Conservation & Environment

Two degrees

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 @ 1:51 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

It was the early 1990s. Climate scientists had long known that humans were warming up the planet. But politicians were just beginning to grasp that it would take a huge coordinated effort to get nations to burn fewer fossil fuels and avoid sharp temperature increases in the decades ahead.

Those policymakers needed a common goal — a way to say, Here’s how bad things will get and This is what we need to do to stop it. And that posed a dilemma. No one could really agree on how much global warming was unacceptable. How high did the seas need to rise before we had a serious problem? How much heat was too much?

Around this time, an advisory council of scientists in Germany proposed a stunningly simple way to think about climate change. Look, they reasoned, human civilization hasn’t been around all that long. And for the last 13,000 years, Earth’s climate has fluctuated within a narrow band. So, to be on the safe side, we should prevent global average temperatures from rising more than 2° Celsius (or 3.6° Fahrenheit) above what they were just before the dawn of industrialization.

Critics grumbled that the 2°C limit seemed arbitrary or overly simplistic. But scientists were already compiling evidence that the risks of global warming became especially daunting somewhere above the 2°C threshold: rapid sea-level rise, the risk of crop failure, the collapse of coral reefs. And policymakers loved the idea of a simple, easily digestible target. So it stuck.

By 2009, nearly every government in the world had endorsed the 2°C limit — global warming beyond that level was deemed “dangerous.” Two decades later, there’s just one major problem with this picture. The idea that the world can stay below 2°C looks increasingly delusional.

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Launch Your Next River Trip from Your Computer Using the Latest Streamer

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 @ 12:28 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Field & Stream called it a “…very cool tool and quite a bit of fun.” MinnPost described it as a “…high-tech illustration of Norman Maclean’s timeless view that, ‘Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” And Popular Science noted that, “There’s something especially satisfying about clicking a stream that…shoots its way across multiple states to empty into the ocean.”

These publications are all describing Streamer, the popular on-line mapping program from the U.S. Geological Survey. Streamer is a powerful, yet easy way to explore our major waterways. With a simple map click, anyone can trace rivers and streams from a starting point all the way downstream to where a stream drains. Even more impressive, they can click on a stream and trace all others that drain to that point. Streamer also produces a report that includes a map and information about the people and places encountered along the streams traced.

It’s fascinating to explore the connections among our major streams and rivers using this improved new edition of Streamer. In its first eight months in service, Streamer users traced more than 2.9 billion river miles.

Learn more…


Studies Reveal an Era When Antarctica Was Like California

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 @ 8:16 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Two newly published studies are helping scientists trace millions of years of Antarctica’s climate history, including an age when parts of the continent were as warm as the California coast is today.

One of the studies focuses on an ice core taken from Antarctica’s Taylor Glacier, and uses readings of radioactive krypton to confirm that the sample goes back 120,000 years. The researchers behind that study, appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, say the same technique could provide more accurate dates for ice samples going back as far as 1.5 million years.

“That is very exciting, because a lot of interesting things happened with the earth’s climate prior to 800,000 years ago that we currently cannot study in the ice-core record,” Christo Buizert, a researcher at Oregon State University who is the study’s lead author.

Other methods are needed to go much further back into Antarctica’s climate history. The second study focused on two rare chemical isotopes from fossil shells that have been linked to the Eocene epoch, 40 million to 50 million years ago. The shells were collected on Seymour Island, a small island off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Researchers measured the concentrations of carbon-13 and oxygen-18 in the shells, and fed their findings into computer models to calculate what the temperature was when the shells were formed. This technique is called carbonate clumped isotope thermometry.

The scientists found that the temperatures reached as high as 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius) in parts of Antarctica, with an average of 57 degrees F (14 degrees C). That’s roughly equivalent to the average temperatures in San Francisco for this time of year.

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The Greening of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 @ 6:21 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Spring has finally sprung in the mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway invites you to help celebrate the “greening” happening all around us! Join in on Saturday, April 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center (Milepost 384) for activities and demonstrations about the springtime greening of the environment, as well as the green technologies that the Parkway is utilizing to help protect the Earth and reduce our carbon footprint. It’s a great time to visit the Parkway. Come help celebrate Earth Day, National Park Week, and National Junior Ranger Day!

Event visitors can:

  • Learn about springtime flowers and how to landscape with native, rather than exotic species.
  • See a live raptor demonstration.
  • Discover the cutest critters on the Parkway—spring babies!
  • Learn about sustainability and green building practices.
  • Earn “Energy Bucks” that can be exchanged for prizes.
  • Tour a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified building.
  • Check out the Parkway’s new energy efficient, low emission vehicles (provided generously through a grant from the Clean Cities National Parks Initiative, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Park Service).
  • Learn about the Junior Ranger program. Kids can dress up like a park ranger!
  • Hike on a Kids in Parks TRACK Trail.

The event is free of charge and is open to the general public.

More information…


America’s Largest Ecosystem Restoration Project Is on the Verge of Moving Ahead on Earth Day

Posted by on Apr 21, 2014 @ 5:09 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

America’s Largest Ecosystem Restoration Project Is on the Verge of Moving Ahead on Earth Day

Forget the organic soy green latte or earth-toned yoga mat with a smiling bamboo tree on it, or other random schlock for Earth Day. The fate of one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in the world hangs in the balance at a meeting in Washington D.C. on Earth Day.

Unfortunately, the average person has no idea why this is significant. And why would they? It will be a meeting of bureaucrats in suits and military regalia, fluent in the strange tongue of acronyms.

This is the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Review Board at Army Corps headquarters on Earth Day, April 22, 2014 where they will be considering the fate of the Central Everglades Planning Project, a suite of critical projects within the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

Let’s back up. Why do we need to restore the Everglades? You like water, right? One in three Floridians depend on the Everglades for fresh drinking water. You like to live on dry land, at least most of the year? Everglades restoration will help protect urban areas from flooding. You might even like birds and alligators? This project restores habitat for areas that have long suffered severe degradation from the lack of freshwater flows. How about a healthy economy? A study showed that for every dollar invested in Everglades restoration, four dollars are gained.

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Cradle of Forestry to Celebrate Migratory Bird Day

Posted by on Apr 21, 2014 @ 8:59 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Cradle of Forestry to Celebrate Migratory Bird Day

The Cradle of Forestry near Brevard, NC invites the public to celebrate Migratory Bird Day on Saturday, April 26, with a guided bird walk, live raptor program, a bird survey demonstration and family-oriented activities.

Forests and fields around the Cradle are alive with song as migratory birds arrive at their summer habitats. The Cradle of Forestry is along the North Carolina Birding Trail and is an excellent place to view and learn about these melodious travelers.

Activities for the day include:

9:00 a.m.: Join naturalist Bill Sanderson on a birding walk for an in-depth look at local and migratory songbirds. Look and listen for birds by the Forest Discovery Center and along paved trails to identify species present. Learn about bird characteristics and habitat preferences along the way.

Beginning at 11:00 a.m.: Meet Dr. Maria Whitehead, an ornithologist (bird biologist) from The Nature Conservancy. She will display a net used in bird surveys and explain what surveys tell us about birds.

11:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.: Ongoing activities that show the wonder of birds and what we can do to conserve them. Make crafts to take home to remind you of these tiny creatures that enrich our lives and play important roles in nature.

2:00 p.m.: Enjoy a live bird program with Wild For Life: Center for Rehabilitation of Wildlife from Asheville, N.C., and learn about their work caring for injured and orphaned wildlife.

A variety of migratory birds rest and feed at the Cradle of Forestry on their way to breeding grounds further north. Others stay to nest and raise their young. Here birders often see and hear black-throated blue warblers, hooded warblers, black and white warblers, northern parulas and blue headed vireos. Occasionally, a bright Blackburnian warbler or scarlet tanager can be spotted.

Started in 1993, International Migratory Bird Day is an educational program that highlights and celebrates bird migration, an important and spectacular event in the Americas. In 2014, International Migratory Bird Day will officially occur on May 10. Almost 350 bird species journey from non-breeding grounds in Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean to nesting habitats in North America, while resting and feeding along the way. The USDA Forest Service is a sponsor of International Migratory Bird Day.


3-million-year-old landscape found intact deep below Greenland ice sheet

Posted by on Apr 21, 2014 @ 8:03 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A three-million-year-old landscape has been discovered, hiding 10,000 feet under the Greenland ice sheet. The ice sheet, covering 80 percent of the country, has been in place since before the first true humans walked the face of the Earth.

Paul Bierman, a geologist at the University of Vermont, led a study of ancient soil, entombed in ice. Greenland’s tundra areas are nearly perfectly preserved in the frozen landscape.

Ice usually acts as an erosive agent, radically changing areas undergoing a deep freeze. In this instance, ice froze soil, keeping it in nearly the same shape as it was long ago.

Researchers studied an ice core measuring 10,000 feet long to identify climatic conditions millions of years in the past. Of special interest to the team was the bottom 42 feet of the sample. It was around three million years ago when ice began to cover most of Greenland. Bierman and his team examined concentrations of carbon, nitrogen and beryllium-10, which provided the firmest evidence the area was once alive with life.

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Drunken Trees: Dramatic Signs of Climate Change

Posted by on Apr 20, 2014 @ 10:09 am in Conservation | 2 comments

Sarah James, an Alaska Native elder, says global warming is radically changing her homeland. Even the forests no longer grow straight. Melting ground has caused trees to tilt or fall.

“Because permafrost melts, it causes a lot of erosion,” says James, who lives in Arctic Village, a small Native American village in northeastern Alaska. “A lot of trees can’t stand up straight. If the erosion gets worse, everything goes with it.”

Permafrost is permanently frozen ground. But climate change has caused much of that ground to melt at an unprecedented rate. The ground buckles and sinks, causing trees to list at extreme angles.

Sometimes the trees survive the stress and continue growing, uprighting themselves to vertical. Other times they collapse or drown from rising water tables as subterranean ice melts. Because such trees seem to stagger across the landscape, people often call them “drunken trees.”

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Three Gulf Coast victories scored since the BP spill

Posted by on Apr 19, 2014 @ 11:53 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

You will hear a lot of gloomy reports about the state of the Gulf Coast as we approach the fourth-year commemoration of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on April 20. And that’s fair. BP deserves little cheer in the face of widespread health problems across the Gulf, for both humans and marine animals, and the disappearance of entire fishing communities. Despite what BP is telling us, it ain’t all good. But it ain’t all bad, either.

Gulf Coast communities from the Florida Panhandle to Texas’s right shoulder had been through a few disaster rodeos before the BP spill. They’ve survived hurricanes named for just about every letter of the alphabet. And they’ve endured careless and reckless decisions from every level of government, way more than one time too many.

Given those past experiences, residents and activists along the Gulf corralled together after the BP disaster to make sure their most immediate concerns would be heard this time around. Region-wide networks like the Gulf Future Coalition and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health were formed immediately after the spill to harness the expertise of Gulf citizens who often historically were excluded from recovery processes.

These projects gave Gulf residents the opportunity not only to frame the Gulf recovery narrative, but also to influence government-led recovery plans.

The result has been three demonstrable victories…


Largest Ever Water Reservoir Discovered in Space

Posted by on Apr 19, 2014 @ 9:42 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Astronomers have found a massive water vapor cloud floating around a black hole in the universe, making it the largest discovery of water anywhere. The reservoir is gigantic, holding 140 trillion times the mass of water in the Earth’s oceans, and resides 10 billion light years away.

Since astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early universe, the discovery of water is not itself a surprise, the Carnegie Institution, one of the groups behind the findings, said.

The water cloud was found to be in the central regions of a faraway quasar. Quasars contain massive black holes that are steadily consuming a surrounding disk of gas and dust; as it eats, the quasar spews out amounts of energy, the institution said in its statement.

The quasar where the gigantic water reservoir is located is some 12 billion years old, only 1.6 billion years younger than the Big Bang. It is older than the formation of most of the stars in the disk of the Milky Way galaxy.

The discovery was part of a larger study of the quasar named APM 08279+5255, where the black hole is 20 billion times greater than the Sun. There, researchers found water vapor around the black hole extending hundreds of light-years in size.

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