Category Archives: Nature

Headline of the day II: Gettin’ ready to rumble?


From the Los Angeles Times:

San Andreas fault ‘locked, loaded and ready to roll’ with big earthquake, expert says

Southern California’s section of the San Andreas fault is “locked, loaded and ready to roll,” a leading earthquake scientist said Wednesday at the National Earthquake Conference in Long Beach.

Ocean acidification is killing Florida coral reefs


Carysfort 2016 – The extensive thickets of staghorn corals are gone today replaced by a structure-less bottom littered with the decaying skeletons of staghorn coral. Credit: Chris Langdon, Ph.D.

Carysfort 2016 – The extensive thickets of staghorn corals are gone today replaced by a structure-less bottom littered with the decaying skeletons of staghorn coral. Credit: Chris Langdon, Ph.D.

Add carbon dioxide to water and you get carbonic acid, the same stuff the gives the tartness to carbonated soft drinks, and when rains pass through air overladen with COs, a dilute form of carbonic acid is created.

Coral reefs and the shellfish are especially susceptible to the corrosive effects of carbonic acid, so when we pour CO2, we’re acidifying the world’s oceans and turning them into a medium inimical to many of the creatures populating them.

Coral reefs are critical to the ocean ecology, and provide shelter for many of the fish on which much of humanity depends for their protein, particularly in Asia, where rice, the main grain staple, lacks the protein content of wheat.

Anyway, that’s one of the main reasons we’re concerned about ocean acidification, and now its corrosive effects are being felt along the shorelines of the U.S.

From the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science:

In a new study, University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science researchers found that the limestone that forms the foundation of coral reefs along the Florida Reef Tract is dissolving during the fall and winter months on many reefs in the Florida Keys. The research showed that the upper Florida Keys were the most impacted by the annual loss of reef.

Each year the oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and become more acidic, a process called ocean acidification. Projections, based largely on laboratory studies, led scientists to predict that ocean pH would not fall low enough to cause reefs to start dissolving until 2050-2060.

For two years, the researchers collected water samples along the 200-kilometer (124-mile) stretch of the Florida Reef Tract north of Biscayne National Park to the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. The data provide a snapshot on the health of the reefs, and establish a baseline from which future changes can be judged.

The results showed that reef dissolution is a significant problem on reefs in the upper Keys with the loss of limestone exceeding the amount the corals are able to produce on an annual basis. As a result these reefs are expected to begin wasting away leaving less habitat for commercial and recreationally important fish species. Florida Keys’ reefs have an estimated asset value of $2.8 billion.

In the natural scheme of things in the spring and summer months, environmental conditions in the ocean, such as water temperature, light and seagrass growth, are favorable for the growth of coral limestone. While, during the fall and winter, low light and temperature conditions along with the annual decomposition of seagrass, result in a slowing, or small-scale loss of reef growth.

However, as atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by seawater, ocean pH declines. The result is that the natural summer growth cycle of coral is no longer large enough to offset the effects of dissolution from ocean acidification.

“We don’t have as much time as we previously thought,” said Chris Langdon, UM Rosenstiel School professor of marine biology and ecology, and a senior author of the study. “The reefs are beginning to dissolve away.”

“This is one more reason why we need to get serious about reducing carbon dioxide emission sooner rather than later,” said Langdon.

The data for the study were collected in 2009-2010. The researchers suggest that a more recent analysis should be conducted to see how the reefs are faring today.

“The worst bleaching years on record in the Florida Keys were 2014-2015, so there’s a chance the reefs could be worse now,” said Langdon.

The study, titled “Dynamics of carbonate chemistry, production and calcification of the Florida Reef Tract (2009-2010): evidence for seasonal dissolution”  [$38 to read and print — esnl] was published in the May 2 issue of the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles. The co-authors include Langdon, UM Rosenstiel School alumnae Nancy Muehllehner and Alyson Venti, and David Kadko, now at Florida International University. National Science Foundation funded the study.

And the earth below: Horizon over the Baltic Sea


From NASA, another spectacular shot from the International Space Station:

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti captured this image while on the International Space Station. It shows cloud cover over England, Baltic Sea and the Persian Gulf. It also displays a golden aurora with a splash of red through the stars during the night of Dec. 15, 2014.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti captured this image while on the International Space Station. It shows cloud cover over England, Baltic Sea and the Persian Gulf. It also displays a golden aurora with a splash of red through the stars during the night of Dec. 15, 2014.

Heavens above!: Another spectacular solar flare


From NASA Goddard, another spectacular 4k video of a solar flare.

Crank the video toggle [at the gear knob] up to your monitor’s highest resolution and enjoy:

Program notes:

NASA’s 4K View of April 17 Solar Flare

On April 17, 2016, an active region on the sun’s right side released a mid-level solar flare, captured here by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. This solar flare caused moderate radio blackouts, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. Scientists study active regions — which are areas of intense magnetism — to better understand why they sometimes erupt with such flares. This video was captured in several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light, a type of light that is typically invisible to our eyes, but is color-coded in SDO images for easy viewing.

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Genna Duberstein

Map of the day: Drought, a Syrian conflict driver


The Syrian civil war, while driven in part by the policies of the Obama White House, was made possible by a combination of economic sanctions driven to new heights coupled with an ongoing Middle Eastern drought with its heaviest impacts in Syria itself.

Just how bad has that drought been?

Consider this map from Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria, a July 2014 report from Peter H. Gleick of the Pacific Institute in Oakland and published in Weather, Climate, and Society, a journal of the American Meteorological Society:

Millimeters of rain in the winter period from 1902 to 2010, showing a drop in rainfall in the 1971–2010 period (Hoerling et al. 2012). (b) Reds and oranges highlight the areas around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971–2010 than the comparison period of 1902–2010 (Hoerling et al. 2012).

Millimeters of rain in the winter period from 1902 to 2010, showing a drop in rainfall in the 1971–2010 period. (b) Reds and oranges highlight the areas around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971–2010 than the comparison period of 1902–2010.

Old growth forest buffer against climate change


To listen to corporate mouthpieces for Big Timber, a forest is a forest is a forest.

To them it doesn’t matter if the forest is an ancient and constantly evolving ecosystem or a tree farm planted by machines and harvested [also by machines] just like any other crop.

And those pesky tree-hugging environmentalists who say otherwise are just a bunch of airheads, right?

Well, no.

And, as it now it turns, those magnificent old growth forest are farm more than simply glorious sights for human eyes. They are also havens capable of protecting otherwise threatened species from some of the worst impacts of climate change

Differences in microclimate conditions across a gradient in forest structure. (A) Principal components analysis (PCA) showing how vegetation structure metrics differ between mature/old-growth forest sites and plantations. The ellipses represent 68% of the data assuming a normal distribution in each category (plantation and mature/old growth). (B) Three-dimensional LiDAR-generated images of plantation forests [(i) side view; (ii) overhead view] and old-growth forests [(iii) side view; (iv) overhead view] at the Andrews Forest. (C and D) Results from generalized linear mixed models show the modeled relationship between forest structure [PC1, the first component of a PCA on forest structure variables (A)] and the residuals from an elevation-only model of mean monthly maximum during April to June (C) and mean monthly minimum during April to June (D) after accounting for the effects of elevation. Closed circles represent 2012 and open circles represent 2013. Maximum monthly temperatures (C) decreased by 2.5°C (95% confidence interval, 1.7° to 3.2°C) and observed minimum temperatures (D) increased by 0.7°C (0.3° to 1.1°C) across the observed structure gradient from plantation to old-growth forest.

Differences in microclimate conditions across a gradient in forest structure.
(A) Principal components analysis (PCA) showing how vegetation structure metrics differ between mature/old-growth forest sites and plantations. The ellipses represent 68% of the data assuming a normal distribution in each category (plantation and mature/old growth). (B) Three-dimensional LiDAR-generated images of plantation forests [(i) side view; (ii) overhead view] and old-growth forests [(iii) side view; (iv) overhead view] at the Andrews Forest. (C and D) Results from generalized linear mixed models show the modeled relationship between forest structure [PC1, the first component of a PCA on forest structure variables (A)] and the residuals from an elevation-only model of mean monthly maximum during April to June (C) and mean monthly minimum during April to June (D) after accounting for the effects of elevation. Closed circles represent 2012 and open circles represent 2013. Maximum monthly temperatures (C) decreased by 2.5°C (95% confidence interval, 1.7° to 3.2°C) and observed minimum temperatures (D) increased by 0.7°C (0.3° to 1.1°C) across the observed structure gradient from plantation to old-growth forest.

From Oregon State University:

The soaring canopy and dense understory of an old-growth forest could provide a buffer for plants and animals in a warming world, according to a study from Oregon State University published  in Science Advances [open access].

Comparing temperature regimes under the canopy in old-growth and plantation forests in the Oregon Cascades, researchers found that the characteristics of old growth reduce maximum spring and summer air temperatures as much as 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to those recorded in younger second-growth forests.

Landowners who include biodiversity as a management goal, the scientists said, could advance their aims by fostering stands with closed canopies, high biomass and complex understory vegetation.

Management practices that create these types of “microclimates” for birds, amphibians, insects and even large mammals could promote conservation for temperature-sensitive species, the authors wrote, if temperatures rise as a result of global warming.

“Though it is well-known that closed-canopy forests tend to be cooler than open areas, little is known about more subtle temperature differences between mature forest types,” said Sarah Frey, postdoctoral scholar in the OSU College of Forestry and lead author on the study. “We found that the subtle but important gradient in structure from forest plantations to old growth can have a marked effect on temperatures in these forests.”

Temperature is also strongly affected by elevation and even small changes in topography, but the way forests are managed was a critical factor in explaining temperature differences. Researchers at Oregon State and Pacific Northwest Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service conducted the study at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest east of Eugene.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Map of the day II: Where two dangers intersect


From Maptitude: