Science in August. 

Last time we went from a negative to a positive was in the mid-’70s,” said Gerald Meehl, a National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist. “Then we had larger rates of global warming from the ’70s to the late ’90s, compared to the previous 30 years.” “It’s not just an upward sloping line,” Meehl said. “Sometimes it’s steeper, sometimes it’s slower.”

The effects of the warm phase of the PDO and the current El Niño may be cumulative in terms of warming the planet. It also seems likely that changes in the ocean cycles are linked, with changes between El Niño and La Niña driving changes in the PDO cycle. Or, perhaps the PDO doesn’t exist at all, other than as a tidy pile of data points, and it’s simply a manifestation of changes in the shorter-running cycle between El Niño and La Niña.

“There’s some debate about whether there is a low frequency oscillation — is there a distinct interdecadal oscillation?” said Penn State meteorology professor Michael Mann. “Or is what we call a low frequency oscillation just a change over time in the frequency and magnitude of individual El Niño and La Niña events?” Regardless, “it seems pretty clear that we’ve transitioned from a time period where there was a prevalence for La Niña conditions,” Mann said. “Over the past several years we’ve been in the multi-year El Niño state, and it has culminated with an extremely large El Niño event.”

The future of PDO phases will not slow down or speed up the overall long-term rate of global warming. That will continue to rise with pollution levels. But scientists are expecting more intense heat during the months ahead, which should bring with it more wild weather. “There are a lot of things in place that have locked us on course to have a really warm start to 2016,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Nate Mantua. “I have a hard time seeing how we’re not going to be looking at either record level or near-record level global mean surface temperatures for at least the first half of 2016.”


Observed global annual average surface temperature, relative to 1850-1900 average (in degrees C), according to HadCRUT4. Source: Met Office


Carbon Brief’s 15 numbers for 2015

December 22, 2105


As the year draws to a close, Carbon Brief takes a look at 2015’s top climate stories through the medium of numbers. Here are our top 15. [excerpts below—go here to see all the graphics with it]


1.5C limit

Over the last 12 months, after years of taking the back seat, the idea of a 1.5C limit to global temperatures made steps into the limelight. The UN concluded its review of the 2C vs 1.5C debate, suggesting that the lower limit would be “preferable”. A study found that the 1.5C target was still technically possible, though difficult. A guest post by Prof Myles Allen looks at the chances and the challenge ahead, while Carbon Brief also captured the views of a broad range of scientists.

The mounting pressure paid off, with the 1.5C goal recognised in the final UN climate deal. So unexpected was its inclusion that climate scientists were “caught napping”, says Prof Piers Forster, in another guest post which surveys the task ahead of finding pathways towards the lower limit, and the specific benefits of this long sought-after goal.


188 pledges

Over the course of the year, 188 countries submitted their “intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs, to the UN….


184 pages

The release of Pope Francis’ 184-page encyclical in June brought with it a heightened interest in the subject of climate change, and not just among the world’s 1.2bn Catholics. The document, called Laudato Si’, contained strong words from the Pontiff on issues including urbanisation, the destruction of nature and carbon markets.


<$50 a barrel

Oil prices have continued to surprise in 2015. After starting around $50 a barrel, prices rose slowly before plumbing new depths as the year end approaches. The International Energy Agency said fuel efficient vehicles and reduced oil subsidies were helping create a “new normal” of sluggish demand despite low prices. Carbon Brief took an early look at what $50 oil might mean for the global energy mix, as well as climate and energy policy back in the UK, where cheaper gas has also played a part in coal use reaching historic lows.


1,600,000,000 tonnes

In Indonesia, 2015 will be remembered as the year that their forests went up in flame with even more ferocity than usual. Peat fires, resulting largely from illegal “slash and burn” clearance techniques, spread rapidly in dry conditions related to 2015’s strong  El Niño, and released 1.6bn tonnes of greenhouse gases. In just six weeks, this bumped Indonesia up from sixth to fourth place in terms of largest emitting countries, putting it ahead of Russia [#1 China, #2 US, #3 India, #4 Indonesia, #5 Russia]…..


1 in 6 species

Climate change will accelerate the speed at which species become extinct, according to a review of scientific papers released in April. Scientists found that as many as 16%, or one in six, of plants and animals would be under threat of dying out if global temperatures should rise by 4C. The risks increase exponentially as the planet warms. The study found that South American species have the highest extinction risk at 23%, followed by Australia and New Zealand’s at 14%.


Predicted extinction rates from climate change by region and group. Credit: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief, based on data from Urban (2015).

2 times

Consumption of meat in Europe is twice as high as healthy levels, and this is bad for the climate, according to a Chatham House study released in November. Global demand for meat is predicted to rise by 76% by the middle of the century, which could put upward pressure on greenhouse gas emissions. But it wasn’t all bad news, with the study’s authors suggesting that government action to nudge people towards sustainable diets would not be as politically toxic as is often assumed.


Zero emissions

This year, the nations of the world collectively agreed to aim for zero, or more precisely net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is firmly based in climate science, but its adoption was still unexpected. Over the course of the year, the aim has been expressed in different ways. The G7 called for complete decarbonisation. The Vatican wanted zero carbon. COP21 briefly flirted with emissions neutrality. In the end though, the long-term goal of the final Paris climate deal is a “balance” between greenhouse gas emissions and sinks. That’s zero to you and me.


1C of warming

Scientists have said they expect 2015 to be the first year where the global annual average temperature surpasses 1C above pre-industrial levels. As the halfway point of the 2C limit embedded in international climate policy, this is a significant milestone for the planet. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says we’ve just had the hottest five-year period on record. While this year’s El Niño was responsible for boosting 2015 temperatures higher than usual, scientists told Carbon Brief that it’s only a matter of time until temperatures rise beyond 1C more permanently. Indeed, the Met Office has already forecast that 2016 will surpass previous records to become the hottest ever year.


0.6% fall in emissions

During the second week of COP21 [UN Climate talks] in Paris, scientists announced that global emissions look set to fall by 0.6% this year on the back of reductions in Chinese coal use. After a decade of rapid increases, there’s now growing evidence that emissions have stalled worldwide, while UK emissions are falling through the floor. However, this is unlikely to signal a peak in global emissions just yet, the researchers caution. The shift could mark a turning point for climate efforts, though even if the stalling of emissions is maintained, the world would remain a long way from its zero-emissions goal.


9 lowest ice extents

The nine lowest September ice extents in the Arctic have all occurred in the last nine years — a sign of the impact that climate change is having on the northernmost part of the planet.
This summer, the Arctic saw its fourth lowest summer minimum on record, with ice shrinking to 4.41m square kilometers on the 11 September, according to the US-based National Snow and Ice Data Center….


341.4mm of rain

Storm Desmond swept across the UK in early December, bringing a 24-hour record 341.4mm of rain in Cumbria, flooded homes and a renewed debate over the role of climate change in UK flooding. Carbon Brief wrapped up the media response and scientists’ views. The year also brought record-breaking winds in the form of October’s 200mph Hurricane Patricia, though this caused less damage than March’s 190mph Hurricane Pam. Are these powerful storms linked to global warming? August’s 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina offered a chance for Carbon Brief to reflect on the latest science.









This image shows mixed levels of drought stress in a forested landscape in California.
Credit: Image courtesy of Greg Asner

Tens of millions of trees in danger from California drought

Posted: 28 Dec 2015 01:12 PM PST

California’s forests are home to the planet’s oldest, tallest and most-massive trees. New research reveals that up to 58 million large trees in California experienced severe canopy water loss between 2011 and today due to the state’s historic drought. In addition to the persistently low rainfall, high temperatures and outbreaks of the destructive bark beetle increased forest mortality risk. But gaining a large-scale understanding a forest’s responses to the drought, as well as to ongoing changes in climate, required more than just a picture of trees that have already died. A higher-tech approach was necessary; so Asner and his team used the laser-guided imaging spectroscopy tools mounted on the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) to measure the full impact of the drought on California’s forests for the first time. They combined the CAO data with more-traditional satellite data going back to 2011. Their new approach revealed a progressive loss of water in California’s forest canopies over the four-year span. Mapping changes in canopy water content tells scientists when trees are under drought stress and greatly aids in predicting which trees are at greatest death and fire risk. “California relies on its forests for water provisioning and carbon storage, as well as timber products, tourism, and recreation, so they are tremendously important ecologically, economically, and culturally,” Asner explained. “The drought put the forests in tremendous peril, a situation that may cause long-term changes in ecosystems that could impact animal habitats and biodiversity.”…


Gregory P. Asner, Philip G. Brodrick, Christopher B. Anderson, Nicholas Vaughn, David E. Knapp, Roberta E. Martin. Progressive forest canopy water loss during the 2012–2015 California drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201523397 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1523397113


Dry La Niña might follow soggy El Niño

By Kurtis Alexander SF Chronicle Updated 6:29 am, Sunday, January 3, 2016

Beyond all the hype over a possible drought-busting El Niño this winter is a much grimmer prospect for California: a dry La Niña come fall. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joined international forecasters recently in predicting the potential rise of El Niño’s sister phenomenon, La Niña — a similar shift in Pacific Ocean temperatures, but in the opposite direction with far different repercussions for global weather. While no one can be certain what a La Niña might mean for California, especially this early, the pattern has generally correlated with drier conditions, particularly in the southern part of the state. How much this will even matter is also unknown as El Niño is expected to soon ease the state’s water crisis with a blast of wet weather. “It’s still too far out to reach any conclusions about La Niña,” said Dave Rizzardo, who helps track the state’s water supplies as chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources. “But it would be unfortunate to know that, hey, we had a great year, we bailed ourselves out of the drought, and then we fall right back in.”…



A view of Folsom Lake reservoir on Dec. 31, 2015. California’s ninth-largest reservoir reached its lowest levels in early December 2015. Later that month, it finally started to slowly fill back up and reached 25 percent capacity. Photo: Greg Tuppan

Drought-ravaged Folsom Lake rises 28.5 feet in just one month

Amy Graff SF Gate Published 5:40 am, Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Water-starved Folsom Lake is beginning to slowly fill up and recover from its lowest water levels ever. 

The state’s ninth-largest reservoir, the main water source for the sprawling Sacramento suburbs, shrank to a mere 135,561 acre feet on Dec. 4, 2015. The previous lowest level at Folsom was 140,600 acre feet, recorded during the 1976–77 drought. An acre foot is enough water to flood an acre of land under a foot of water, and roughly the amount required by a family of four over a year. With the recent rains, Folsom’s water level has risen 28.5 feet and the reservoir is now holding 246,497 acre feet of water. “The lake continues to slowly rise,” Karl Swanberg, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sacramento, said in an interview. “While this current storm isn’t dropping a lot of rain on Folsom, we’re getting runoff from the Sierra from past storms and some snow melt.” The Central Sierra snow pack is at 107 percent of average and the American River, which feeds into Folsom, travels through these mountains. That said, Swanberg adds the lake is still only at 25 percent capacity. “It’s kind of a good news, bad news situation,” he said. “The lake has risen 28.5 feet in the past month. However it’s still at 51 percent of average for this time of year.” Folsom fell to historic lows this year mainly due to the California drought and record-low rainfall over the past four years. But also the state relied more heavily on the reservoir and released additional water, Jay Lund, a University of California at Davis professor in civil and environmental engineering, said, “to help make up for reductions in releases of warm water from Shasta needed to keep winter run salmon safe on the upper Sacramento River.” Californians hope El Niño storms will fill up Folsom and other reservoirs throughout the state, but Swanberg said the future is unknown. Forecasters are already warning that a dryer La Niña pattern may follow on the heels of a wet winter and spring.

“We can be hopeful in the future,” he said. “We have rain in the forecast. Each weather system will add water into the reservoir. But it’s way earlier in the year. We really don’t know how much more rain will fall.”


Leaf-mimicking device harnesses light to purify water

Posted: 06 Jan 2016 08:07 AM PST

For years, scientists have been pursuing ways to imitate a leaf’s photosynthetic power to make hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight. In a new twist, a team has come up with another kind of device that mimics two of a leaf’s processes — photosynthesis and transpiration — to harness solar energy to purify water. Their development could help address issues of water scarcity


Aussies inspire drought tactics

State lawmakers turn up fresh ideas Down Under

By Kevin Fagan SF Chronicle December 2015

Don’t be surprised to see a flurry of new legislative proposals in 2016 that push toilet water recycling, rooftop water tanks and underground systems to filter sewer sludge for field irrigation in California. Call it the Australian plan. Nearly three dozen California lawmakers and nonprofit and business leaders flew across the Pacific recently to see how the Aussies slashed their water use in half during a catastrophic 13-year drought that ended in 2010, and they came away so impressed that they want to adopt some of the innovations. Those mostly involve recycling every drop possible from toilets, fields, roofs, gutters and sewer pipes. The visiting team also thought the Golden State could learn something from Australia’s robust water-sales market, which allows farmers to sell water to the government in exchange for help upgrading their irrigation systems. Those systems, in turn, use far less water than the old methods. Australia did away with an ironclad water-rights market similar to California’s, and forced farmers, environmentalists and cities to share supplies from reservoirs equally. The new market allows rights holders to trade water like a commodity, depending on rural and urban needs…..







Communicating adaptation – Engaging communities
Wednesday 20 January 2016, 01:00 PM – 02:30 PM ET, 10-11 PT

This webinar will offer insights into effective communication of climate change adaptation, with particular emphasis on the psychological dimensions that underlie people’s responses and that can help or hinder their constructive and sustained engagement.

Speaker: Susanne C. Moser, Ph.D.– Research Fellow, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University



Impacts of Future Climates and Fire on Hydrologic Regimes in the Ecosystems of Southern California
January 26, 2016

1:00 – 2:00 PM Pacific

In Southern California ecosystems, understanding changes in hydrologic regimes under future climate scenarios and the impact of fire is key to developing effective management strategies. This project, supported by the CA LCC, is developing data, projections, and visualization tools to assist in the climate-smart management of water in chaparral dominated ecosystems of Southern California.  Click here for more information.


Carbon Farming Workshop
November 18, 2015

Training for RCD and NRCS staff
Moderated by Pelayo Alvarez,
Carbon Cycle Institute

Download a workshop manual: CFP-training

Download a carbon farming brochure: carbon-farming-brochure-CCI

Presentations available on line:





Rangeland Workshops and Conferences Jan 28 2016

The Open Space Council, in partnership with UC Cooperative Extension, Elkhorn Slough Coastal Training Program, California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, Central Coast Rangeland Coalition, and California Rangeland Trust presents Grazing and Conservation Part II: Cooperating with Ranchers
on January 28 in Berkeley. Hear perspectives on the benefits and challenges of working with ranchers for grazing to benefit conservation on public and/or private conservation lands in the SF Bay Area.


North Bay Watershed Association Conference

The Future of Water is Now: Innovation, Integration, Adaptation April 22, 2016, Napa, CA

General Information:  Registration:


4th Ocean Climate Summit: Resilience through Climate-Smart Conservation May 17, 2016
Fort Mason, San Francisco

Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and Greater Farallones Association

Expert panels for the 2016 summit will address the common theme of Climate-Smart Conservation, and will specifically include:

Afternoon focus groups will convene to share lessons learned, encourage collaboration, and advise the sanctuary on climate-smart conservation. A networking poster reception highlighting Bay Area projects and programs focused on coastal climate change and ocean acidification will immediately follow. This year we are also pleased to partner with the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative on a Climate-Smart Conservation training to be held at Fort Mason the following day.


Toward Sustainable Groundwater in Agriculture 2016: 2nd International Conference Linking Science and Policy
June 28-30, 2016 Hyatt Regency by SFO Burlingame, CA

Abstract Submission Deadline: January 15, 2016 UC Davis

….focus on the latest scientific, management, legal and policy advances for sustaining our groundwater resources in agricultural regions around the world. The conference will bring together agricultural water managers, regulatory agency personnel, policy and decision makers, scientists, NGOs, agricultural leaders, and consultants working at the nexus of groundwater and agriculture. The conference integrates across a wide range of topics specifically focused on this nexus: sustainable groundwater management, groundwater quality protection, groundwater-surface water interactions, the groundwater-energy nexus, agricultural BMPs for groundwater management and protection, monitoring, data collection/management/assessment, modeling tools, and agricultural groundwater management, regulation, and economics.


Innovations on the Land: Managing for Change
 Sand County Foundation August 9-10 2016 Asilomar, CA

For generations, landowners and land managers have honed the ability to adapt to change. But the changes farmers and ranchers face today are more rapid and wide ranging than ever before. Landowners must adapt to changing regulations, climate, technology and demands of food consumers, all while managing natural resources – the land, water and wildlife in their care. Sand County Foundation is proud to present “Innovations on the Land: Managing for Change.” This national symposium, August 9 & 10, 2016, will bring together the nation’s leading private landowner conservationists and leaders from academia, government and non-government organizations to exchange ideas and learn about the most innovative approaches to responsibly managing agricultural lands in the face of sweeping change. … Topics include environmental changes related to climate, water quality and quantity and soil health; economic and policy changes related to market dynamics and the Endangered Species Act; social changes relating to changing consumer desires and land ownership patterns. Symposium participants will put their learning to workin a half-day, facilitated session to develop a set of recommendations around U.S. agricultural policy. As the nation’s very best farmer and rancher conservationists, these men and women provide an authoritative viewpoint on how America can achieve its conservation objectives in an era of flat or declining funding. Following the symposium, a select subcommittee will develop a paper based on the outcomes of the work.



2nd California Adaptation Forum  SEPTEMBER 7-8, 2016
Renaissance Long Beach Hotel and Long Beach Convention Center

The Local Government Commission and the State of California are proud to host the second California Adaptation Forum in the Fall of 2016. The two-day event will be the premiere convening for a multi-disciplinary group of 1,000+ decision-makers, leaders and advocates to discuss, debate and consider how we can most effectively respond to the impacts of climate change.

The 2016 California Adaptation Forum will feature:


Bay-Delta Science Conference  November 15-17, 2016, Sacramento, CA

More information will be available in 2016, but mark your calendars now.  The call for abstracts for presentations and posters will be released in Spring 2016.



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


UC Santa Cruz Conservation Scholars Program

The Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at UCSC exposes early-career college students to the field of environmental conservation through field research, leadership and professional training.

Each year, we select 20 students from around the U.S. and its territories to participate in our two-year conservation leadership program. Our students represent a diverse spectrum of cultures and backgrounds, which helps to cultivate a unique and rewarding experience.


California Sea Grant is now accepting applications

Coastal Management Fellowship  Due: January 22, 2016

NMFS-Sea Grant Fellowship in Marine Resource Economics  Due: January 29, 2016

NMFS-Sea Grant Fellowship in Population and Ecosystem Dynamics  Due: January 29, 2016

Knauss Fellowship
Due: February 12, 2016


Applications for the 2016 L’Oréal USA For Women in (post-doc) fellowship program are now open.

The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science program recognizes and rewards the contributions women make in STEM fields and identifies exceptional women researchers committed to serving as role models for younger generations….The application and more information about the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science program can be found at Applications are due on Friday, February 5, 2016.

Should you have any questions or require additional information, please e‐mail me at






Funding Available to Help California Ag Producers Restore Wildlife Habitat

DAVIS, Dec. 16, 2015 – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is making available about $50 million nationwide this year in financial assistance to partner with agricultural producers who want to restore and protect habitat for seven focus species, including two California species:  greater sage-grouse and the southwestern willow flycatcher. Conservation efforts for these species are part of Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW),
an innovative partnership that supports struggling landscapes and strengthens agricultural operations. This year in California, according to State Conservationist Carlos Suarez, more than $2 million is available to eligible ranchers and farmers willing to implement habitat restoration for the sage grouse, the umbrella species of the sagebrush landscape. This current funding is in addition to more than $4.5 million available to California farmers and ranchers for sage grouse habitat protection on private lands through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).  With the support of conservation partners and ranchers, NRCS launched the Sage Grouse Initiative in 2010. Those efforts became the model for WLFW, which began two years later. Conservation efforts to restore and protect sagebrush habitat led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine in September that protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) were not warranted. NRCS is also investing about $535,000 in California on habitat restoration for the southwestern willow flycatcher, a small Neotropical migratory bird that lives in riparian areas and wetlands in the arid Southwest. The southwestern willow flycatcher is listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the California Endangered Species Act (CESA)….





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