Sunday set: Austria’s mountain farms

Alm journeys


This past summer, we spent several weeks exploring the world of Austrian Alms, high mountain pastures that are only grazed for a few months each summer. While we in the U.S. generally tend to prefer undisturbed mountain landscapes for their aesthetic and environmental values, these Austrian pastures have been grazed for centuries and even millennia. In the earliest days, as humans colonized the Alps after the last ice age, they had to use the higher slopes as forage areas because the valleys were still choked with glacial debris, wetlands and thick vegetation. That means the open meadows higher up were actually available for animal husbandry earlier than the lower elevations. In any case, the Alms now form an important part of the Alps’ ecological fabric, providing habitat for many wildflowers, including rare orchids, that wouldn’t thrive in a dark forest environment. Alms are also important to culture and recreation, as gathering points for hikers, and help ensure local food supplies. The first three in a series of grant-funded stories on this topic have been published at Pacific Standard, links below. Help support independent environmental journalism by visiting the stories and sharing them on your social media networks.

 

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Coral bleaching threat persists in Southern Hemisphere

Uptick in tropical cyclones intensifies impacts, hampers recovery

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A recent update from NOAA’s coral watch program shows that many reefs in the Southern Hemisphere face potential bleaching events in the next several months.

Staff Report

Along with the widely reported bleaching threat from over-heated oceans, coral reefs in many parts of the world also may have to cope with intensifying tropical storms, which could make it even more difficult for them to survive the Anthropocene.

New research published in the journal Global Change Biology looked at whether predicted increases in cyclone intensity might change the nature of coral reefs, using the Great Barrier Reef as a test case with reef data going back to 1996, as well as information gathered during recent tropical cycles. The study found that tropical cyclones between 2009 and 2014  caused record destruction of corals. Continue reading “Coral bleaching threat persists in Southern Hemisphere”

USGS study tracks West Coast El Niño erosion

Some of the biggest waves on record took a toll on beaches

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Santa Monica beach during a break from the El Niño storms of 2015-2016. @bberwyn photo.

The  2015-16 El Niño may have been a bust as far as precipitation in California, but it still ended up as one of the strongest episodes of the last 145 years, according to U.S. Geological Survey scientists who studied erosion along the West Coast.

They found that, on average, erosion was  76 percent above normal, with most beaches in California eroded beyond historical extremes. If, as some research suggests, El Niños become stronger in a warming climate, then the West Coast, with its 25 million inhabitants, will become increasingly vulnerable to coastal hazards.

The study covered seasonal changes at 29 beaches from Washington to Southern California. They used 3-D maps and aerial lidar imaging, GPS topographic surveys, and direct measurements of sand levels, combined with wave and water level data to measure the changes.

Winter beach erosion or the removal and loss of sand from the beach is a normal seasonal process, but the extent of erosion can be more severe during El Niño events than in other years.

Continue reading “USGS study tracks West Coast El Niño erosion”

How do ponds fit into the global warming equation?

New study shows warmup will boost methane releases

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Small ponds will speed up climate change as they warm up. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Small ponds could end up having a huge impact on Earth’s climate as they warm up due to heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution, according to scientists from the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University of London. The researchers experimentally warmed a number small ponds by about 4-5 degrees Celsius over the course of seven years to study the effects of increased temperatures. Continue reading “How do ponds fit into the global warming equation?”

How will global warming affect Colorado River flows?

Water woes ahead for the Southwest

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The Colorado River will be hit hard by climate change. @bberwyn photo.

Even if precipitation stays the same or increases slightly in the next few decades, Colorado River flows are likely to dwindle due to increasing temperatures in the West. The projected warming in the 21st century could reduce flows by half a million acre feet per year, according to a new study to be published in the AGU journal Water Resources Research. Continue reading “How will global warming affect Colorado River flows?”

January 2017 climate change hot spots include the Arctic, Australia and South America

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January 2017 was ‘only” the third-warmest January on record according to NOAA, and the second-warmest, according to the EU Climate Change Centre.

Staff Report

Along with recording the third-highest global average January temperature, scientists with the World Meteorological Organization have been tracking the Polar equivalent of heatwaves, as strong Atlantic storms driving temperatures in the Arctic to near freezing, at times 50 degrees Fahrenheit above the seasonal average.

“Temperatures in the Arctic are quite remarkable and very alarming,” said World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson. “The rate of change in the Arctic and resulting shifts in wider atmospheric circulation patterns, which affect weather in other parts of the world, are pushing climate science to its limits.” Continue reading “January 2017 climate change hot spots include the Arctic, Australia and South America”

Sunday set: Environmental journeys

Seeking knowledge …


I’ve been reporting on the environment for 21 years, so it’s not surprising that, even when I’m traveling on vacation, I tend to see nearly everything through a certain prism. That may be a blessing and a curse at the same time. It might be nice, every now and then, to completely tune out from the world’s problems and just live hedonistically. On the other hand, I feel like I can really connect with the people and places I’m seeing by understanding them in an environmental context. And in reality, I don’t really separate work and play all that much anymore. This past summer’s trek through the Austrian Alps to learn about climate change and sustainable mountain agriculture was a wonderful experience. Being a journalist gives me an excuse to exercise my curiosity. You can read about the environment and culture of the Austrian Alms here, and learn more about melting Arctic ice may affect you in this story