Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Category Archive: Adaptation and Nature-based Solutions

  1. How to Build a City That Doesn’t Flood? Turn it Into a Sponge

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    • There’s a global movement to build smarter and “spongier” cities that can absorb rainwater instead of letting it flow through miles of pavement and cause damaging floods.

    From Iowa to Vermont and from San Francisco to Chicago, urban infrastructure is getting a reboot.

    ….Creating better stormwater management systems requires using green infrastructure elements in urban planning and restoring some of the rain-retention capacity that cities have lost to urbanization. These elements can be roughly broken into two categories: the man-made engineered replacements of the natural water pathways and the restorations of the original water routes that existed before a city was developed.

    ….Traditional road construction, made with asphalt, gravel and sand, is a very compacted structure that leaves little space between the particulates, and thus no room for the rainwater to seep through. In the construction industry that gap measure is described by the term “air void,” which is typically set at four percent for the traditional pavement mix, says Richard Willis, Director of Pavement Engineering and Innovation at National Asphalt Pavement Association.

    One way to make cities spongier is to use permeable pavements, such as porous asphalt made with a lot of large stones rather than fine aggregates such as sand, and with added cellulose fibers to hold the porous asphalt together. This creates more pores, and increases the air void up to 15 or 20 percent, allowing more rainwater to seep through.

    ….Another way to make cities hold water is by building rain gardens and bioswales. A rain garden is a depression in the soil seeded with native plants that helps soak up rainwater. With that setup, house spouts can empty into a rain garden instead of a sewer, decreasing sewage overflows in heavy downpours. A bioswale is a rain garden on a larger, more engineered scale. It is constructed by creating deeper and larger depressions where water can temporarily accumulate and drain out slowly.

    ….Green infrastructure for sponge cities can also include non-engineered solutions—such as restoring urban forests and increasing their ability to absorb stormwater runoff. In Seattle, urban planners got rid of invasive species such as English Ivy and Himalayan blackberries and restored native evergreens that do a better job of stormwater retention.

    ….For countries in the developing world, which are on the frontlines of climate change, the problem is more urgent and monetary resources are a problem. In these countries, solutions that follow the Seattle model are increasingly being embraced, says Sarah Colenbrander, Senior Researcher at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development. From Kampala, Uganda to Bangalore, India urban wetlands and woodlands are being restored in many cities. The biggest stumbling block, according to Postel, is scalability: can one-off examples work on a larger country-wide scale? That can only happen with a significant boost from policy implementation and top-down legislation, she says.
    Studies found that local building codes often create needless impervious cover while giving developers little or no incentive to conserve the natural areas that are so important for the natural water flow. The world needs to rethink its cultural expectations of what a prosperous and successful city looks like, Colenbrander says: “Is it a city like Sydney or Los Angeles where everyone has a white picket fence and a nice garden? Or is it a city more like Hong Kong or even central London where people live much more densely and have a communal green space together so you have less of an ecological footprint?”….

    A diagram of a water retention system. Credit: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

  2. Floodplains for the future: Processes and Management for Ecosystem Services

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    Floodplains: Processes and Management for Ecosystem Services”, published by University of California Press

    • New book on reconciliation ecology, the science of integrating habitat for wild plants and animals into landscapes dominated by people in California and around the world
    • “a future in which people work with natural processes rather than continually fighting them” is in reach
    • related op-ed from the Sacramento Bee (Nov. 26, 2017).

    by Jeff Opperman, Peter Moyle (member Point Blue Science Advisory Committee), Amber Manfree, Eric Larson, Joan Florsheim  Fall 2017

    This past years flooding in Houston and other parts of the world is a reminder of the great damages that floods cause when the defenses of an urban area are overwhelmed.   However, these floods are a stark reminder of the increasing vulnerability of urban areas across the world and the need for comprehensive strategies to reduce risk.  The evidence is clear that that floodplains managed for multiple services can reduce flood risk for many people while also promoting a range of other benefits, including increased biodiversity.

    Unfortunately, climate change models tell us that floods will become bigger and more frequent in the future because warmer oceans will create bigger storms over wider areas.  For thousands of years, the general approach to handling floods has been to contain them with walls, levees, and dams, because people have wanted safe access to rich floodplain soils for farming and flat land for cities.  Responses to flooding have generally been couched in terms of fighting or controlling floods, at huge cost and occasional massive failures.  Today, the emphasis is slowly changing to flood management, where “green infrastructure”, such as flood bypass systems, not only reduces flood risks but creates habitat for fish and wildlife, supports farming, and provides open space for recreation.

    We think the world needs a lot more such green infrastructure to meet the forecasted challenges and to support floodplain ecosystems that can also function for conservation, farming and recreation. Engineered floodplains are a prime opportunity for multi-benefit outcomes. We have documented this trend, and reasons why green infrastructure works so well, in a new book. It is called “Floodplains: Processes and Management for Ecosystem Services”, published by University of California Press (

    Our focus is reconciliation ecology, the science of integrating habitat for wild plants and animals into landscapes dominated by people. The book is based on our many years of studying floodplains in California, which is a leader in using floodplains for flood management.  But we also venture to other regions, especially Europe, Australia, and Asia, for new insights.   Towards the end, we provide 15 maxims to guide flood management such as “A bigger flood is always possible than the biggest experienced so far.”   We end with the following statement:

    “We take heart from the huge flocks of migratory white geese and black ibis that congregate annually on California floodplains and from knowing that, beneath the floodwaters, juvenile salmon are swimming, feeding, and growing among cottonwoods and rice stalks, before heading out to sea. We can envision greatly expanded floodplains that are centerpieces of many regions, protecting people but also featuring wildlands, wildlife, and floodplain-friendly agriculture. Connectivity among floodplains, people and wild creatures is within reach, as is a future in which people work with natural processes rather than continually fighting them.” (p. 218).

    Use source code 16M4197 at checkout

  3. CA case studies on natural shoreline infrastructure for coastal resilience: NEW from NOAA, TNC, Point Blue and ESA

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    November, 2017 by Jenna Judge, NOAA Sentinal Site Cooperative (reprinted from an email)

    Case Studies of Natural Shoreline Infrastructure in California,” conducted with support from California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment and led by Jenna Judge of the NOAA Sentinel Site Cooperative, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Point Blue, and Environmental Science Associates.

    Sea level rise and associated flooding will threaten nearly $100 billion worth of property along the California coast by 2100, and there is no question that coastal landowners and planners will act to protect their assets from these losses. In the absence of compelling reasons or guidance to do otherwise, they will overwhelmingly default to the industry standard – specifically, the construction of coastal armoring (seawalls, revetments, dikes, and levees).

    An alternative to coastal armoring is natural infrastructure, which has been shown to be a cost-effective approach to mitigating risk of floods, storms and sea level rise in many places. Natural infrastructure enhances the ability of natural systems to respond to sea level rise and migrate landward, ensuring their survival. In turn, these systems provide co-benefits for coastal communities: coastal ecosystems can serve as protective buffers against sea level rise and storm events while continuing to provide access, recreation opportunities, and other social benefits.

    Jenner Headlands, by Ryan DiGaudio, Point BlueJenner Headlands, Sonoma County, CA. Photo by Ryan DiGaudio/Point Blue

    In spite of the well-known advantages of natural infrastructure, property owners continue to default to coastal armoring to protect their assets. There are a number of obstacles in deploying natural infrastructure that result in this preference for coastal armoring, but among them is a documented lack of familiarity with what natural infrastructure is and how it works.

    This detailed case studies report is designed to fill this awareness gap. The case studies, highlighting projects ranging from sediment augmentation in Seal Beach to dune restoration in Humboldt, are designed to give coastal managers a sense of the breadth of approaches to coastal adaptation and what it takes to plan, permit, implement, and monitor them.

    The report can be accessed here (pdf).

    [NOTE: Point Blue scientists are also collaboratively addressing coastal resilience on a national scale with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NOAA, US Army Corps of Engineers, the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center, and NatureServe.  We are addressing questions such as: How do we know which coastal species and which habitats will be most threatened by climate change impacts? Where will restoration and other habitat enhancement projects also benefit human communities?

    On December 13th and 14th we’re helping to bring coastal managers and stakeholders together to identify vulnerable species and areas, missing data sets, and priority restoration areas. Learn more here. Help us spread the word by sharing with coastal stakeholders you know.]


  4. Timing is key in keeping organic matter in wet cropland soils, new study finds

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    • Periodically flooded soils may actually lose organic matter at accelerated rate, a new report suggests.

    November 24, 2017 Iowa State University read full ScienceDaily article here

    ..The study found that timing plays a key role in how well wet soils retain organic matter. While soils with consistently high moisture content do retain organic matter over the long term, soils may actually lose organic matter during shorter spans of flooding. The findings have implications for agricultural fields that are poorly drained or flood for a few weeks of the year before drying out, Hall said. The study also shows that wetlands, thought of as a useful tool for conservation and carbon sequestration, may require consistent flooding to realize environmental benefits from organic matter accumulation….

    …”We found that periodically wet soils don’t necessarily protect organic matter from decomposition and may lead to losses, at least over a timescale of weeks to months,” he said.

    The study drew on research conducted in an ISU laboratory. The researchers took soil samples from a central Iowa cornfield and subjected the sample to various conditions before conducting chemical analyses.

    Hall said future research should widen in scope and include field experiments as well as laboratory-based work. He said he wants to test how various drainage techniques influence organic matter loss as well as pinpoint the length of time required for wet soil to realize environmental benefits….

    Wenjuan Huang, Steven J. Hall. Elevated moisture stimulates carbon loss from mineral soils by releasing protected organic matter. Nature Communications, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01998-z

  5. Include Biodiversity in Habitat Restoration Policy to Facilitate Ecosystem Recovery

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    • Need to bridge the ‘practice – science gap’ between practitioners and biodiversity research to optimize restoration projects

    November 27, 2017  Northeastern University College of Science Read full ScienceDaily article here

    As restoration projects throughout the country focus on restoring natural ecosystems, researchers are looking for ways to better bridge the ‘practice science gap’ between practitioners and biodiversity research in an effort optimize these types of projects.

    … there are more than two decades of research that show if you increase biodiversity — the living organisms that occupy an ecosystem — important ecosystem functions begin to see positive improvements….

    Dr. Susan Williams, of the Bodega Marine Laboratory at University of California, Davis. “Even if we know the community is more diverse, we instinctively reach for an efficient restoration solution by focusing on a single species or the one that has been impacted most. Our instincts are often at odds with our growing understanding of the benefits of biodiversity.”…

    ….”There is reason to believe that biodiversity may be able to enhance the success of restoration, but we need more data, and the only way we’ll get that data is if more partnerships are formed between biodiversity scientists and restoration practitioners. It might be a relatively simple way to enhance the success of restoration projects,” she said.

    A. Randall Hughes, Jonathan H. Grabowski, Heather M. Leslie, Steven Scyphers, Susan L. Williams. Inclusion of Biodiversity in Habitat Restoration Policy to Facilitate Ecosystem Recovery. Conservation Letters, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/conl.12419

  6. 6 ideas on how SF Bay Area could boost climate change resilience; give your feedback to Resilient by Design by COB today

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    November 22, 2017 read full Fastcodesign article here

    Unfortunately, it usually takes a natural disaster to remind cities how vulnerable they are–and how urgent long-range resiliency planning is. The San Francisco Bay Area, however, isn’t waiting for the next big one. This year the Rockefeller Foundation announced a $4.6 million grant to jump-start the Resilient by Design competition, the West Coast’s answer to the post-Sandy Rebuild by Design program. Now, the proposals are finally live and open for public comment.

    The Bay Area is one of the most scenic, desirable regions in the country, but the very things that make it beautiful also pose the greatest risks to inhabitants. Sea levels in the region will rise an estimated 3.4 feet by 2100. Scientists predict chronic inundation and flooding in areas near the shoreline. Earthquakes shaped the bay’s rolling hillsides and mountains, and the specter of the next “Big One” looms large. The area’s natural ecosystems face myriad negative impacts stemming from development and pollution, too.

    [Image: courtesy BIG + One + Sherwood/Resilient by Design]

    Resilient by Design asks experts to envision how the region should adapt. The 10 design super-teams are diverse, including internationally renowned architecture and engineering firms, MacArthur Foundation fellows, local landscape architects, Ivy League research groups, National Design Award winners, and more. Each team independently investigated the social and ecological vulnerabilities in the Bay Area and designed solutions addressing the core challenges of sea level rise, flooding, ecological health, and social enrichment, but focused on different problematic sites around the bay region. As a result they each created dramatically different solutions–everything from autonomous vehicle infrastructure to a new Transbay tube to artificial wetlands….

    See some of the design ideas here

    Read more about SF Bay Resilient by Design here.

  7. Restoring floodplains and wetlands offer value-for-money solution to river flooding

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    November 21 2017  read full European Environmental Agency article here

    Investing in ‘green infrastructure’ like restoring floodplains or wetlands to bolster flood prevention not only generates more environmental and socio-economic benefits, especially in the long term, but also lowers the amount of financial investment needed to defend against damaging floods. This is the conclusion of a new European Environment Agency (EEA) report published today, which assesses the green options available in building climate resilience in wake of the increased risk posed by river flooding.

    The EEA report ‘Green infrastructure and flood management — promoting cost-efficient flood risk reduction via green infrastructure solutions,’ outlines the challenges and opportunities posed by using more environmentally friendly options to bolster defences against river flooding. The report looks specifically at six case studies on the Elbe (Germany), the Rhône (France), the Scheldt (Belgium) and the Vistula (Poland) river basins, and points to the potential, in terms of suitable space, for restoring floodplains alongside them….


  8. New Map of Worldwide Croplands Supports Food and Water Security- USGS

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    November 14, 2017 see full USGS press release here

    ….With the global population nearing the 7.6 billion mark and expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, it is of increasing importance to understand and monitor the state of agriculture across the world in great detail. This new research is useful to international development organizations, farmers, decision makers, scientists and national security professionals.

    This map is a baseline and starting point for higher level assessments, such as identifying which crops are present and where, when they grow, their productivity, if lands are left fallow and whether the water source is irrigated or rain fed,” said Thenkabail. “Comparisons can be made between the present and past years as well as between one farm and another. It is invaluable to know the precise location of croplands and their dynamics to lead to informed and productive farm management.”

    …Not only does this map and accompanying data have significant food security implications, but it is also critical as a baseline for assessing water security. Nearly 80 percent of all human water use across the world goes towards producing food, and this research provides insight on “crop per drop,” which is an assessment of the amount of crops produced per unit of water….

  9. FAO launches new Climate-Smart Agriculture web platform

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    November 10, 2017 Bonn read full FAO news release here

    Photo: ©Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos for FAO

    A FAO-supported project in Bhagawoti Kauledhara, Nepal.

    10 November 2017, Rome – To help steer our food systems in a sustainable direction, FAO has produced a new sourcebook for how to implement “climate-smart” approaches to agriculture, launched today at the Agriculture Action Day on the sidelines of the COP23 climate summit in Bonn.

    “Hunger, poverty, and climate can be tackled together through approaches such as Climate-Smart Agriculture that recognize the critical linkages between sustainable agriculture and strategies that promote resource-use efficiency, conserve and restore biodiversity and natural resources, and combat the impacts of climate change,” said René Castro, Assistant Director-General of the Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department of FAO.

    Ultimately, the world needs to produce 50 percent more food to feed nearly 10 billion people in 2050, and to find a way to do so with only a quarter of current per capita carbon emissions, Castro noted.

    The online Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook – Second Edition 2017 is the result of one of FAO’s major areas of work that comes on the heels of the recently launched FAO’s  Climate Change Strategy.

    It comprises a wide range of knowledge and expertise to help guide policy makers, programme managers, academics, extension services and other practitioners make the agricultural sectors more sustainable and productive while also contributing to food security and lower carbon intensity….

  10. Better managed cropland soil could trap as much planet-warming carbon as transport produces or 17.5% of annual global emissions- study

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    • The extra carbon that could be stored from rejuvenated soil is equivalent to 3 to 7 billion tonnes/year of planet-warming carbon dioxide
    • The U.S. emits around 5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. So (emissions) equivalent of a major economy could be sequestered in soils each year with changes in farming practices
    • US has the highest total annual potential to store carbon in the soil, followed by India, China, Russia and Australia, if soil management is improved.
    by Thin Lei Win Tuesday, 14 November 2017 17:15 GMT  Read full Thomson Reuters Foundation article here

    Improving soil health in farmlands could capture extra carbon equivalent to the planet-warming emissions generated by the transport sector, one of the world’s most polluting industries, experts said Tuesday.

    Soil naturally absorbs carbon from the atmosphere through a process known as sequestration which not only reduce harmful greenhouse gases but also creates more fertile soil.

    Better soil management could boost carbon stored in the top layer of the soil by up to 1.85 gigatonnes each year, about the same as the carbon emissions of transport globally, according to a study published in the journal Nature. “Healthier soils store more carbon and produce more food,” Louis Verchot of the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture, and one of the study’s authors, said in a statement.

    “Investing in better soil management will make our agricultural systems more productive and resilient to future shocks and stresses.”

    Using compost, keeping soil disturbance to a minimum and rotating crops to include plants such as legumes can help restore organic matter in the soil, Verchot told the Thomson Reuters Foundation….

    Robert J. Zomer, Deborah A. Bossio, Rolf Sommer & Louis V. Verchot. Global Sequestration Potential of Increased Organic Carbon in Cropland Soils. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 15554 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41598-017-15794-8

    ABSTRACT: The role of soil organic carbon in global carbon cycles is receiving increasing attention both as a potentially large and uncertain source of CO2 emissions in response to predicted global temperature rises, and as a natural sink for carbon able to reduce atmospheric CO2. There is general agreement that the technical potential for sequestration of carbon in soil is significant, and some consensus on the magnitude of that potential. Croplands worldwide could sequester between 0.90 and 1.85 Pg C/yr, i.e. 26–53% of the target of the “4p1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate”. The importance of intensively cultivated regions such as North America, Europe, India and intensively cultivated areas in Africa, such as Ethiopia, is highlighted. Soil carbon sequestration and the conservation of existing soil carbon stocks, given its multiple benefits including improved food production, is an important mitigation pathway to achieve the less than 2 °C global target of the Paris Climate Agreement.