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Updated: 46 min 4 sec ago

NASA Joins Forces to Put Satellite Eyes of Threat to U.S. Freshwater

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 15:42

NASA

Toxic algal blooms like this one in Lake Erie in 2011 can cause human and animal health risks, fish kills, and degrade drinking water supplies. Image Credit: USGS/NASA Earth Observatory

NASA has joined forces with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Geological Survey to transform satellite data designed to probe ocean biology into information that will help protect the American public from harmful freshwater algal blooms.

Algal blooms are a worldwide environmental problem causing human and animal health risks, fish kills, and taste and odor in drinking water. In the United States, the cost of freshwater degraded by harmful algal blooms is estimated at $64 million annually. In August 2014, officials in Toledo, Ohio, banned the use of drinking water supplied to more than 400,000 residents after it was contaminated by an algal bloom in Lake Erie.

The new $3.6 million, multi-agency effort will use ocean color satellite data to develop an early warning indicator for toxic and nuisance algal blooms in freshwater systems and an information distribution system to aid expedient public health advisories.

“The vantage point of space not only contributes to a better understanding of our home planet, it helps improve lives around the world,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’re excited to be putting NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration to work protecting public health and safety.”

Ocean color satellite data from NASA’s Aqua, the USGS-NASA Landsat, and the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 and -3 are currently available to scientists, but are not routinely processed and produced in formats that help state and local environmental and water quality managers. Through this project, satellite data on harmful algal blooms developed by the partner agencies will be converted to a format that stakeholders can use through mobile devices and web portals.

“Observations from space-based instruments are an ideal way to tackle this type of public health hazard because of their global coverage and ability to provide detailed information on material in the water, including algal blooms,” said Paula Bontempi of the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

NOAA and NASA pioneered the use of satellite data to monitor and forecast harmful algal blooms. Satellites allow for more frequent observations over broader areas than water sampling. The satellite data support NOAA’s existing forecasting systems in the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes.

“Observing harmful algae is critical to understanding, managing, and forecasting these blooms,” said Holly Bamford, acting NOAA assistant secretary for conservation and management and deputy administrator in Washington. “This collaboration will assure that NOAA’s efforts will assist the coastal and inland public health officials and managers across the country to distribute this information to the community in an easily understandable fashion, making them more resilient to environmental events.”

The new network builds on previous NASA ocean satellite sensor technologies created to study the global ocean’s microscopic algal communities, which play a major role in ocean ecology, the movement of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and ocean, and climate change. These sensors detect the color of the sunlit upper layer of the ocean and are used to create indicators that can help identify harmful algal blooms.

Under certain environmental conditions, algae naturally present in marine and fresh waters rapidly multiply to create a bloom. Some species of algae called cyanobacteria produce toxins that can kill wildlife and domestic animals and cause illness in humans through exposure to contaminated freshwater and the consumption of contaminated drinking water, fish or shellfish. Cyanobacteria blooms are a particular concern because of their dense biomass, toxins, taste and odor.

“EPA researchers are developing important scientific tools to help local communities respond quickly and efficiently to real-time water quality issues and protect drinking water for their residents,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Working with other federal agencies, we are leveraging our scientific expertise, technology and data to create a mobile app to help water quality managers make important decisions to reduce negative impacts related to harmful algal blooms, which have been increasingly affecting our water bodies due to climate change.”

The project also includes a research component to improve understanding of the environmental causes and health impacts of cyanobacteria and phytoplankton blooms across the United States. Blooms in lakes and estuaries are produced when aquatic plants receive excess nutrients under suitable environmental conditions. Various land uses, such as urbanization and agricultural practices, change the amount of nutrients and sediment delivered in watersheds, which can influence cyanobacterial growth.

Researchers will compare the new freshwater algal blooms data with satellite records of land cover changes over time to identify specific land-use activities that may have caused environmental changes linked to the frequency and intensity of blooms. The results will help to develop better forecasts of bloom events.

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term satellite data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

For more information on NASA’s Earth science activities, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/earth

Categories: Ecological News

Wind Vision: New Report Highlights a Robust Wind Energy Future

Thu, 04/09/2015 - 18:18

By Jose Zayas
Energy.gov

With utility-scale wind turbines installed in 39 states, wind energy accounts for 4.5 percent of our nation’s annual electricity generation. At this level, wind energy already supports more than 50,000 industry-related jobs in manufacturing, construction, operations and maintenance, and supporting services, all while improving the environment and strengthening our economy.

So, what could the United States energy picture look like in 2020, 2030, and 2050, and what is the role of wind? That’s the question the Energy Department and an elite team of researchers, academics, scientists, engineers and wind industry experts set out to answer over the past two years.

These experts revisited and built on the findings of the Energy Department’s 2008 20% Wind by 2030 report to envision a new future for wind energy through 2050. Taking into account every type of wind energy deployment (land-based, offshore, distributed), the new Wind Vision Report defines the societal, environmental and economic benefits of wind power in a scenario with wind energy supplying 10 percent of the country’s electricity in 2020, 20 percent in 2030 and 35 percent in 2050, established through rigorous analysis and deployment scenario sensitivities.

Key Findings of the Wind Vision Report

This comprehensive analysis has a number of key takeaways:

  • As wind power becomes a larger part of the country’s energy mix and investments aim at cost reductions, the price of wind energy is projected to be directly competitive with conventional energy technologies within the next decade.
  • Wind can be a viable source of renewable electricity in all 50 states by 2050.
  • Wind has the potential to support more than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and supporting services.
  • By 2050, most wind turbine components could be manufactured in the United States.
  • By 2050, wind energy can help offset 12.3 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases, equivalent to $400 billion in avoided carbon emissions at current global economic values.
  • By 2050, wind energy can help offset 2.6 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide, 4.7 million metric tons of nitrogen oxides, and 0.5 million metric tons of fine particulate matter, equivalent to $108 billion in savings from avoided healthcare costs and economic damages.
  • By 2050, wind energy can save 260 billion gallons of water that would have been used by the electric power sector, equivalent to roughly 400,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
  • With wind energy, the United States can save $280 billion in natural gas costs by 2050. Natural gas is currently used to help quickly supply power to the electrical grid during spikes in energy use, such as those caused by seasonal heating and cooling.
  • Local governments will be able to collect additional tax revenue from land lease payments and property taxes, reaching $3.2 billion annually by 2050.
Enabling the Wind Vision

In order to quantify the impacts and benefits of wind energy through 2050, the Wind Vision Report models three different scenarios:

  1. The “Baseline Scenario” holds wind energy capacity constant, at the level of installed capacity at the end of 2013.
  2. The “Business-as-Usual Scenario” factors in variables such as electricity demand, fossil fuel prices, wind power and other renewable energy costs, as well as existing transmission expansion patterns. Under this scenario wind economically competes as part of the U.S. electricity generating fleet, and with federal and state policies as enacted as of January 1, 2014.
  3. The “Study Scenario,” derived through analytical modeling, defines wind contributions as 10% of national end-use electricity demand by 2020, 20% by 2030 and 35% by 2050 and all other electricity sources economically compete for generation, while federal and state policies are held as enacted as of January 1, 2014. The Study Scenario used current (as of 2013) and projected trend data to inform inputs, assumptions, and other constraints.
How Do We Get to 35% Wind by 2050?

While the Wind Vision Report does not make any policy recommendations, it does provide a Roadmap for Targeted Actions. The Wind Vision Roadmap sets forth actions the wind energy industry, research community and others can take to accelerate the deployment of wind energy nationwide. The nine core “action areas” focus on technology advancement, grid integration, workforce development and other topics and provide a comprehensive framework for future wind power deployment and further cost reductions.

Some of the key actions that would help achieve the Wind Vision Study Scenario include:

  • Reducing wind power costs: Reducing the cost of wind energy will primarily be influenced by continued cost improvements and advancements in overarching wind energy technologies.
  • Expanding the developable areas for wind power: This includes expanding wind power to new areas, such as the southeastern United States, as well as the installation of new transmission lines to high quality wind resource locations.
  • Deploying wind in ways that increase its value for the nation: This includes the use of domestically manufactured components for all phases of wind project development and considering the impact of wind energy growth on surrounding communities, the environment, wildlife and the general public.

The Energy Department is proud to have worked with more than 100 companies and organizations such as the American Wind Energy Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Vestas American Wind Technology, General Electric Energy, Defenders of Wildlife, Renewable Energy Systems America, EDF Renewables, Arcadia Windpower, the University of Iowa, PJM Interconnection, the academic sector, and our National Laboratories to develop this vision for America’s wind energy future. As a viable source of renewable power that will help our country achieve energy independence, wind has the potential to push the boundaries of energy further than ever before.

Click on map to go to the Interactive Wind Vision map at Energy.gov

Explore the Wind Vision Report in full at wind.energy.gov/vision.

Categories: Ecological News

Canada Faces 70 Percent Glacier Loss by 2100

Wed, 04/08/2015 - 17:08

By Nadia Prupis
Common Dreams

New report finds glacier loss could have profound impact on natural ecosystems and access to drinking water

The Athabasca Glacier in Alberta is one of 17,000 glaciers which face a loss of 70 percent by 2100, according to a new report. (Photo: Steve Dunleavy/flickr/cc)

Canadian glaciers may shrink by 70 percent by the end of the century, a development which could have devastating environmental effects, according to a new report published Monday in Nature Geoscience.

The report, titled Projected Deglaciation of Western Canada in the Twenty-First Century, used digital models of current glaciers and the physics of ice flow, measured against predictions of long-term global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to predict how rising greenhouse gases will affect glaciers in that region.

As the New York Times explains, “glaciers in Western Canada will shrink to less than 10 percent of the area they covered in 2005, and glaciers in the coastal regions will be reduced to about 30 percent of their 2005 size.”

In the drier interior of the Rocky Mountains, up to 90 percent of the glaciers could be lost. Western Canada is home to more than 17,000 glaciers.

“Few glaciers will remain in the Interior and Rockies regions, but maritime glaciers, in particular those in northwestern British Columbia, will survive in a diminished state,” the report states. “Our projected changes of ice cover in western Canada have broader ramifications for aquatic ecosystems, agriculture, forestry, alpine tourism, water quality and resource development.”

The loss of glaciers is a major contributing factor to rising sea levels and could also have a profound effect on the survival rates of aquatic animals and the quality and supply of potable water, the researchers state.

“These glaciers act as a thermostat for freshwater ecosystems,” lead author and University of British Columbia professor emeritus Garry Clarke said in a press release Monday. “Once the glaciers are gone, the streams will be a lot warmer and this will hugely change fresh water habitat. We could see some unpleasant surprises in terms of salmon productivity.”

Clarke told the Times, “The glaciers don’t respond to weather; they respond to climate. Last year’s bad winter is not going to save the glaciers. On average, climate is changing, and it’s not changing in ways that are good for glacier survival. And it’s not good for a lot of other things, including California water.”

What’s more, the report’s findings are “a conservative scenario,” Clarke told the Washington Post on Tuesday. “All the others [models] lead to total loss of ice in the mountains there.”

Andreas Vieli, corresponding author and a professor of geography at the University of Zurich, said the report’s analysis could “potentially be applied to a wide range of glacierized regions” around the world.

Clarke highlighted the importance of reducing humanity’s carbon footprint to battle the lasting effects of climate change, on the glaciers and elsewhere.

“We have to have a peak occur in the mid-2040s so carbon dioxide is on downward path hereafter,” Clarke told the Post. “We don’t have a lot of time to get there.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Categories: Ecological News

Governor Brown Directs First Ever California Statewide Mandatory Water Reductions

Fri, 04/03/2015 - 13:49

Following the lowest snowpack ever recorded and with no end to the drought in sight, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced actions that will save water, increase enforcement to prevent wasteful water use, streamline the state’s drought response and invest in new technologies that will make California more drought resilient.

Governor Brown delivers remarks regarding mandatory statewide water reductions. Photo Credit: California Department of Water Resources.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” said Governor Brown. “Therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”

High resolution photos of previous snow surveys are available here.

For more than two years, the state’s experts have been managing water resources to ensure that the state survives this drought and is better prepared for the next one. Last year, the Governor proclaimed a drought state of emergency. The state has taken steps to make sure that water is available for human health and safety, growing food, fighting fires and protecting fish and wildlife. Millions have been spent helping thousands of California families most impacted by the drought pay their bills, put food on their tables and have water to drink.

The following is a summary of the executive order issued by the Governor today.

Save Water

For the first time in state history, the Governor has directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. This savings amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, or nearly as much as is currently in Lake Oroville.

To save more water now, the order will also:

-Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments;
-Direct the creation of a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with more water and energy efficient models;
-Require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use; and
-Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used, and ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.

Increase Enforcement

The Governor’s order calls on local water agencies to adjust their rate structures to implement conservation pricing, recognized as an effective way to realize water reductions and discourage water waste.

Agricultural water users – which have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off – will be required to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state’s ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water under today’s order. Additionally, the Governor’s action strengthens standards for Agricultural Water Management Plans submitted by large agriculture water districts and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans. These plans will help ensure that agricultural communities are prepared in case the drought extends into 2016.

Additional actions required by the order include:

-Taking action against water agencies in depleted groundwater basins that have not shared data on their groundwater supplies with the state;
-Updating standards for toilets and faucets and outdoor landscaping in residential communities and taking action against communities that ignore these standards; and
-Making permanent monthly reporting of water usage, conservation and enforcement actions by local water suppliers.

Streamline Government Response

The order:

-Prioritizes state review and decision-making of water infrastructure projects and requires state agencies to report to the Governor’s Office on any application pending for more than 90 days.
-Streamlines permitting and review of emergency drought salinity barriers – necessary to keep freshwater supplies in upstream reservoirs for human use and habitat protection for endangered and threatened species;
-Simplifies the review and approval process for voluntary water transfers and emergency drinking water projects; and
-Directs state departments to provide temporary relocation assistance to families who need to move from homes where domestic wells have run dry to housing with running water.

Invest in New Technologies

The order helps make California more drought resilient by:

-Incentivizing promising new technology that will make California more water efficient through a new program administered by the California Energy Commission.

The full text of the executive order can be found here.

For more than two years, California has been dealing with the effects of drought. To learn about all the actions the state has taken to manage our water system and cope with the impacts of the drought, visit Drought.CA.Gov.

Every Californian should take steps to conserve water. Find out how at SaveOurWater.com.

Categories: Ecological News

California Solar Power Generates More Than 5% of the State’s Electricity

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 15:46

U.S. Energy Information Administration

California is the First State to Generate More Than 5% of Electricity From Utility-Scale Solar

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly
Note: Data include generation from plants greater than 1 megawatt.

California has become the first state with more than 5% of its annual utility-scale electricity generation from utility-scale solar power, according to EIA’s Electric Power Monthly. California’s utility-scale (1 megawatt (MW) or larger) solar plants generated a record 9.9 million megawatthours (MWh) of electricity in 2014, an increase of 6.1 million MWh from 2013. California’s utility-scale solar production in 2014 was more than three times the output of the next-highest state, Arizona, and more than all other states combined.

Several large plants were phased into operation in California during 2014, including two 550 MW solar photovoltaic plants, Topaz and Desert Sunlight (Phases 1 and 2), as well as the 377 MW Ivanpah (Phases 1, 2, and 3) and the 250 MW Genesis solar thermal plants. In total, nearly 1,900 MW of new utility-scale solar capacity was added, bringing the state’s utility-scale capacity for all solar technologies to 5,400 MW by the end of 2014.

California has promoted solar power through a series of state policies, including a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires electricity providers to obtain 33% of the power they sell from eligible renewable sources by 2020. In 2014, the state obtained 22% of its electricity from nonhydropower renewables including wind, solar, and biomass.

California also created incentives, including rebates and net-metering policies, to encourage rooftop and other small-scale solar capacity, whose generation is not captured in the above figure. By the end of 2014, more than 2,300 MW of small-scale solar capacity was installed on homes and businesses, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The top three states in utility-scale solar generation in 2014 were California, Arizona, and Nevada. These states in the southwestern United States have some of the best solar resources in the world. However, states with less-favorable solar resources, such as New Jersey and Massachusetts, also are among the top 10 states in total solar generation. All of the top 10 states—with the exception of Florida—have a renewable portfolio standard in place. Most of those policies include a specific target for solar power or customer-sited generation.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly
Note: Data include generation from plants greater than 1 megawatt.

The increase in California’s solar production came the same year that drought conditions caused hydroelectric generation to fall 46% compared to the previous five-year average. Although solar is only available at certain times of the day, the annual increase in California’s solar generation in 2014 offset 83% of the decrease in hydroelectric generation. Along with increases in generation from wind power and geothermal energy, solar power helped make California the top state producer of nonhydroelectric renewable electricity in 2014, narrowly topping Texas.

Principal contributor: Allen McFarland

Categories: Ecological News

Saturday, March 28th – Earth Hour Set to Unite the World on Climate Change

Sat, 03/28/2015 - 01:56

On Saturday, 28 March 8:30 p.m. local time, individuals, businesses, cities and landmarks around the world will switch off their lights for one hour to focus attention on climate change. As the lights go out, Earth Hour supporters will also be contributing real climate solutions to combat the globe’s biggest environmental challenge.

This year, Earth Hour is set to be a record-breaking celebration of our planet with an unprecedented 172 countries and territories having confirmed their participation, including nations on the climate frontlines like the Philippines, Maldives and Madagascar and key climate actors such as Brazil, the United States and China.

Since its origin as a symbolic lights off event in Sydney in 2007, WWF’s Earth Hour has grown into the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment igniting public awareness and action on climate in more than 7,000 cities across the world.

From Cambodia to Cameroon to Colombia, homes, offices, skylines and monuments will go dark as the world unites to inspire collective action to change climate change. Over 1,200 landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco will turn off their lights. Close to 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Acropolis in Athens and Edinburgh Castle in Scotland are also scheduled to go dark in support of Earth Hour.

As landmarks flip their switches off, WWF and Earth Hour teams will switch on the power of the crowd to address local climate issues. By empowering people to take concrete actions for climate — be it by raising their voice for stronger climate action or donating to WWF conservation projects — Earth Hour will bring people together to ensure the momentum to change climate change continues well beyond the hour.

“As Earth Hour continues to break records for global participation, our supporters continue to reach new heights for energy and creativity in using their power to make a difference. Every light switch turned off, every signature collected and every project funded, gives us renewed hope that together we can change climate change,” said SudhanshuSarronwala, Chair, Board of Directors, Earth Hour Global.

Even before Earth Hour sweeps across twenty-four time zones on Saturday, WWF teams are already using the power of the movement to drive concrete action and solutions on climate change. From collecting 100,000 signatures to urge a ban on the exploration of Arctic oil in Russia to reducing people’s dependency on firewood and forests by building sustainable livelihoods in Uganda, Earth Hour is empowering people to be a part of a global movement to take climate action.

In past months, Earth Hour supporters have also used their power on the Earth Hour crowdfunding platform to help build community climate resilience in India, Indonesia, Colombia and Portugal. WWF teams are also building on Earth Hour’s potential to inspire action from individuals, businesses and governments by advocating climate-friendly policy and legislation on themes such as access to renewable energy and reforestation.

“Earth Hour shows us what we can achieve together. From creating a forest in Uganda to lighting up entire villages with solar power in India and the Philippines, the power of the crowd to make change happen is phenomenal,” added Sarronwala. “With Earth Hour, every light switch turned off is hope for climate action turned on.”

Lights around the world will go out for one hour this weekend, but the need to take climate action extends throughout the year. As Earth Hour brings temporary darkness to many of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, WWF hopes to shed permanent light on the power each individual has to change climate change.

Earth Hour 2015 will take place on Saturday 28 March at 8:30 p.m. local time.

Visit the Earth Hour Tracker to see events happening near you or to create your own Earth Hour activity. Log on to our website www.earthhour.org for more stories and articles on using the power of the crowd to change climate change.

Link to the official Earth Hour 2015 video: http://www.ehour.me/eh2015vid

Link to videos and photos on Earth Hour activities around the world (to be updated live on the night): http://www.earthhour.org/media-centre

About Earth Hour:

Earth Hour is WWF’s global environmental movement. As one of the first open-sourced climate change campaigns, Earth Hour has grown from a symbolic event in one city to the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment. In 2014, Earth Hour engaged individuals, businesses and organizations in over 7,000 cities and 162 countries and territories during the hour and beyond. In 2015, Earth Hour aims to harness the power of its millions of supporters worldwide to change climate change.

About WWF:

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over five million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

Categories: Ecological News

Antarctic Ice Shelves Rapidly Thinning

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 16:07

UC San Diego News Center

New study reveals accelerating losses over two decades

Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf photographed in October 2011 from NASA’s DC-8 research aircraft during an Operation IceBridge flight. Credit: Michael Studinger/NASA.

A new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego researchers has revealed that the thickness of Antarctica’s floating ice shelves has recently decreased by as much as 18 percent in certain areas over nearly two decades, providing new insights on how the Antarctic ice sheet is responding to climate change.

Data from nearly two decades of satellite missions have shown that the ice volume decline is accelerating, according to a study published on March 26, 2015, in the journal Science and supported by NASA. Scripps graduate student Fernando Paolo, Scripps glaciologist Helen Amanda Fricker, and oceanographer Laurie Padman of Earth & Space Research (a non-profit institute specializing in oceanography research) constructed a new high-resolution record of ice shelf thickness based on satellite radar altimetry missions of the European Space Agency from 1994 to 2012.

Merging data from three overlapping missions, the researchers identified changes in ice thickness that took place over more than a decade, an advancement over studying data from single missions that only provide snapshots of trends.

Eighteen years of change in thickness and volume of Antarctic ice shelves. Rates of thickness change (m/decade) are color-coded from -25 (thinning) to +10 (thickening). Circles represent percentage of thickness lost (red) or gained (blue) in 18 years. The central circle demarcates the area not surveyed by the satellites (south of 81.5ºS). Background is the Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA). Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Total ice shelf volume (mean thickness multiplied by ice shelf area) across Antarctica changed very little from 1994 to 2003, then declined rapidly, the study shows. West Antarctic ice shelves lost ice throughout the entire observation period, with accelerated loss in the most recent decade. Earlier gains in East Antarctic ice shelf volume ceased after about 2003, the study showed. Some ice shelves lost up to 18 percent of their volume from 1994 to 2012.

“Eighteen percent over the course of 18 years is really a substantial change,” said Paolo. “Overall, we show not only the total ice shelf volume is decreasing, but we see an acceleration in the last decade.”

While melting ice shelves do not contribute directly to sea-level rise, the researchers indicate that there is an important indirect effect.

Schematic diagram of an Antarctic ice shelf showing the processes causing the volume changes measured by satellites. Ice is added to the ice shelf by glaciers flowing off the continent and by snowfall that compresses to form ice. Ice is lost when icebergs break off the ice front, and by melting in some regions as warm water flows into the ocean cavity under the ice shelf. Under some ice shelves, cold and fresh meltwater rises to a point where it refreezes onto the ice shelf. Credit: Helen Amanda Fricker, Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

“The ice shelves buttress the flow from grounded ice into the ocean, and that flow impacts sea-level rise, so that’s a key concern from our new study,” said Fricker.

Under current rates of thinning, the researchers estimate the ice shelves restraining the unstable sector of West Antarctica could lose half their volume within the next 200 years.

“This work demonstrates the power of satellite observations to understand change in the great polar ice sheets,” said Thomas Wagner, Program Manager for Cryospheric Sciences at NASA Headquarters. “And with data spanning decades, we can understand some of the most important changes and their implications for sea-level rise.”

Fricker said future studies will concentrate on the causes behind changes in ice shelf volume, including the effects of the atmosphere and ocean.

“We’re looking into connections between El Niño events in the tropical Pacific and changes in the Antarctic ice sheet,” said Paolo. “It’s very far apart but we know that these teleconnections exist. That may ultimately allow us to improve our models for predicting future ice loss.”

Categories: Ecological News

Fix a Leak Week – March 16-22

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 23:35

By EPA

EPA Encourages Consumers to Save 1 Trillion Gallons of Wasted Water

WaterSense Partners Celebrate Fix a Leak Week, March 16-22

Every year, more than one trillion gallons of water go down the drain because of household leaks. Leaks may increase a water bill by as much as 10 percent. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program encourages consumers to celebrate the seventh annual Fix a Leak Week, March 16-22, 2015, by finding and fixing water leaks in their homes. Annually, the average American family could be wasting more than 10,000 gallons of water — enough for 270 loads of laundry — due to easy-to-fix leaks. Since 2006 WaterSense has helped consumers save a cumulative 757 billion gallons of water and over $14.2 billion in water and energy bills.

Here’s how to reduce water waste:

Check: Look at your water meter, usually located outside your house, before and after a two-hour period of no water use. If the number changed, there is likely a leak, which could be as simple to fix as replacing a worn rubber flapper in the toilet tank.

Twist: Fix dripping pipes, fixtures or hoses by using a wrench to twist and tighten the connections. If needed, pipe tape can help seal shower fixtures or hose connections. Check washers and valves for persistent drips and repair or replace, if necessary. Remind everyone to turn faucets and showers off tightly.

Replace: For old or inefficient fixtures not easily repaired, look for WaterSense labeled models to replace them. WaterSense products are available in a variety of styles and price points at home improvement stores. These money-saving products are high performing and independently certified to use at least 20 percent less water. Look for the WaterSense label on product packaging or the website of your favorite plumbing brand. Many WaterSense partners also offer rebates for WaterSense labeled products.

WaterSense, an EPA partnership program, seeks to protect the future of our nation’s water supply by offering people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes and services. The program helps consumers make smart water choices that save money and maintain high environmental standards without compromising performance.

What They Said

“Fixing household leaks is not only an important way to conserve water, but it is a simple way that American families can reduce energy use and lower utility bills,” said Ken Kopocis, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

More Details

To help consumers find and fix leaks, EPAWaterSense partners are sponsoring running races, workshops, contests and other educational eventsacross the country. For example:

• The city of Goodyear, Arizona, is teaming upwith the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians to offer complimentary spring training baseball tickets to local residentswhose 2015 winter water bills show a reduction from 2014.

• Citrus County (Florida) Utilities is helping customers “Schedule a Specialist” to check their water meters and irrigation systems for leaks. The utility is also offering a $150rebate for WaterSense labeled irrigation controllers.

• The city of Fort Worth, Texas, is partnering with the Fort Worth Runners Club to host a 5-kilometer race for Fix a Leak Week andthe City of Plano, Texas, is hosting a fun run and a social media challenge to reward those who implement water-saving strategies learned at the event.

• The Regional Water Authority of Sacramento, California is teaming up with the Sacramento Bee newspaper to host the 2015 Water Spots Video Contest. The contest encourages middle and high school students to submit a public service announcement on the 2015 water efficiency theme: BEAT THE LEAK: Find and fix leaks fast.

• The New Mexico Office of the State Engineer is partnering with several local water authorities holding workshops and hands on displays throughout the state. All events will have leak detection and fixing tips and information along with other water conservation and efficiency information.

More Information

Visit www.epa.gov/watersense/fixaleak to learn more. The WaterSense Facebook page at www.facebook.com/EPAWatersense also has a map to help you find Fix a Leak Week events in your community.

Categories: Ecological News

Florida Rescuers Get Manatees Out of a Tough Spot

Sat, 03/07/2015 - 01:45

Once, many years ago, I was slogging around in the knee-deep waters of the Florida Everglades with a naturalist friend who was educating me about the amazing Glades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. “By the way,” he said causally, “good chance we’ll come upon a huge animal – maybe as much as 12 feet long – that looks something like a cross between a whale and a cow. They’re quiet so you won’t notice it till it is right up next to you. They’re called manatees and they’re big old babies. Just be cool. They won’t bother you.”

Shouldn’t be a problem, I thought, cause if a 12 foot-long sea-cow-whale swims by me, I will simply expire on the spot.

We didn’t see a manatee that day. And now that I know a little more about them, I’m so very sorry we didn’t.

You see, the manatee is a gentle, harmless creature that looks like nothing so much as a stuffed toy. A very big stuffed toy. Their massive blobby bodies are topped with a small head with two widely-set eyes and a flat wrinkled nose with two little breathing holes on top. They have no predators or prey, sleep half of the day, and spend the rest grazing in shallow swampy waters in search of freshwater and saltwater plants. They use little front flippers to scoop those aquatic plants into their mouths. Could they be any cuter?

Over the years, this gentle giant’s profound cuteness and unassuming ways have elevated it from its former status in Florida as a nuisance to state treasure – and there is now an ongoing effort by conservation groups and Florida Fish and Wildlife to prevent their predicted extinction. It is that affection that brought out many concerned onlookers who waited, watched and cheered for hours last week as nineteen of these magnificent animals – actually eighteen and one calf – were rescued after becoming stuck in a storm drain in Satellite Beach, Florida. Although they tend to be solitary creatures, the manatees had apparently congregated together in search of warmth after a cold snap in Central Florida drove water temperatures down to what is for them, dangerous levels (below 68 degrees).

The operation – which lasted from Monday afternoon until early Tuesday morning – involved cutting a large opening through the massive concrete pipe so the manatees could be lifted out with a backhoe. They were then placed in rescue hammocks and released into the nearby Indian River Lagoon. This delicate maneuver was accomplished through a joint effort by local police and fire-fighting agencies and staff from Sea World and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Rescuers petted and comforted the manatees as they were transferred, noting with dismay that some had sustained gashes and bruises from the concrete dungeon. Sadly, injury is nothing new for the Florida manatee. Despite the public’s avowed affection for them, they continue to suffer terrible wounds – primarily from the propellers of power boats. The distinctive gashes and spiral scars from these run-ins can be seen on many, if not most, of Florida’s manatee population. While manatees face other threats such as hurricanes, red tide, and degradation of their habitats, the greatest challenge to their survival comes from humans in boats.

And yet it was humans who gently lifted the stranded manatees from what – without their intervention – would soon have become an airless grave. And it was humans who immediately installed grates on the mouth of the culverts in the area so as to prevent any other potential manatee strandings from occurring in the future.

Categories: Ecological News

New Study Shows California Droughts Driven by Climate Change are Here to Stay

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 00:23

By Sarah Lazare
Common Dreams

Stanford researchers say human-driven global warming is behind increasingly frequent and severe droughts, including current one.

The increasingly frequent and severe droughts that have punished California over the past two decades—including the current record-breaking one—are primarily the result of human-caused climate change and will likely grow even worse, scientists at Stanford University warn.

Published in Monday’s issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new research analyzes historical records, as well as computer simulations of global warming, to investigate the role of changing temperatures during California droughts over the last 120 years.

The researchers concluded that human-driven global warming is exacerbating and increasing the confluent warm and dry conditions that have produced the state’s most severe droughts.

“Of course low precipitation is a prerequisite for drought, but less rain and snowfall alone don’t ensure a drought will happen,” explained Stanford professor and lead author Noah Diffenbaugh. “It really matters if the lack of precipitation happens during a warm or cool year.”

“We’ve seen the effects of record heat on snow and soil moisture this year in California, and we know from this new research that climate change is increasing the probability of those warm and dry conditions occurring together,” Diffenbaugh added.

Danielle Touma, a graduate student and co-author of the study, explained, “When we look at the historical record, not only do we see a doubling of the odds of a warm-dry year, but we also see a doubling of the frequency of drought years. Warm conditions reduce snowfall, increase snowmelt and increase water loss from soils and plants.”

The researchers say their findings predict worse weather to come.

“We found that essentially all years are likely to be warm—or extremely warm—in California by the middle of the 21st century,” said study co-author Daniel Swain, who is also a graduate student in Diffenbaugh’s lab. “This means that both drought frequency—and the potential intensity of those droughts which do occur — will likely increase as temperatures continue to rise.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Categories: Ecological News

NASA Study Finds Increased Risk of U.S. Megadrought

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 02:29

By NASA


NASA scientists used tree rings to understand past droughts and climate models incorporating soil moisture data to estimate future drought risk in the 21st century.

Droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years, according to a new NASA study.

The study, published February 12th in the journal Science Advances, is based on projections from several climate models, including one sponsored by NASA. The research found continued increases in human-produced greenhouse gas emissions drives up the risk of severe droughts in these regions.

“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Ben Cook, climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, and lead author of the study. “What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”

According to Cook, the current likelihood of a megadrought, a drought lasting more than three decades, is 12 percent. If greenhouse gas emissions stop increasing in the mid-21st century, Cook and his colleagues project the likelihood of megadrought to reach more than 60 percent.

However, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase along current trajectories throughout the 21st century, there is an 80 percent likelihood of a decades-long megadrought in the Southwest and Central Plains between the years 2050 and 2099.

The scientists analyzed a drought severity index and two soil moisture data sets from 17 climate models that were run for both emissions scenarios. The high emissions scenario projects the equivalent of an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 1,370 parts per million (ppm) by 2100, while the moderate emissions scenario projects the equivalent of 650 ppm by 2100. Currently, the atmosphere contains 400 ppm of CO2.

In the Southwest, climate change would likely cause reduced rainfall and increased temperatures that will evaporate more water from the soil. In the Central Plains, drying would largely be caused by the same temperature-driven increase in evaporation.

The Fifth Assessment Report, issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013, synthesized the available scientific studies and reported that increases in evaporation over arid lands are likely throughout the 21st century. But the IPCC report had low confidence in projected changes to soil moisture, one of the main indicators of drought.

Until this study, much of the previous research included analysis of only one drought indicator and results from fewer climate models, Cook said, making this a more robust drought projection than any previously published.

“What I think really stands out in the paper is the consistency between different metrics of soil moisture and the findings across all the different climate models,” said Kevin Anchukaitis, a climate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study. “It is rare to see all signs pointing so unwaveringly toward the same result, in this case a highly elevated risk of future megadroughts in the United States.”

This study also is the first to compare future drought projections directly to drought records from the last 1,000 years.

“We can’t really understand the full variability and the full dynamics of drought over western North America by focusing only on the last century or so,” Cook said. “We have to go to the paleoclimate record, looking at these much longer timescales, when much more extreme and extensive drought events happened, to really come up with an appreciation for the full potential drought dynamics in the system.”

Modern measurements of drought indicators go back about 150 years. Cook and his colleagues used a well-established tree-ring database to study older droughts. Centuries-old trees allow a look back into the distant past. Tree species like oak and bristle cone pines grow more in wet years, leaving wider rings, and vice versa for drought years. By comparing the modern drought measurements to tree rings in the 20th century for a baseline, the tree rings can be used to establish moisture conditions over the past 1,000 years.

The scientists were interested in megadroughts that took place between 1100 and 1300 in North America. These medieval-period droughts, on a year-to-year basis, were no worse than droughts seen in the recent past. But they lasted, in some cases, 30 to 50 years.

When these past megadroughts are compared side-by-side with computer model projections of the 21st century, both the moderate and business-as-usual emissions scenarios are drier, and the risk of droughts lasting 30 years or longer increases significantly.

Connecting the past, present and future in this way shows that 21st century droughts in the region are likely to be even worse than those seen in medieval times, according to Anchukaitis.

“Those droughts had profound ramifications for societies living in North America at the time. These findings require us to think about how we would adapt if even more severe droughts lasting over a decade were to occur in our future,” Anchukaitis said.

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.


Droughts in the Southwest and Central Plains of the United States in the second half of the 21st century could be drier and longer than anything humans have seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years, according to a new NASA study published in Science Advances on Feb 12, 2015. The research found continued increases in human-produced greenhouse gas emissions drives up the risk of severe droughts in these regions.

In this video, soil moisture 30 cm (about 1 foot) below ground is projected through the year 2100 for two emissions scenarios. Brown is drier and blue is wetter than the 20th century average. RCP 4.5 assumes reduced CO2 emissions. RCP 8.5 is “business as usual.”

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

Categories: Ecological News

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Teams with Conservation Partners to Launch Campaign to Save Monarch Butterfly, Engage Millions of Americans

Tue, 02/10/2015 - 06:04

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today launched a major new campaign aimed at saving the declining monarch butterfly. The Service signed a cooperative agreement with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), announced a major new funding initiative with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and pledged an additional $2 million in immediate funding for on-the-ground conservation projects around the country. Introducing the new initiatives at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. were Service Director Dan Ashe, U.S. Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar, NWF President and CEO Collin O’Mara, and NFWF representatives.

Photo by Tom Koerner, USFWS

While monarchs are found across the United States — as recently as 1996 numbering some 1 billion — their numbers have declined by approximately 90 percent in recent years, a result of numerous threats, particularly loss of habitat due to agricultural practices, development and cropland conversion. Degradation of wintering habitat in Mexico and California has also had a negative impact on the species.

To directly tackle these challenges, the new cooperative effort will build a network of diverse conservation partners and stakeholders to protect and restore important monarch habitat, while also reaching out to Americans of all ages who can play a central role.

“We can save the monarch butterfly in North America, but only if we act quickly and together,” said Ashe. “And that is why we are excited to be working with the National Wildlife Federation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to engage Americans everywhere, from schools and community groups to corporations and governments, in protecting and restoring habitat. Together we can create oases for monarchs in communities across the country.”

“Known for its beautiful orange color, fascinating life cycle and remarkable annual migration, the monarch butterfly is the most iconic butterfly in North America,” Klobuchar said. “With the butterfly rapidly disappearing, I am pleased to see the Fish and Wildlife Service taking positive steps to reverse its decline. We must build on this momentum, and I will continue to call on the public and private sectors to join together in the effort to protect the monarch butterfly.”

The memorandum of understanding between NWF and the Service will serve as a catalyst for national collaboration on monarch conservation, particularly in planting native milkweed and nectar plants, the primary food sources in breeding and migration habitats for the butterfly.

“If we all work together — individuals, communities, farmers, land managers, and local, state, and federal agencies — we can ensure that every American child has a chance to experience amazing monarchs in their backyards,” said O’Mara. “By taking action today and addressing the growing threats that are affecting so much of America’s treasured wildlife — habitat loss, pesticide overuse and climate change — we will preserve monarchs and America’s rich wildlife legacy. The National Wildlife Federation and our state affiliates are proud to stand with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other key partners on the front lines of action.”

The new NFWF Monarch Conservation Fund announced today was kick-started by an injection of $1.2 million from the Service that will be matched by other private and public donors. The fund will provide the first dedicated source of funding for projects working to conserve monarchs.

“The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has a long track record of partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop successful private landowner-focused conservation grant programs,” said NFWF Director and CEO Jeff Trandahl. “We look forward to working closely with the Service as we establish the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund, which will serve as a key component of the effort to revitalize monarch butterfly populations and the important native plant species on which they depend.”

From California to the Corn Belt, the Service will also fund numerous conservation projects totaling $2 million this year to restore and enhance more than 200,000 acres of habitat for monarchs while also supporting over 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens. Many of the projects will focus on the I-35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota, areas that provide important spring and summer breeding habitats in the eastern population’s central flyway.

“These projects will not only help us leverage expertise and resources for engaging critical partners on restoring the monarch,” said Ashe. “We will also reach out to millions of Americans on both the challenge involved and how they can help. Together, we will make sure that the monarch continues to be a welcome sight across America.”

The monarch is perhaps the best-known butterfly species in the United States. Every year they undertake one of the world’s most remarkable migrations, traveling thousands of miles over many generations from Mexico, across the United States, to Canada.

The monarch’s exclusive larval host plant and a critical food source is native milkweed, which has been eradicated or severely degraded in many areas across the United States in recent years. The accelerated conversion of the continent’s native short and tallgrass prairie habitat to crop production has also had an adverse impact on the monarch.

Spectacular as it is, protecting the monarch is not just about saving one species. The monarch serves as an indicator of the health of pollinators and the American landscape. Monarch declines are symptomatic of environmental problems that pose risks to our food supply, the spectacular natural places that help define our national identity, and our own health. Conserving and connecting habitat for monarchs will benefit other plants, animals and important insect and avian pollinators.

The Service’s public engagement effort includes a monarch website with details and photos on the monarch’s plight, information on how Americans can get involved and direct outreach to schools and communities. Since agriculture also plays a key role in the monarch’s survival, our partnership efforts will engage farmers and landowners on management practices that will protect and restore habitat.

Pocket of Monarch butterfly habitat, Sullys Hill Game Preserve, Fort Totten, North Dakota. Photo USFWS

Categories: Ecological News

Earth Hour 2015 Countdown Begins

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 03:00

As nations and individuals around the globe gear up to participate in the world’s largest grassroots environmental movement, WWF’s Earth Hour kickstarted the countdown to the 2015 event with the release of the official campaign video today. Set to the international hit song ‘Pompeii’ by British rock band Bastille, the two-minute video demonstrates how Earth Hour is empowering individuals and organisations around the world to take action on climate change.

Showcasing memorable moments and achievements from past Earth Hour events as well as powerful statements from world leaders and personalities such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US President Barack Obama and actors Emma Thompson, Li Bingbing and Marc Ruffalo on the issue of climate change, the Earth Hour 2015 video aims to inspire people with the message to act and ‘use your power to change climate change’.

“This is the ninth time the Earth Hour movement will roll across the world. Millions of people will come together to use their power to change climate change and we want to work with them to deliver real solutions for a sustainable future for our planet,” said Sudhanshu Sarronwala, Executive Director, Marketing and Communications WWF International.

In the past eight years, Earth Hour has grown from a symbolic lights-off event in Sydney, Australia to the world’s largest open-sourced environmental campaign mobilising hundreds of millions of people in more than 7,000 cities and 163 countries and territories.

“We would like to thank the band Bastille, Universal and EMI Publishing for helping us create an inspiring video that captures the energy and power of the Earth Hour movement to impact climate change,” said Sarronwala.

Earth Hour 2015 will take place on 28th March 2015 between 8:30 and 9:30 P.M. in your local time zone. To know more about the event and activities happening in and around your city and how you can use your power to change climate change, visit www.earthhour.org.

Categories: Ecological News

NASA, NOAA Find 2014 Warmest Year in Modern Record

Sat, 01/17/2015 - 00:32

By NASA

The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists.

The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. This trend continues a long-term warming of the planet, according to an analysis of surface temperature measurements by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

In an independent analysis of the raw data, also released Friday, NOAA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record.

“NASA is at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the dynamics of the Earth’s climate on a global scale,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.”

Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades.

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.

While 2014 temperatures continue the planet’s long-term warming trend, scientists still expect to see year-to-year fluctuations in average global temperature caused by phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña. These phenomena warm or cool the tropical Pacific and are thought to have played a role in the flattening of the long-term warming trend over the past 15 years. However, 2014’s record warmth occurred during an El Niño-neutral year.

“NOAA provides decision makers with timely and trusted science-based information about our changing world,” said Richard Spinrad, NOAA chief scientist. “As we monitor changes in our climate, demand for the environmental intelligence NOAA provides is only growing. It’s critical that we continue to work with our partners, like NASA, to observe these changes and to provide the information communities need to build resiliency.”

Regional differences in temperature are more strongly affected by weather dynamics than the global mean. For example, in the U.S. in 2014, parts of the Midwest and East Coast were unusually cool, while Alaska and three western states – California, Arizona and Nevada – experienced their warmest year on record, according to NOAA.

The GISS analysis incorporates surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations. This raw data is analyzed using an algorithm that takes into account the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects that could skew the calculation. The result is an estimate of the global average temperature difference from a baseline period of 1951 to 1980.

NOAA scientists used much of the same raw temperature data, but a different baseline period. They also employ their own methods to estimate global temperatures.

GISS is a NASA laboratory managed by the Earth Sciences Division of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites, as well as airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

The data set of 2014 surface temperature measurements is available at:

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/

The methodology used to make the temperature calculation is available at:

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/sources_v3/

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

Categories: Ecological News

Rise in Mass Die-Offs Seen Among Birds, Fish and Marine Invertebrates

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 03:31

By Sarah Yang
UC Berkeley News Center

An analysis of 727 mass die-offs of nearly 2,500 animal species from the past 70 years has found that such events are increasing among birds, fish and marine invertebrates. At the same time, the number of individuals killed appears to be decreasing for reptiles and amphibians, and unchanged for mammals.

large numbers of dead sunfish and largemouth bass in April 2014 following a severe winter on Wintergreen Lake, Kalamazoo County, Michigan.  – Photo by Gary Mittelbach

Such mass mortality events occur when a large percentage of a population dies in a short time frame. While the die-offs are rare and fall short of extinction, they can pack a devastating punch, potentially killing more than 90 percent of a population in one shot. However, until this study, there had been no quantitative analysis of the patterns of mass mortality events among animals, the study authors noted.

“This is the first attempt to quantify patterns in the frequency, magnitude and cause of such mass kill events,” said study senior author Stephanie Carlson, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

The study, published today (Monday, Jan. 12) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by researchers at UC Berkeley, the University of San Diego and Yale University.

The researchers reviewed incidents of mass kills documented in scientific literature. Although they came across some sporadic studies dating back to the 1800s, the analysis focused on the period from 1940 to the present. The researchers acknowledged that some of their findings may be due to an increase in the reporting of mass die-offs in recent decades. But they noted that even after accounting for some of this reporting bias, there was still an increase in mass die-offs for certain animals.

Overall, disease was the primary culprit, accounting for 26 percent of the mass die-offs. Direct effects tied to humans, such as environmental contamination, caused 19 percent of the mass kills. Biotoxicity triggered by events such as algae blooms accounted for a significant proportion of deaths, and processes directly influenced by climate — including weather extremes, thermal stress, oxygen stress or starvation — collectively contributed to about 25 percent of mass mortality events.

The most severe events were those with multiple causes, the study found.

Carlson, a fish ecologist, and her UC Berkeley graduate students had observed such die-offs in their studies of fish in California streams and estuaries, originally piquing their interest in the topic.

“The catastrophic nature of sudden, mass die-offs of animal populations inherently captures human attention,” said Carlson. “In our studies, we have come across mass kills of federal fish species during the summer drought season as small streams dry up. The majority of studies we reviewed were of fish. When oxygen levels are depressed in the water column, the impact can affect a variety of species.”

The study found that the number of mass mortality events has been increasing by about one event per year over the 70 years the study covered.

“While this might not seem like much, one additional mass mortality event per year over 70 years translates into a considerable increase in the number of these events being reported each year,” said study co-lead author Adam Siepielski, an assistant professor of biology at the University of San Diego. “Going from one event to 70 each year is a substantial increase, especially given the increased magnitudes of mass mortality events for some of these organisms.

This study suggests that in addition to monitoring physical changes such as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, it is important to document the biological response to regional and global environmental change. The researchers highlighted ways to improve documentation of such events in the future, including the possible use of citizen science to record mass mortality events in real time.

“The initial patterns are a bit surprising, in terms of the documented changes to frequencies of occurrences, magnitudes of each event and the causes of mass mortality,” said study co-lead author Samuel Fey, a postdoctoral fellow in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale. “Yet these data show that we have a lot of room to improve how we document and study these types of rare events.”

Funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation helped support this research.

Categories: Ecological News