Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Archive: Jan 2018

  1. Microwave appliance usage could be as bad for the environment as cars, suggests new research

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    • Microwave appliance usage emits 7.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year in the EU. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 6.8 million cars.
    • Microwave appliance usage across the EU consumes an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour (TWh) of electricity every year. This is equivalent to the annual electricity generated by three large gas power plants.

    January 17, 2018  University of Manchester read full ScienceDaily article here

    Microwave appliance usage across the EU alone emits as much carbon dioxide as nearly seven million cars, according to a new study by The University of Manchester.

    Researchers at the University have carried out the first ever comprehensive study of the environmental impacts of microwave appliances, considering their whole life cycle, from ‘cradle to grave’.

    The study found:

    • Microwave appliance usage emits 7.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year in the EU. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 6.8 million cars.
    • Microwave appliance usage across the EU consumes an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour (TWh) of electricity every year. This is equivalent to the annual electricity generated by three large gas power plants.
    • Efforts to reduce consumption should focus on improving consumer awareness and behaviour to use appliances more efficiently…

    Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, Joan Manuel F. Mendoza, Adisa Azapagic. Environmental assessment of microwaves and the effect of European energy efficiency and waste management legislation. Science of The Total Environment, 2018; 618: 487 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.064

  2. Managing grazing lands to improve soils and promote climate change adaptation and mitigation: a global synthesis

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    • Findings reveal that a variety of management strategies have the potential to improve soil water infiltration rates, with possible benefits for soil carbon as well.
    • Researchers identified a shortage of well-replicated and detailed experiments in all grazing management categories, and call for additional research of both soil water and soil carbon properties for these critical agroecosystems

    DeLonge, M. and Basche, A., 2017. Managing grazing lands to improve soils and promote climate change adaptation and mitigation: a global synthesis. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, pp.1-12.

    Abstract

    The potential to improve soils to help farmers and ranchers adapt to and mitigate climate change has generated significant enthusiasm. Within this discussion, grasslands have surfaced as being particularly important, due to their geographic range, their capacity to store substantial quantities of carbon relative to cultivated croplands and their potential role in mitigating droughts and floods. However, leveraging grasslands for climate change mitigation and adaptation will require a better understanding of how farmers and ranchers who rely on them for their livelihoods can improve management and related outcomes.

    To investigate opportunities for such improvements, we conducted a meta-analysis of field experiments that investigated how soil water infiltration rates are affected by a range of management options: adding complexity to grazing patterns, reducing stocking rates or extended rest from grazing. Further, to explore the relationships between observed changes in soil water infiltration and soil carbon, we identified papers that reported data on both metrics. We found that in 81.9% of all cases, responses of infiltration rates to identified management treatments (response ratios) were above zero, with infiltration rates increasing by 59.3 ± 7.3%. Mean response ratios from unique management categories were not significantly different, although the effect of extended rest (67.9 ± 8.5%, n = 140 from 31 experiments) was slightly higher than from reducing stocking rates (42.0 ± 10.8%; n = 63 from 17 experiments) or adding complexity (34.0 ± 14.1%, n =17 from 11 experiments). We did not find a significant effect of several other variables, including treatment duration, mean annual precipitation or soil texture; however, analysis of aridity indices suggested that grazing management may have a slightly larger effect in more humid environments. Within our database, we found that 42% of complexity studies, 41% of stocking rate studies and 29% of extended rest studies also reported at least some measure of soil carbon. Within the subset of cases where both infiltration rates and carbon were reported, response ratios were largely positive for both variables (at least 64% of cases had positive mean response ratios in all management categories).

    Overall, our findings reveal that a variety of management strategies have the potential to improve soil water infiltration rates, with possible benefits for soil carbon as well. However, we identified a shortage of well-replicated and detailed experiments in all grazing management categories, and call for additional research of both soil water and soil carbon properties for these critical agroecosystems.

  3. City lights setting traps for migrating birds

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    • Researchers found an increasing density of migratory birds as they get closer to cities due to light pollution, which is increasing with more LED use;

    • They also found that suburban areas, such as people’s backyards and city parks, ….harbor some of the highest densities of birds in the northeast, potentially increasing their risk of mortality due to domestic cat predation.

    19 Jan 2018 University of Delaware read full ScienceDaily article here

    A new study has examined how light pollution lures birds into urban areas during fall migration, a trend that poses risk for the fowl that often fly into buildings and has increased with the addition of brighter LED lights. The researchers were interested in seeing what factors shape the birds’ distributions and why they occur in certain areas.

    We found an increasing density of birds the closer you get to these cities. The effect goes out about 200 kilometers [about 125 miles]. We estimate that these flying birds can see a city on the horizon up to several hundred kilometers away. Essentially, there is no place in the northeastern United States where they can’t see the sky glow of a city.”

    …The researchers also found that suburban areas, such as people’s backyards and city parks, such as Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, harbor some of the highest densities of birds in the northeast.

    …”Domestic cats could be the largest anthropogenic source of mortality for birds. If birds are being drawn into these heavily developed areas, it may be increasing their risk of mortality from anthropogenic sources and it may also be that the resources in those habitats are going to be depleted much faster because of competition with other birds.”

    Another concern: light pollution created in these cities has been increasing in recent years with the advent of LED lights, which are much brighter than the incandescent lights they replaced. “The transition of street lighting from incandescent to LED continues to increase the amount of light pollution”….

    James D. McLaren, Jeffrey J. Buler, Tim Schreckengost, Jaclyn A. Smolinsky, Matthew Boone, E. Emiel van Loon, Deanna K. Dawson, Eric L. Walters. Artificial light at night confounds broad-scale habitat use by migrating birds. Ecology Letters, 2018; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12902

  4. 20 percent more trees in megacities would mean cleaner air and water, lower carbon and energy use

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    18 Jan 2018   read full ScienceDaily article here

    Planting 20 percent more trees in our megacities would double the benefits of urban forests, like pollution reduction, carbon sequestration and energy reduction. The authors of the study say city planners, residents and other stakeholders should start looking within cities for natural resources and conserve the nature in our urban areas by planting more trees….

    T. Endreny, R. Santagata, A. Perna, C. De Stefano, R.F. Rallo, S. Ulgiati. Implementing and managing urban forests: A much needed conservation strategy to increase ecosystem services and urban wellbeing. Ecological Modelling, 2017; 360: 328 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2017.07.016

  5. Advancing climate science with knowledge-discovery through data mining

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    • The new data mining methodology brings out commonalities of data sets without as much expertise from the user, allowing scientists to trust the data and get more robust — and transparent — results.
    • The methodology is open source and currently available to scientists around the world
    January 18, 2018 Georgia Institute of Technology read full ScienceDaily article here

    Big data and data mining have provided several breakthroughs in fields such as health informatics, smart cities and marketing. The same techniques, however, have not delivered consistent key findings for climate change….the analysis of climate teleconnections, has relied on methods that offer rather simplistic “yes or no” answers.

    “It’s not that simple in climate….Imposing thresholds and throwing out weak connections would halt everything…”

    And with millions of data points spread out around the globe, Bracco said current models rely too much on human expertise to make sense of the output. She and her colleagues wanted to develop a methodology that depends more on actual data rather than a researcher’s interpretation.

    ….The [new] methodology brings out commonalities of data sets without as much expertise from the user, allowing scientists to trust the data and get more robust — and transparent — results.

    The methodology is open source and currently available to scientists around the world. The Georgia Tech researchers are already using it to explore sea surface temperature and cloud field data, two aspects that profoundly affect the planet’s climate….

    Annalisa Bracco, Fabrizio Falasca, Athanasios Nenes, Ilias Fountalis, Constantine Dovrolis. Advancing climate science with knowledge-discovery through data mining. npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, 2018; 1 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41612-017-0006-4

  6. Researchers find post-fire logging harms spotted owls

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    • Post-fire logging damages important spotted owl foraging areas in “snag forest habitat” that is created by patches of intense fire. This habitat is rich in the small mammal prey species that the owls feed upon, but post-fire logging largely removes this habitat, thereby causing higher rates of territory abandonment
    January 17, 2018 by John Muir Project read full article at phys.org

    Wildlife ecologists studying the rare spotted owl in the forests of California have discovered that large, intense wildfires are not responsible for abandonment of breeding territories. Instead, the researchers found that post-fire logging operations, which are common on both private and National Forest lands, most likely caused declines in territory occupancy of this imperiled wildlife species.

    In the absence of post-fire logging, they found no significant effect of large forest fires on spotted owl territory occupancy. Post-fire logging damages important spotted owl foraging areas in “snag forest habitat” that is created by patches of intense fire. This habitat is rich in the small mammal prey species that the owls feed upon, but post-fire logging largely removes this habitat, thereby causing higher rates of territory abandonment.

    “This is good news for declining California because this is something that we can control—we can make policy decisions to stop post-fire logging operations in spotted owl habitat….

    …The scientists’ findings also expand upon previous research that found very high spotted owl occupancy after the 257,000-acre Rim fire of 2013 in the Sierra Nevada prior to post-fire logging. The current study found a decline in owl territory occupancy in the same area after post-fire logging occurred. A co-author on both studies, Dr. Derek Lee, also of Wild Nature Institute, said, “It is time to stop thinking logging will help the forest; we need to take a much more hands-off approach to forest management so natural processes can re-establish.”

  7. The world’s biggest worries are environmental disasters, not economic collapse

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    January 18, 2018 Read full Quartz article here

    For the second year running, business and political leaders think the world’s biggest threat is extreme weather, according to the latest Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) published today.

    In recent years, economic risks such as market collapses, fiscal crises, and systemic financial failures, have dropped down the list of concerns, replaced with fears about the environment. WEF, which runs the annual conference in Davos for global elites, found that three of the five most likely global risks for 2018 were environmental—extreme weather, natural disasters, and failure to mitigate climate change. (The report is based on a survey of almost 1,000 experts in business, government, and civil society, mostly polled in September and October last year.)…

    …In 2017, the economic losses from natural and man-made disasters reached $306 billion, almost double the previous year’s cost, according to Swiss Re. The US was hit the hardest, and these figures don’t even capture the full extent of suffering from environmental disasters. By definition, richer countries book higher economic losses (more valuable infrastructure is destroyed) but parts of south and southeast Asia suffered catastrophic floods that led to thousands of deaths, while people in poorer parts of the world are displaced by global warming….

  8. Potential Global Warming From Doubling of CO2 Reduced from 4.5C to 2.8C; critical for guiding efforts to stay under 2C increase since pre-industrial times

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    If one is the loneliest number, two is the most terrifying. Humanity must not pass a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in global temperature from pre-industrial levels, so says the Paris climate agreement. Cross that line and the global effects of climate change start looking less like a grave situation and more like a catastrophe.

    …today in the journal Nature, researchers claim they’ve reduced the uncertainty in a key metric of climate change by 60 percent, narrowing a range of potential warming from 3°C to 1.2°C.

    …The metric is called equilibrium climate sensitivity, but don’t let the name scare you. “It’s essentially the amount of global warming we would predict if we just doubled the atmospheric carbon dioxide and let the atmosphere and climate come to equilibrium with the carbon dioxide,” says lead author Peter Cox, who studies climate system dynamics at the University of Exeter….

    ….the researchers say this means the probability of the ECS being less than 1.5°C—the Paris Climate Agreement’s super optimistic goal beyond the 2°C goal—is less than 3 percent. The upside, though, is they say this new estimate means the probability of the ECS passing 4.5°C is less than 1 percent.

    …It’s just that global climate change is an exceedingly complex problem. There’s no way any scientist can dig down into all the granular details—changes in vegetation, small-scale hydrology, every single weather event like a hurricane or tornado. So what scientists do is find simplified descriptions of these small-scale events….

    Peter M. Cox, Chris Huntingford & Mark S. Williamson. Emergent constraint on equilibrium climate sensitivity from global temperature variability. Nature 553, 319–322 (18 January 2018). doi:10.1038/nature25450

    ABSTRACT: Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) remains one of the most important unknowns in climate change science. ECS is defined as the global mean warming that would occur if the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration were instantly doubled and the climate were then brought to equilibrium with that new level of CO2. Despite its rather idealized definition, ECS has continuing relevance for international climate change agreements, which are often framed in terms of stabilization of global warming relative to the pre-industrial climate. However, the ‘likely’ range of ECS as stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has remained at 1.5–4.5 degrees Celsius for more than 25 years1. The possibility of a value of ECS towards the upper end of this range reduces the feasibility of avoiding 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, as required by the Paris Agreement. Here we present a new emergent constraint on ECS that yields a central estimate of 2.8 degrees Celsius with 66 per cent confidence limits (equivalent to the IPCC ‘likely’ range) of 2.2–3.4 degrees Celsius. Our approach is to focus on the variability of temperature about long-term historical warming, rather than on the warming trend itself. We use an ensemble of climate models to define an emergent relationship2 between ECS and a theoretically informed metric of global temperature variability. This metric of variability can also be calculated from observational records of global warming3, which enables tighter constraints to be placed on ECS, reducing the probability of ECS being less than 1.5 degrees Celsius to less than 3 per cent, and the probability of ECS exceeding 4.5 degrees Celsius to less than 1 per cent.

    And for more perspective on this see:

    A ‘new’ measurement of climate sensitivity?

     

     

  9. 2017 was the second-warmest year on record per NASA; Trend continued even without El Niño, which helped make 2016 the hottest.

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    January 18 2018 by James Hansen[a], Makiko Sato[a], Reto Ruedy[b,c], Gavin A. Schmidt[c], Ken Lo[b,c], Avi Persin[b,c]  Read full article here

    • Global surface temperature in 2017 was the second highest in the period of instrumental measurements in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis. 
    • Relative to average temperature for 1880-1920, which we take as an appropriate estimate of “pre-industrial” temperature, 2017 was +1.17°C (~2.1°F) warmer than in the 1880-1920 base period.  The high 2017 temperature, unlike the record 2016 temperature, was obtained without any boost from tropical El Niño warming.

    Fig. 1. (a) Global surface temperatures relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP data, which employs GHCN.v3 for meteorological stations, NOAA ERSST.v5 for sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research station data[1].

    Fig. 1. (a) Global surface temperatures relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP data, which employs GHCN.v3 for meteorological stations, NOAA ERSST.v5 for sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research station data[1].

    ———–

    From NOAA:

    • The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2017 was the third highest since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA scientists. December’s combined global land and ocean average surface temperature departure from average was the fourth warmest December in the 138-year record.
    • In a separate analysis of global temperature data, released today, NASA scientists ranked 2017 to be the second warmest on record, behind the record year 2016. The minor difference in rankings is due to the different methods used by the two agencies to analyze global temperatures, although over the long term the agencies’ records remain in strong agreement. Both analyses show that the five warmest years on record all have taken place since 2010.

    For more information

  10. Fire Ecology’s Lessons for a More Resilient Future

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    • In the wake of California wildfire’s mass destruction, ecologists see radical hope in regeneration.

     

    ….There is no silver lining to a fire like those that struck Sonoma and Napa counties in October, or the still-burning Thomas Fire in Southern California, which has burned 281,900 acres to become the largest California wildfire in modern recorded history. But for people like Willie and Erik Ohlsen, an ecological designer and director of the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol, the North Bay fires are a wake-up call, a chance to proactively address the way the plants and animals of Northern California, and most of the Golden State, have co-evolved with fire—and to rebuild these communities with fire in mind.

    Others go further, saying that poor planning and land management practices turned a natural feature of chaparral landscapes into a catastrophic force, leaving in its wake $3 billion in estimated damages. The city of Santa Rosa alone has already blown through $5 million from their general fund to fight the fires and the massive recovery effort has just begun…

    Fight Fire with Fire

    ….Sasha Berleman, a fire ecologist with the Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR), an environmental conservation and education organization headquartered at Bouverie Preserve in the Sonoma County town of Glen Ellen. “All of our plant communities depend on fire as part of their life-cycle,” says Berleman. “Many of them depend on fire that occurs more frequently than we’ve allowed it to burn.”

    Native Americans knew this, Berleman says, and used fire to manage landscapes for food and textile production. As David Carle writes in Introduction to Fire in California, indigenous California tribes set fire to the landscape to reduce the threat of wildfires to their villages, to stimulate the sprouting of the stick-straight dogbane stems needed for basketry and tools, to control insects, fungus, and pathogens, and to encourage the growth of seeds.

    …Last May, Berleman conducted a few initial small, prescribed burns to reduce the fuel load on grasslands on the preserve. An early, informal assessment showed that these areas burned less intensely than other parts, and helped moderate the fire’s progression….

    “Fire can’t be prevented, it can only be postponed,” says Berleman. She advocates for two solutions to future fire threats.

    • First, an “all hands on deck” cooperative approach to fuels treatments on private and public land: prescribed fire, broadcast burning, mechanical thinning, and grazing.
    • Second, improved public education on the integral role of fire in California ecosystems. Recently, the state provided her funding to establish a highly trained, interagency fire crew to implement technically approved prescribed fuels treatments and controlled burns on private land in Sonoma County starting in the fall of 2018…

    Grazing: Land Management’s Missing Link?

    grazing is the missing link in managing rangelands for fire safety. For centuries, the California landscape was populated by large grazing animals like deer and elk, but those populations have severely declined with widespread human settlement. “If you don’t graze, it creates tinder,” says Hoff.

    Did Poor Planning Increase the Fire’s Devastation?

    ….The question of land use and development in areas with high fire risk has also come up regularly. Gaye LeBaron, a columnist for the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, wrote in the Washington Post about how Santa Rosa ignored nature’s warning by developing thousands of homes within the same footprint as the infamous Hanly Fire of 1964. The difference, wrote LeBaron, is that back then, “there were very few houses in the area that burned. As the city limits extended and the population increased by 135,000, the open land in that earlier fire corridor became a destination for developers.”

    …“Bigger homes, closer together is a recipe for more fuel on the landscape,” says Gregory L. Simon, an associate professor of geography and environmental sciences at the University of Colorado and author of Flame and Fortune in the American West. “In my opinion, we shouldn’t be building homes in areas of high fire risk at all. It’s not a matter of building fire-safe construction or zoning in certain ways. Simply because of the loss of life involved and the risk to first responders….