2022-08-04. Surveys commissioned by 16th century Spanish king provide unprecedented ecological snapshot. [https://www.science.org/content/article/surveys-commissioned-king-spain-16th-century-provide-unprecedented-ecological-snapshot] By Viviana Flores, Science Magazine. Excerpt: In the 1570s, when King Philip II of Spain sent emissaries to survey the flora and fauna of villages in central and southern Spain, he wasn’t thinking about ecological networks or extinction. He just wanted to know exactly what he owned. So, he asked at least two people in each village to describe the land, flora, and fauna of their territory to his surveyors. Now, 450 years later, a team of ecologists says the resulting answers to that survey have value as ecological surveys, taken before the word “ecology” entered the lexicon. …The new work was done by Duarte Viana, an ecologist at the Doñana Biological Station (part of Spain’s National Research Council), and his colleagues. They used the answers to the king’s questionnaires and transcriptions from historians to create a list of plants, animals, and their respective ecological niches, providing an environmental snapshot of Castile, a large kingdom that was in modern-day central and southern Spain, from nearly 500 years ago. In their work, published recently in Ecology, they found various animals that lived and roamed across central Spain are now restricted to the north of Spain, whereas some plants that are abundant in the country now weren’t around in the 16th century.…
2022-05-05. Bogs, lakebeds, and sea floors compete to become Anthropocene’s ‘golden spike’. By Paul Voosen, Science Magazine. Excerpt: If you had to pick one spot that best reflects when human activity became an Earth-shaping force, where would it be? Geoscientists will consider the question this month when they meet to evaluate 12 sites, only one of which can serve as the “golden spike” for the Anthropocene, a proposed geological age beginning in the 1950s amid the fire of nuclear bomb tests and the fumes of surging fossil fuel use. Although the idea of the Anthropocene has gained wide traction, it still lacks a formal geological definition. In 2016, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), a group of several dozen geoscientists convened by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), settled on the early 1950s as its starting point. But the ICS still needs a formal proposal with an ideal geologic sample recording these global changes—a golden spike—to mark the end of the Holocene epoch, which began 11,700 years ago, and the beginning of the Anthropocene. To find that sample, teams of earth scientists spent several years analyzing sites that contain promising markers, such as spikes in plutonium and other radionuclides that settled after atmospheric nuclear tests, spherical ash particles from unchecked industrial emissions, microplastics, and perturbations to carbon and nitrogen chemistry from greenhouse gas emissions and urban smog.… [https://www.science.org/content/article/bogs-lakebeds-and-sea-floors-compete-become-anthropocene-s-golden-spike]
2022-01-21. From River to Sea: Estimating Wood Cascades. By Carolyn Wilke, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Dead wood might sound like it belongs in a garbage dump, but it’s a boon to the world’s rivers, beaches, and oceans, where it fuels ecosystem diversity. Until now, scientists have lacked an estimate for how much wood flows through rivers and out to sea. But according to a study reported in Science Advances, some 4.7 million cubic meters of wood may enter the oceans every year as a result of natural process such as erosion and storms. And that amount—almost twice the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza—may pale in comparison to the wood cascades of the preindustrial past. …Before the 1970s, many people thought that the dead wood of old-growth forests was just debris, said Ellen Wohl, a geologist at Colorado State University and one of the authors of the new study. But in the late 1970s, a whole-ecosystem study in the Pacific Northwest started a revolution in how people think about dead wood, she said. …Early history may have seen vastly more wood reach the ocean, the authors say. Nowadays, dams cut off river flow and, by extension, the transport of dead wood. People remove wood from waterways for flood control, as well as from harbors, estuaries, and beaches. Plus, deforestation has decreased global tree cover, leading to less wood inputs to the oceans. All of these changes raise the question, What impacts does dead wood’s removal have on coastal, open ocean, and deep-sea ecosystems?.… [https://eos.org/articles/from-river-to-sea-estimating-wood-cascades]
2021-12-10. Native Americans’ farming practices
may help feed a warming world. By Samuel Gilbert, The Washington Post. Excerpt: TUCSON — Indigenous peoples have known for millennia to plant under the shade of the mesquite and paloverde trees that mark the Sonoran Desert here, shielding their crops from the intense sun and reducing the amount of water needed. The modern-day version of this can be seen in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, where a canopy of elevated solar panels helps to protect rows of squash, tomatoes and onions. Even on a November afternoon, with the temperature climbing into the 80s, the air under the panels stays comfortably cool. Such adaptation is central to the research underway at Biosphere 2, a unique center affiliated with the University of Arizona that’s part of a movement aimed at reimagining and remaking agriculture in a warming world. In the Southwest, projects are looking to plants and farming practices that Native Americans have long used as potential solutions to growing worries over future food supplies. At the same time, they are seeking to build energy resilience.… [https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/interactive/2021/native-americans-farming-practices-may-help-feed-warming-world/]
2020-08-05. Humans have altered North America’s ecosystems more than melting glaciers. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Recent human activity, including agriculture, has had a greater impact on North America’s plants and animals than even the glaciers that retreated more than 10,000 years ago. Those findings, presented this week at the virtual annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America, reveal that more North American forests and grasslands have abruptly disappeared in the past 250 years than in the previous 14,000 years, likely as a result of human activity. The authors say the new work, based on hundreds of fossilized pollen samples, supports the establishment of a new epoch in geological history known as the Anthropocene, with a start date in the past 250 years. …For more than 10 years, researchers have debated when humans started to make their mark on the planet. Some argue agriculture transformed landscapes thousands of years ago, disrupting previously stable interactions between plants and animals. Others argue the launch of large-scale mining and smelting operations—seen in glacial records going back thousands of years—means the Anthropocene predates the industrial revolution. For geologists, however, the epoch starts with a different signal: nuclear explosions and a sharp uptick in fossil fuel use in the mid–20th century. But some skeptics suggest the ice ages have had an even greater effect on the world’s ecosystems. To test that idea, Stanford University paleoecologist M. Allison Stegner turned to Neotoma, a decade-old fossil database that combines records from thousands of sites around the world. Her question: When—and how abruptly—did ecosystems change in North America over the past 14,000 years? …When the last ice age ended, forests and grasslands regrew across North America, creating a landscape that remained stable for thousands of years. But humans have changed all that, Stegner reports this week. Her team found just 10 abrupt changes per 250 years for every 100 sites from 11,000 years ago to about 1700 C.E. But that number doubled, to 20 abrupt changes per 100 sites, in the 250-year interval between 1700 and 1950…. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/humans-have-altered-north-america-s-ecosystems-more-melting-glaciers]
2020-04-13. China Limited the Mekong’s Flow. Other Countries Suffered a Drought. By Hannah Beech, The New York Times. Excerpt: …farmers and fishers across the Mekong River region were contending with the worst drought in living memory. …new research from American climatologists shows for the first time that China, where the headwaters of the Mekong spring forth from the Tibetan Plateau, was not experiencing the same hardship at all. Instead, Beijing’s engineers appear to have directly caused the record low water levels by limiting the river’s flow. …The Mekong is one of the most fertile rivers on earth, nurturing tens of millions of people with its nutrient rich waters and fisheries. But a series of dams, mostly in China, have robbed the river’s riches…. [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/world/asia/china-mekong-drought.html]
2019-10-16. Unprecedented drought in an artificial ecosystem may reveal how rainforests will cope with climate change. By Erik Stokstad, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Earlier this month, the doors to the tropical rainforest, enclosed under a ziggurat of glass, were sealed shut. Christiane Werner turned a valve to release about $12,000 worth of carbon dioxide (CO2) spiked with carbon-13, an isotope that is normally scarce in the atmosphere. The luxuriant plants inside Biosphere 2, a 30-year-old set of greenhouses and artificial ecosystems in the Arizona desert, soaked up the isotopic tracer, enabling investigators to follow the flows of carbon through the healthy forest. Werner, an ecosystem physiologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany, and her team gathered these baseline data for the harsh test to come: the largest forest drought experiment ever monitored with isotopes. …On 7 October, the researchers shut off the sprinklers that irrigate the rainforest, beginning a 6-week drought. …A forest’s consumption of CO2 slows during drought, but scientists haven’t pinned down how thirsty rainforest plants—especially large trees—use and release their stored carbon. The answers are important for the global climate cycle, Klein says. Droughts, expected to become more severe as the climate warms, could turn tropical forests from sinks of greenhouse gases into sources that accelerate climate change. …By tracking the carbon-13, the researchers will learn how quickly carbon is taken up during photosynthesis and then moves through the forest. … Ultimately, results from the drought test will improve the way global climate models account for vegetation….
2019-05-08. Two-thirds of the world’s longest rivers no longer run free. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. Excerpt: About two-thirds of the world’s longest rivers are no longer free flowing, compromising their ability to move sediment, facilitate fish migration, and perform other vital ecosystem services, according to a new study. And with more than 3700 large dams in the works, the future of free-flowing waterways looks even bleaker, researchers say. …In particular, the researchers focused on the 246 longest rivers encompassing more than 1000 kilometers of flowing water—think the Nile and Mississippi rivers—because of their huge ecological impact. Just 90 of those big rivers are still unencumbered, they report today in Nature. Most of the remaining unblocked rivers are in the Amazon, the Arctic, and Africa’s Congo basin. “In the U.S., Europe, and more developed areas, these longer, free-flowing rivers don’t really exist,” Poff says. And those free rivers that remain “are some of the most important places for freshwater species,” says Michele Thieme, a WWF freshwater ecologist. Freshwater plants and animals are declining twice as fast as terrestrial and marine populations, WWF has found. And rivers in general have a lot of hidden value not fully appreciated by policymakers, Thieme notes….
2019-03-29. The Lost History of One of the World’s Strangest Science Experiments. By Carl Zimmer, The New York Times. Excerpt: …No one had ever built a sealed ecological world as big as Biosphere 2, and no one had ever survived so long inside one. The project would later be dismissed as a folly and a waste of effort. And yet, 25 years on, it’s an experiment worth rediscovering. Biosphere 2 might have some lessons to offer about managing Biosphere 1 — our planet. …As Biosphere 2 took shape in the desert, it racked up headlines (“Desert Dreamers Build a Man-Made World” reported this newspaper). …The project, as fanciful as it sounded, had deep roots. Scientists coined the word “biosphere” in the 1800s, and in 1926, the Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky published a book dedicated to the concept. To Vernadsky, the biosphere was the self-sustaining ecological web of life that formed a skin on the planet. …It soon became clear that raising food in Biosphere 2 was a major challenge. The weather was cloudy for the first few months of the mission, stunting the growth of crops. The Biospherians had to break into a three-month supply of food that had been secretly stored away before the doors had closed. Then Biosphere 2 began to lose oxygen because the soil had spawned an explosion of oxygen-gulping bacteria. The crew felt as if they were living at 14,000 feet. A truckload of liquid oxygen finally saved them; as soon as the gas began spraying into Biosphere 2, they began racing around in joy….
2017-10-29. How a 672,000-Gallon Oil Spill Was Nearly Invisible. By Christina Caron, The New York Times. Excerpt: Mention oil spills, and images of birds coated in black slime and a shiny slick on the ocean’s surface come to mind. But not all oil spills are the same. About 672,000 gallons of oil spilled when a pipeline fractured about a mile below the ocean’s surface this month in the Gulf of Mexico southeast of Venice, La., …. Hardly any of it was visible. …16,000 barrels is “a pretty substantial leak,” said Edward B. Overton, an emeritus professor of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University who is studying the environmental effects of Deepwater Horizon. “But it was not enough on the surface to warrant a cleanup response.” In this case, the oil degraded quickly, in part because of environmental forces. …most of the oil droplets that escaped from the pipe…were so small that they were measured in microns… Those minuscule droplets were ingested by oil-degrading bacteria that live in the Gulf of Mexico, Dr. Overton said. …Every year, natural oil seepage — unrelated to the oil and gas industry — releases an estimated 20 million to 50 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico, he said, from hundreds, possibly thousands of different spots on the ocean floor. “The families of bacteria that can degrade oil already exist in the Gulf,” he said. “So when they see more oil, what happens is those bacteria degrade that oil and start reproducing.” The bacteria eat the hydrocarbons in the oil and turn it into carbon dioxide or more bacteria, and those bacteria become a food source for other organisms. An oil spill essentially serves as food for the bacteria, but there are times, like during Deepwater Horizon, when the bacteria are overwhelmed by the volume and cannot work fast enough to break it down…. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/science/gulf-oil-spill-louisiana.html
2014-12-23. Restored Forests Breathe Life Into Efforts Against Climate Change. By Justin Gillis, The New York Times. Excerpt: LA VIRGEN, Costa Rica — …this small country chopped down a majority of its ancient forests. But after a huge conservation push and a wave of forest regrowth, trees now blanket more than half of Costa Rica. Far to the south, the Amazon forest was once being quickly cleared to make way for farming, but Brazil has slowed the loss so much that it has done more than any other country to limit the emissions leading to global warming. And on the other side of the world, in Indonesia, bold new promises have been made in the past few months to halt the rampant cutting of that country’s forests, backed by business interests with the clout to make it happen. In the battle to limit the risks of climate change, it has been clear for decades that focusing on the world’s immense tropical forests — saving the ones that are left, and perhaps letting new ones grow — is the single most promising near-term strategy. That is because of the large role that forests play in what is called the carbon cycle of the planet. Trees pull the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, out of the air and lock the carbon away in their wood and in the soil beneath them. Destroying them, typically by burning, pumps much of the carbon back into the air, contributing to climate change…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/24/science/earth/restored-forests-are-making-inroads-against-climate-change-.html.
2014-10-01. Satellite images show Aral Sea basin ‘completely dried’. For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 1. Excerpt: …Images from the US space agency’s Terra satellite released last week show that the eastern basin of the Central Asian inland sea – which stretched across Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and was once the fourth largest in the world – was totally parched in August. Images taken in 2000 show an extensive body of water covering the same area. “This is the first time the eastern basin has completely dried in modern times,” Philip Micklin, a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University told Nasa. “And it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since Medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya to the Caspian Sea.” In the 1950s, two of the region’s major rivers – the Amu Darya and and the Syr Darya – were diverted by the Soviet government to provide irrigation for cotton production in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, starving the Aral. …A lack of rain and snow on the Pamir Mountains has contributed to the particularly low water levels this summer, said Micklin. …More than 60 million people live around the Aral Sea basin. The lack of water has devastated the region’s fishing industry, leaving ship graveyards as well as large areas of salted sand, which is easily kicked up by winds and contributes to health problems…. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/01/satellite-images-show-aral-sea-basin-completely-dried. By Enjoli Liston, The Guardian. See also NASA Earth Observatory page World of Change: Shrinking Aral Sea. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldOfChange/aral_sea.php
2013-06-10. A Second Act for Biosphere 2. Excerpt: In the fall of 1991, eight men and women marched into a glass and steel complex that covered three acres in the Arizona desert and was known as Biosphere 2. Their mission: to test whether they could be self-sustaining in this sealed-off environment, with hope that the model would someday be replicated to colonize outer space. …The original idea was that the inhabitants would grow all their own food, and that the wilderness areas would naturally recycle their air and water. …Early on, there were problems. One Biospherian accidentally cut off the tip of her finger and left for medical care. When she returned, she carried in two duffle bags of supplies to the supposedly self-sustaining environment (which presumably would not have been feasible on, say, Mars). But the most damaging discovery was that a carbon dioxide scrubber had been secretly installed to protect the occupants from dangerous levels of the gas. By the end, as one of the Biospherians put it, they had been suffocated, starved and gone mad. Clearly, Biosphere 2 was not ready to sustain life on Mars or even a vacant lot in Phoenix. …Columbia University, then the University of Arizona, eventually took over the mammoth space to conduct earth science research, and nearly 150 papers have been published. In 2006, The New Yorker reported, “much of what is known about coral reefs and ocean acidification was originally discovered, improbably enough in Arizona, in the self-enclosed, supposedly self-sufficient world known as Biosphere 2.”…. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/booming/biosphere-2-good-science-or-bad-sense.html. Michael Winerip, New York Times.
2012 Feb 3. Rebuilding Wetlands by Managing the Muddy Mississippi. By Carolyn Gramling, Science (subscription needed). Coastal managers and scientists have struggled to find ways to restore water flow through the wetlands of the Mississippi delta and bring back the sediment, supply of which has been cut in half by humanmade river channels, levees, and dams intended to control the river and save coastal communities from flooding. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza spillway during the 2011 Mississippi River floods to divert floodwaters, which offered a rare opportunity to conduct a large-scale natural experiment in real time. The floodwaters did carry enough sediment to help rebuild the wetlands, but that material didn’t always stay where it could do the most good. However, researchers gained valuable insights—including ideas about how spillway design can help produce more targeted sediment deposits, and what volume of flow through the spillways might be required for effective wetland rebuilding.
2011 April 24. Spring may Lose Song of Cuckoos, Nightingales and Turtle Doves. By Robin McKie, The Observer. Excerpt: Some of Britain’s most cherished spring visitors are disappearing in their thousands. Ornithologists say species such as the cuckoo, nightingale and turtle dove are undergoing catastrophic drops in numbers , although experts are puzzled about the exact reasons for these declines.…The call of the cuckoo could be silenced in the near future unless scientists can unravel the causes of the drastic decline in their population. …”The real problem is that there are so many different possible causes for these losses …. “These losses could be the result of changes in farmland use in Britain which are affecting the way these birds breed when they arrive here in spring. Or they could be due to the spread of human populations in Africa and the destruction of natural habitats where they make their homes in winter. “Climate change is almost certainly involved as well. Our problem is to unravel those different causes and assess how they interact.”
2009 June. Jane Poynter: Life in Biosphere 2. TED.com. Excerpt: In a March 2009 presentation at TEDxUSC, Jane Poynter tells her story of living two years and 20 minutes in Biosphere 2 — an experience that provoked her to explore how we might sustain life in the harshest of environments. This 15 minute video is accompanied by an interactive transcript of the presentation.
2007 January 30. In the Rockies, Pines Die and Bears Feel It. The New York Times, By CHARLES PETIT. Excerpt: Jesse Logan retired in July as head of the beetle research unit for the United States Forest Service at the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Utah. He is an authority on the effects of temperature on insect life cycles. That expertise has landed him smack in the middle of a debate over protecting grizzly bears. Forests of whitebark pine turn red as they are attacked by the mountain pine beetle. …Dr. Logan seems, in fact, to be on a collision course with the federal government, in the debate over whether to lift Endangered Species Act protections from the grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. The grizzly population in the greater Yellowstone area is estimated to be at least 600. …Their resurgence in the past 50 years is why the federal government announced in 2005 the start of proceedings to take them off the endangered or threatened species list. Dr. Logan enters the fray on the question of what grizzly bears eat, how much of it will be available in the future, and where. All that, he says, hinges on the mountain pine beetle and the whitebark pine….New computer projections done by Dr. Logan and Jacques Régnière of the Canadian Forest Service based on recent climate and other data for the mountain West show most whitebark pine forests being wiped out as warming continues. But the Wind River Range is projected to stay cold until 2100 or so, which, if the model is right, means they could be a refuge for grizzlies forced out of areas where the trees die. … Dr. Logan’s projections shows devastating whitebark damage from the beetles in the government’s core area for grizzly protection by the end of the century. He says that the government’s recovery area “is completely out of touch with what is actually happening.”… “It’s all about global warming,” Dr. Logan said. “I can’t say if the beetle will stay out of the Winds for all the next century. I don’t know how long it will take. But one thing I do know. If it keeps on warming, they’ll get nailed there too. The trees can’t move uphill, you know. They’ll run out of mountain.” What the bears will fatten for winter on then, nobody knows.2006
19 September 2006. Time to Move the Mississippi, Experts Say. By CORNELIA DEAN. The New York Times. Excerpt: Scientists have long said the only way to restore Louisiana’s vanishing wetlands is to undo the elaborate levee system that controls the Mississippi River, not with the small projects that have been tried here and there, but with a massive diversion that would send the muddy river flooding wholesale into the state’s sediment-starved marshes.
And most of them have long dismissed the idea as impractical, unaffordable and lethal to the region’s economy. Now, they are reconsidering. In fact, when a group of researchers convened last April to consider the fate of the Louisiana coast, their recommendation was unanimous: divert the river. … the sediment it carries ends up in deep water, where it is lost forever. A diversion would send the river’s richly muddy water into marshes or shallow-water areas where, Dr. Reed said, “the natural processes of waves, coastal currents and even storms can rework that sediment and bring it up and bring it into the coast.”
“It’s a lot,” she said, enough to cover 60 square miles half an inch deep every year, an amount that would slow or even reverse land loss in the state’s marshes, which have shrunk by about a quarter, more than 1,500 square miles, since the 1930’s. Such a program would not turn things around immediately, “but every year new land would be built,” said Joseph T. Kelley, a professor of marine geology at the University of Maine, who took part in the April meeting….
15 November 2005. Louisiana’s Marshes Fight for Their Lives. By CORNELIA DEAN, NY Times. Excerpt: Shea Penland nosed his truck along a mud-covered street, past uprooted trees, cars leaning crazily on fences, torn-off roofs, and piles of ruined furniture, wallboard and shingles – the waterlogged evidence that Hurricane Katrina had been through the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette. Twice, he turned to avoid streets blocked by brick houses apparently torn from their slab foundations and dumped blocks away. Finally, he spotted what he was seeking. “Look at that,” he said, pointing to what looked like misshaped bowling balls tufted with long strands of yellow grass, seemingly thrown onto the porch and through the gaping doorway of a wrecked brick ranch house. “Marshballs.” For Dr. Penland, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, these clumps of black mud knitted with roots and fronds are an alarming sight. The marshballs, some as large as a sofa, others as small as a shoebox, had floated from wetlands to the east. Dr. Penland says they are more evidence that after decades of human interference, the marshes of Louisiana are in deep, deep trouble… Now, as Louisiana struggles to recover from the storm, scientists like Dr. Penland are studying this marsh wreckage and the marshes themselves for clues to what ails them and how they might recover. The questions are complicated, and the answers turn on a number of factors, including the region’s geology, the ways people have engineered the flow of the Mississippi River, and the marsh-killing activities of the oil and gas industry.
16 November 2004. Wetland Changes Affect South Florida Freezes. [NASA feature.] Orange and other citrus crops are being squeezed by stronger freezes in South Florida, due to changes in wetlands. Scientists using satellite data, records of land-cover changes, computer models, and weather records found a link between the loss of wetlands and more severe freezes in some agricultural areas of south Florida. In other areas of the state, land use changes resulted in slightly warmer conditions.
18 May 2004. Michigan Landowner Who Filled Wetlands Faces Prison, By FELICITY BARRINGER, NY Times. A federal jury found the actions taken by a landowner to dry out his 175-acre property to be in violation of the Clean Water Act.
9 March 2004. For Wildlife, Migration Is Endangered Too By JIM ROBBINS, NY Times. Around the world, many great overland migrations have ended as more and more habitat is converted to human use.
1 November 2002 Saving Cajun Country – Archeologists and engineers will soon be using NASA remote-sensing satellite data to restore endangered wetlands without accidentally destroying Native American cultural sites.
ForgeFX Interactive 3D simulation by Prentice Hall – BIOMES – allows users to examine the different biomes on the planet Earth. Students can rotate the globe to any angle, identify and choose biomes, and find out detailed information about a city in each biome.
Air Quality & Water Quality. GSS – Energy Use: Pollution.
Biomes: Blue Planet Biomes – All about the world’s biomes, their plants, animals, and climates.