Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Tag Archive: climate change

  1. 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.”

  2. From the Holocene to the Anthropocene: marked changes started in the early to mid-1950s

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    • The clearest global markers (among many others) for defining the Anthropocene as a formal unit of the Geological Time Scale are radionuclide fallout signals from nuclear testing and changes in carbon chemistry through fossil fuel burning — showing marked changes starting in the early to mid-1950s.
    • The team is studying markers that most clearly and consistently characterise the changes as the Holocene, which represents the last 11,700 years of geological time on this planet, gave way into the Anthropocene about 65 years ago.

    January 16, 2018 University of Leicester read full ScienceDaily article here

    The international working group… has, since 2009, been analysing the case for formalisation of the Anthropocene, a potential new epoch of geological time dominated by overwhelming human impact on the Earth. The group has found that a broad range of potential physical, chemical and biological markers characterise the Anthropocene, the clearest global markers being radionuclide fallout signals from nuclear testing and changes in carbon chemistry through fossil fuel burning — these in particular show marked changes starting in the early to mid-1950s….

    Scientists within the Anthropocene Working Group are working towards developing a proposal, based upon finding a ‘golden spike’, more technically known as a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP). This is a reference level within recent strata somewhere in the world that will be proposed to most clearly and consistently characterise the changes as the Holocene, which represents the last 11,700 years of geological time on this planet, gave way into the Anthropocene about 65 years ago.

    ….The group… has now reviewed present knowledge on where these and other markers form the clearest, sharpest, and most stable signal in strata that might be used to define the Anthropocene as a formal unit of the Geological Time Scale.

    The current study, which is published in the journal Earth-Science Reviews, informs the scientific community where they should start the process of collecting and analysing continuous core samples of strata across the proposed Holocene-Anthropocene transition….

    …Professor Mark Williams said: “The range of environments we are working with is remarkable — from polar ice and snow layers to deep lake and sea floors to the skeletons of reef corals and stalactites in caves. The fact that signals of the Anthropocene are so sharply visible in all of these shows just how pervasive human impact has been on the planet in post-war times.”

    Colin N. Waters, et al. Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) for the Anthropocene Series: Where and how to look for potential candidates. Earth-Science Reviews, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2017.12.016

  3. California’s water saving brings bonus effects- electricity savings and GHG reductions

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    • The decrease in water usage translated into a significant electricity saving of 1,830 gigawatt hours (GWh) resulting in GHG emissions saved of 524,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), the equivalent of taking 111,000 cars off the road for a year.
    • water conveyance and use accounts for 19 per cent of total electricity demand and 32 per cent of total non-power plant natural gas demand state-wide

    January 11, 2018 IOP Publishing read full ScienceDaily article here

    Water-saving measures in California have also led to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and electricity consumption in the state.

    Measures to cut water use by 25 per cent across California were implemented in 2015, following a four-year drought in the state that caused the fallowing of 542,000 acres of land, total economic costs of $2.74 billion, and the loss of approximately 21,000 jobs.

    The UC Davis researchers found that, while the 25 per cent target had not quite been reached over the one-year period — with 524,000 million gallons of water saved — the measures’ impact had positive knock-on effects for other environmental objectives.

    In California, the water and energy utility sectors are closely interdependent. The energy used by the conveyance systems that move water from the wetter North to the drier and more heavily populated South — combined with utility energy use for treatment and distribution, end-user water consumption for heating, and additional pumping and treatment — accounts for 19 per cent of total electricity demand and 32 per cent of total non-power plant natural gas demand state-wide….

    Edward S Spang, Andrew J Holguin, Frank J Loge. The estimated impact of California’s urban water conservation mandate on electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental Research Letters, 2018; 13 (1): 014016 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa9b89

  4. Interior puts grants worth hundreds of millions of dollars through political review

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    • An attachment to the directive listed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s “Top Ten Priorities” by which each award would be scrutinized. The list begins with “Creating a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt” and includes “Utilizing our natural resources.”
    • The new approval process appears to be without precedent within the department
    • Interior has ordered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to halt two studies that conflict with the administration’s goal of expanding domestic fossil fuel production.

    January 9 2018 read full Washington Post article here

    The Interior Department has adopted a new screening process for the discretionary grants it makes to outside groups, instructing staff to ensure those awards “promote the priorities” of the Trump administration.

    The Dec. 28 directive, obtained by The Washington Post, represents the latest attempt by Trump political appointees to put their mark on government spending. Last summer, the Environmental Protection Agency instituted a system requiring that a political appointee in the public affairs office sign off on each grant before it is awarded.

    ….Those include any award of at least $50,000 “to a non-profit organization that can legally engage in advocacy” or “to an institution of higher education.”

    The EPA directive also targeted federal grants to universities and nonprofit groups. Although Cameron did not identify the total amount of funding affected by the new policy, and the department declined to comment on the matter, Interior officials said it involves hundreds of millions of dollars.

    …An attachment to the directive listed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s “Top Ten Priorities” by which each award would be scrutinized. The list begins with “Creating a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt” and includes “Utilizing our natural resources.”

    ….the department had been reviewing grants and cooperative agreements totaling at least $100,000 since April and that “the new guidance continued the responsible stewardship of tax dollars.”

    Although Interior secretaries under Democratic and Republican presidents have directed federal dollars to support their priorities, the new approval process appears to be without precedent within the department.

    …“Subjugating Congress’ priorities to 10 of the Secretary’s own priorities is arrogant, impractical and, in some cases, likely illegal,” said Hayes, executive director of the New York University School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.

    …Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said….“This grant approval process looks like a backdoor way to stop funds going to legitimate scientific and environmental projects,” he said. “Using the federal grant process to punish scientists doing important work because they disagree with that philosophy is unacceptable, and there’s good reason to think that’s what’s really happening here.”

    Interior has ordered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to halt two studies that conflict with the administration’s goal of expanding domestic fossil fuel production.

  5. How Much Has ‘Climate Change’ Been Scrubbed From Federal Websites? A Lot.

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    • the authors found significant loss of public access to information about climate change

    by Coral Davenport January 10 2018 Read full NY Times article here

    Nearly a year into the Trump administration, mentions of climate change have been systematically removed, altered or played down on websites across the federal government, according to a report made public Wednesday.

    The findings of the report, by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, an international coalition of researchers and activist groups, are in keeping with the policies of a president who has proudly pursued an agenda of repealing environmental regulationsopening protected lands and waters to oil and gas drilling, withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accordshrinking the boundaries of federal monuments, and appointing top officials who have questioned or denied the established science of human-caused climate change.

    The authors of the study said that the removal of the words “climate change” from government websites, and a widespread effort to delete or bury information on climate change programs, would quite likely have a detrimental impact.

    “We have found significant loss of public access to information about climate change,” the authors wrote.

    “Why are these federal agencies putting so much effort into ‘science cleansing’ instead of using time and resources to fulfill agency responsibilities, such as protecting the environment and advancing energy security?” they wrote. “Removing information regarding climate change from federal websites does not affect the reality of climate change, but may serve to obfuscate the subject and inject doubt regarding the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activity.”…

  6. 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….

  7. 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….

  8. Strikingly dry conditions persist; Thomas Fire now largest California wildfire

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    by Daniel Swain December 24, 2017 read full CA Weather Blog post here

    Bone dry in Southern California, and below average precip throughout CA

    All of California is now experiencing well-below-average precipitation for the season to date. Southern California has seen almost no precipitation at all…

    Why has California been so dry? (Regular blog visitors already know where I’m going with this.) Well, a remarkably persistent zone of atmospheric pressure has been present more often than not across the region for the past few months. ….More recently, the bigger & stronger West Coast ridge has pushed the Pacific storm track even further north. Remarkably, this powerful ridge has forced several very moist atmospheric river storms over the mid-Pacific to make a hard “left turn” over the open ocean–veering directly northward and bringing almost inconceivably heavy snowfall to the coastal mountains of southern Alaska.

    Thomas Fire becomes largest wildfire in modern California history–in December

    The Thomas Fire has become the largest wildfire in modern California history–in December. (Via NASA)

    ….While December wildfires are not unheard of in this part of the world, the extent and severity of the December 2017 fires in SoCal really is unprecedented in California history. The Thomas Fire–which has now burned nearly 275,000 acres and over a thousand structures in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties–yesterday became the single largest wildfire in modern California history. That this dubious milestone was reached in December, which is typically the midst of the California rainy season, is truly extraordinary. Indeed, recent months have brought not only near-record low precipitation, but also record-high temperatures across a wide swath of SoCal….

    …..While long-term humidity records are hard to come by in most spots, all signs suggest that these were at or near record-low humidity values for many of these recording stations (and certainly for the time of year).

    Is this (another) return of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge?

    Persistent high pressure ridging over the American West has kept conditions unusually warm and dry so far this autumn and early winter, especially across Southern California and Arizona. (NOAA via ESRL)……we’re not in Triple R [ridiculously resilient ridge] territory quite yet, but we’re getting close. We have certainly witnessed the return of resilient ridging near California, but I don’t think we’ve yet reached the “ridiculous” level of multi-month persistence that occurred during the height of the recent California drought. Should present conditions persist through January, and if seasonal precipitation has not started to recover from its early deficit by that time, I may have to revise that answer.

     

    …The not-so-good news: parts of Southern California that depend exclusively on local water supplies (such as much of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties) never really recovered from the last drought, and these regions remain quite susceptible to the impacts of drought re-intensification. And even further north, forested regions remain quite stressed as a result from the previous multi-year drought, and tree mortality in the Sierra Nevada remains far above historically observed levels.

    Unfortunately, 2+ weeks of unusually dry conditions still probable….The “Warm West/Cool East” pattern discussed in the previous post is still quite prominent over North America. The present West Coast dryness is largely consistent with seasonal model predictions for this winter, and those same models presently suggest that the present pattern is likely to persist for much of the California rainy season.All of this is to say: it’s still too early to say whether we’re headed into a new drought, though there are some compelling signs that we may be (especially in Southern California). And even in a dry year, California can still experience big storms and very wet months. But at this point, it probably makes sense to start thinking about the possibility of yet another big swing in California–from drought, to flood, and then (perhaps) back again.

  9. Changing climate, changing cities: Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater in 10 Years

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  10. In California’s wildfires, a looming threat to climate goals

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    • CA’s environmental regulations apply only to human-caused emissions. Carbon and other pollution generated by wildfires is outside state law.
    • Forests are part of the state’s strategy for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions significantly by 2020 and beyond…. The air board will direct state agencies to determine more precisely how much carbon can be absorbed by California’s variety of landscapes….
    • The U.S. Forest Service this week updated its estimate of dead trees across California to 129 million. That loss alone could be a blow to the state’s vision of a low-carbon future.

    by Julie Cart December 14 2017 Read full CalMatters article here

    Beyond the devastation and personal tragedy of the fires that have ravaged California in recent months,  another disaster looms: an alarming uptick in unhealthy air and the sudden release of the carbon dioxide that drives climate change.

    …..The state’s environmental regulations are known to be stringent, but they have limits: They apply only to human-caused emissions. Carbon and other pollution generated by wildfires is outside the grasp of state law.

    ….In less than one week, for example, October’s wine-country fires discharged harmful emissions equal to that of every car, truck and big rig on the state’s roads in a year. The calculations from the subsequent fires in Southern California are not yet available, but given the duration and scope of the multiple blazes, the more recent complex of fires could well exceed that level.

    The greenhouse gases released when forests burn not only do immediate harm, discharging carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases, but also continue to inflict damage long after the fires are put out. In a state where emissions from nearly every industry are tightly regulated, if wildfires were treated like other carbon emitters, Mother Nature would be castigated, fined and shut down.

    The air board estimates that between 2001 and 2010, wildfires generated approximately 120 million tons of carbon. But Clegern said a direct comparison with regulated emissions is difficult, in part because of limited monitoring data….

    ….Scientists estimate that in severely burned areas, only a fraction of a scorched tree’s emissions are released during the fire, perhaps as little as 15 percent. The bulk of greenhouse gases are released over months and years as the plant dies and decomposes.  And if a burned-out forest is replaced by chaparral or brush, that landscape loses more than 90 percent of its capacity to take in and retain carbon, according to the [Sierra Nevada] Conservancy….

    ….The role of wildfire as a major source of pollution was identified a decade ago, when a study conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that “a severe fire season lasting only one or two months can release as much carbon as the annual emissions from the entire transportation or energy sector of an individual state.”

    ….The entire equation has been made worse by the state’s epidemic of tree death, caused by drought, disease and insect infestation. The U.S. Forest Service this week updated its estimate of dead trees across California to 129 million. That loss alone could be a blow to the state’s vision of a low-carbon future.

    ….Forests as carbon-chewers are part of the state’s strategy for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions significantly by 2020 and beyond—a goal that could be undermined by nature’s caprice. The air board will direct state agencies to determine more precisely how much carbon can be absorbed by California’s variety of landscapes….

    ….Sean Raffuse, an analyst at the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California, Davis, came up with the “back of the envelope” calculations for October’s Sonoma County fires.

    Raffuse said he used federal emissions inventories from fires and calculated that five days of ashy spew from the northern California blazes equated to the annual air pollution from every vehicle in California….