Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Archive: Dec 2016

  1. Warming could slow upslope migration of trees

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    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 15 Dec 2016 see full article here

    Scientists expect trees will advance upslope as global temperatures increase, shifting the tree line—the mountain zone where trees become smaller and eventually stop growing—to higher elevations. Subalpine forests will follow their climate up the mountain, in other words. But new research suggests this may not hold true for two subalpine tree species of western North America….

    …Counter to expectations, they found that warming reduced seedling survival for both species at all three elevations during the first year of life. The scientists expected survival rates to dip at the lower elevation site, where temperatures rose above the trees’ normal climate, but not higher up, where warming was expected to help seedlings. They attribute this lower survival rate to drier conditions caused by warming, which negatively affected seedling survival….

    “Overall, our findings indicate that seedlings are highly vulnerable to climate variation, which should be taken into account as we predict what will happen to subalpine forests in a warming climate,” says Kueppers.

    Jeff Mitton et al. Warming and provenance limit tree recruitment across and beyond the elevation range of subalpine forest. Global Change Biology, December 2016 DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13561

  2. How community interactions amplify response of calcifying phytoplankton species to ocean acidification

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    Science Daily Posted: 14 Dec 2016 08:51 AM PST  See full article here

    Coccolithophores, single-celled calcifying phytoplankton that play a key role in the Earth’s climate system, might lose their competitive fitness in a future ocean. In a field experiment investigating the effects of ocean acidification on the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi in its natural environment, the species failed to bloom. A team of researchers concludes, that a small response to ocean acidification was amplified through ecological interactions and causes a massive impact on the ecosystem.

    Image result for coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyiPhoto:Dr. Jeremy R. Young Palaeontology Dept. The Natural History Museum LONDON, SW7 5BD, UK

    …The uptake of fossil fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) by the ocean increases seawater acidity and causes a decline in carbonate ion concentrations. This process, termed ocean acidification, makes it energetically more costly for calcifying organisms to form their calcareous shells and skeletons. Several studies have shown that this also holds true for Emiliania huxleyi, the world’s most abundant and most productive calcifying organism….

    …”In view of Emiliania‘s rather small changes in metabolic performance observed in previous laboratory experiments, we predicted that it would still be able to maintain its ecological niche in an acidifying ocean. What we observed came as a big surprise”…A small reduction in cellular growth due to ocean acidification caused the population size to gradually decline during the pre-bloom phase. “When it was time for Emiliania to start bloom formation, there were so few cells left in the plankton community that it couldn’t outgrow its competitors anymore,” reflects Ulf Riebesell….

    The results of this study demonstrate the importance of investigating the effects of ocean acidification in natural communities….”If Emiliania huxleyi fails to maintain its important role, other, possibly non-calcifying, organisms take over. This might initiate a regime shift with far-reaching ecological and biogeochemical consequences,” Prof. Riebesell concludes.

    Ulf Riebesell, Lennart T. Bach, Richard G. J. Bellerby, J. Rafael Bermúdez Monsalve, Tim Boxhammer, Jan Czerny, Aud Larsen, Andrea Ludwig, Kai G. Schulz. Competitive fitness of a predominant pelagic calcifier impaired by ocean acidification. Nature Geoscience, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2854

  3. New US law poised to improve marine conservation worldwide

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    See here for full article  ScienceDaily Posted: 15 Dec 2016 11:34 AM PST

    New restrictions on US seafood imports, which requires seafood to be harvested in accordance with the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, will likely offer significant marine conservation benefits on a global scale…

    The U.S. is the largest importer of seafood in the world, accepting marine catches from more than 120 countries. Best case scenario, countries will comply and marine species will benefit from improved protection. Worst case, countries could suffer economically from not being able to export to the US, and/or choose not to comply.

    The new law, which comes into effect on January 1, 2017, prohibits intentionally harming marine mammals thorough fishing activities, and it requires bycatch to be kept within the limits of what marine mammal populations can sustain. However, the authors caution, some countries may choose not to comply, and many developing countries may be unable to comply due to lack of monitoring and enforcement capacity.

    To reduce these risks, Williams et al. urge the international community to support capacity-building efforts in the most economically vulnerable countries….Monitoring the abundance of certain marine species is a major challenge. For example, at this point only about 5% of the world’s oceans are surveyed well enough to detect the presence of rare cetacean species or trends in common ones. Regional coordination, the author say, can help countries to share costs, ships, trained observers, analytical expertise, and data. The international community can support each of these efforts through both funding and building scientific capacity, the authors conclude.

    R. Williams, M. G. Burgess, E. Ashe, S. D. Gaines, R. R. Reeves. U.S. seafood import restriction presents opportunity and risk. Science, 2016; 354 (6318): 1372 DOI: 10.1126/science.aai8222

  4. Local Leaders Push Forward as Trump Signals Climate Action Pullback

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    see here for full article

    The incoming Trump administration appears determined to reverse much of what President Obama has tried to achieve on climate and environment policy. In position papers, agency questionnaires and the résumés of incoming senior officials, the direction is clear — an about-face from eight years of policies designed to reduce climate-altering emissions and address the effects of a warming planet. The Republican-led Congress appears to welcome many of these changes.

    But mayors and governors — many of them in states that supported President-elect Donald J. Trump — say they are equally determined to continue the policies and plans they have already adopted to address climate change and related environmental damage, regardless of what they see from Washington.

    “With a federal government that’s hostile to climate action, more and faster climate action work from cities, states and businesses will be required to stay anywhere near on track with our carbon pollution goals,” said Sam Adams, the former mayor of Portland, Ore., and current director of the World Resources Institute United States…

    Republican mayors also govern some cities that are especially vulnerable to climate change. James C. Cason, the mayor of Coral Gables, Fla., is working to protect the city from some of the flooding it is already experiencing and to prepare it for more flooding that will most likely accompany rising sea levels. Florida has a Republican governor, Rick Scott, who has questioned the cause and extent of climate change, but that has not stopped Mr. Cason and other Republican mayors in South Florida from making pragmatic decisions on the issue.

    Cities have also seen lots of benefits from networks — the Compact of Mayors, which has been signed by more than 120 American cities, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Climate Mayors and others — most notably, information sharing and solutions, and reaffirming commitments to each other and to their citizens, as many mayors did in a recent letter to the president-elect….

    In most states, governors and legislatures have the authority to regulate the two biggest sources of emissions: power plants and transportation.

    States can set automotive fuel-efficiency standards, and in the case of California, effectively set them for the whole country, experts said. Twenty-nine states require that a certain percentage of their electricity comes from renewable sources, known as a portfolio standard, and another eight have voluntary portfolio standards or targets. In addition to California, nine other states, grouped in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, known as R.G.G.I., and 17 governors, mostly from that group of 29, have also signed the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future, which commits their states to certain sustainability goals…

    Republican-led states, which may not be favorable to climate policy, have still achieved meaningful progress, especially when it comes to renewable energy, because of the economics of the wind and solar industries. Texas, for instance, has more wind power than any other state, largely a product of deregulating the utility market, but also of subsidies from the federal government and tax credits….

  5. ‘The time has never been more urgent’: at the world’s largest Earth science event

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    Scientists hold signs during a rally in conjunction with the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP   View full article here

    …But few of the 20,000 Earth and climate scientists meeting in San Francisco this week had much to say about the president-elect, Donald Trump – though his incoming administration loomed over much of the conference.

    For some, the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) – the largest Earth and space science gathering in the world – was a call to action. California’s governor, Jerry Brown, addressed the scientists on Wednesday morning, telling them, “the time has never been more urgent or your work ever more important. The danger is definitely rising.”

    “We’re facing …big financial structures that are at odds with the survivability of our world. It’s up to you as truth tellers, truth seekers, to mobilize all your efforts to fight back.

    Brown compared the struggle to the campaigns waged by the tobacco industry, noting that health science and the law eventually curtailed its power. “Some people need a heart attack to stop smoking,” he said. “Maybe we just got our heart attack.”…

    …Not far away, a team of lawyers with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund met with scientists to discuss the threats ahead. The group helps defend scientists from harassment and suits over climate change research, most prominently a case brought by a climate change-denying organization to obtain emails and research of scientist Michael Mann. At the AGU table, attorneys handed out guides to “handling political harassment and legal intimidation”.

    Some scientists are taking action on their own, including Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who has started one of several “guerrilla archiving” efforts to preserve public climate data on non-government servers. Holthaus and others fear that a Trump administration could take down the data, as former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper tried to silence scientists.

    Sally Jewell, the outgoing secretary of the interior, tried to reassure scientists that the Trump administration could not quickly gut federal research. Science would be “foundational” to government, she told attendees: “We have a president-elect that likes to win, and we can’t win without science.”

    Jewell argued that scientists should stress the benefits of science to industry, saying they should start speaking “in the language of business, perhaps, to translate” for the Trump administration.

    …Other scientists stressed that the world is already changing in dramatic, unpredictable ways. Donald Perovich, a professor at Dartmouth University, said that the Arctic in 2016 looked “as though part of the United States has melted”, a region comparable to all the states east of the Mississippi plus the midwest and North Dakota.

    When the researchers began doing a yearly report card in the mid-2000s, Perovich said, “you kind of had to listen closely, because the Arctic was whispering change.”

    Now it’s not whispering anymore,” he said. “It’s shouting.

  6. Scientists are frantically copying U.S. climate data, fearing it might vanish under Trump

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    By Brady Dennis Dec 13 2016 Washington Post see full article here

    Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

    The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.

    “Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” said Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, who over the weekend began copying government climate data onto a nongovernment server, where it will remain available to the public. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”…

  7. America’s First Offshore Wind Farm Spins to Life

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    By TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG NY Times December 14 2016 see full article here

    The Block Island Wind Farm, consisting of five turbines off Rhode Island, sets up the possibility for offshore wind projects elsewhere along the coast…

    …the Block Island Wind Farm is …made up of five turbines, which were built by a division of General Electric, and capable of powering about 17,000 homes — it is the first successful offshore wind development in the United States, and it sets up the possibility for offshore wind projects elsewhere along the coast.

    …Mr. Trump has expressed skepticism of wind power, saying in an interview with The New York Times that “the wind is a very deceiving thing.” And an email written by Thomas J. Pyle, who is running the Department of Energy transition for the president-elect, said that the Trump administration may be looking to get rid of all energy subsidies.

    Mr. Trump has also been accused of exaggerating the harmful effects of wind turbines on bird populations, which Mr. Pyle also addressed in the email, writing, “Unlike before, wind energy will rightfully face increasing scrutiny from the federal government.”

  8. Measuring methane emissions from cows is elusive, but we’re getting closer

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    Photo credit: aleks.k

    Photo credit: aleks.k

    Americans’ fondness for milk, yogurt, cheese and juicy burgers requires a huge livestock industry, with nearly 90 million head of cattle in the U.S. in any one year. All those cows mean significant methane emissions.

    With estimates from the United Nations that methane accounts for 44 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production, and new determination – including legislation in California – to reduce methane emissions from farms, we need to figure out how to quantify and then reduce those emissions….