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Morning photo: RMNP!

A little taste of high country heaven

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Trail Ridge Road view.

FRISCO — Dylan and I had a chance to visit Rocky Mountain National Park as part of the crowdfunded Climate Ranger project, meeting with a team of scientists who are monitoring conditions in the park’s alpine tundra as part of the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. The monitoring is part of a global program aimed at trying to track climate-induced changes with long-term data, because we won’t know what climate change is doing unless we study it closely. We’ll do more reporting on this topic in the next few days, but for now, a few pics from the Park. Click on the panos to see the full-size versions. Continue reading

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Report: Hot times ahead for Colorado

More heatwaves, wildfires and water shortages in the outlook

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Colorado will warm dramatically in the next few decades.

Staff Report

FRISCO — By the middle of this century, Denver’s average temperature could be 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today — on par with Albuquerque, according to a new climate report released by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in early August.

Even with deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, Colorado will continue to get warmer. An increase of at least 2 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century is all but certain, and that will have a big impact on the state’s water supplies, state officials said, reinforcing the results of a series of studies all showing that rising  temperatures will reduce the amount of water in many of Colorado’s streams and rivers, melt mountain snowpack earlier in the spring, and increase the water needed by thirsty crops and cities. Continue reading

Climate: Melting Antarctic ice sheets likely to become big factor in sea level rise sooner than thought

‘Official’ IPCC sea level estimates may be too low

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Antarctica ice is becoming a bigger factor in global sea level rise. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Although Antarctica’s vast ice sheets are only a small factor in global sea level rise right now, that’s likely to change in coming decades, scientists said after a new analysis of ocean temperatures around the frozen continent.

“If greenhouse gases continue to rise as before, ice discharge from Antarctica could raise the global ocean by an additional 1 to 37 centimeters in this century already,” says lead author Anders Levermann, with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Now this is a big range – which is exactly why we call it a risk: Science needs to be clear about the uncertainty, so that decision makers at the coast and in coastal megacities like Shanghai or New York can consider the potential implications in their planning processes,” says Levermann.

The scientists analyzed how rising global mean temperatures resulted in a warming of the ocean around Antarctica, thus influencing the melting of the Antarctic ice shelves. The marine ice sheets in West Antarctica alone have the potential to elevate sea level by several meters – over several centuries. Continue reading

Climate Rangers update: Heading for Rocky Mountain National Park

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Heading north …

Global monitoring for Alpine climate impacts

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —Rocky Mountain National Park has graciously invited our crowdfunded Beacon-based reporting projectto visit a high alpine basin where scientists can see how alpine areas respond to climate change.

The long-term observation site is part of a global network of mountain stations recording detailed temperature readings of air and soil, and carefully watching plant and animal communities. Continue reading

Study: Colorado pikas holding their own

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A Quandary Peak pika enjoys some sunny weather recently on his rocky ledge. bberwyn photo.

Plenty of good habitat left in the Colorado Rockies, researchers conclude

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — New surveys by Colorado wildlife biologists suggest that pikas seem to be holding their own as temperatures rise in the Rocky Mountains. The study found that pikas remain well distributed in the Colorado high country.

“In their primary habitat, mainly at and above timberline where there is lots of talus, we find pikas almost everywhere we look,” said Amy Seglund, a species conservation biologist for Parks and Wildlife based in Montrose. Continue reading

Global warming: Arctic snow cover shrinking steadily

Snow up to 50 percent thinner in some parts of Arctic

Ignatius Rigor

A detailed study shows dramatic thinning of the Arctic snow cover in recent decades, especially on the sea ice west of Alaska, Photo courtesy Ignatius Rigor.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Arctic snow cover has thinned significantly in recent decades, especially on sea ice off the west coast of Alaska, with some as-yet unknown consequences for the environment, researchers said this week in a new study accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.

In the study, led by scientists with NASA and the University of Washington, the scientists compared and analyzed data from  NASA airborne surveys, collected between 2009 and 2013, with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers buoys frozen into the sea ice, and earlier data from Soviet drifting ice stations in 1937 and from 1954 through 1991.

Results showed that snowpack has thinned from 14 inches to 9 inches (35 cm to 22 cm) in the western Arctic, and from 13 inches to 6 inches (33 cm to 14.5 cm) in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, west and north of Alaska. Continue reading

Wildlife: Feds punt on wolverine protection

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Wolverine habitat in the West.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will face new lawsuit over failure to give the species endangered species status

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — In a decision that’s certain to trigger a new round of lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it won’t put wolverines on the Endangered Species List.

The decision was made by the agency’s regional directors from the areas where wolverines are native. In a release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe contradicted all the best available science from his agency’s own biologists, claiming that there’s too much uncertainty about global warming impacts to list wolverines. Continue reading

Forest fragmentation alters global carbon cycle

Careful measurements show how roads and other disturbances affect moisture and the ability of fungi and bacteria to break down dead wood

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Forest fragmentation has a big impact on the carbon cycle. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —Logging roads, clearcuts and other disturbances that fragment forests can slow the decay of dead wood and significantly alter the cycling of carbon and nutrients in woodland ecosystems, according to a new study.

Scientists with Earthwatch and the University of Exeter (UK) took a hard look at global forest fragmentation, starting the well-known fact that the edge effect influences temperature, moisture and other elements of forest microclimates. But the effect on the carbon cycle is less understood, so the researchers used on-the-ground experiments combined with modeling to try and fill the gaps. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Can Colorado’s native greenback cutthroat trout make a big comeback?

Recovery team stocks genetically pure trout in historic habitat

A Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy Andrew Todd.

A Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy Andrew Todd.

FRISCO — Colorado’s native greenback cutthroat trout may be on their way to repopulating their historic habitat in the South Platte River Basin, thanks in part to a scientific sleuthing effort that helped trace the genetic roots of the colorful fish a couple of years ago.

About 1,200 greenback cutthroat fingerlings reared in federal and state hatcheries in Colorado were stocked into Zimmerman Lake, near Cameron Pass last week. An interagency recovery team hopes the stocking is a first milestone toward re-establishing populations of the state fish, which nearly vanished from Colorado’s rivers  because of  pollution, overfishing and stocking of native and non-native species of trout.

In 2012, scientists concluded that the only remaining genetically pure greenbacks were isolated in a small, single population — about 750 fish, all living in a four-mile reach of Bear Creek, a small Arkansas River tributary in the mountains west of Colorado Springs.

University of Colorado, Boulder researcher led the study that pinpointed the genetic history of the fish, clarifying the native diversity and distribution of several Colorado cutthroat trout strains. Tracking that history wasn’t easy. Historical records show that, between  1889 and 1925, more than 50 million cutthroat trout from the Gunnison and Yampa river basins were stocked in tributaries of all major drainages in the state, jumbling the picture of native cutthroat strains in Colorado through time and space.

“This is a conservation genetics success story,” said Metcalf. “We were able to use historical specimens to find out something quite novel about cutthroat trout biodiversity that has resulted in a management action. We are not just bringing a native species back to its historic range, but the greenback cutthroat trout, our Colorado state fish. I would have never imagined this outcome when we started our research in 2001.”

According to Doug Krieger, senior aquatic biologist for CPW and the Greenback Cutthroat Recovery Team leader, about 3,500 greenback cutthroat trout — offspring of fish taken from Bear Creek — have been raised at the Mt. Shavano State Rearing Unit and the Leadville National Fish Hatchery.

“We finally have the opportunity to bring these fish home,” Krieger said.

According to CU-Boulder Professor Andrew Martin, who spearheaded the 2012 study with Metcalf, researchers are trying to understand more about the characteristics of the greenback, including a collaborative effort to assess how the fish succeed in their new environment.

“Living in Zimmerman Lake in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest at an elevation over 10,000 feet will be very different from living in Bear Creek at 6,100 feet or living the ‘cushy’ life in a hatchery,” Martin said, explaining that researchers will closely watch the newly stocked greenbacks in Zimmerman Lake.

“This is an extremely challenging situation,” said Martin of CU-Boulder’s ecology and evolutionary biology department. “But this recovery effort has been a joint project of many different people with different interests and backgrounds combining their energy toward one specific goal. We have a chance to bring a native species back from the brink, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Colorado’s greenbacks, along with 14 other recognized subspecies, all originated in the Pacific Ocean, evolving along different genetic lineages in river drainages across the West.

 In Colorado, four lineages of cutthroats were previously identified: the greenback cutthroat, the Colorado River cutthroat, the Rio Grande cutthroat and the extinct yellowfin cutthroat. Work by the CU team also identified a previously undiscovered San Juan Basin cutthroat trout that is now extinct.

The study technique could pave the way for the gene sequencing of other wild creatures like reptiles and amphibians that were preserved in ethanol by early scientists, perhaps even helping researchers determine biodiversity levels in the late 1800s, said Metcalf,

 

 

Environment: New research shows exactly how systemic neonicotinoid pesticides harm honey bees

A widely used class of pesticides is probably responsible for a massive honeybee die-off.

Systemic neonicotinoid pesticides affect basic cell function in honey bees. bberwyn photo.

Toxic chemicals inhibit basic cellular functions

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —The latest in a series of studies linking declines in bee populations with systemic pesticides shows that fipornil and imidacloprid affect basic cell functions. The findings help explain why the pesticides are toxic to bees.

Essentially, the toxic chemicals inhibit mitochondrial bioenergetics, resulting in depleted cell energy. Honeybee flight muscles are strongly dependent on high levels of oxygen consumption and energy metabolism. Continue reading

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