Category: Earth

Importance of tiny creatures in grassland ecology

A newly published study reveals the importance of earthworms, beetles, and other tiny creatures to the structure of grasslands and the valuable ecosystem services they provide.

When asked to describe a forest or a meadow, most people would probably begin with the plants, the species diversity, or the color of the foliage. They probably wouldn’t pay much attention to the animals living in the soil.

But a new Yale-led study shows the critical importance of earthworms, beetles, and other tiny creatures to the structure of grasslands and the valuable ecosystem services they provide.

During a 3-year study, researchers found that removing these small animals from the soil of a replicated Scottish sheep meadow altered the plant species that grew in the ecosystem, reduced overall productivity, and produced plants that were less responsive to common agricultural management, such as fertilization.

The results reflect the long-term ecological impacts of land use changes, such as the conversion of forests to agricultural land…

“We know these soil animals are important controls on processes which cause nutrients and carbon to cycle in ecosystems, but there was little evidence that human-induced loss of these animals has effects at the level of the whole ecosystem, on services such as agricultural yield,” said Mark Bradford…lead author of the study…

“Yet that’s exactly what we found.”

RTFA for the details of approach, method, discovery. The Yale School of Forestry has been around a couple thousand years – it feels like, sometimes. They never stop pressing for more and better understanding of the environment.

Thanks, Mike

The Pentagon plans to deal with climate change — even if Congress won’t

In case the Pentagon didn’t make it clear enough that climate change is a real and dangerous thing in its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) earlier this year, perhaps the new Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap (PDF) will drive the point home. Some of the content is roughly the same, but that title sure makes it sound more desperate.

The gist is that the Pentagon’s futurists foresee a world where our changing climate has tremendous real-world effects, and they want to be ready. Lots of people know the climate is changing, but given the Pentagon’s budget, it’s nice to know they are preparing to protect us from things that might actually harm us …In the 2014 CCAR, the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, writes that the Department of Defense will focus on just those sorts of threats:

A changing climate will have real impacts on our military and the way it executes its missions. The military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters. Our coastal installations are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding, while droughts, wildfires, and more extreme temperatures could threaten many of our training activities. Our supply chains could be impacted, and we will need to ensure our critical equipment works under more extreme weather conditions. Weather has always affected military operations, and as the climate changes, the way we execute operations may be altered or constrained.

While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action.

Unless, of course, you’re a numbnut Republican or one of the remaining cowardly lions known as Blue Dog Democrats. No action is preferable to delayed action as far as they are concerned. Not that Hagel is much of an advocate when he prates about scientists “converging” towards consensus. Almost as stupid as saying we’re fairly certain astronomers are nearing the day when they can confirm the Earth ain’t flat. Since they’re afraid of offending folks worrying about falling off the edge.

The plan is laid out in some detail in the 20-page PDF that talks about how recurrent flooding is already affecting the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, “which houses the largest concentration of US military sites in the world” (page 2) and how “climate change will have serious implications for the Department’s ability to maintain both its built and natural infrastructure, and to ensure military readiness in the future” (page 8).

The Pentagon is also aware that it will likely need to conduct more humanitarian missions after natural disasters and it will need to have its weapons work no matter what the weather is like out there. We’ll see if the message is heard this time.

Thanks, Mike, great minds and etc.

Fighting wildfires with science

Fire modeling tools rely on information from the National Weather Service, detailed maps of fuel layers in forests and other factors. They estimate how fast the fire will burn and how it will spread in relation to vegetation, trees, homes and other properties.

For Joe Hudson and Byron Bonney, the WFDSS program calculated the Johnson Bar fire’s potential spread within a 26,000-acre planning area where firefighter actions could slow or stop the fire. The modeled fire behavior informed them on the potential effects on threatened values: homes along the Selway and in nearby Lowell, a rustic lookout, the historic Tahoe Trail, habitat for fish, and timber and replanted forests.

“Once the fire has escaped initial direct attack, the goal is to protect the values at risk and contain the fire,” said Hudson.

Hudson called in the Incident Management Team, an interagency group that manages large fires. The IMT set up camp Aug. 8 at the Kooskia airport, 20 miles west of the fire.

Winds were pushing the fire north. Winds were gusting 35 mph on the ridges, triggering an Aug. 12 flare that doubled the size of the fire in one day. People living in the 30 homes along the Selway already had been evacuated.

The IMT kept the fire from spreading and establishing itself on the other side of the river. The WFDSS analysis was helping guide their decisions.

With the fire spreading down the slopes of the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater River, the managers decided to perform burnouts using the rivers as barriers.

It worked. Welcome rains helped tame the fire. Firefighters were able to establish containment lines.

There are a few sections to this article – each valuable. It all leads up to fire science, divining the factors affecting heat, fuel and oxygen – the determinants of a fire.

Read the article. Especially if you live in the Moiuntain West.

TechKnow on Aljazeera America had a good segment on these studies a week or so ago. Here are the producer’s notes. Haven’t a video of the segment, yet – only a promo for the show.

Thanks, Mike

The Bárðarbunga eruption — from inside the Volcano

Iceland’s Bárðarbunga eruption has unleashed a huge quantity of lava — enough to create a landmass the size of Manhattan. What would it be like to watch that terrifying explosion from inside the volcano’s cone? Now you can see for yourself…

Here’s the whole video, as shot via drone by Eric Cheng of camera drone manufacturers, DJI. Cheng explains in a making of video that getting the footage resulted in a melted camera face. The SD card, however, survived, giving this footage possibly the most legit claim to the phrase “face-meltingly awesome” ever.

Wow!

Thanks, Mike

Photos from September — Reuters

As much as I criticize editorial content at Reuters since the takeover of this historic firm by the conservative Thomson organization – bespoiling a tradition of fairly neutral reporting on life and events around this small planet of ours – they haven’t yet screwed up the companion thread of collating great photography by some of the bravest and most talented folks working with camera graphics.

These are a few of what the editors feel were the best of September.

Palestinians commute along a road between ruins of houses, which witnesses said were damaged or destroyed during the Israeli offensive, in Beit Hanoun
Palestinians commute in ruins of Israeli invasion in GazaREUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Anti-war protesters hold up signs as U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel takes his seat to testify at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the ISIL on Capitol Hill in Washington
Anti-war protesters confront Secretary of War Chuck HagelREUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. Air Force pilots with the Thunderbirds perform the calypso pass maneuver at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho
Pilots with the Thunderbirds perform the calypso pass maneuverREUTERS/Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez

Pennsylvania State Police salute as they line the streets outside St. Peters' Cathedral in Scranton, as the casket carrying slain Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Corporal Bryon Dickson is carried into the Cathedral for his funeral service
Police salute at the funeral of slain State Trooper Bryon DicksonREUTERS/Mike Segar

Click through and reflect upon civilization, this past month.

Flights rerouted around Alaska beaches crowded with walrus climate refugees

Walrus, Odobenus rosmarus
Click to enlargeNOAA

The plight of thousands of walruses forced to crowd on to an Alaska beach because of disappearing sea ice has set off an all-out response from the US government to avoid a catastrophic stampede.

The Federal Aviation Authority has re-routed flights, and local communities have called on bush pilots to keep their distance in an effort to avoid setting off a panic that could see scores of walruses trampled to death…

Curiosity seekers and the media have also been asked to stay away.

An estimated 35,000 walruses were spotted on the barrier island in north-western Alaska on 27 September by scientists on an aerial survey flight.

The biggest immediate risk factor for the walruses now is a stampede – especially for baby walruses – but they have been facing a growing threat from climate change, the scientists said.

The extraordinary sighting – the biggest known exodus of walruses to dry land ever observed in the Arctic under US control – arrived as the summer sea ice fell to its sixth lowest in the satellite record last month.

“Those animals have essentially run out of offshore sea ice, and have no other choice but to come ashore,” said Chadwick Jay, a research ecologist in Alaska with the US Geological Survey.

Read the whole sad article.

The only animal that our politicians worry about is the bloodsuckers who fund their endless election campaigns.

Thanks, Mike

Pic of the Day


Click to enlargeHasan Ba lar/National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest

National Geographic’s annual Photo Contest is under way, which means it’s once again time to see some of the best travel photos that both amateur and professional photographers around the world have to offer.

The contest, which will wrap up at the end of the month, takes submissions in three simple categories – People, Places and Nature. The first-place winner in each category will win $2,500, and the grand-prize winner, in addition to first-place in their category, will receive $7,500 and a trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in National Geographic’s annual photo seminar.

All of the entries (the good and the bad) can currently be viewed on Nat Geo’s website, and they’re still taking submissions, so you can try your luck as well. Take a look!

Thanks, Ursarodinia