Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Archive: Dec 2017

  1. Nudging Natural Magic– Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Sea Level Rise Adaptation Pilot

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    • Preliminary results of the Oro Loma horizontal levee experiment on the San Lorenzo shore (SF Bay) include off the charts levels of removal of nitrogen and pharmaceuticals from wastewater passed through the system and growth of willows, cattails, and wet meadows.
    • Modernizing the planning and regulatory context for resilience projects is an emerging regional priority.
    By Ariel Rubissow Okamoto December 2017 SF Estuary Partnership   read full Estuary article here

    “Miraculous” isn’t a term that comes easily to the lips of scientists and engineers. But the word, along with a quickly quelled gulp of incredulity, cropped up more than once in interviews concerning the preliminary results of the horizontal levee experiment on the San Lorenzo shore – including off the charts levels of removal of nitrogen and pharmaceuticals from wastewater passed through the system and growth of willows, cattails, and wet meadows

    This pilot sea level rise adaptation project, led by the Oro Loma Sanitary District, combines precision engineering, native plants, irrigation via treated household wastewater, and a hump of bay mud, sand, and gravel. The idea is to test which ingredients –liquid, solid, vegetable –in what doses and combinations make the levee bulk up and leaf out fastest, and best “polish” (clean) the wastewater….

    …But perhaps the most extraordinary early result is coming from an examination of the quality of the treated wastewater that passes through the levee and all its elaborate hardware, soil zones, and root systems. Researcher Angela Perantoni is one of a team intensely monitoring exactly what gets put into pipes at the top of the experimental levee and what comes out at the bottom, or what engineers call the “toe” of the slope. “A lot of constructed wetlands designed to polish wastewater are monocultures made up of pea-sized gravel and common reeds,” says Perantoni. “This project took the time to create a more diverse, native situation.”…


    Participants in the Resilient by Design challenge visit the horizontal levee in fall 2017, with the jungle of plant growth behind them and a wet-weather basin to be tested this winter out front. Photo Ariel Rubissow Okamoto

    ….Though these preliminary results are just beginning to be tested under colder, wetter, more wintry conditions, planners and engineers are already thinking about bigger, longer versions of the horizontal levee in Palo Alto, Richmond, Novato, and Hayward. Each of these new levees might, however, have a different emphasis than the one at Oro Loma in terms of habitat or flood control or water quality.

    ….“Based on the current regulations, they can’t treat us any differently than a developer who wants to construct a Walmart at the edge of the Bay,” says Warner.  The district had to spend a million before it even knew it could get a permit, he says, as well as construct new wetlands to replace old degraded ones and build an expensive berm around the entire project to preclude any leaks.

    Modernizing the planning and regulatory context for resilience projects is an emerging regional priority. Indeed creating new pathways for building multi-benefit natural infrastructure projects is an action item regional partners have already agreed was needed in the 2016 Estuary Blueprint.  Progress in this endeavor includes regulatory analysis and guidance under the Flood 2.0 project, and continued public-private collaboration around projects like Oro Loma….

  2. Urban habitat restoration provides a human health benefit through microbiome rewilding: the Microbiome Rewilding Hypothesis

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    • We propose the Microbiome Rewilding Hypothesis, which specifically outlines that restoring biodiverse habitats in urban green spaces can rewild the environmental microbiome to a state that enhances primary prevention of human disease…

    October 2017 Restoration Ecology

    Abstract

    Restoration aims to return ecosystem services, including the human health benefits of exposure to green space. The loss of such exposure with urbanization and industrialization has arguably contributed to an increase in human immune dysregulation. The Biodiversity and Old Friends hypotheses have described the possible mechanisms of this relationship, and suggest that reduced exposure to diverse, beneficial microorganisms can result in negative health consequences. However, it is unclear whether restoration of biodiverse habitat can reverse this effect, and what role the environmental microbiome might have in such recovery. Here, we propose the Microbiome Rewilding Hypothesis, which specifically outlines that restoring biodiverse habitats in urban green spaces can rewild the environmental microbiome to a state that enhances primary prevention of human disease. We support our hypothesis with examples from allied fields, including a case study of active restoration that reversed the degradation of the soil bacterial microbiome of a former pasture. This case study used high-throughput amplicon sequencing of environmental DNA to assess the quality of a restoration intervention in restoring the soil bacterial microbiome. The method is rapid, scalable, and standardizable, and has great potential as a monitoring tool to assess functional outcomes of green-space restoration. Evidence for the Microbiome Rewilding Hypothesis will help motivate health professionals, urban planners, and restoration practitioners to collaborate and achieve co-benefits. Co-benefits include improved human health outcomes and investment opportunities for biodiversity conservation and restoration.

    Mills, J. G., Weinstein, P., Gellie, N. J. C., Weyrich, L. S., Lowe, A. J. and Breed, M. F. (2017), Urban habitat restoration provides a human health benefit through microbiome rewilding: the Microbiome Rewilding Hypothesis. Restor Ecol, 25: 866–872. doi:10.1111/rec.12610

  3. Nature-based Solutions at the COP 23 UN Climate Meeting– Blog post for the 2018 CA Adaptation Forum

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    December 13, 2017 by Ellie Cohen, Point Blue Conservation Science  See here for my full postand more on the 2018 CA Adaptation Forum August 28-29 in Sacramento.

    ….And, after more than four years of negotiations, the countries formally recognized that how we manage agricultural lands can be a significant part of the climate solution for carbon sequestration, water, biodiversity and other benefits.

    The latest science indicates we will need dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas pollution and removal of warming gases from the atmosphere to get back to a safe climate by 2100 (<1C of warming and ~350 PPM CO2 in the atmosphere).  Natural climate solutions, including reforestation and climate-smart land management will be key to achieving these “negative emissions” goals as well as resilience and adaptation.

    At a COP23 panel on this topic, Dr. Deborah Bossio of The Nature Conservancy, reported on a recent publication showing that natural climate solutions could make up more than 1/3 of the emissions reductions needed to stay below the 2°C warming limit by 2030 per the Paris accords.  She also reported on a new study she coauthored that better management of cropland soils could conservatively sequester up to 7 billion tons (Gt) of CO2e per year or about 18% of annual global emissions, while also providing food and water security.

    COP23 featured multiple presentations and discussions on nature-based solutions to the climate crisis.  Barron Joseph Orr of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, spoke about “optimizing your land” and reminded us that “you can’t have biodiversity above ground unless it’s in the soil.”  Another panel featured Batio Brassiere, Minister of the Environment for Green Economy and Climate Change from Burkino Faso.  He explained how “agroecology can help save the environment, improve living conditions, increase productivity and remove carbon from the atmosphere.”

    And, Inger Anderson, Director of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature summed it up when she said, “When you invest in nature, nature invests right back into our communities and resilience.”…

  4. Thomas fire (Ventura/Santa Barbara Co.) rages amid longest red flag warning on record

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    by Joseph Serna, Brittny Mejia  Dec 15 2017 read full LA Times article here

    As crews battling the deadly Thomas fire girded for a difficult weekend of firefighting, Los Angeles and Ventura counties ended their 12th consecutive day of red flag fire warnings Friday — the longest sustained period of fire weather warnings on record.

    “We put out plenty of red flag warnings, but we haven’t seen them out 12 days in a row. That’s unusual,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Curt Kaplan. “This has been the longest duration event that we have had a red flag warning out without any breaks.”…

    …Even when forecasters say the winds will blow south, swirling gusts at lower elevations could drive the blaze in another direction, Olivas said. The lack of uniformity to the winds in the forest north of Santa Barbara is what makes fighting a fire there so difficult, he said.

    The Thomas fire has destroyed more than 900 structures in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties since it began Dec. 4 in Santa Paula. In its first day, the fire spread southwest, toward Ventura, and northwest, eventually hugging Ojai before pushing to the Santa Barbara coast.

  5. Forest resilience declines in face of wildfires in a warmer climate

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    • They found significant decreases in tree regeneration following wildfires in the early 21st century, a period markedly hotter and drier than the late 20th century. The research team said that with a warming climate, forests are less resilient after wildfires.
    • While trees similar to the ones that burned have typically been planted on a fire-ravaged site, that may no longer be the smartest approach. Managers may want to plant species that are adapted to the current and future climate, not the climate of the past.

    December 12, 2017 Colorado State University read full ScienceDaily article here

    The forests you see today are not what you will see in the future. That’s the overarching finding from a new study on the resilience of Rocky Mountain forests.

    ….They wanted to understand if and how changing climate over the last several decades affected post-fire tree regeneration, a key indicator of forest resilience.

    They found sobering results, including significant decreases in tree regeneration following wildfires in the early 21st century, a period markedly hotter and drier than the late 20th century. The research team said that with a warming climate, forests are less resilient after wildfires.

    ….Stevens-Rumann said that while trees similar to the ones that burned have typically been planted on a fire-ravaged site, that may no longer be the smartest approach….

    Managers may want to plant species that are adapted to the current and future climate, not the climate of the past,” she said. “There also are areas that could support certain tree species but there isn’t any regeneration currently; these are the ideal places to plant after a fire.”

    The problem could also be addressed when a fire happens.

    Another strategy is to foster fires burning under less extreme conditions, so that more trees survive to provide seed for future forests,” said Penny Morgan, professor at the University of Idaho and co-author of the study. “When fires are patchy, more areas are within reach of a surviving tree.”…

    Camille S. Stevens-Rumann, Kerry B. Kemp, Philip E. Higuera, Brian J. Harvey, Monica T. Rother, Daniel C. Donato, Penelope Morgan, Thomas T. Veblen. Evidence for declining forest resilience to wildfires under climate change. Ecology Letters, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12889

  6. Odds of megadroughts- warming world can produce 30+ year periods of severe drought in western US

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    December 14, 2017 Cornell University  read full ScienceDaily article here

    To help untangle fact from speculation, scientists have developed a ‘robust null hypothesis’ to assess the odds of a megadrought — one that lasts more than 30 years — occurring in the western and southwestern United States…

    ….Using tree ring and other physical evidence, researchers determined that the American Southwest saw five megadroughts from 800 to 1300 A.D., a period almost as warm as it is today, though Ault explained that the causes were different, such as solar activity. Today, Ault and his colleagues want to know if an actively warming world can stimulate a megadrought.

    ….”It’s surprising that even with this simple statistical model, we can get megadroughts that are as prolonged, as severe and as widespread as the worst droughts of the last 1,200 years in the west.”…

    Toby R. Ault, Scott St. George, Jason E. Smerdon, Sloan Coats, Justin S. Mankin, Carlos M. Carrillo, Benjamin I. Cook, Samantha Stevenson. A Robust Null Hypothesis for the Potential Causes of Megadrought in Western North America. Journal of Climate, 2018; 31 (1): 3 DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-17-0154.1

  7. We are creating a new class of extreme weather events, with dire results

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    • the 2016 global heat record, a deadly heat wave in Southeast Asia, and “marine hot spots” that led to devastating coral bleaching could not have occurred without the influence of human-caused global warming.
    • we are manufacturing our own extremes according to scientists at the 2017 American Geophysical Union’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans

    by Andrew Freeman December 14 2017  read full Mashable article here

    ….Global warming is bringing us newly possible extremes, from the 2016 global average surface temperature milestone (it was number one, baby), to a stifling heat wave in Southeast Asia that set numerous all-time high temperature records.

    The reason we know this tipping point in extreme weather and climate events has been passed is because of a growing sub-field within climate science, known as detection and attribution research. Scientists who work in this field are the climate equivalent of CSI investigators, probing for clues about what may have led to an extreme event soon after it occurs. …

    …..Scientists tend to shy away from bold pronouncements. But this year’s report is different…..On Wednesday, at the American Geophysical Union’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans, ….. contributors to 2016’s edition threw much of that typical caution to the increasingly gusty wind.

    The message of the 2016 attribution issue is that a sea change has occurred in our understanding of what we, by burning fossil fuels for energy, are doing to our weather. In short, we’re now manufacturing our own extremes, scientists said.

    It can no longer be said that we are simply raising the odds of particular events, or making them more severe, or both. In fact, we’re now pushing the climate into new territory entirely, researchers said.

    In other words, instead of realizing the sci-fi fantasy of controlling our weather, we’ve done everything possible to push the atmosphere toward a new, more malevolent form of chaos. 

    Out of the 27 extreme events examined in the peer reviewed report, investigators looking into three of them — the 2016 global heat record, a deadly heat wave in Southeast Asia, and “marine hot spots” that led to devastating coral bleaching — concluded that the events could not have occurred without the influence of human-caused global warming. In other words, take away global warming, and these things probably wouldn’t have happened. …

    …Regarding the 2016 global temperature record, scientists concluded that at least part of the warmth was due to a strong El Niño event, but that most of the warm temperature record was due to human-caused climate change during the past 100 years.

    …Another study in the BAMS issue found that extreme heat in Southeast Asia, particularly India and Thailand, near the end of 2016 “would not have been possible without climate change.” ….

     

     

  8. Climate Change Could Take the Air Out of Wind Farms

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    December 11, 2017 Eric Niler  read full WIRED article here

    Big offshore wind farms power Europe’s drive for a carbon-free society, while rows of spinning turbines across America’s heartland churn enough energy to power 25 million US homes. But a new study predicts that a changing climate will weaken winds that blow across much of the Northern hemisphere, possibly leading to big drops in clean wind energy.

    That’s because the temperature difference between the North Pole and the equator, which drives atmospheric energy in the form of winds and storm systems, is shrinking as the Arctic warms. A warmer Arctic means less of a temperature difference and therefore weaker winds across the central United States, the United Kingdom, the northern Middle East, and parts of Asia. It’s just one of many weather-related effects that scientists forecast are likely to occur as concentrations of heat-trapping carbon dioxide continue to rise in the Earth’s atmosphere—from stronger hurricanes to weaker polar vortexes.

    Our results don’t show the wind power goes to zero, it’s a reduction of 10 percent over broad regions,” says Kristopher Karnauskas, a climate scientist at Colorado University Boulder and lead author of the new study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience. “But it’s not trivial.”…

    Karnaukas, K et al. Southward shift of the global wind energy resource under high carbon dioxide emissions. Nature Geoscience (2017) doi:10.1038/s41561-017-0029-9

     

     

  9. Some can’t be persuaded on climate change. So now what?

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    • One more round of “messaging” won’t do it.
    • Just about every substantial policy shift in the US in the past 20 years has been a matter of one side overwhelming the other — of conflict, not consensus.
    • Agonism (thanks to Henderson, a climate-focused social scientist, for the tweet tip) is the view that in some contexts and within limits, political conflict is good. Sometimes conflict clarifies, educates, and leads to progress. Sometimes the right strategy is to grab and own an issue, to exclude (not invite) the other party, to tie the issue to core coalition values and use the intensity to increase the political power of the coalition.

    …..Well, as I’ve written many times, public opinion is not some great enduring mystery. There’s a decent consensus in the social sciences on what most moves public opinion: elite cues.

    And so it is with climate change. Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle has been all over this for years — see, e.g., this recent paper with McGill’s Jason Carmichael. Science-based educational campaigns have virtually no effect on climate opinion, they found. Weather events and economic swings have some temporary effects. What moves the needle are elite cues.

    That’s just a fancy way of saying that people care more about something when they see it around them, when they read it in the newspaper, see it on TV, hear politicians discussing it, see activists in the streets marching about it, watch celebrities pretending to care about it. Those are all elite cues.

    That’s the stuff that shapes ordinary people’s opinions, on all sides of the political spectrum. Very few individuals have the time and wherewithal to investigate the world’s woes independently. They absorb the values and worldviews of their tribes….

    ….the good news is that if conservative elite opinion swung around on climate change, conservative mass opinion would swing easily behind. Nobody really cares about “issues” like this beyond how they inform social identity anyway. Very few people beyond the Heritage Foundation have any independent commitment to flat-earthism on climate.

    ….Just about every substantial policy shift in the US in the past 20 years has been a matter of one side overwhelming the other — of conflict, not consensus. Some were “bipartisan” in the sense that a few legislators crossed the aisle, but partisan unity is more and more the rule in US politics. We have “weak parties and strong partisanship,” as political scientist Julia Azari puts it, which makes substantial compromise more and more difficult.

    “Pundits who say that ‘nothing can get done without bipartisan support’,” write Steven Teles, Heather Hurlburt, and Mark Schmitt in one of my favorite essays on polarization, “no longer have the evidence on their side.” In fact, that increasingly looks like the only way anything ever gets done….

    ….Agonism (thanks to Henderson, a climate-focused social scientist, for the tweet tip) is the view that in some contexts and within limits, political conflict is good. Sometimes conflict clarifies, educates, and leads to progress.

    Sometimes the right strategy is to grab and own an issue, to exclude (not invite) the other party, to tie the issue to core coalition values and use the intensity to increase the political power of the coalition.

    ….It may just be that we’re not all going to get along — that the only way to move forward on this is to fight it out.

    If that’s true, then what matters most on the left is not the breadth of agreement, but the depth. It is intensity that wins political battles. The only way Democrats can achieve progress on this is to intensify the fight.

    Tepid “free market” messages, forever hoping to win over an unwinnable right, won’t do that. They do nothing to inspire those who already care and are primed for action.

    ….The weather is only getting worse, young people are only getting more engaged, and clean energy is only getting cheaper. Climate change and clean energy will be winning issues in the long term.

    Why not claim and own them while it’s still possible? Then the GOP’s motto in the 2020s can be: “Hey, We Like Clean Energy Too!”

    In reality, Democrats probably don’t have the wherewithal to mount that kind of fight. But that’s the only thing that has a chance of breaking the stalemate. The quest to persuade US conservatives on climate change has been extraordinarily long, vigorous, and well-documented. It has also been largely fruitless. Perhaps it’s time for a little agonism.

  10. Controlled burns limited severity of Rim Fire – Yosemite 2013

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    • In fire-prone forests, self-reinforcing fire behavior may generate a mosaic of vegetation types and structures. In forests long subject to fire exclusion, such feedbacks may result in forest loss when surface and canopy fuel accumulations lead to unusually severe fires.
    • Self-reinforcing fire behavior results mainly from effects of vegetation structure and fuels on fire severity and that this behavior is mediated by topographic setting and the time since last fire.
    • The best predictor of fire severity was how severe the area last burned– Low severity burning seems to be very effective at limiting the severity of subsequent fires.
    • Severe fires leave behind a new legacy on the landscape. Less frequent, more severe fires caused by human intervention can change the composition of the forest and make future severe fires more likely to occur. For example, shrubs, which grow quickly after a fire, can take over forestland and then burn again before trees are able to re-establish.

    December 8, 2017 Penn State  read full ScienceDaily article here

    Controlled burning of forestland helped limit the severity of one of California’s largest wildfires, according to geographers.

    Fire burning in forest. Credit: Alan Taylor, Penn State

    ….The researchers studying the Rim Fire, which in 2013 burned nearly 400 square miles of forest in the Sierra Nevadas, found the blaze was less severe in areas recently treated with controlled burns.

    ….”It points to the potential use of prescribed fires to reduce severe fire effects across landscapes,” he said. “You can fight fire with fire. You can fight severe fires using these more controlled fires under conditions that are suitable.

    Scientists examined 21 previous fires within the Rim Fire’s perimeter, which burned in and around Yosemite National Park. They found areas that had burned within the preceding 15 years fared better in the 2013 blaze.

    The best predictor of fire severity was how severe the area last burned, according to the findings published in the journal Ecosphere.

    Low severity burning seems to be very effective at limiting the severity of subsequent fires,” said Lucas Harris, a graduate student in geography and lead author on the paper.

    …”Fire severity has been increasing for about the past three decades,” Taylor said. “There are real questions about whether we are beginning to see a shift in vegetation types driven by fire activity fueled by fire suppression and climate change.”

    The researchers said severe fires leave behind a new legacy on the landscape. Less frequent, more severe fires caused by human intervention can change the composition of the forest and make future severe fires more likely to occur. For example, shrubs, which grow quickly after a fire, can take over forestland and then burn again before trees are able to re-establish….

    “If you have a high severity initial fire, that’s a real lost opportunity,” Harris said. “You are probably getting a vegetation change due to that first fire that’s going to cause more high-severity fires in the future and potentially the emergence of non-forest that could last for a long time.

    Lucas Harris, Alan H. Taylor. Previous burns and topography limit and reinforce fire severity in a large wildfire. Ecosphere, 2017; 8 (11): e02019 DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2019