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Coral reefs can recover from pollution impacts

A diverse coral reef in the U.S. Virgin Islands. PHOTO BY CAROLINE ROGERS/USGS.

A diverse coral reef in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Photo by Caroline Rogers/USGS.

‘We’re desperately trying to save what’s left, and cleaning up the water may be one mechanism that has the most promise …’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — By setting up a long-term, controlled exposure experiment in Florida, researchers were able to pin down the impact of nutrient overloads and separate them from other possible causes of coral reef decline.

The three-year study, confirmed what scientists have long suspected — pollution from sewage, agricultural runoff and other land-based sources can lead to coral disease and bleaching.

The results showed that the prevalence of disease doubled and the amount of coral bleaching, an early sign of stress, more than tripled. However, the study also found that once the injection of pollutants was stopped, the corals were able to recover in a surprisingly short time. Continue reading

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Can dams help buffer global warming impacts?

Columbia River study shows potential benefits of stored water

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This image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) shows snowcover for the Columbia River Basin in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, taken on February 24, 2003 (250 meter resolution). Credit: Jeff Schmaltz MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — For all the environmental mayhem they’ve caused in the past, dams may help buffer some aquatic ecosystems from future global warming impacts, according to a new study from Oregon State University.

Specifically, the researchers said dams could provide “ecological and engineering resilience” to climate change in the Columbia River basin.

“The dams are doing what they are supposed to do, which is to use engineering – and management – to buffer us from climate variability and climate warming,” said Julia Jones, an Oregon State University hydrologist and co-author on the study. “The climate change signals that people have expected in stream flow haven’t been evident in the Columbia River basin because of the dams and reservoir management. That may not be the case elsewhere, however.” Continue reading

Study shows link between grizzlies, berries and wolves

More proof that apex predators are critical to their ecosystems

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Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem may be benefiting from the presence of wolves, according to a new study. Photo courtesy ChrisServheen/USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — There’s no question that top predators have profound impacts on their ecosystems, but sometimes those relationships play out in unexpected ways. New research by scientists from Oregon State University and Washington State University has documented how the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is helping grizzly bears.

By studying what bears eat, and how wolves affect the behavior of other animals, the biologists found that the return of the wolves is helping to restore a key part of the diet of grizzly bears that has been missing for much of the past century — berries that help bears put on fat before going into hibernation. Continue reading

Global warming likely to slow forest regrowth after fires

Warming climate increases moisture stress, making it tougher for seedlings to take hold and grow

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Global warming is likely to be a factor in forest regeneration after wildfires. This is the East Peak Fire, burning in June, 2013, on the east slopes of the Spanish Peaks above Walsenburg, Colorado. Photo courtesy Don Degman/Inciweb.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A warming climate in the West may slow or, or even stop, conifer forest regeneration in drier, low-elevation areas after big forest fires. In some cases, they may never grow back, instead converting to shrub and grasslands, according a new Oregon State University study.

The researchers concluded that moisture stress is a key limitation for conifer regeneration following stand-replacing wildfire. Both wildfires and more dryness are projected for big parts of the West by most climate models. This will make post-fire recovery on dry sites slow and uncertain. If forests are desired in these locations, more aggressive attempts at reforestation may be needed, they said. Continue reading

Climate: Melting glaciers threaten to disrupt ocean chemistry

Rapid deglaciation has the potential to affect fundamental ocean chemistry, with as-yet unknown impacts to marine ecosystems.

Rapid deglaciation has the potential to affect fundamental ocean chemistry, with as-yet unknown impacts to marine ecosystems.

Paleoclimate study shows similar changes at the end of the last ice age

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with ocean acidification, research is also showing that global warming may affect fundamental ocean chemistry by disrupting the nitrogen cycle and creating oxygen-poor marine regions. The impacts could reach to base of the food chain, by starving nitrogen-hungry algae and phytoplankton.

As ice sheets melted at the end of the last ice age and global oceans warmed, oceanic oxygen levels decreased and “denitrification” accelerated by 30 to 120 percent. Eventually, oceans had adjusted to their new warmer state and the nitrogen cycle  stabilized — though it took several millennia. Continue reading

Environment: Forest stream study traces nitrates

Even some ‘pristine’ streams show signs of human impacts

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New research helps shed light on long-term nutrient level changes. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nitrates are increasing even in some pristine forest streams in the mountain West and the South, while declining in the Pacific Northwest, in the Northeast, and in Puerto Rico, according to a new study led by Oregon State University researchers.

The long-term data from the Forest Service Experimental Forest and Range network, a system of 80 locations across the country. Many of the sites have long-term monitoring programs and data sets spanning decades and so provide unique opportunities to evaluate long-term trends. Continue reading

Global warming: Pacific Northwest study shows nuanced streamflow response to changing climatic conditions

Snow-fed rivers likely to see biggest impacts

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The mouth of the Klamath River in northern California. Photo courtesy Corps of Engineers.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As regional climate models improve, scientists in various disciplines have been able to fine-tune their projections of impacts to various ecosystems, including rivers. The Southwest is likely to get especially hard, with some studies showing a steep drop in Colorado River flows.

In other parts of the country, including the Pacific Northwest, the impacts will probably be more nuanced, with the biggest impacts on summer stream flows in basins fed by melting snow and ice in the high Cascades, according to study by scientists at Oregon State University.

Though these iconic rivers – including the Willamette, McKenzie, Deschutes, Klamath and Rogue – appear to have plenty of water, they also may be among the most sensitive to climate change, the study concludes. Continue reading

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