Sunday set: Hello, autumn!

Fall colors …

Clear autumn light, tinged by a low-angle sun through changing foliage, is one of the best times of the year to take landscape photos. In the past 12 months, I’ve enjoyed some spectacular fall scenery in the vineyards of southern Austria, the hill country of the Provence and mountain canyons in the Alps, and the magic stays the same — autumn is golden!

Endangered and invasive species meet in the desert Southwest

willow flycatcher
A southwestern willow flycatcher. Photo courtesy USGS.

New data to help inform tamarisk eradication and bird conservation efforts

Staff Report

New mapping by the U.S. Geological Survey may help resource managers in the southwestern U.S. figure out how they can bolster populations of the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher while at the same time trying to control an unwanted invasive plant that provides habitat for the tiny songbird.

The new report from the USGS provides detailed habitat information on the entire range of of the flycatcher, which breeds in lush, dense vegetation along rivers and streams from May through September. In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 1,975 stream kilometers as critical flycatcher habitat, located in six states and 38 counties.

“The satellite model provides us with new capabilities to locate and monitor potential flycatcher habitat within individual watersheds and across its entire range” said James Hatten, Research Biogeographer with the USGS and the report’s author. “The satellite model also revealed how the quantity of flycatcher habitat is affected annually by drought conditions, with habitat declining in California from 2013 to 2015, while increasing in New Mexico and Texas.” Continue reading “Endangered and invasive species meet in the desert Southwest”

California sea otter population growing steadily

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A Southern sea otter. Via USFWS.

Survey results show healthy core population

Staff Report

The Southern sea otter population is healthy at the core of its range along the California coast, but the aquatic mammals are still struggling to expand north and south, probably because of predation by sharks, scientists said as they released the results of the latest annual otter survey.

“The population index has exceeded 3,090 for the first time, and that’s encouraging,” said Lilian Carswell, Southern Sea Otter Recovery Coordinator for USFWS, referring to a threshold number for recovery. If the population stays above that number for three years in a row, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could consider a delisting proposal.Sea otters were presumed to be extinct in California in the early 1900s, but a remnant population of 30 animals was discovered and protected in the 1930s near Bixby Bay, north of Big Sur. They were listed as a threatened species in 1977, deemed at risk from oil spills. Continue reading “California sea otter population growing steadily”

How long can the oceans soak up CO2?

What’s the tipping point?

Researchers examine ocean acidification rates

Staff Report

For now, the world’s oceans are sucking up so much carbon dioxide that it’s helping to slow the rate of global warming. But that’s expected to change in the future, researchers warned after taking a detailed look at the rate of ocean acidification in the northeast Pacific Ocean. Continue reading “How long can the oceans soak up CO2?”

Antarctic krill could take a big global warming hit

A feeding penguin near the Antarctic Peninsula. @bberwyn photo.

Study projects major loss in habitat

Staff Report

Changes in ocean temperatures and sea ice formation around Antarctica could imperil the region’s krill — tiny crustaceans that are at the base of the food chain. Scientists say they’ve already documented a big drop in krill populations since the 1970s. Losing more krill would reduce the amount of food available for whales, penguins, seals, squid, fish and other marine life.

A new study published online in Geophysical Research Letters says up to 80 percent of suitable krill habitat could disappear by 2100. The research examines the effects of a warmer ocean and a decline in sea ice on these small crustaceans, said Andrea Piñones, a marine scientist at Center for Advance Studies in Arid Zones (Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Aridas) in Coquimbo, Chile, and lead author of the study. Continue reading “Antarctic krill could take a big global warming hit”

USGS study tracks Great Lakes microplastic pollution

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A new USGS study has documented widespread plastic pollution in many of the Great Lakes tributary rivers.

New website highlights the widespread problem of plastic debris

Staff Report

Microplastic pollution is widespread in many rivers flowing into the Great Lakes, according to U.S. Geological Survey scientists who recently took water samples from 29 Great Lakes tributaries in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and New York. The researchers found microplastics in all those streams, which together make up about 22 percent of the water flowing into the Great Lakes.

Earlier studies have found microplastics in the Great Lakes at similar concentrations as in some of the most polluted parts of the world’s oceans, as well as in the St. Lawrence River. And several other studies have found that microplastic pollution is pretty much everywhere.

Microplastics are created when plastic bottles and bags degrade, and are used in some cleansing products like toothpaste and lotions. The pollution is ubiquitous in nearly all the world’s waters. The results of the in the journal Environmental Science & Technology and are also posted on a new USGS microplastics website. Continue reading “USGS study tracks Great Lakes microplastic pollution”

Sunday set: Mountain time!

Around the Grossglockner …

Our reporting for the global warming in the Alps project took us to the high country around Austria’s highest peak, the Grossglockner, late last week, where we saw firsthand how the once mighty glaciers have dwindled to remnant shards of ice in the past few decades, with uncertain consequences for ecosystems below. The mountain valleys are still lush green in the Austrian high country, but there are great concerns that the meltdown could affect aquatic life in the streams below the glaciers, not to mention hydropower production, one of Austria’s main sources of renewable energy.