Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Archive: Jul 2017

  1. Research calls for enhancing long-term benefits of Farm Bill conservation incentive programs; Point Blue co-authored

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    Recommendations from improving conservation outcomes include:

    • Remove limits on re-enrollments allowed if there are a limited number of landowners interested in the program;
    • Remove limits re-enrollments where landowners must continually apply a practice for conservation outcomes;
    • Prioritize projects where landowners enroll for the long term; and
    • Consider likelihood of persistence [continuing of practices after incentives end] when designing programs.

    July 27 2017 see full PhysOrg article here 

    Many farmers, ranchers, and landowners rely on voluntary conservation incentive programs within the Farm Bill to make improvements to their land and operations that benefit them, the environment, and society. According to a recent study by researchers from Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment and Point Blue Conservation Science published in the scientific journal Conservation Letters, it is necessary to find ways to sustain the benefits from these practices after the incentive ends. This finding is crucial as Congress discusses the reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

    In the United States, federal incentive programs aimed at promoting private land fall under the umbrella of the Farm Bill, a package of legislation that promotes conservation efforts on farms and private lands, among other purposes. Typically taking the form of cash payments, tax credits, or cost-share agreements, these incentive programs allow to participate in conservation activities while maintaining ownership of their land.

    Persistence…is the continuation of a conservation practice after incentives from voluntary conservation programs end….

    Dayer worked with Seth Lutter, a master’s student in fish and , and Kristin Sesser, Catherine Hickey, and Thomas Gardali from Point Blue Conservation Science, a California-based and research nonprofit, to examine the existing research literature on landowner behavior after incentive programs ended to determine what factors contributed to landowners continuing conservation efforts on their own….

    In this study, supported by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the authors developed five research-based explanations for whether or not persistence outcomes could be expected. The pathways include landowners’ attitudes toward the conservation practices, landowners’ motivations for participating in incentive programs, habit formation, access to resources, and social influences.

    …”More research is needed in this social science side of landowner conservation incentive programs“…. Ultimately, incentive programs that assist landowners with benefit the population as a whole.

    Private lands is critical,” Dayer said. “Often when we think about land for wildlife, we think about national parks or protected areas, but those are a small proportion. In the U.S., 60 percent of the land is privately owned.“…

    Ashley A. Dayer, Seth H Lutter, Kristin A Sesser, Catherine M. Hickey, and Thomas Gardali. Private Landowner Conservation Behavior Following Participation in Voluntary Incentive Programs: Recommendations to Facilitate Behavioral Persistence, Conservation Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1111/conl.12394
  2. New poll shows Californians strongly support new climate laws

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    • Strong majorities of California adults (72%) and likely voters (66%) favor the new state law mandating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; 56% of adults and 49% of likely voters support the state’s cap-and-trade program.
    • Half of Californians believe state climate policies will lead to more jobs, while most (54%) expect gas prices to rise.

    Casey Tolan July 26 2017 Mercury News see full article here

    Most Californians support the state’s policies fighting climate change — and they want state leaders to go further, a poll [by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California] released Wednesday found.

    More than half of state residents say they found it very important for California to act as a leader on climate change around the world, and two-thirds supported the state making its own climate change policies beyond those implemented by the federal government, according to a poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.

    “Californians continue to believe that global warming is a threat not just to the world but to quality of life and the economy in California, and they support the path that the state is on,” said Mark Baldassare, the president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute. The results suggest a strong endorsement for the strategy of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has traveled around the world to ink climate deals while also fighting for new climate change policies at home.

    An overwhelming majority of state residents are supportive of a legislative effort to power all of the state’s electricity grid through renewable sources. Senate Bill 100, which passed the State Senate in May and is expected to be debated in the Assembly next month, would require that 100 percent of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources like wind or solar power by 2045. 76 percent of adults and 71 percent of likely voters approve of that requirement — including 81 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans, the poll found.

    Half of Californians also say they’re personally willing to pay more for electricity in order to pitch in and help fight global warming, and 54 percent said they expect gas prices to rise because of the state’s climate policies.

    …And the poll found an all-time low in support for offshore drilling along the California coast — just 25 percent of residents are in favor, while 69 percent are opposed….

  3. Atlantic/Pacific ocean temperature difference fuels drought and wildfires in CA and Southwest US; multi-year predictions possible

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    • New study shows that the large-scale difference between a warm Atlantic and relatively cold Pacific ocean temperatures plays a fundamental role in causing droughts, and enhancing wildfire risks in California and the southwest.
    • the Atlantic/Pacific temperature difference shows pronounced variations on timescales of more than 5 years. Like swings of a very slow pendulum, this implies that there is predictability in the large-scale atmosphere/ocean system, which we expect will have a substantial societal benefit.
    July 26, 2017 Institute for Basic Science Read full ScienceDaily article here
    A new study shows that difference in water temperature between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans together with global warming impact the risk of drought and wildfire in southwestern North America.
    …”we were able to show that without anthropogenic effects, the droughts in the southwestern United States would have been less severe.”
    ..The new findings show that a warm Atlantic and a relatively cold Pacific enhance the risk for drought and wildfire in the southwestern US. “According to our study, the Atlantic/Pacific temperature difference shows pronounced variations on timescales of more than 5 years. Like swings of a very slow pendulum, this implies that there is predictability in the large-scale atmosphere/ocean system, which we expect will have a substantial societal benefit,”…
    …”we can use our climate computer model to determine whether on average the next year will have drier or wetter soils or more or less wildfires. Our yearly forecasts are far better than chance.”…

    Yoshimitsu Chikamoto, Axel Timmermann, Matthew J. Widlansky, Magdalena A. Balmaseda, Lowell Stott. Multi-year predictability of climate, drought, and wildfire in southwestern North America. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-06869-7

  4. Electric cars win? Britain to ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040

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    By Kylie MacLellan and Guy Faulconbridge July 26 2017 read full Reuters article here

    LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 in an attempt to reduce air pollution that could herald the end of over a century of reliance on the internal combustion engine….

    The mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centers by 2025, while the French government also aims to end the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.

    The British government has been under pressure to take steps to reduce air pollution after losing legal cases brought by campaign groups. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives had pledged to make “almost every car and van” zero-emission by 2050….

  5. America’s Pledge: States, cities, businesses and citizens taking action to fight climate change

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    [Earlier this month] Gov. Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg [launched] America’s Pledge—an initiative to compile and quantify the actions of U.S. states, cities and businesses to drive down their greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

    America’s Pledge will for the first time aggregate and quantify the commitments of these “non-state actors,” demonstrating to the international community that U.S. climate resolve remains strong despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris.

    …an unprecedented number of U.S. states, cities, and businesses have affirmed their support for the landmark climate deal, including through the We Are Still In” declaration signed by more than 1,500 businesses, nearly 200 cities and counties, nine states, and over 300 universities.

    This enthusiasm for climate action is as yet unquantified, but it’s vast and varied and growing every day:

    • …California Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders released a plan to extend through 2030 California’s cap-and-trade program. The program marshals market forces to motivate investment in low-carbon solutions, drive innovation, create jobs, and cut emissions cost-effectively.
    • Colorado announced it will be the 14th state in the newly formed U.S. Climate Alliance, whose members together represent over a third of the U.S. population and GDP. The states are committed to the U.S. meeting its Paris target of reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
    • More than 350 Climate Mayors have adopted the Paris Agreement goals for their cities. And more than 100 U.S. cities both large and small have pledged to transition their communities to 100% clean energy.
    • About two-thirds or more of mayors who responded to a recent survey by C2ES and The U.S. Conference of Mayors said they generate or buy renewable electricity to power city buildings or operations, buy green vehicles for municipal fleets, and have energy efficiency policies for municipal buildings. And they want to partner with the private sector do more….
  6. Seawalls: Ecological effects of coastal armoring in soft sediment environments

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    • The collaborative study synthesizes the findings of existing literature examining different types of armoring across a variety of soft sediment ecosystems.
    • Understanding how ecological responses [to sea walls] vary with hydrodynamic energy and their effect on water flow could help people design and install armoring structures that could have less ecological impact
    • the menu of options would contain not only the cost of the structure but also some idea of the ecological implications of each type of structure based on the environmental setting.

    July 24 2017 UC Santa Barbara read full ScienceDaily article here

    For nearly a century, the O’Shaughnessy seawall has held back the sand and seas of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. At work even longer: the Galveston seawall, built after America’s deadliest hurricane in 1900 killed thousands in Texas. These are just two examples of how America’s coasts — particularly those with large urban populations — have been armored with humanmade structures.

    While the resulting ecological effects [of sea walls] have been studied more in recent years, the research largely has been conducted in specific settings, making it difficult to generalize these effects across ecosystems and structure types.

    …”Our review not only revealed major gaps in knowledge but also highlighted the fact that existing information on ecological responses to armoring is unevenly distributed across soft sediment habitat types and does not necessarily cover the range of potential environmental and armoring contexts”

    …”Understanding how these ecological responses vary with hydrodynamic energy and their effect on water flow could help people design and install armoring structures that could have less ecological impact,” Dugan said. “Then, the menu of options would contain not only the cost of the structure but also some idea of the ecological implications of each type of structure based on the environmental setting.

    “This is one of the first attempts to assess how engineering structures on beaches and other sedimentary environments affect the biota that inhabits these locations,” said David Garrison, an LTER program director at the National Science Foundation, which supported the research. With some 40 percent of the nation’s human population living in coastal counties, Garrison noted that the study is certainly timely.

    …”Our review not only revealed major gaps in knowledge but also highlighted the fact that existing information on ecological responses to armoring is unevenly distributed across soft sediment habitat types and does not necessarily cover the range of potential environmental and armoring contexts”

    J. E. Dugan, K. A. Emery, M. Alber, C. R. Alexander, J. E. Byers, A. M. Gehman, N. McLenaghan, S. E. Sojka. Generalizing Ecological Effects of Shoreline Armoring Across Soft Sediment Environments. Estuaries and Coasts, 2017; DOI: 10.1007/s12237-017-0254-x

  7. The World May Have Less Time to Address Climate Change Than Scientists; New Global Baseline Adds .2C Warming from 1750 – 1875

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    A new global temperature baseline casts doubt on humanity’s ability to meet the Paris target

    • Accounting for greenhouse gases released from about 1750 to 1875 would add another one-fifth of a degree to the baseline temperature, the study found (.2 C or .36 F).

    By Scott Waldman, E&E News on July 25, 2017

    The temperature baseline used in the Paris climate agreement may have discounted an entire century’s worth of human-caused global warming, a new study has found.

    Countries in the Paris climate agreement set a target of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius by curbing carbon emissions compared to their preindustrial levels. But a new study shows that the preindustrial level used in the agreement, based on temperature records from the late 19th century, doesn’t account for a potential century of rising temperatures caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Accounting for those gases, released from about 1750 to 1875, would add another one-fifth of a degree to the baseline temperature, the study found.

    Published yesterday in Nature Climate Change, the research suggests there’s less time than previously believed to address global warming, said Michael Mann, a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University.

    The study estimates that there may have already been 0.2 degree Celsius of warming, or 0.36 degree Fahrenheit, built into Earth, he said. That means the Paris Agreement would have to be more aggressive, according to the study, which was also written by researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and Reading in the United Kingdom.

    When you take that into account, it turns out we have 40 percent less carbon to burn than we thought we had,” Mann said….

    Andrew P. Schurer, Michael E. Mann, et al. Importance of the pre-industrial baseline for likelihood of exceeding Paris goals Nature Climate Change doi:10.1038/nclimate5

     

  8. Continued increase of extreme El Niño frequency long after 1.5 °C warming stabilization

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    Scientists just found a surprising possible consequence from a very small amount of global warming

    July 24 2017 read full Washington Post article here

    Even if we meet our most ambitious climate goal — keeping global temperatures within a strict 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degree Fahrenheit) of their preindustrial levels — there will still be consequences, scientists say. And they’ll last for years after we stop emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

    New research suggests that extreme El Niño events — which can cause intense rainfall, flooding and other severe weather events in certain parts of the world — will occur more and more often as long as humans continue producing greenhouse gas emissions. And even if we’re able to stabilize the global climate at the 1.5-degree threshold, the study concludes, these events will continue to increase in frequency for up to another 100 years afterward. The findings were published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    It was really a surprise that what we find is after we reach 1.5 degrees Celsius and stabilize world temperatures, the frequency of extreme El Niño continued to increase for another century,” said Wenju Cai, a chief research scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and one of the study’s lead authors. “We were expecting that the risk would stabilize.” …

    …The models suggested that by the time we hit the 1.5-degree mark, the frequency of extreme El Niño will have doubled from its preindustrial level of about five events every 100 years to about 10. This increase will occur steadily over time, the researchers note, meaning that any additional increase in carbon dioxide in the future will lead to an increased risk of an extreme event

    …The researchers noted that the same results did not hold true for La Niña events, which often produce the opposite effects of El Niño. While previous research has suggested that more intense warming scenarios may lead to more frequent La Niña events as well, the milder climate trajectory in this study did not produce any significant changes.

    Trenberth, who was not involved with the research, still has concerns about the models used in the research, which he says are “the same flawed models used before.” He argues that the models do a poor job of capturing some of the impacts of El Niño events — even “regular” ones — and the way they’re influenced by temperature and moisture in the atmosphere….

  9. How California Plans to Go Far Beyond Any Other State on Climate

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      Read full NY Times article here

    Last August, the State Legislature set a goal of slashing emissions more than 40 percent below today’s levels by 2030, a far deeper cut than President Barack Obama proposed for the entire United States and deeper than most other countries have contemplated. So how will California pull this off?

    On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law expanding the state’s cap-and-trade program, which is expected to play a big role. But cutting greenhouse gases this deeply will involve more than cap and trade. The state plans to rethink every corner of its economy, from urban planning to dairy farms.

    Until now, most states have followed a standard playbook for curbing emissions. Market forces have replaced older coal plants with cheaper and cleaner natural gas, while state mandates have added modest shares of wind and solar power to the grid. As a result, domestic carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 14 percent since 2005 at relatively little cost.

    But California has now plucked most of that low-hanging fruit. The state’s emissions are nearly back to 1990 levels, it barely uses any coal and it has installed as many solar panels as the rest of the country combined. Per capita, California has the third-lowest emissions in the nation, after New York and the District of Columbia, which means further cuts will come less easily than they would for a state like Texas.

    “Each additional increment of carbon reduction is tougher than the previous one,” said Dan Reicher, director of the Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford. He added, “California will have to reach deeper into the bag of technologies” to cut emissions from more stubborn polluters like oil refineries and cement plants.

    …In January, California’s Air Resources Board, which has broad latitude to carry out the state’s climate laws, detailed one possible strategy for cutting emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

    First, by law, California must get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, up from 25 percent today. That’s a herculean task in itself: The state is already straining to cope with sharp swings in solar power during afternoons and will soon have to juggle ever-larger shares of intermittent renewable electricity, by deploying batteries, reworking its grid or taking other novel approaches.

    Second, the board envisioned the number of electric cars and other zero-emissions vehicles on California’s roads rising to 4.2 million by 2030 from 250,000 today. Freight trucks would have to become more efficient or electrified, while cities would need to adopt far-reaching strategies to promote mass transit, biking and walking.

    But a major push on renewable power and transportation would get California just one-fourth of the way toward its goal. Other cuts would come from doubling efficiency savings from buildings and industry, no mean feat in a state that already has some of the strictest building codes in the country. The state would also need to lower the carbon content of its gasoline supply under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, possibly by increasing biofuel use.

    One-third of the reductions in the proposal would come from curbing emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — from landfills, wastewater facilities and manure piles at dairy farms. No state has ever regulated agriculture so aggressively, and dairy farmers are pushing back, warning that capturing methane from millions of cows could prove untenable.

    …So, as a complement to these efforts, Mr. Brown insisted on expanding another major program: cap and trade.Mr. Brown has promoted California’s policies as a way of convincing the world that the United States won’t abandon the fight against climate change, even after Mr. Trump announced a withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. “I want to do everything we can to keep America on track, keep the world on track,” Mr. Brown said in May.

    California is responsible for only 1 percent of global emissions. But it could contribute even more to the world’s efforts by advancing new tools to tackle climate change, like floating deepwater wind farms.

    If the state stumbles, that could provide valuable lessons, too. By 2030, California plans to close its last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, which provides 9 percent of the state’s electricity. The idea is to replace that lost power with renewables and efficiency. If that proves unworkable, it could offer a warning to other states facing nuclear shutdowns.

    California’s push to make cap and trade effective could also have global ramifications, especially since Europe has failed to gain traction with its emissions-trading program and China is testing its own version

  10. Restore soil in addition to vegetation; Study results suggest aboveground restoration does not restore soil microbial communities.

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    July 26 2017

    Michael S. Strickland, Mac A. Callaham Jr., Emile S. Gardiner, John A. Stanturf, Jonathan W. Leff, Noah Fierer, Mark A. Bradford. Response of soil microbial community composition and function to a bottomland forest restoration intensity gradientJuly 2017. Applied Soil Ecology 199: 317-326 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apsoil.2017.07.008

    Comments from Dr. Chelsea Carey, Sr. Soil Ecologist at Point Blue:

    The findings differ from some other papers we have seen recently (where microorganisms rapidly respond to restoration efforts, and are influenced by changes in plant community composition); instead, the results of this study support another view, one which acknowledges the need to directly restore the soil in addition to vegetation.

    Some conclusions from discussion:In fact, from a microbial perspective the act of agricultural cessation likely had the most marked influence on these soil communities, while efforts aimed at rapidly establishing trees had relatively little effect to date. Our results therefore help to validate the emerging use of practices which focus directly on restoring soil biotic communities and their functions, through restoration treatments such as transplanting a thin layer of topsoil – albeit labor intensive – from sites similar to the restoration end-point (Kardol et al., 2009; Pywell et al., 2011; Vecrin and Muller, 2003; Wubs et al., 2016). That is, building a better aboveground community does not ensure that an equivalent belowground community will take the field, and so the focus should be on directly establishing both the aboveground and belowground players in future restoration efforts rather than relying on restoration myths (sensu Hilderbrand et al., 2005).”

    Highlights

    •We examined the effect of intensifying aboveground restoration on soil microbes.
    •Restoration had little influence on soil microbial community composition.
    •Restoration had little influence on soil microbial community function.
    Results suggest aboveground restoration does not restore soil microbial communities.

    Abstract: “Terrestrial ecosystems are globally under threat of loss or degradation. To compensate for the impacts incurred by loss and/or degradation, efforts to restore ecosystems are being undertaken. These efforts often focus on restoring the aboveground plant community with the expectation that the belowground microbial community will follow suit. This ‘Field of Dreams’ expectation – if you build it, they will come – makes untested assumptions about how microbial communities and their functions will respond to aboveground-focused restoration. To determine if restoration of aboveground plant communities equates to restoration of belowground microbial communities, we assessed the effects of four forest restoration treatments – varying in intensity from unmanaged to interplanting tree species – on microbial (i.e. prokaryotic and fungal) community composition and function (i.e. catabolic profiles and extracellular enzyme activities). Additionally, effects of the restoration treatments were compared to both degraded (i.e. active arable cultivation) and target endpoint communities (i.e. remnant bottomland forest) to determine the trajectory of intensifying aboveground restoration efforts on microbial communities. Approximately 16 years after the initiation of the restoration treatments, prokaryotic and fungal community composition, and microbial function in the four restoration treatments were intermediate to the endpoint communities. Surprisingly, intensification of aboveground restoration efforts led to few differences among the four restoration treatments and increasing intensification did not consistently lead to microbial communities with greater similarity in composition and function to the target remnant forest communities. Together these results suggest that belowground microbial community composition and function will respond little to, or will lag markedly behind, intensifying aboveground restoration efforts. Reliance on a ‘Field of Dreams’ approach, even if you build it better, may still lead to belowground microbial communities that remain uncoupled from aboveground communities. Importantly, our findings suggest that restoring aboveground vegetation may not lead to the intended restoration of belowground microbial communities and the ecosystem processes they mediate.”