Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Archive: Dec 2017

  1. Thanks and Happy New Year!

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    Dear friends-

    Thank you for your commitment to advancing conservation.  I am deeply grateful for all you do.

    Please consider a gift in support of Point Blue and our urgently-needed climate-smart conservation science.  You can make your 2017 year-end gift here today!

    Working together, we can secure a safe and healthy future for wildlife and people.

    Wishing you and yours the very best in 2018!

    Ellie

  2. California: The Flood That Could Change Everything [must read esp. if you live in CA]

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    • California is spending billions to protect the millions at risk of a megaflood, but thanks to climate change, it’s too little too late.

    • California’s megaflood isn’t the stuff of fantasy flicks, it’s based on a 200-plus page piece of science that tested the limits of what was humanly possible in disaster prediction eight years ago known as the ARkStorm scenario… designed with an explicit purpose in mind: to objectively quantify and qualify the California’s threat of a coming flood that only a small group of niche scientists knew the bounds of at the time.
    • Climate change is increasing the chances that not only will these rare flood events become the norm in California, but that in the decades to come they could be even more intense than the one predicted here.

    By Eric Zerkel December 2017  read full Weather Channel article here

    ….The water will linger for days, weeks and in some places months. By the time it subsides the final toll will redefine the word catastrophe: More than $850 billion in damages (adjusted for inflation), more than four times costlier than Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. More than a million people forced to flee their homes in one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history, and many who return will return to nothing.

    This is California’s megaflood, a catastrophe not seen in a lifetime, but one scientists, disaster experts and officials know is coming in a warming world. No one knows when it will come, but it has happened in centuries past, and these are just some of its scientifically predicted and realistic impacts in modern day California. 

    Now climate change is increasing the chances that not only will these rare flood events become the norm in California, but that in the decades to come they could be even more intense than the one predicted here.

    California’s once-in-centuries catastrophe is no longer a future problem. Billions of dollars of local, state and federal action to bolster the state’s outdated flood protections have come too late and isn’t enough to protect the millions of Californians currently at risk of such an event and the millions more who will be at risk in the decades to come.

    Californians are playing climate catch-up in a state that’s ground zero for climate change’s future megafloods…..

    ….June’s water bond, the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access For All Act of 2018, calls for another $4 billion in bonds for statewide parks and water projects, but only $1.3 billion of that is allocated for water projects, and further, only $550 million of it is set aside specifically for flood protection and repair.

    Of that $550 million, $350 million is designated to the DWR for flood management in the Central Valley, including $50 million specifically set aside for levee repairs in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Deltas.

    Some $100 million is available for grants for “stormwater, mudslide, and other flash-flood-related protections” and another $100 million for grants for “multibenefit projects in urbanized areas to address flooding” statewide.

    But the bill’s primary goal is investment in parks, particularly in communities without access to parks, leaving flood protection as a footnote. The bill’s author, Kevin De León called it “the single largest investment in the history of the United States to park-starved communities.”

    The proposed November bond, drafted by the former deputy secretary of the state Natural Resources Agency, Jerry Meral, aims to be “complementary” to the June ballot measure and “make sure that no critical problem was totally ignored,” filling in some of the gaps of flood protection funding from the June bond.  …

    The Flood That Could Change Everything

    Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Water Resources (2013)

    The Flood That Could Change Everything

     

    The Flood That Could Change EverythingThis January 1862 photo shows floodwaters along K Street looking west from 4th street in Sacramento after the Great Flood of 1861-62. (California State Library, DWR)

    The Flood That Could Change Everything

    Changing Climate, Changing Floods

    Climate change’s expected increase in temperatures and extreme precipitation will combine to produce more epic floods in California. This graphic shows how warmer temperatures will melt snowpack quicker and dump more rain and less snow on mountain ranges, leading to more prolific floods. Source: California Department of Water Resources 2017

    The Flood That Could Change Everything

    One of the 23,000 homes flooded during the 1997 floods in California. (Norm Hughes/California Department of Water Resources)

  3. Microsoft “AI [Artificial Intelligence] For Earth” Project Will Democratize Access To Climate Change Data

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    • Microsoft will invest $50 million over the next 5 years to democratize access to the data available about the environment available from the thousands of land, sea, and atmospheric sensors in place around the world using AI or artificial intelligence

    December 28th, 2017 by Steve Hanley  read full cleantechnica article here

    Information is power. Until recently, information about the condition of the earth’s environment has been accessible only to a limited number of people — climate scientists, researchers, and government officials among them. On December 11 — the two-year anniversary of the Paris climate accords — Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, announced his company will invest $50 million over the next 5 years to democratize access to the data available about the environment available from the thousands of land, sea, and atmospheric sensors in place around the world using AI or artificial intelligence…

    …On its AI For Earth webpage, Microsoft sets forth 3 goals:

    • Access — Through the AI for Earth grant program, individuals and organizations can gain access to cloud and AI computing resources to create more efficient environmental solutions.
    • Education — New AI for Earth educational opportunities will enable organizations to explore available AI tools, learn how to use them, and discover how these tools can meet their specific needs.
    • Innovation — AI for Earth will accelerate the pace of innovation by managing projects that demonstrate new applications, publishing research to further the scientific discussion, and partnering with others to expand and grow initial projects….

    ….According to a report by Futurism, the expansion of the AI For Earth program involves 3 steps. First, Microsoft will provide funding for researchers around the world to design and test new AI applications. Second, the most promising applications will receive additional funds to bring them to scale. Third, Microsoft will make the most useful applications part of the services it provides to climate scientists and others involved with sustainable initiatives….

  4. California is powering toward its climate goals. But it only gets harder from here.

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    • Just 19% of planet-warming emissions tracked by the state came from electricity in 2015; 23% from industrial facilities like oil refineries and cement plants, with smaller contributions from agriculture, gas heating systems at homes and businesses, and chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning; the biggest –39% of California’s emissions – the largest — came from cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles in 2015.

    Sammy Roth Dec. 26, 2017  read the full Desert Sun article here

    …The Golden State gets nearly half its electricity from climate-friendly sources, including solar, wind, hydro and nuclear. Carbon emissions keep inching downward, putting the state on track to reduce planet-warming pollution to 1990 levels by 2020, as mandated by state law.

    Some lawmakers think it’s time for more ambitious goals. State Senate leader Kevin de León introduced a bill last year that would have required the state to get 100 percent of is electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2045 — a big jump from current requirements.

    That bill wasn’t passed — at least not yet — but some utilities seem to have gotten the message. Investor-owned Southern California Edison recently released a plan for California to get 80 percent of its electricity from climate-friendly sources by 2030

    …But for all the progress California has made cleaning up its electricity, slashing carbon emissions is only going to get harder from here.

    Just 19 percent of planet-warming emissions tracked by the state came from electricity in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the California Air Resources Board. Twenty-three percent came from industrial facilities like oil refineries and cement plants, with smaller contributions from agriculture, gas heating systems at homes and businesses, and chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning.

    The biggest source of climate pollution was transportation. Thirty-nine percent of California’s emissions came from cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles in 2015….

    …a dramatic shift away from gasoline-powered vehicles over the next few decades will be a huge lift for California. One bright spot is that the cost of lithium-ion car batteries continues to drop, and automakers are offering ever-cheaper electric vehicles.

    …Continuing to ramp up clean electricity is also expected to get harder. The rapidly falling costs of solar and wind have led to stunning growth of those technologies, but the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Experts say California will need new strategies to get to 50 percent clean electricity, and ultimately 100 percent….

    …Options for scaling up renewable energy include lithium-ion battery storage, which like solar and wind is getting cheaper, as well as innovative energy management strategies, like encouraging people to use energy at different times of day through restructured electricity rates or incentive payments.

    Good old energy efficiency is probably the cheapest option. California’s per-capita electricity consumption has stayed flat since the mid-1970s, and a 2015 law calls for the state to double its energy-efficiency savings by 2030. That doubling will require more efficient buildings and appliances, as well as savings by industry and agriculture, according to the California Energy Commission.

    ….cities are looking to ditch their electric utilities and form “community choice aggregators,” in which local officials decide where to buy energy. The desire for cleaner energy is often a key motivation. By some estimates, investor-owned utilities like Edison could lose as much as 80 percent of their customer bases to community choice programs over the next decade. That’s worrying for the utility industry, but exciting for many clean energy advocates….

  5. How we know it was climate change in record breaking hurricanes and wildfires in the US

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    •  Did climate change play a role in record breaking hurricanes and wildfires in the US this year? Increasingly, scientists are able to answer that question — and increasingly, the answer is yes.
    • There is now ample evidence that global warming has influenced extremes in the United States and around the world through such factors as temperature, atmospheric moisture and sea level. This doesn’t mean that every event has a human fingerprint. But it does mean that we can expect more years like this one, when our old expectations no longer apply.

    STANFORD, Calif. —

    ….My lab recently published a new framework for examining connections between global warming and extreme events. Other scientists are doing similar research. How would we go about testing whether global warming has influenced the events that occurred this year?

    Consider Hurricane Harvey, which caused enormous destruction along the Gulf Coast; it will cost an estimated $180 billion to recover from the hurricane’s storm surge, high winds and record-setting precipitation and flooding. Did global warming contribute to this disaster? The word “contribute” is key. This doesn’t mean that without global warming, there wouldn’t have been a hurricane. Rather, the question is whether changes in the climate raised the odds of producing extreme conditions.

    Hurricanes are complicated business. While there is evidence that global warming should increase the frequency of very intense storms, their rarity and complexity make it difficult to detect climate change’s fingerprint.

    It is therefore critical to examine all of the contributing factors. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, these include the warm ocean that provided energy for the storm; the elevated sea level on top of which the storm surge occurred; the atmospheric pressure pattern that contributed to the storm’s stalling over the coast; and the atmospheric water vapor that provided moisture for the record-setting precipitation…..

    ….Our scientific framework can also be applied to other events. Like Harvey’s devastation, California’s ravaging wildfires arose from a confluence of factors. Strong, dry winds were the most immediate contributor. In addition, the protracted drought that killed millions of trees created substantial fuel. After the drought, an extremely wet winter was followed by severely hot, dry conditions in the summer and fall, which together produced near-record fuel for fires. Although each of these specific factors will need to be analyzed, we already know that global warming has increased fuel aridity in the West, meaning that fires are more likely to encounter large amounts of dry fuel.

    There is now ample evidence that global warming has influenced extremes in the United States and around the world through such factors as temperature, atmospheric moisture and sea level. This doesn’t mean that every event has a human fingerprint. But it does mean that we can expect more years like this one, when our old expectations no longer apply.

  6. Climate Change: Happening Faster and More Extreme – summary of recent research

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    • New research suggests human-caused emissions will lead to bigger impacts on heat and extreme weather, and sooner than the IPCC warned just three years ago.

    • Increasingly, the science suggests that many of the impacts are occurring earlier and with greater amplitude than was predicted….We have literally, in the space of a year, doubled our assessment of the potential sea level rise we could see by the end of this century. That is simply remarkable. And it is sobering.”
  7. The Ecology of Soil Carbon: Pools, Vulnerabilities, and Biotic and Abiotic Controls- and Questions for Future Research

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    • Soils hold the largest biogeochemically active terrestrial carbon pool on Earth and are critical for stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Nonetheless, global pressures on soils continue from changes in land management, including the need for increasing bioenergy and food production

    Jackson, Robert, et al. The Ecology of Soil Carbon: Pools, Vulnerabilities, and Biotic and Abiotic Controls. The Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics.  September 2017. 48:419–45 https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-ecolsys 112414-054234

    Soil organic matter (SOM) anchors global terrestrial productivity and food and fiber supply. SOM retains water and soil nutrients and stores more global carbon than do plants and the atmosphere combined. SOM is also decomposed by microbes, returning CO2, a greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, soil carbon stocks have been widely lost or degraded through land use changes and unsustainable forest and agricultural practices.

    To understand its structure and function and to maintain and restore SOM, we need a better appreciation of soil organic carbon (SOC) saturation capacity and the retention of above- and belowground inputs in SOM. Our analysis suggests root inputs are approximately five times more likely than an equivalent mass of aboveground litter to be stabilized as SOM. Microbes, particularly fungi and bacteria, and soil faunal food webs strongly influence SOM decomposition at shallower depths, whereas mineral associations drive stabilization at depths greater than ∼30 cm. Global uncertainties in the amounts and locations of SOM include the extent of wetland, peatland, and permafrost systems and factors that constrain soil depths, such as shallow bedrock. In consideration of these uncertainties, we estimate global SOC stocks at depths of 2 and 3 m to be between 2,270 and 2,770 Pg, respectively, but could be as much as 700 Pg smaller. Sedimentary deposits deeper than 3 m likely contain > 500 Pg of additional SOC. Soils hold the largest biogeochemically active terrestrial carbon pool on Earth and are critical for stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Nonetheless, global pressures on soils continue from changes in land management, including the need for increasing bioenergy and food production

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    Excerpts on future directions:

    2.1. Emerging Research Questions for Plant Production, Allocation, and SOM:
    1. What is the relative contribution of roots compared with that of litter inputs to the accumulation of SOM under different vegetation types, soil conditions, land uses, and climates?
    2. Is the higher CUE of root litter compared with that of aboveground litter explained by differences in chemical composition or root-soil interactions?
    3. What is the fate of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from aboveground and belowground organic matter respired during decomposition, and what is their role in SOM formation?
    4. In consideration of trade-offs with production, how feasible is it to manage plant allocation patterns in managed landscapes to sequester SOM but maintain growth and yield?
    3.1. Emerging Research Questions for Belowground Food Webs and Soil Ecology
    Although it is well established that microbes and soil fauna exert strong controls on the rates and pathways of plant litter decay, their role in soil carbon stabilization is less clear. Mycorrhizae have a strong role in carbon stabilization in many ecosystems, but the relative role of fungi in soil carbon stabilization, compared with that of bacteria, is not well characterized. Several questions deserve particular attention:
    1. How critical is understanding microbial physiology to predicting future changes in soil carbon stocks with climate change?
    2. Will microbial CUE be altered by global warming, will thermal adaptation occur, or will broad changes in the microbial community lead to unexpected changes in soil carbon stabilization patterns?
    3. How will changes in future vegetation patterns affect detrital inputs to soil and the stabilization of these inputs?
    4. Do soil fauna need to be added to models of SOM that include microbes?

    4.1. Emerging Research Questions for Biotic–Abiotic Interactions and SOM

    1. How will interactions between biotic processes (e.g., NPP, detrital inputs, and microbial activity) and carbon retention on mineral surfaces be altered by climate change?
    2. Do soil minerals and their interactions with biotic processes need to be included in future SOM models?
    3. How can abiotic and biotic factors be incorporated into land surface and Earth system models to reduce future uncertainty?
    5.3. Emerging Research Questions for Global SOM Stocks, Distributions, and Controls:
    Answers to the following important research questions could help close the data gap:
    1. How can we better constrain the distributions of peatland and permafrost systems, the amount of SOC and SON they contain, and their vulnerability to a warming climate?
    2. How can computational approaches enhance our understanding of depth distributions for SOM and their biotic and abiotic controls?
    3. How can we best improve and verify estimates of bedrock depth and its influence on the global content of SOC and SON?
    Soil carbon is vulnerable to oxidation and release to the atmosphere through a variety of human activities (Figure 1), including land use disturbance and the effects of climate change. The greatest human-induced loss of SOC has come from the conversion of native forests and grasslands to annual crops (Paustian et al. 1997, Lal 2004). Understanding the role of agricultural management on SOC stocks is therefore critical both for predicting future carbon fluxes and for devising best-management strategies to mitigate and reverse soil loss…. Mitigating and even reversing these land use effects, however, are both possible and desirable (Minansy et al. 2017)….. The initial status of the land is critical to the interpretation of afforestation studies. A degraded system often gains SOM with afforestation or other management; a healthy, native ecosystem may sometimes lose it….
    ….The adoption of soil conservation practices such as reduced tillage, improved residue management, reduced bare fallow, and conservation reserve plantings has stabilized, and partially reversed, SOC loss in North American agricultural soils (Paustian et al. 2016)….Improved grazing management, fertilization, sowing legumes, and improved grass species are additional ways to increase soil carbon by as much as 1 Mg C ha−1year−1 (Conant et al. 2017)…
    ….Ecosystem and Earth system models can improve their representations of SOM by adding modifiers and microbial attributes that influence SOM formation and stabilization across scales….
    ….Over the next century, most projected land use change is expected to arise from repurposing existing agricultural land rather than clearing native forests (Watson et al. 2014). Emerging land use activities that combine carbon sequestration with crop production offer great promise to increase global SOM while sustainably meeting food and fiber production for an increasing human population (Francis et al. 2016).

    ….anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have altered the planet’s climate, including

    temperatures, precipitation, and vapor pressure deficit, and will continue to do so. Additional changes are apparent in the patterns and extremes of weather and in the frequency, intensity, and severity of disturbances. All the factors, knowledge, and skill illustrated through the examples in this review will be needed to project the effects of climate change on SOM. Global pressures on soils are coming from continuing changes in land management, such as the need for increasing bioenergy and food production. For these reasons and more, furthering progress in experiments, synthesis, and modeling of SOM will remain a research priority for decades..

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    Other links to aggregated content on soil science, carbon sequestration and range science:

  8. Government scientists blocked from the biggest meeting in their field

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    by Sarah Kaplan Dec 22 2017 read full Wash Post article here

    NEW ORLEANS — Hundreds of U.S. Geological Survey scientists were missing from the biggest conference in their field this month.

    Typically, some 450 researchers from the nation’s top natural resources and natural hazards agency attend the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the largest gathering of Earth, space and climate scientists in the world.

    But in the weeks before this year’s conference, the Interior Department — which oversees the USGS — issued a new cap on attendance: No more than 199 employees across the department could travel to the meeting, and expenditures could not exceed $399,000.

    As a result, just 178 USGS researchers were present at the AGU conference in New Orleans last week — a 60 percent drop from last year. In addition, 30 abstracts for posters or oral presentations, which take weeks to prepare, were withdrawn by USGS scientists who were unable to attend….

  9. Developing nations are driving record growth in solar power

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    • solar’s exponential growth in recent years has been driven by national policies and a combination of photovoltaic module prices falling more than threefold

    Zeke Hausfather Nov 29 2017 Read full CarbonBrief article here

    Emerging markets now account for the majority of growth in solar power, according to new data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

    Led by China and India, these developing economies are behind dramatic recent growth in solar capacity, which expanded by 33% in 2016.

    China alone installed 27 gigawatts (GW), around 40% of the world’s new solar last year. Brazil, Chile, Jordan, Mexico and Pakistan all at least doubled their solar capacity in 2016. In total, solar accounted for 19% of all new generating capacity in the emerging markets tracked by BNEF.

    However, solar still only accounts for 5% of capacity and 1.3% of electricity generation globally. But its exponential growth in recent years has been driven by national policies and a combination of photovoltaic module prices falling more than threefold….

    Over the past decade, solar capacity has increased exponentially, driven by falling module prices and national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or expand access to electricity.

    While Europe, the US and Japan led the way in early solar installations, over the past few years most growth has been driven by developing countries, with China in particular starting to dominate the solar sector….

  10. STATE OF THE CALIFORNIA CURRENT 2016–17: STILL ANYTHING BUT “NORMAL” IN THE NORTH

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    • Stronger-than-typical winter downwelling in 2017 and a reduced spawning biomass of forage taxa are contributors to the anomalous forage community observed in the north.
    • Northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) abundance was greater than average (for recent years) and nearer shore in northern regions
    • Reproductive success of seabirds in 2016 (the most current year available) was low in the north but near average in central California.
    • Lipid-rich northern anchovy occurred in great frequencies in the nursing female diet. Increases in northern anchovy nearshore in the central and northern CCS may have contributed to a shoreward shift in distribution of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in these regions. These shifts along with recovering humpback whale populations contributed to recent increases in human-whale interactions (e.g., fixed-gear entanglements).

    Brian K. Wells et al (including Point Blue contributions) December 2017 read full Research Gate text here

    Abstract
    This report examines the ecosystem state of the California Current System (CCS) from spring 2016–spring 2017. Basin-scale indices suggest conditions that would support average to below average coast-wide production across the CCS during this time period. Regional surveys in 2016 sampled anomalously warm surface and subsurface waters across the CCS. Chlorophyll concentrations were low across the CCS in 2016 and, concomitant with that, copepod communities had an anomalously high abundance of subtropical species.
    Early in 2017 conditions between northern, central, and southern CCS were dissimilar. Specifically, surface conditions north of Cape Mendocino remained anomalously warm, chlorophyll was very low, and subtropical copepods were anomalously abundant. Southern and central CCS surveys indicated that environmental conditions and chlorophyll were within normal ranges for the longer time series, supporting an argument that biophysical conditions/ ecosystem states in the southern and central CCS were close to normal. Epipelagic micronekton assemblages south of Cape Mendocino were generally close to longer-term average values, however the northern assemblages have not returned to a “normal” state following the 2014–15 large marine heatwave and 2016 El Niño. North of Cape Mendocino the epipelagic micronekton was largely composed of offshore and southern derived taxa.
    We hypothesize that stronger-than-typical winter downwelling in 2017 and a reduced spawning biomass of forage taxa are contributors to the anomalous forage community observed in the north. Also of note, surveys indicate northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) abundance was greater than average (for recent years) and nearer shore in northern regions. Finally, record-low juvenile coho and Chinook salmon catches in the 2017 northern CCS salmon survey suggest that out-migrating Columbia Basin salmon likely experienced unusually high early mortality at sea, and this is further supported by similarities between the 2017 forage assemblage and that observed during poor outmigration survival years in 2004, 2005, and 2015.
    Generally, the reproductive success of seabirds in 2016 (the most current year available) was low in the north but near average in central California. At Yaquina Head off Oregon and Castle Rock off northern California some of the lowest reproductive success rates on record were documented. In addition to reduced abundance of prey, there was a northward shift of preferred seabird prey. Seabird diets in northern areas also corroborated observations of a northward shift in fish communities. Nest failure was attributed to a combination of bottom-up and top-down forces. At Castle Rock, most chicks died of starvation whereas, at Yaquina Head, most nests failed (95% of common murre, Uria aagle) due to disturbance by bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) seeking alternative prey. Mean bird densities at sea for the 2017 surveys between Cape Flattery Washington and Newport Oregon were the lowest observed and may indicate continued poor reproductive performance of resident breeders in 2017. South of Cape Mendocino, where forage availability was typical, seabird reproductive success was also below average for most species in 2016, but did not approach failure rates observed in the north. Finally, in 2017, abundances of seabirds observed at-sea off southern California were anomalously high suggesting an improved foraging environment in that area.
    Marine mammal condition and foraging behavior were also impacted by the increased abundance and shifting distribution of the northern anchovy population. Increases in the abundance of northern anchovy in the Southern California Bight coincided with improved condition of sea lion (Zalophus californianus) pups in 2016. Namely, lipid-rich northern anchovy occurred in great frequencies in the nursing female diet. Increases in northern anchovy nearshore in the central and northern CCS may have also contributed to a shoreward shift in distribution of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in these regions. These shifts along with recovering humpback whale populations contributed to recent increases in human-whale interactions (e.g., fixed-gear entanglements).