Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Archive: Jun 2018

  1. Warming of 2C ‘substantially’ more harmful than 1.5C – draft UN report

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    • Latest version of major UN science report concludes the upper temperature goal of the Paris Agreement does not represent a climate safe zone

    By Karl Mathiesen, Megan Darby and Soila Apparicio June 27 2018 see full Climate Home News article here

    A leaked draft of a major UN climate change report shows growing certainty that 2C, once shorthand for a ‘safe’ amount of planetary warming, would be a dangerous step for humanity.

    The authors make clear the difference between warming of 1.5C and 2C would be “substantial” and damaging to communities, economies and ecosystems across the world.

    In 2015, the Paris Agreement established twin goals to hold temperature rise from pre-industrial times “well below 2C” and strive for 1.5C.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has since been working to assess the difference between those targets, with a view to publishing a sweeping analysis of all available research in October this year.

    The report summary, which Climate Home News published on Wednesday, is a draft and subject to change. The IPCC said it would not comment on leaked reports. An earlier draft from January was also published by CHN….

    …The major outstanding question about the 1.5C target is: is it feasible? In the new draft, the scientists write “there is no simple answer”. On current levels of pollution, the world is warming roughly 0.2C each decade. If that continues, the 1.5C threshold will be crossed in the 2040s, the report says.

    However comparison of the drafts reveals a significant increase in the “carbon budget” – the total mass of greenhouse gases that can be emitted before the world will be committed to warming past 1.5C.

    The January draft found a maximum of 580 gigatonnes of CO2 would give a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5C. In the new draft, that number has been increased by a third to 750 Gt CO2….



  2. Birds respond to fires of mixed severity in varied ways in Sierra Nevada; can help inform post-fire management- – new Point Blue publication

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    • Wildfire had a strong effect on the density of many of the bird species that were studied.
    • The severity of the fires affected different bird species differently. Of the 44 species studied, 18 reached their maximum densities after high-severity fire, 10 in moderate-severity, and 16 in areas affected by low-severity fire.
    • As the climate warms and the amount of fuels in these forests increase, the area burning annually and the severity of fires has been increasing.
    • Understanding how species that rely on these forests respond to such fires can help inform management of fires and post-fire environments.

    June 22, 2018 Point Blue Conservation Science

    Read full ScienceDaily article here

    As we enter another wildfire season in California, attention will turn to the inevitable fires and efforts to extinguish them. After these fires burn, land managers are tasked with deciding how, where, and when to act to manage these new conditions. It is vital that land managers use the latest science to understand the effects that fire has on the ecosystem and the wildlife species that inhabit them.

    New research Point Blue Conservation Science explores these effects, looking at impacts of the severity of fire on birds and how that changes as the time since fire increases. Scientists looked across 10 fires up to 15 years after they burned through forests in the northern Sierra Nevada. Key among the findings is the observation that wildfire had a strong effect on the density of many of the bird species that were studied….

    Paul J. Taillie, Ryan D. Burnett, Lance Jay Roberts, Brent R. Campos, M. Nils Peterson, Christopher E. Moorman. Interacting and non-linear avian responses to mixed-severity wildfire and time since fire. Ecosphere, 2018; 9 (6): e02291 DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2291

  3. A huge stretch of the Arctic Ocean is rapidly turning into the Atlantic. That’s not a good sign

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    • The northern Barents Sea- north of Scandinavia- has warmed extremely rapidly — by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit just since the year 2000– an Arctic hotspot.

    • Deeper Atlantic waters are mixing higher and higher toward the surface, not only warming the seas but also making them more salty causing a “dramatic shift in the water column structure in recent years.” Arctic surface waters, with a temperature below freezing, are “now almost entirely gone.”

    • The northern Barents Sea may soon complete the transition from a cold and stratified Arctic to a warm and well-mixed Atlantic-dominated climate regime with unknown consequences for the Barents Sea ecosystem, including ice-associated marine mammals and commercial fish stocks.

    by Chris Mooney June 26 2018 Read full Washington Post article here

    Scientists studying one of the fastest-warming regions of the global ocean say changes in this region are so sudden and vast that in effect, it will soon be another limb of the Atlantic Ocean, rather than a characteristically icy Arctic sea.

    The northern Barents Sea, to the north of Scandinavia and east of the remote archipelago of Svalbard, has warmed extremely rapidly — by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit just since the year 2000 — standing out even in the fastest-warming part of the globe, the Arctic.

    “We call it the Arctic warming hot spot,” said Sigrid Lind, a researcher at the Institute of Marine Research in Tromso, Norway.

    Now Lind and her colleagues have shown, based on temperature and salinity measurements taken on summer research cruises, that this warming is being accompanied by a stark change of character, as the Atlantic is in effect taking over the region and converting it into a very different entity.

    Their results were published this week in Nature Climate Change by Lind and two colleagues at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research and University of Bergen. They underscore that the divide between the Atlantic and the Arctic isn’t just a geographical one — it’s physical in nature….

    Lind, Sigrid et al. Arctic warming hotspot in the northern Barents Sea linked to declining sea-ice import. Nature Climate Change (June 2018)


  4. Wolf reintroduction: Yellowstone’s ‘landscape of fear’ not so scary after all

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    • Elk use nightly lulls in wolf activity to safely access dangerous areas.

    June 22, 2018 S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University Read full ScienceDaily article here

    After wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s, some scientists thought the large predator reestablished a ‘landscape of fear’ that caused elk, the wolf’s main prey, to avoid risky places where wolves killed them. But according to recent findings, Yellowstone’s ‘landscape of fear’ is not as scary as first thought.

    “Contrary to popular belief, the wolf is not a round-the-clock threat to elk; it mostly hunts at dawn and dusk, and this allows elk to safely access risky places during nightly lulls in wolf activity,” says Kohl, who completed a doctoral degree at USU in 2018 and is lead author of the paper. “Despite their Hollywood portrayal as nighttime prowlers, wolves tend to hunker down at night because their vision is not optimized for nocturnal hunting.”…

    Michel T. Kohl, Daniel R. Stahler, Matthew C. Metz, James D. Forester, Matthew J. Kauffman, Nathan Varley, P. J. White, Douglas W. Smith, Daniel R. MacNulty. Diel predator activity drives a dynamic landscape of fear. Ecological Monographs, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/ecm.1313v

  5. Increase in storms could have ‘catastrophic impact’ on fishing industry

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    • Changes in frequency and intensity of storms can radically change fish populations via temporary or permanent displacement, and can interrupt fish larval dispersal and damage or destroy essential habitat that fish depend upon.
    • More dramatic storms are expected in the North Sea and North Atlantic over the next two decades as well as East China Sea and increased post-Monsoon storms in the Arabian Sea.  Fewer storms are projected for the Mediterranean.
    • Researchers call for a sharper focus on the impacts of storms which have “the potential to cause more immediate and catastrophic impacts” than ocean warming.

    June 25, 2018 University of Exeter Read full ScienceDaily article here

    Potential changes in the frequency and intensity of storms off the coast of the UK and around the world could have a ‘catastrophic impact’ on the livelihood of fishermen and sustainability of fishing industries, research has shown.
    The research…warns that the increase in storms could make fishing more dangerous, displace fish from their natural habitats and interfere with the ability of fish to breed.

    Storms off the coast of the UK are projected to become more frequent and intense over the next two centuries and more dramatic storms are expected in the North Sea and North Atlantic, to the West of the UK, Ireland and France, threatening the future of fishermen and the fish they catch….

    …”But storms can radically change fish populations via temporary or permanent displacement, and can interrupt fish larval dispersal and damage or destroy essential habitat that fish depend upon.”

    Fishing and fish farming supports 12% of the global population and 38 million fishermen and women. Fish provide 3.1 billion people with close to 20% of their animal protein, and are relied upon for micro-nutrients, vital to the health of children and pregnant women….

    …”Research is required to identify and evaluate ways in which fisheries can adapt to changing storminess. One possibility that we believe is worth investigating is the adoption of financial mechanisms that are already being used to help farmers to recover from drought.”

    The researchers call for a sharper focus on the impacts of storms which have “the potential to cause more immediate and catastrophic impacts” than ocean warming.

    Nigel C. Sainsbury, Martin J. Genner, Geoffrey R. Saville, John K. Pinnegar, Clare K. O’Neill, Stephen D. Simpson, Rachel A. Turner. Changing storminess and global capture fisheries. Nature Climate Change, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41558-018-0206-x

  6. To Everything There is a Season– Gratitude for 19 Years of Collaborative Accomplishments (personal from Ellie)

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    • After 19 years at the helm of Point Blue, I have decided to step down from my role as CEO.
    • I plan to stay until the end of the year or earlier if a new CEO is hired by then.

    By | June 19, 2018

    Read full Point Blue blog post below or here at Point Blue’s Science for a Blue Planet blog.


    Personal Note from Ellie

    Dear friends,

    Ellie_speakingAfter 19 years at the helm of Point Blue, I have decided to step down from my role as CEO.  Leading Point Blue during this time of profound environmental change—and consequently this time of great opportunity—has been a tremendous honor.  I am filled with pride looking back over the past two decades on the difference we’ve made together for our collective future.

    I am also deeply grateful for your support and friendship throughout my journey here…. And what an incredible journey it has been!

    We’ve come a long way together

    When I started in 1999, Point Blue’s annual budget was $2.5 million with 30 staff working out of a former house provided by Audubon Canyon Ranch.  Today, our budget is almost $14 million with over 180 staff, we own our 20,000 square foot Petaluma headquarters, and we recently acquired the 3,000 square foot Rich Stallcup Intern House, also in Petaluma.

    Building on our long term studies of land birds, seabirds, shorebirds, and vegetation, we now also study krill, whales, soil, water, carbon, microbes and more.  When I began, most of our data was entered by hand, stored in paper notebooks. Today, we are an informatics powerhouse, providing cutting edge decision-support tools and managing over one billion ecological observations collected by partners from across the Western Hemisphere—all stored electronically in the “cloud”— to advance climate-smart conservation.

    In 1999, we had dozens of mostly public wildlife, land and ocean management agencies as our key partners.  Today we’ve expanded our circle to include over 1000 ranchers and farmers, 50,000 students and teachers, as well as land trusts and other NGOs, advancing conservation on one million privately owned acres—through our STRAW, rangeland, flooded agriculture, and meadow restoration partnerships. Our career-building efforts have fledged from informal internships to a world-renowned conservation science training program empowering youth, college students, and post-docs.

    From PRBO to Point Blue Conservation Science, and from Point Reyes to the United Nations – with official observer organization status at the global climate change body (UNFCCC)—we’ve come a long way together!

    What’s next?

    Former Board Chair Ed Sarti is leading a transition committee that will engage an executive recruitment firm to launch a national search for Point Blue’s new CEO.  They will manage a transparent and inclusive process engaging staff, members, partners and funders.  I plan to remain on staff through the end of the year unless my successor is hired sooner.

    I’m excited for this new leader to guide the organization in taking bold action to increase the pace and scale of climate-smart conservation.  Thanks to your support, Point Blue is stronger than ever, with the Board and staff poised to achieve even greater impact in the years ahead.

    Thank you for your continued generosity to Point Blue, particularly important during this transition.  Please consider making a one-time special gift today to lay an even stronger foundation for our new CEO and to ensure Point Blue’s continued success (

    This is a bittersweet time for me personally.  Please know that Point Blue will always be a part of me and I will always be a part of Point Blue.  Thanks again to each of you for giving me the honor of a lifetime these past two decades.

    With heartfelt gratitude always,


    Collaborative Accomplishments from 1999-2018 

    We've done so much together!

    We’ve done so much together!

    I often describe Point Blue as having 3 names: first name “science,” middle name “partnership” and last name “family!”  Following is a list of just some of our many collaborative accomplishments since 1999 that demonstrate these essential qualities.  –Ellie Cohen, June 19, 2018

    • Established Point Blue as an internationally recognized leader and driver for climate-smart, multi-benefit conservation.
    • Grew Point Blue’s budget from $2.5 million with 30 staff in 1999 to almost $14 million with 180+ staff in 2018.
    • Secured a strong financial foundation with outright ownership of our 20,000 square foot Petaluma headquarters, ownership of our new 12-person Rich Stallcup Intern House in Petaluma, and a board-designated reserve fund of $3 million.
    • Co-developed climate-smart conservation principles and catalyzed their adoption by most of our agency, NGO and government partners.
    • Recognized as an official Observer Organization on climate change by the United Nations global climate body (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
    • Brought on the award-winning STRAW program to Point Blue and established our innovative Rangeland Watershed Initiative partner biologist program.
    • Leveraged almost $100 million in agricultural land conservation on roughly 2 million acres of forests, meadows, rangelands and croplands, for water, birds, other wildlife, carbon sequestration and people by engaging over 1000 ranchers and farmers, dozens of public agencies (including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and US Forest Service), land trusts and other NGOs, as well as over 50,000 students and teachers.
    • Helped more than 70 city, county, regional, state, and federal agencies across 95% of the urbanized coast of California to plan for climate change through the Our Coast Our Future online planning tool.
    • Played a leadership science role in securing the world’s largest Marine Protected Area at the Ross Sea, Antarctica.
    • Engaged scores of partners and over 1,200 volunteers across 12 countries across the Americas to advance climate-smart conservation for migratory shorebirds and coastal communities.
    • Helped ensure the protection of over 800,000 acres of post-fire forest for birds and other wildlife.
    • Supported the protection and restoration of populations of seabirds, whales, shorebirds, land birds and their habitats in the West, the California Current, along the Pacific Coast of the Americas, and Antarctica.
    • Contributed an average of 15 peer-reviewed scientific publications per year, in a growing number of high impact journals, to advance conservation science and application.
    • Established Point Blue as an informatics powerhouse, now managing over 1 billion ecological observations from across the Western Hemisphere and producing cutting-edge, practical web-based tools to advance climate-smart conservation from Alaska to Chile and Antarctica.
    • Expanded our renowned conservation science training programs, with a total of 1900 interns graduated and more than 100 graduate students who’ve helped to unlock our vast stores of ecological data.
    • Maintained and grew Point Blue’s uniquely valuable long-term bird and ecosystem data sets to understand ecological patterns and inform conservation management (total years as of 2018):
      • Palomarin Field Station, Point Reyes National Seashore (52 years)
      • Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge (50 years)
      • Coastal Snowy Plovers (40 years)
      • Ross Island, Antarctica (35 years)
      • SF Bay Tidal Marshes (22 years)
      • Sierra Nevada (22 years)
      • Vandenberg Air Force Base (19 years)
      • Gulf of Farallones (14 years), and,
      • TomKat Ranch Field Station (8 years).
    • Launched and grew the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership in California with our partners at The Nature Conservancy and Audubon California.
    • Expanded Point Blue’s active leadership in major conservation partnerships regionally, nationally and internationally including the Bird Habitat Joint Ventures, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, Migratory Shorebird Project, Sierra Meadow Partnership, National Marine Sanctuary Science Advisory Committees, CA and National Adaptation Forums, NWF’s Climate-Smart Conservation Team, and the Bay Area Ecosystem Climate Change Consortium, to name just a few.
    • Cultivated and managed an outstanding Board of Directors and staff leadership team.
    • Supported the development of an acclaimed group of scientists who are leaders in their fields, in high performance teaming and in high performance partnering.
    • Professionalized and enhanced the experience of being an employee at Point Blue including implementing a matching 401K retirement plan and paid family leave.

    A letter from our Current and Immediate Past Board Chairs

    Megan Colwell, Chair, Point Blue Board of Directors

    Megan Colwell, Chair, Point Blue Board of Directors

    Combining vision with passion and nearly two decades of hard work, Ellie Cohen transformed Point Blue from a bird and animal research organization to a powerhouse of conservation science. With that transformation came growth—more scientists, more partnerships, more revenue, and, ultimately, more impact to conserve nature and make the planet a better place for all living things.

    As members of Point Blue’s Board of Directors, we have been honored to support and work alongside Ellie. Her contributions are far too numerous to fit in this note, but some deserve special attention, especially her leadership on climate change. Thanks to Ellie, Point Blue has never been a follower when it comes to climate change. She understood early on that we needed a paradigm shift in how we approached conservation science. Not everybody was ready—change is hard. With tenacity, patience and, most importantly, passion, she catalyzed the conservation community to prioritize climate change– and worked with our scientists and partners to infuse climate into all aspects of our work. Point Blue is now on the leading edge of climate-smart conservation.

    Ed Sarti, Immediate Past Point Blue Board Chair

    Ed Sarti, Immediate Past Chair, Point Blue Board of Directors

    Vision and passion are essential in a leader, but Ellie also has the business savvy to manage over 180 employees and interns, multiple offices throughout California, hundreds of contracts with federal, state and local agencies as well as projects spanning the Americas and Antarctica. None of that would be possible without assembling and nurturing the strongest leadership team–at all levels—that Point Blue has ever had, which is perhaps the best legacy any CEO could hope to leave behind.

    While we were deeply saddened to learn of Ellie’s decision to leave Point Blue, she will be leaving the organization strongly positioned for future success. Thank you, Ellie. In the months ahead, we will be reaching out with our plans to celebrate her many contributions and achievements.

    In the meantime, the Board of Directors has established a transition committee to identify and recruit a new Chief Executive Officer, and to ensure a smooth transition of leadership. The committee plans to engage an executive search firm to perform a national search to find a great new leader for Point Blue.

    With appreciation,

    Megan Colwell, Board Chair

    Ed Sarti, Immediate Past Board Chair

  7. Administration repeals National Ocean Policy that advanced holistic approach to ocean management

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    • Over the past eight years, the National Ocean Policy benefited ocean resources and the communities that depend on them by advancing a holistic and collaborative approach to management. The policy addressed key issues such as water quality, marine debris, coastal resilience and renewable energy through improved coordination across all levels of government, including federal, state and tribal representatives….

    June 19, 2018 Read full Surfrider article here

    On Tuesday, June 19, the Trump administration announced the repeal of the National Ocean Policy and issued a new executive order as a replacement. The National Ocean Policy was established by the Obama administration in 2010 based on the bipartisan recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and sought to address the many shortcomings of our nation’s piecemeal approach to ocean management….

    …Over the past eight years, the National Ocean Policy benefited ocean resources and the communities that depend on them by advancing a holistic and collaborative approach to management. The policy addressed key issues such as water quality, marine debris, coastal resilience and renewable energy through improved coordination across all levels of government, including federal, state and tribal representatives. The policy also improved opportunities for public and stakeholder participation in decisions that affect our coasts and ocean….

    A cornerstone of the National Ocean Policy was support for regional planning bodies (RPBs) that bring together states, federal agencies, stakeholders, tribes, and the public within distinct geographic regions to advance stewardship of the ocean and coasts. In regions such as the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, West Coast, and Pacific Islands, real progress has been made to protect the coastal ecosystems we all use and enjoy by advancing smart ocean planning.


  8. New World Atlas of Desertification shows unprecedented pressure on planet’s resources; Over 75% of the Earth’s land area is already degraded

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    • The World Desertification Atlas by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre provides the first comprehensive, evidence-based assessment of land degradation at a global level and highlights the urgency to adopt corrective measures.

    June 21, 2018 European Commission Joint Research Centre Read full ScienceDaily article here

    The … new edition of the World Atlas of Desertification, offering a tool for decision makers to improve local responses to soil loss and land degradation. The main findings show that population growth and changes in our consumption patterns put unprecedented pressure on the planet’s natural resources:

    • Over 75% of the Earth’s land area is already degraded, and over 90% could become degraded by 2050.
    • Globally, a total area half of the size of the European Union (4.18 million km²) is degraded annually, with Africa and Asia being the most affected.
    • The economic cost of soil degradation for the EU is estimated to be in the order of tens of billions of euros annually.
    • Land degradation and climate change are estimated to lead to a reduction of global crop yields by about 10% by 2050. Most of this will occur in India, China and sub-Saharan Africa, where land degradation could halve crop production.
    • As a consequence of accelerated deforestation it will become more difficult to mitigate the effects of climate change
    • By 2050, up to 700 million people are estimated to have been displaced due to issues linked to scarce land resources. The figure could reach up to 10 billion by the end of this century….
  9. US oil & gas methane emissions 60 percent higher than estimated

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    • High emissions findings undercut the case that gas offers substantial climate advantage over coal

    June 21, 2018 University of Colorado at Boulder Read full ScienceDaily article here

    The US oil and gas industry emits 13 million metric tons of the potent greenhouse gas methane from its operations each year, 60 percent more than estimated by the US Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study.

    Ramón A. Alvarez, et al. Assessment of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain. Science, 2018; eaar7204 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar7204

  10. Judgment on Hansen’s ’88 climate testimony: ‘He was right’

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    • Climate scientists’ consensus: James Hansen ‘got it right’ in congressional global warming and human causation testimony 30 years ago this week.
    • “Amazing … remarkably prescient when it comes to the predictions he made decades ago and how it’s played-out,” says Penn State’s Michael Mann. He pointed to an “eerie match” between Hansen’s forecasts and actual observed warming in the succeeding decades.

    June 20 2018 Peter Sinclair Read full Yale Climate Connections article here

    This Saturday, June 23, marks the 30th anniversary of what – from the standpoint of an ever-shrinking cadre of die-hard climate science contrarians – might be considered a “date that will live in infamy.”*

    It was a sultry day in the nation’s capital when then-NASA climate scientist James Hansen delivered testimony on human-caused warming. He cautioned, as the New York Times reported with a page-one headline, that “Global warming has begun”.

    After three decades of constant scrutiny, analysis, and re-analysis, this month’s “This is not Cool” video by Peter Sinclair asks a handful of climate scientists how Hansen’s testimony has stood-up.

    Hansen “got it right,” says scientist Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute in Germany….