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  • richardmitnick 4:13 pm on January 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “Baby California Condor Surprises Wildlife Experts” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Jan 12, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    Biologists with the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) were taken by happy surprise, with their recent discovery of a previously unknown juvenile condor alongside a known breeding pair of adults in Big Sur, Calif.

    Because there are so few California condors — just 116 living in the wild in California, according to the VWS — the big vultures are closely monitored by biologists. It’s unusual, then, for a new arrival to hatch and be reared by its parents unobserved.

    California condor in captivity

    VWS suspects the breeding pair seen with the juvenile are indeed the proud parents. The organization thinks the amorous couple, known as #209 (or “Shadow”) and #231 (or “Wild 1”), are nesting in an area of the Ventana Wilderness that is so remote it’s inaccessible to observers.

    “It’s just a sign of how well the flock is doing — that they are flying out on their own, making nests and breeding on their own,” biologist and VWS Big Sur condor project coordinator Joe Burnett told the San Francisco Chronicle.

    A cursory glance at the numbers helps underscore the enthusiasm felt by the biologists.

    By 1987 the California condor, the largest bird in North America, with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, had become nearly extinct in the wild. The last 27 animals were captured and cared for in captivity. Habitat loss, poaching, and lead poisoning (thanks to hunters’ lead bullet fragments present in big-game waste) were among the factors that led to the condor’s dance on the edge of total extinction.

    But successful captive-breeding and wild-release programs have since boosted the California condor’s population to today’s overall count of 425, according to VWS. In addition to California, condor populations can also be found in Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

    The recent surprise pairing marks just the third time since 1997 that California condors have mated without being observed, the Chronicle noted.

    “This is truly exciting to witness as it offers another example of condors surviving on their own,” said VWS Executive Director Kelly Sorenson in a statement.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:08 pm on January 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Earth: “The Forests of Mulanje” 

    NASA Earth Observatory

    NASA Earth Observatory

    In southern Malawi, near the border with Mozambique, the land rises sharply into a multi-lobed plateau that towers about 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) above the landscape. The feature, an inselberg known as Mulanje massif, is the highest point in south-central Africa.

    Mulanje massif

    Mount Mulanje

    Location of Mount Mulanje in Malawi

    The rock that makes up Mulanje formed some 130 million years ago, when underground magma slowly cooled into vast lobes of granite and syenite. Over time, tectonic forces pushed these erosion-resistant rocks upward. As softer rock above and around the granite and syenite eroded away, Mulanje was left behind. Today, about twenty rocky peaks are found on the plateau.

    The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured [the above] natural-color image of Mulanje on October 10, 2014. Since the image was acquired during the dry season, browns and reds dominate the lower-elevation areas surrounding the plateau. Dry grassland, shrubland, and farmland appears tan; it normally greens up during the wet season. Areas with exposed soil have a red-orange hue. The bright green areas south and west of Mulanje are tea and macadamia farms.

    While the lowlands get most of their rain during the wet season, the plateau sees rain year round. Vegetation type varies with elevation. Mulanje’s lower slopes are mainly miombo woodlands. The mid-elevation and upper slopes, as well as many of the ravines, are home to afromontane forests, which have a darker green color. A few scattered groves of endangered Mulanje cypress (Widdringtonia whytei)—Malawi’s national tree—survive in certain valleys. Tussock grasslands and heath dominate the highest-elevation parts of the plateau. Large outcrops of exposed rock appear gray.

    Although conservation groups have attempted to protect Mulanje’s forests, satellite observations show that deforestation has chewed away at the perimeter of many of them over the last decade. The lowlands surrounding Mulanje are densely populated, and people regularly harvest wood for cooking and heating, explained Joy Hecht, an environmental economist and consultant.

    A wildfire is visible on the plateau in the Landsat image. “Fires are frequent and a bad sign, often set by illegal loggers,” said Hecht, who has conducted field research on Mulanje. “The mountain top is a protected forest, and there would not be prescribed burns there.” Other common causes of wildfires on Mulanje include hunting, charcoal production, escaped campfires, and arson.

    See the full article here.

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    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models. The Earth Observatory staff is supported by the Climate and Radiation Laboratory, and the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

  • richardmitnick 11:37 am on December 31, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Earth Observatory: “Australia’s Ephemeral Lake Mackay” 

    NASA Earth Observatory

    NASA Earth Observatory

    Dec 31, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    Hundreds of salt lakes are sprinkled across the landscape of northern and western Australia. Most, including Lake Mackay, fill infrequently via seasonal rainfall that runs off of nearby lands and through minor drainage channels.


    Lake Mackay is Australia’s fourth largest lake—encompassing 4,737 square kilometers (1,829 square miles) along the border between Western Australia and Northern Territory. The image above, acquired on September 19, 2010, by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite, shows about a quarter of the lake area. Dark areas indicate desert vegetation or algae, moisture within the soils, and the low elevations where water pools. Light browns indicate areas of higher elevation that occasionally form islands.

    NASA Terra satellite

    NASA ASTER  Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer

    So, how deep is the water? That depends on when you measure. When full, some of the deeper lakes in the region can be several meters deep. Shallower lakes are less than 50 centimeters (20 inches) deep. The depth of Lake Mackay is uncertain, but is thought to be somewhere between the two extremes.

    Water can persist in Lake Mackay for at least six months after a flood; when it does, the ephemeral lake provides an important habitat and breeding area for shorebirds and waterbirds. For example, researchers spotted at least 4,400 young banded stilts during an aerial survey of the wetlands in 2001.

    References and Further Reading
    Australian Government, Geoscience Australia, Australian Landforms and their History. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Australian Government, Geoscience Australia, Largest Waterbodies. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Dietz, R.D. et al., (2003, April) Formation and Organization of Australian Athalassic Salt Lakes. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Duguid, A. et al., (2005) Wetlands in the arid Northern Territory. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    NASA Earth Observatory: Natural Hazards Floods in Australia. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Lake Mackay, Australia. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Northern Territory Government, Sites of Conservation Significance, Lake Mackay. Accessed December 30, 2014.

    See the full article here.

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    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models. The Earth Observatory staff is supported by the Climate and Radiation Laboratory, and the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

  • richardmitnick 1:29 pm on December 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From AAAS: “China confirms its southern glaciers are disappearing” 



    22 December 2014
    Christina Larson

    Glaciers in China that are a critical source of water for drinking and irrigation in India are receding fast, according to a new comprehensive inventory. In the short term, retreating glaciers may release greater meltwater, “but it will be exhausted when glaciers disappear under a continuous warming,” says Liu Shiyin, who led the survey for the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute in Lanzhou.

    Midui Glacier in Tibet (Jan Reurink/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0))

    In 2002, Chinese scientists released the first full inventory of the country’s glaciers, the largest glacial area outside of Antarctica and Greenland. The data came from topographical maps and aerial photographs of western China’s Tibet and Xinjiang regions taken from the 1950s through the 1980s. That record showed a total glacial area of 59,425 square kilometers. The Second Glacier Inventory of China, unveiled here last week, is derived from high-resolution satellite images taken between 2006 and 2010. The data set is freely available online.

    Liu and his colleagues calculated China’s total glacial area to be 51,840 square kilometers—13% less than in 2002. That figure is somewhat uncertain because the previous inventory used coarser resolution images that may have mistaken extensive snow cover for permanent ice, says Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was not involved in the project.

    Methodological quibbles aside, the latest inventory flags a marked retreat of glaciers in the southern and eastern fringes of the Tibetan Plateau. “We found the fastest shrinking glaciers are those in the central upper reach of the Brahmaputra River, between the central north Himalaya [and] the source region of the tributary of the Indus River,” Liu says.

    Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, applauds the openness in sharing data, which hasn’t always been the norm in China. “It is highly useful that the colleagues from China have made their data set available to the community. It will feed directly into global efforts to compile a worldwide glacier inventory and is a major improvement,” he says. “It will, for example, greatly support the effort of global glacier modeling to improve our understanding of glaciers’ response to climate change.”

    See the full article here.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

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  • richardmitnick 12:29 pm on December 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Princeton: “Dirty pool: Soil’s large carbon stores could be freed by increased CO2, plant growth (Nature Climate Change)” 

    Princeton University
    Princeton University

    Dec 23, 2014
    Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications

    An increase in human-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could initiate a chain reaction between plants and microorganisms that would unsettle one of the largest carbon reservoirs on the planet — soil.

    Researchers based at Princeton University report that an increase in human-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could initiate a chain reaction between plants and microorganisms that would unsettle one of the largest carbon reservoirs on the planet — soil. The researchers developed the first computer model to show at a global scale the complex interaction between carbon, plants and soil. The model projected changes (above) in global soil carbon as a result of root-soil interactions, with blue indicating a greater loss of soil carbon to the atmosphere. (Image by Benjamin Sulman, Princeton Environmental Institute)

    Researchers based at Princeton University report in the journal Nature Climate Change that the carbon in soil — which contains twice the amount of carbon in all plants and Earth’s atmosphere combined — could become increasingly volatile as people add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, largely because of increased plant growth. The researchers developed the first computer model to show at a global scale the complex interaction between carbon, plants and soil, which includes numerous bacteria, fungi, minerals and carbon compounds that respond in complex ways to temperature, moisture and the carbon that plants contribute to soil.

    Although a greenhouse gas and pollutant, carbon dioxide also supports plant growth. As trees and other vegetation flourish in a carbon dioxide-rich future, their roots could stimulate microbial activity in soil that in turn accelerates the decomposition of soil carbon and its release into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the researchers found.

    This effect counters current key projections regarding Earth’s future carbon cycle, particularly that greater plant growth could offset carbon dioxide emissions as flora take up more of the gas, said first author Benjamin Sulman, who conducted the modeling work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Princeton Environmental Institute.

    “You should not count on getting more carbon storage in the soil just because tree growth is increasing,” said Sulman, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Indiana University.

    On the other hand, microbial activity initiated by root growth could lock carbon onto mineral particles and protect it from decomposition, which would increase long-term storage of carbon in soils, the researchers report.

    Whether carbon emissions from soil rise or fall, the researchers’ model depicts an intricate soil-carbon system that contrasts starkly with existing models that portray soil as a simple carbon repository, Sulman said. An oversimplified perception of the soil carbon cycle has left scientists with a glaring uncertainty as to whether soil would help mitigate future carbon dioxide levels — or make them worse, Sulman said.

    “The goal was to take that very simple model and add some of the most important missing processes,” Sulman said. “The main interactions between roots and soil are important and shouldn’t be ignored. Root growth and activity are such important drivers of what goes on in the soil, and knowing what the roots are doing could be an important part of understanding what the soil will be doing.”

    The researchers’ soil-carbon cycle model has been integrated into the global land model used for climate simulations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) located on Princeton’s Forrestal Campus.

    Read the abstract

    Benjamin N. Sulman, Richard P. Phillips, A. Christopher Oishi, Elena Shevliakova, and Stephen W. Pacala. 2014. Microbe-driven turnover offsets mineral-mediated storage of soil carbon under elevated CO2. Nature Climate Change. Arti­cle pub­lished in December 2014 print edition. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2436

    The work was supported by grants from NOAA (grant no. NA08OAR4320752); the U.S. Department of Agriculture (grant no. 2011-67003-30373); and Princeton’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative sponsored by BP.

    See the full article here.

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    About Princeton: Overview

    Princeton University is a vibrant community of scholarship and learning that stands in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations. Chartered in 1746, Princeton is the fourth-oldest college in the United States. Princeton is an independent, coeducational, nondenominational institution that provides undergraduate and graduate instruction in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering.

    As a world-renowned research university, Princeton seeks to achieve the highest levels of distinction in the discovery and transmission of knowledge and understanding. At the same time, Princeton is distinctive among research universities in its commitment to undergraduate teaching.

    Today, more than 1,100 faculty members instruct approximately 5,200 undergraduate students and 2,600 graduate students. The University’s generous financial aid program ensures that talented students from all economic backgrounds can afford a Princeton education.

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  • richardmitnick 3:15 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Nautilus: “The Men Who Planted Trees” 



    December 4, 2014

    In West Africa, a model for worldwide conservation takes root.

    An hour before sunup the Bani River uncoils through the dark Sahel in bright silver curves, a reflection of a day not yet dawned, hardships not yet known, hopes not yet broken. Onto such a magical surface the Bozo fishermen of Sindaga shove off with bamboo poles and float downstream in redwood pirogues, one silent man per boat. The fishermen work standing up: solitary Paleolithic silhouettes keeping perfect balance against the river’s luminescence, each man one with his boat like some pelagic centaur, performing one of mankind’s oldest rites. They cast their diaphanous seines into the night. Handmade sinkers kiss the surface, pucker it lightly, drag the nets under.

    By the time daybreak trims burgundy the sparse savannah, the fishermen row their day’s first catch back to the village. In squat banco houses that crowd the river, the men take breakfast of rice and fish sauce. They patch up the nets while their wives and mothers sort the morning haul into giant wicker baskets and lug it to the nearest market town. After midday prayer, the men cast off again.

    Such has been their fishing schedule for centuries, aligned with the orderly procession across the West African sky of 26 sequential constellations. Each new star signifies the advent of a windy season, of weeks of life-giving drizzle or days of downpour, of merciless heat or relentless malarial mosquitoes dancing in humid nights. Each star announces the arrival of the blue-tinged Nile perch, of the short-striped daggers of clown killi, of the lunar disks of the Niger stingray, of the toothless garras that like to nibble the bare ankles of laundresses, and that, in the West, are used for pedicures in foot spas.

    Or so it used to be. Mali has been growing drier and hotter since the 1960s. For the past three decades, the weather has been chaotic, out of whack with the stars. The rainy season has been starting early or late or not arriving at all. Droughts throttle the land and wring dry the river. Flash floods wash away harvests and entire homesteads hand-slapped of rice straw and clay. Acres of deforested riverbank dry out and blow away, or collapse into the water. The fish run off schedule. “The river is becoming broken,” said Lasina Kayantau, a Sindaga elder.

    Their approach to saving the environment stems from the limbic understanding that they are an indivisible part of it.

    Kayantau received me on a late afternoon last November. I was researching a book and spent much of the year herding cattle with a family of Fulani cowboys, nomads forever chasing rain in the oceanic spaces of Africa’s margin lands. For a time, my hosts pastured their cows near Sindaga. Kayantau and I sat on a blue and yellow plastic mat under a mango tree outside his low adobe house. He was a heavyset man in his 60s, and he wore a soiled maroon boubou with yellow polka dots and, around his neck, a cell phone on a lanyard. One of his four wives, Kadija, sat on a low bamboo stool, propping up a toddler with her feet. Fishnets dangled from tree limbs and eaves. Ducks sidestepped discarded tackle. Kayantau turned to blink at the Bani. The river rippled in the slanted sun, blinked back.

    “The trees that kept mud from sliding into the river are gone,” Kayantau explained. “Now when it rains, mud slides into the river. The mud adds up, and one year, one day, there will be no river. But we are fishermen. This river is our life. It’s what we will leave our sons and grandsons. If the river is gone, how will they live? We had to do something.”

    So one morning last summer, Kayantau asked the hard, sunjerked men of Sindaga to leave their pirogues moored and stay ashore. He gathered the children and womenfolk. For five days, armed with hoes, sandaled, their soiled boubous flapping like giant wings in the thirsty wind, the 4,800 villagers—any man, woman, and child strong enough to work in the humid summer sun— bedded out 13,560 slim, two-foot-tall saplings of Acacia nilotica along the east bank of the Bani, downstream from the village. The idea, Kayantau told them, was simple: As the saplings grew into twisted, fissured trunks under dense thorny crowns, their roots would cinch the abrading topsoil of the desiccated seasonal swamplands and keep alluvial cut-banks from slumping into the river, preserving the watercourse for their descendants.

    The villagers worked for free. They became volunteer conservationists, planting back the bush.

    After a year of walking in the Sahel and speaking to ecologists in Africa and the West, I have come to see the villagers’ effort to persevere and preserve their ecosystem as a future model for conservation worldwide. People did not “arrive” in Africa the way we did on other continents: We were born here, and we evolved together with its ecosystems. Today, 70 percent of Malians live rurally. The Sindagans’ approach to saving their environment stems from necessity, from immemorial African traditions of husbanding nature, and from the limbic understanding that they are an indivisible part of it.

    Morning on the Bani River: Mali’s Bozo fisher- men trace their ancestry to capricious man-eating water spirits and amphibians and may have been fishing the Bani River since the Neolithic.Anna Badkhen

    If you were to look at the Bani River from space, you would see that it sashays through a meandering band of a continental scale: a 1.1 million square-mile belt of pointillist ochre-green savannah that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, dividing the Sahara from the African tropics roughly along the 13th parallel. The Sahel.

    The most common tree in the Sahel is the acacia. First classified in 1773 by Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy and ecology, Acacia nilotica— known as thorn mimosa, scented thorn, Vachellia nilotica, or prickly acacia—splotches across the semiarid land. The lives of the tree and the people who are born, rest, plant, and die in its shade are deeply intertwined.

    Prickly acacia is a super plant. It can grow up to 65 feet tall, with a crown as wide. It thrives in poor, dry, and saline soils, adding three-quarters of an inch in diameter each year. It needs little rain. It is resistant to fire. By its fifth year it can produce up to 175,000 seeds annually, and although most of its seeds do not sprout when the pods drop, they still can germinate 15 years later. The seeds are rich in protein. Of all the acacias, the nilotica has one of the deepest rooting systems, up to nine feet, which means it can tap into relatively deep ground water. The horizontal spread of its lateral roots is 1.6 times greater than the umbrella span of its crown. Prickly acacias may stand two dozen feet apart but underground they clasp the soil together in a tight, resilient web. Along a river they create an indigenous natural revetment.

    Africans use prickly acacia’s seeds as food flavoring and dye, its glabrous bark for tea, its leaves as fodder and antibiotic, its sap to bind pigment to colored fabric, its twigs as toothbrushes, its thorns as awls, its inner bark and pods to tan leather. It is a nitrogen fixer, so grain yields are richer in its shade.

    But Sahel’s very texture is changing. Acacia scrublands are turning to infertile dustbowl. Red dunes grow where the 14th-century traveler Ibn Battuta described lush orchards and fecund fields. Winter harmattan winds fill Bamako, the capital of Mali, with dust from the Sahara hundreds of miles away. Most people in Mali have never heard about climate change, but they can describe with scientific precision its symptoms: the hotter, stronger wind; the fickle rainfall; the disappearing forests. Last summer the rainy season arrived six weeks late. Around Sindaga, the fens that usually become rice paddies in June still lay bone-dry in early August. My Fulani hosts herded skeletal Zebu cattle through grassless pastures. The Bani at Sindaga was a tepid slow stream you could wade across, and there were no fish. In fact, in the last 40 years Mali has become 12 percent drier and about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.

    The political unraveling echoes the steady and inexorable deterioration of the land itself, as if under Mali’s pustulating skin her very skeleton is creaking apart.

    A perfect storm of global and local factors is responsible for Mali’s environmental crisis: changing weather patterns; disastrous land management by French colonists; post-colonial explosion in population growth; overgrazing by expanding cattle herds; commercial farming and fishing. The people’s supreme dependency on the land does not mean that the 58 million people in the Sahel live in complete harmony with the environment. Like most men, they want the land to work for them, not vice versa. The deforestation speaks for itself.

    Between 1990 and 2005, droughts and human misuse killed 10 percent of Mali’s forests. Some trees were eaten during the famines, when crops failed and people survived on leaves and bark. Some quit on the waterless soil. Most were chopped down: Malians rely primarily on firewood for cooking, and a 2010 report from Mali’s agriculture ministry said that more than 500,000 hectares of forest are cleared for firewood and charcoal each year—and we are talking grown trees, not two-foot saplings. Today, only one-tenth of the country—about 12 million hectares—is forest.

    The fallout of this altered landscape extends beyond droughts and famines. In 2012, Mali weathered three successive coups and counter-coups and a simultaneous Tuareg uprising in the northern desert. Last year, it became 
the newest frontline of the global war on terror
 after Islamist
 linked to al Qaeda hijacked that
 rebellion; now
they are fighting 
against French-led United Nation
s troops backed by
the United States. Many analysts,
including Caitlin E.
Werrell at The Center
for Climate and Security, and the University of Michigan Islamic
 Studies historian Juan Cole,
consider the turmoil a facet of
desertification and link the jihad to the depletion of natural resources in one of the poorest countries on the world’s poorest continent. The political unraveling echoes the steady and inexorable deterioration of the land itself, as if under Mali’s pustulating skin her very skeleton is creaking apart.


    Yet even after two centuries of centralized urban control of rural resources abraded the people’s relationship with the Earth, and even after the introduction of modern tools, weapons, and livestock vaccinations have enabled a voracious draining of the land, there still exists in Mali a level of conservation ethic that for millennia had prevented the people from destroying their environment. The central premise of that ethic stems from a myth.

    Most Malian traditions, explains Dr. Doulaye Konaté, president of the Association of African Historians, hold that natural resources are on lease to humans from gods, and that humans use the land according to their contract with the gods. Long after most Malians converted to Islam in the 19th century, spiritual leaders here continued to serve as interlocutors with the old divinities and doled out the permission to use the resources and the punishment for violating the restrictions, determining who could cut down a specific tree, hunt a particular animal, fish during a certain season. Many remain such guardians of the land to this day. And most Malians still populate waterways, the bush, the desert with powerful jinns that control these resources and penalize trespassers. Such beliefs imply an intimacy with the land, an attitude toward it not of ownership but of companionship.

    Over months of ambulations with the nomads, I camped alongside the Bani River, laundered my clothes in it, broke Ramadan fast with its tepid water, forded it, swam its anastomosing currents. I’d thought I knew it well. The Bozo at Sindaga wear it like skin. They have no school, no electricity, no sanitation, no source of income but what the river yields. They have an innate memory of their connectedness. They cannot afford to unweave what we call nature from their identities.

    Last summer, when Kayantau approached environmentalists in Djenné, the nearest big town about 10 miles upstream from Sindaga, he did not ask them to step in and save the river. He asked them to help the villagers remember, relearn, how to keep the river safe.

    He saw my raised eyebrows, smiled, and added, “Do not look at an old question with eyes of today.”

    The elder spoke to Hamma Ba, who oversees the directorate of fisheries at the district branch of Mali’s ministry of the environment. Ba also heads a tiny environmental nonprofit he founded a year ago with a $440,000 grant from the Global Climate Change Alliance, an agency the European Union established in 2007 to assist developing countries most affected by climate change. Ba’s nonprofit, which has a staff of five and goes by the French acronym AVDR, focuses on reforestation and education about climate change. Ba offered to donate to Sindaga some tree saplings to secure the crumbling shore if Kayantau rallied the villagers to do the planting. Thoughtful reintroduction of native species is being used to restore riparian ecology worldwide. Scientists credit the planting of sea-buckthorns along the banks of the Onggi River, which was dredged and diverted during the Mongolian gold rush of the 1990s, with that river’s improved flow through the Gobi Desert into Lake Ulaan. And in the U.S., the ongoing reforestation of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley by the Wetlands Reserve Program is creating a buffer around the wetlands that helps prevent soil degradation, provide habitat for wildlife, and reduce agricultural runoff into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Malian conservationists obsess about reforestation. It is the cornerstone of Mali’s national climate change policy: “We have a five-year program to reforest, starting in 2014. Millions of trees! All this made by people!” Ousmane Ag Rhissa, the minister of environment, told me.

    Planting trees, counting trees, and agroforestry are the focus of dozens of Malian non-governmental organizations, big and small, most of them funded by the European Union. Then there is the Great Green Wall, an 11-nation African project to erect a barrier of trees that, when or if completed, would measure more than 25 million acres from Dakar to Djibouti and prevent degradation of the soil, halt desertification. (An acre of trees may absorb between two and three tons of carbon dioxide per year—so the Great Green Wall may reduce global emissions by between 50 and 80 million tons.)

    Pan out from the flat adobes of Sindaga. Imagine: the fishermen and their families, contributors to the largest horticultural endeavor in human history.

    Ba acknowledges that a handful of villagers planting 13,560 acacias on 370 Sahelian acres cannot undo deforestation. His goals are much humbler—though, in a way, also much loftier: He hopes that conservation projects such as the one in Sindaga will remind rural Malians to be more responsible toward the erratic landscape of a changing planet.

    “You cannot protect nature if there is a separation between you and it,” says Ba. Something as simple as planting trees along a riverbank, he says, encourages the planters to thoughtfully reconnect with their environment. It allows them to re-imagine the potential of the Sahel, to see the possibility for a different, healthier landscape and a different relationship with it, and to see that they have the power to create both.

    When I visited the historian Konaté in Bamako, he told me, “There are many ways of protecting the environment, spiritual ways,” He saw my raised eyebrows, smiled, and added, “Do not look at an old question with eyes of today.”

    I remembered then a similar notion the writer Barry Lopez expressed in The Rediscovery of North America. To bridge the chasm between the ransacked landscape of the New World and the descendants of the Europeans who for centuries have exploited it, Lopez proposes inquiring of the land and its original inhabitants how best to coexist with it. “We are curious,” he writes in his short, forceful manifesto, “about indigenous systems of natural philosophy, how our own Western proposals might be answered by some bit of this local wisdom, an insight into how to conduct our life here so that it might be richer.”

    It is such gentle relearning, I think, that makes the men of Sindaga role models for modern Western environmentalists. Their effort to protect their ancestral fishing grounds comes at a time when scholars in the West are reassessing their own approach to conservation. The classic, divested strategy—most eloquently manifested in vast, unpopulated national parks—has outlived itself because it further demolishes the bonds that once existed between humans and the rest of the natural world. The Canadian writer J.B. MacKinnon writes that conservation’s “most fatal flaw, perhaps, has been to encourage the separation of people from nature: parks here, humans there, and there, and there.”

    What is necessary today, some conservationists propose, is a type of ecological restoration in which humans are everyday participants, immediately invested in nature because they understand themselves to be a part of it. We all should be planting back the bush—in our homes, communities, cities, parks. To do so, we can set our bearings by the fishers of Sindaga, who are remembering, faithfully and without fanfare, the ancient practice of nurturing their home ground. Our livelihood, too, depends on a intimate relationship with our environment.

    In November, scores of Fulani nomads en route from wet-season grazing grounds to the lush dry-season pastures around Djenné passed through Sindaga driving thousands of lyre-horned Zebus, sheep, and goats. My hosts and I were among them. The Fulani stayed on the Bani River for about a week, but that was all it took for their animals to strip the spindly twigs of prickly acacia of most of their sensitive bipinnate leaves. But after we moved on, the saplings—some with chewed-off tips, some with only one or two flecks of glaucous green surviving on the reddish stems— were still there, marking a sheer, hopeful grid along the Bani’s eastern bank just north of the village. Every few days Lasina Kayantau rode his scooter to check on the trees. One afternoon, I left the campground where my Fulani companions had stopped in a copse of thorn trees, and tagged along.

    It was odd to watch Kayantau’s sandaled, thick frame move through this imaginary future forest. His hands were flat, massive, shingly with callus, dry-cracked into grooves. Miniature maps of the Sahel. I tried to take pictures but couldn’t: Kayantau was simply too large, the shoots too small—too small for his figure; too small, it seemed, for that unforgiving, cauterized land.

    Kayantau showed me two of the five saplings he had planted himself. Scraggy, anemic twigs stuck out of trampled alluvium a few steps away from a dry gulch that, when it rains, dumps clayey mud into the river. Several other saplings were there, too. I don’t know how he could tell them apart.

    Kayantau stood over the seedlings, but when he spoke, he turned to the Bani, choppy and blindingly white in the 5 o’clock autumn sun.

    “I want to leave a mark,” he told the river. “After I die, I want the people in the village who elected me their elder to remember me. To say, Lasina, he did something. Lasina kept the river alive for our children.”

    See the full article here.

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    Welcome to Nautilus. We are delighted you joined us. We are here to tell you about science and its endless connections to our lives. Each month we choose a single topic. And each Thursday we publish a new chapter on that topic online. Each issue combines the sciences, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers and writers. We follow the story wherever it leads us. Read our essays, investigative reports, and blogs. Fiction, too. Take in our games, videos, and graphic stories. Stop in for a minute, or an hour. Nautilus lets science spill over its usual borders. We are science, connected.

  • richardmitnick 8:46 am on December 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology, ,   

    From NYT: “With Compromises, a Global Accord to Fight Climate Change Is in Sight” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    DEC. 9, 2014

    LIMA, Peru — Diplomats from 196 countries are closing in on the framework of a potentially historic deal that would for the first time commit every nation in the world to cutting its planet-warming fossil fuel emissions — but would still not be enough to stop the early impacts of global warming.

    The draft, now circulating among negotiators at a global climate summit meeting here, represents a fundamental breakthrough in the impasse that has plagued the United Nations for two decades as it has tried to forge a new treaty to counter global warming.

    But the key to the political success of the draft — and its main shortcoming, negotiators concede — is that it does not bind nations to a single, global benchmark for emissions reductions.

    A coal-burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Officials meeting in Peru are working on a pact to curb global warming. Credit Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Instead, the draft puts forward lower, more achievable, policy goals. Under the terms of the draft, every country will publicly commit to enacting its own plans to reduce emissions — with governments choosing their own targets, guided by their domestic politics, rather than by the amounts that scientists say are necessary.

    The idea is to reach a global deal to be signed by world leaders in Paris next year, incorporating 196 separate emissions pledges.

    “It’s a breakthrough, because it gives meaning to the idea that every country will make cuts,” said Yvo de Boer, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change.

    “But the great hopes for the process are also gone,” he added. “Many people are resigned,” he said, to the likelihood that even a historic new deal would not reduce greenhouse gas levels enough to keep the planet’s atmospheric temperature from rising 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

    That is the point at which, scientists say, it will become impossible to avoid the dangerous and costly early effects of climate change — such as melting glaciers, rising sea levels, extreme drought, food shortages and more violent storms.

    The Lima draft represents the input of all the negotiating countries, though there are still several major hurdles to work out. But even then, experts say, at best the new deal might be enough only to curb global warming by about half as much as scientists say is necessary.

    Until recently, the United States and China, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas polluters, have been at the center of the impasse over a climate deal.

    Until this year, the United States had never arrived at the United Nations’ annual climate negotiations with a domestic policy to cut its own carbon emissions. Instead, it merely demanded that other nations cut their use of coal and gasoline, while promising that it would do so in the future.

    China, meanwhile, was the lead voice among nations demanding that developing economies should not be required to commit to any cuts.

    But in November, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced plans to reduce emissions, helping inject new life into the global climate talks.

    Negotiators here call the joint announcement between China and the United States the catalyst for the new draft, which, if approved at the climate summit meeting this week, would set the stage for a final deal to be signed by world leaders next year in Paris.

    In the United Nations’ first effort to enact a climate change treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the legally binding language of the agreement prescribed that the world’s largest economies make ambitious, specific emissions cuts — but it exempted developing nations. The United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty, effectively leaving it a failure.

    The Lima draft does not include Kyoto-style, top-down mandates that countries cut emissions by specific levels. Instead, it includes provisions requiring that all nations, rich and poor, commit to policies to mitigate their emissions. Countries that sign on to the deal will commit to announcing, by March, detailed, hard-numbers plans laying out how they will cut emissions after 2020.

    The draft that emerges this week “will look like a game of Mad Libs,” said one negotiator who was not authorized to speak publicly. Over the coming months, as countries put forth their emissions reduction pledges, the details of the final deal will be filled in.

    It is expected that many countries will miss that March deadline. Officials from India and other countries have said that they are unlikely to present a plan before June.

    In order to ensure that all countries are included in the deal, late announcers will get a pass. The point, United Nations officials say, is to ensure that the information exists to finalize a Paris deal by December 2015.

    Negotiators concede that the “each according to their abilities” approach is less than perfect — but that it represents what is achievable.

    “The reality of it is that nobody was able to come up with a different way of going about it that would actually get countries to participate and be in the agreement,” said Todd D. Stern, the lead American climate change negotiator. “You could write a paper, in theory, assigning a certain amount of emissions cuts to every country. That would get the reduction you need. But you wouldn’t get an agreement. We live in the real world. It’s not going to be perfect.”

    And there are still many hurdles ahead.

    While many major developing economies are now expected to follow China’s lead in preparing emissions plans, some countries remain wild cards. This year, the government of Australia repealed a landmark climate change law that taxed carbon pollution. Since then, its emissions have soared.

    “Australia is left without any viable policy to cut emissions,” said Senator Christine Milne, the leader of the Australian opposition Green Party. “It’s going to drag its heels.”

    Money, as always, is a sticking point.

    The increasing likelihood that the planet’s atmosphere will warm past the 3.6 degree threshold, with or without a deal in Paris, is driving demands by vulnerable nations — particularly island states and African countries — that the industrialized world open up its wallet to pay for the damage incurred by its fossil fuel consumption. Under the terms of a 2009 climate change accord reached in Copenhagen, rich countries have agreed to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to the ravages of climate change. But a report this month by the United Nations Environmental Program estimates that the cost to poor countries of adapting to climate change could rise to as high as $300 billion annually — and vulnerable countries are stepping up their demands that more money be included in any final deal. Many vulnerable and developing countries insist that each country’s national pledge include not just a plan to cut emissions, but also money for adaptation.

    “The financing question will be one of the deepest divides,” said Jennifer Morgan, an expert in climate change negotiations with the World Resources Institute, a research organization.

    Another element to be hashed out by negotiators will be devising an international number-crunching system to monitor, verify and compare countries’ pledged emissions cuts.

    China has always balked at any outside monitoring of its major economic sectors, and is pushing back on proposals for rigorous outside scrutiny.

    Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that his country “always supports increasing transparency” but that the new reporting system should reflect “the reality that developing countries’ basic capacities in areas like national statistics and assessment are still insufficient.” He added that “developed countries should provide appropriate support to developing countries.”

    The United States has urged that a final deal not take the form of a legally binding treaty requiring Senate ratification, hoping to avoid a repeat of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol experience.

    But many countries continue to press for a legally binding deal.

    French officials have already given the yet-to-be-signed deal a working title: the “Paris Alliance.”

    The name, they say, is meant to signify that many different economies are working together, rather than complying with a single, top-down mandate.

    Edward Wong contributed reporting from Beijing.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:32 am on December 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology,   

    From NYT: “Study Gauges Plastic Levels in Oceans” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    DEC. 10, 2014

    It is no secret that the world’s oceans are swimming with plastic debris — the first floating masses of trash were discovered in the 1990s. But researchers are starting to get a better sense of the size and scope of the problem.

    A study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One estimated that 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, large and small, weighing 269,000 tons, could be found throughout the world’s oceans, even in the most remote reaches.

    Plastic debris washed up on a beach in Azores, Portugal. Credit Marcus Eriksen

    The ships conducting the research traveled the seas collecting small bits of plastic with nets and estimated worldwide figures from their samples using computer models. The largest source of plastic by weight comes from discarded fishing nets and buoys, said Marcus Eriksen, the leader of the effort and co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit group that combines scientific research with antipollution activism.

    Dr. Eriksen suggested that an international program that paid fishing vessels for reclaimed nets could help address that issue. But that would do nothing to solve the problem of bottles, toothbrushes, bags, toys and other debris that float across the seas and gather at “gyres” where currents converge. The pieces of garbage collide against one another because of the currents and wave action, and sunlight makes them brittle, turning these floating junkyards into “shredders,” he said, producing smaller and smaller bits of plastic that spread far and wide.

    When the survey teams looked for plastics floating in the water that were the size of grains of sand, however, they were surprised to find far fewer samples than expected — one-hundredth as many particles as their models predicted. That, Dr. Eriksen said, suggests that the smaller bits may be swept deeper into the sea or consumed by marine organisms.

    The result echoed that of a paper published this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found a surprisingly low amount of small plastic debris. Those researchers estimated as much as 35,000 tons of the smaller debris were spread across the world’s oceans, but they had expected to find millions of tons.

    Andrés Cózar, a researcher from the University of Cadiz who headed that study, said in an email that he and Dr. Eriksen came to different conclusions about the amount of plastic afloat, but that “it is evident that there is too much plastic in the ocean,” adding, “The current model of management of plastic materials is (economically and ecologically) unsustainable.”

    The fact that the small plastics are disappearing is hardly good news. In fact, it could be far more troubling than the unsightly mess the plastics cause. Plastics attract and become coated with toxic substances like PCBs and other pollutants. Researchers are concerned that fish and other organisms that consume the plastics could reabsorb the toxic substances and pass them along to other predators when they are eaten.

    “Plastics are like a cocktail of contaminants floating around in the aquatic habitat,” said Chelsea M. Rochman, a marine ecologist at the University of California, Davis. “These contaminants may be magnifying up the food chain.”

    The ocean studies make an important contribution to the understanding of the floating waste problem, said Nancy Wallace, director of the marine debris program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Further research should look beyond the surface to test where the smaller plastic bits might have gone: into the deeper ocean depths, along the shoreline or settled on the seafloor. “It’s premature to say there is less plastic in the ocean than we thought,” she said. “There may just be less where we’re looking.”

    Dr. Eriksen said the scope of the problem makes floating garbage collection impractical. His group has had some success with campaigns to get manufacturers of health and beauty aids to stop using small scrubbing beads of plastic in their products.

    Manufacturers of other products, he said, must be urged to change their practices as well. “We’ve got to put some onus on producers,” he said. “If you make it, take it back, or make sure the ocean can deal with it in an environmentally harmless way.”

    Dr. Wallace agreed. “Unless we can stop the flow — turn off the tap of these pieces of debris going into the ocean all the time — we’re not going to be able to stop the problem.”

    The American Chemistry Council, which speaks for the plastics industries, issued a statement saying that its members “wholeheartedly agree that littered plastics of any kind do not belong in the marine environment,” and it cited industry efforts to combat the problem, including the 2011 Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter, which has led to 185 projects around the world.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:31 pm on December 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ecology,   

    From astrobio.net: ” The emergence of modern sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, 2.6 million years ago” 

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Dec 1, 2014
    No Writer Credit
    Source Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment

    Four or five million years ago, the extent of sea ice cover in Arctic was much smaller than it is today. The maximum winter extent did not reach its current location until around 2.6 million years ago. This new knowledge can now be used to improve future climate models.

    Investigating Arctic sea ice. Photo: Thomas A. Brown and Simon T. Belt

    “We have not seen an ice free period in the Arctic Ocean for 2,6 million years. However, we may see it in our lifetime. The new IPCC report shows that the expanse of the Arctic ice cover has been quickly shrinking since the 70-ies, with 2012 being the year of the sea ice minimum”, says marine geologist Jochen Knies.

    In an international collaborative project, Jochen Knies has studied the trend in the sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean from 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago. That was the last time the Earth experienced a long period with a climate that, on average, was warm before cold ice ages began to alternate with mild interglacials.

    “When we studied molecules from certain plant fossils preserved in sediments at the bottom of the ocean, we found that large expanses of the Arctic Ocean were free of sea ice until four million years ago,” Knies tells us.

    “Later, the sea ice gradually expanded from the very high Arctic before reaching, for the first time, what we now see as the boundary of the winter ice around 2.6 million years ago,” says Jochen Knies.

    Satellite data reveal how the new record low Arctic sea ice extent, from Sept. 16, 2012, compares to the average minimum extent over the past 30 years (in yellow). Image: NASA

    The research is of great interest because present-day global warming is strongly tied to a shrinking ice cover in the Arctic Ocean. By the end of the present century, the Arctic Ocean seems likely to be completely free of sea ice, especially in summer.

    This may be of major significance for the entire planet ‘s climate system. Polar oceans, their temperature and salinity, are important drivers for world ocean circulation that distributes heat in the oceans. It also affects the heat distribution in the atmosphere. Trying to anticipate future changes in this finely tuned system, is a priority for climate researchers. For that they use climate modeling , which relies on good data.

    “Our results can be used as a tool in climate modelling to show us what kind of climate we can expect at the turn of the next century. There is no doubt that this will be one of many tools the UN Climate Panel will make use of, too. The extent of the ice in the Arctic has always been very uncertain but, through this work, we show how the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean developed before all the land-based ice masses in the Northern Hemisphere were established,” Jochen Knies explains.

    A deep well into the ocean floor northwest of Spitsbergen was the basis for this research. It was drilled as part of the International Ocean Drilling Programme, (IODP), to determine the age of the ocean-floor sediments in the area. Then, by analysing the sediments for chemical fossils made by certain microscopic plants that live in sea ice and the surrounding oceans, Knies and his co-workers were able to fingerprint the environmental conditions as they changed through time.

    A microphotograph of sea-ice diatoms (Pleurosigma stuxbergii), which scientists study to describe the extent of sea ice in the Arctic. Photo: Thomas A. Brown and Simon T. Belt

    “One thing these layers of sediment enable us to do is to “read” when the sea ice reached that precise point,” Jochen Knies tells us.

    The scientists believe that the growth of sea ice until 2.6 million years ago was partly due to the considerable exhumation of the land masses in the circum-Arctic that occurred during this period. “Significant changes in altitudes above sea level in several parts of the Arctic, including Svalbard and Greenland, with build-up of ice on land, stimulated the distribution of the sea ice,” Jochen Knies says.

    “In addition, the opening of the Bering Strait between America and Russia and the closure of the Panama Canal in central America at the same time resulted in a huge supply of fresh water to the Arctic, which also led to the formation of more sea ice in the Arctic Ocean,” Jochen Knies adds.

    All the large ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere were formed around 2.6 million years ago.

    The results of this new study are published in Nature Communications.

    • See the full article here.


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  • richardmitnick 5:27 pm on November 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ecology, ,   

    From NYT: “Climate Change Threatens to Strip the Identity of Glacier National Park” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    NOV. 22, 2014

    GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Mont. — What will they call this place once the glaciers are gone?


    A century ago, this sweep of mountains on the Canadian border boasted some 150 ice sheets, many of them scores of feet thick, plastered across summits and tucked into rocky fissures high above parabolic valleys. Today, perhaps 25 survive.

    In 30 years, there may be none.

    A warming climate is melting Glacier’s glaciers, an icy retreat that promises to change not just tourists’ vistas, but also the mountains and everything around them.

    Streams fed by snowmelt are reaching peak spring flows weeks earlier than in the past, and low summer flows weeks before they used to. Some farmers who depend on irrigation in the parched days of late summer are no longer sure that enough water will be there. Bull trout, once pan-fried over anglers’ campfires, are now caught and released to protect a population that is shrinking as water temperatures rise.

    Many of the mom-and-pop ski areas that once peppered these mountains have closed. Increasingly, the season is not long enough, nor the snows heavy enough, to justify staying open.

    What is happening here is occurring, to greater or lesser extents, in mountains across the North American West. In the Colorado Rockies, the median date of snowmelt shifted two to three weeks earlier from 1978 to 2007. In Washington, the Cascades lost nearly a quarter of their snowpack from 1930 to 2007. Every year, British Columbia’s glaciers shed the equivalent of 10 percent of the Mississippi River’s flow because of melting.

    The retreat is not entirely due to man-made global warming, though scientists say that plays a major role. While the rate of melting has alternately sped up and slowed in lock step with decades-long climate cycles, it has risen steeply since about 1980.

    And while glaciers came and went millenniums ago, the changes this time are unfolding over a Rocky Mountain landscape of big cities, sprawling farms and growing industry. All depend on steady supplies of water, and in the American West, at least 80 percent of it comes from the mountains.

    “Glaciers are essentially a reservoir of water held back for decades, and they’re releasing that water in August when it’s hot, and streams otherwise might have low flows or no flows,” Daniel B. Fagre, a United States Geological Survey research ecologist, said in an interview. “As glaciers disappear, there will be a reduction in the water at the same time that demand is going up. I think we’re on the cusp of bigger changes.”

    But shrinking glaciers are only the visible symptom of much broader and more serious changes. “We’re a snow-driven ecosystem, and glaciers are just a part of that,” Dr. Fagre said. “The way the snow goes is the way our ecosystem goes.”

    Lately, the snows are not going well.

    Mountain snowpacks are shrinking. In recent decades, rising winter temperatures have increasingly changed snows to rain. Rising spring temperatures are melting the remaining snow faster.

    “Imagine turning on your faucet in your sink and all your water runs out in an hour’s time,” Thomas Painter, a research scientist and snow hydrologic expert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in an interview. “Loss of snowpack earlier in the year compresses runoff into a shorter period of time.”

    Glaciers and year-round snowfields — accumulations of snow in colder locations, like shadowed mountainsides, that never fully melt — pick up the slack in summer. But they, too, are vanishing: In Glacier National Park, the number of days above 90 degrees has tripled since early last century, and the summertime span in which such hot days occur has almost doubled, to include all of July and most of August.

    Winters are warmer, too: A century ago, the last brutally cold day typically occurred around March 5. By last decade, it had receded to Feb. 15.

    Dr. Fagre, the park’s resident expert on snowpacks, glaciers and climate change, can see the changes firsthand. Grinnell Glacier, one of the park’s most studied ice sheets, feeds a frigid lake on the flanks of Mount Gould, more than 6,000 feet above sea level. “At the beginning, we had a 25-foot-high wall of ice that we were actually concerned about from a safety standpoint,” he said. “And now the entire glacier simply slopes into the water, with no wall of ice whatsoever.

    “All of that has melted just within the last 10 years.”

    At Clements Mountain, with a summit some 8,800 feet above sea level, what used to be a glacier is now a shrinking snowfield surrounded by 30- and 40-foot heaps of moraine, stones piled up by the ice as it pushed its way forward. One recent fall day, freshets of melted snow tumbled over rock ledges and down hills, past stands of Rocky Mountain firs.

    But that will change.

    “This snowfield will vanish,” Dr. Fagre said. “When that happens, this whole area will dry up a lot. A lot of these alpine gardens, so to speak, are sustained entirely by waterfalls and streams like this. And once this goes, then some of those plants will disappear.”

    For wildlife, Dr. Fagre said, the implications are almost too great to count. Frigid alpine streams may dry up, and cold-water fish and insects may grow scarce. Snowfall may decline, and fewer avalanches may open up clearings for wildlife or push felled trees into streams, creating trout habitats. Tree lines may creep up mountains, erasing open meadows that enable mountain goats to keep watch against mountain lions. A hummingbird that depends on glacial lilies for nectar may arrive in spring to find that the lilies have already blossomed.

    Trekking across what is left of the Clements snowfield, Dr. Fagre unexpectedly encountered a long-clawed paw print: from one of perhaps 300 wolverines said to remain in the lower 48 states. These solitary, ferocious animals have come back after trappers nearly eliminated them decades ago, but conservationists and federal wildlife experts are sharply at odds over whether rising temperatures imperil them.

    “Wolverines need deep snows to build their winter dens,” Dr. Fagre said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen to them.”

    For people, the future is somewhat clearer.

    Rising temperatures and early snowmelt make for warmer, drier summers as rivers shrink and soils dry out. That is already driving a steady increase in wildfires, including in the park, and disease and pest infestations in forests.

    But in the long term, the ramifications are more ominous than a mere rise in fires or dying trees.

    Moisture loss from early snowmelt is worsening a record hydrological drought on the Colorado River, which supplies water to about 40 million people from the Rockies to California and Mexico; by 2050, scientists estimate, the Colorado’s flow could drop by 10 percent to 30 percent.

    In the usually arid West, where reservoirs are vital, earlier and bigger snowmelt will disrupt the task of balancing water demand and supply. Experts anticipate an increase in disputes over water rights as a growing population competes for a shrinking resource. And farming, a major industry across much of the Rockies, will become even more of a gamble than fickle weather makes it.

    Indeed, complications have already surfaced. Dennis Iverson runs a 140-head cow-and-calf operation on several thousand acres about 25 miles northeast of Missoula, Mont. Five hundred acres are hayfield, irrigated with water from the Blackfoot River about one and a half miles away.

    Twenty years ago, the water flowed through an open ditch, and from the time the irrigation pumps were started on May 20, “we were able to irrigate the whole ranch,” he said. “There was always enough water, even to do some irrigating in July and August.”

    Now, Mr. Iverson starts the pumps on May 10, because a hotter spring has already dried out his pasture. The open irrigation ditch has been converted into an 8,000-foot underground pipe to prevent evaporation. “If we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t even be getting water to the ranch,” he said. “There’s that much less water in the stream than there was 20 years ago.”

    See the full article, with slide show an d park map, here.

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