Category: agriculture

Air pollution seen as another factor in honeybee decline

Ozone degrades scent molecules

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Air pollution makes it harder for bees and other insects to find flowers. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Air pollution is changing plant odors, which confuses bees and makes them less efficient at foraging and pollinating plants, Penn State researchers said in a new study that shows how ozone breaks down plant-emitted scent molecules.

The chemical interactions decrease both the scent molecules’ life spans and the distances they travel, the scientists reported in the new study. They found that plant-emitted hydrocarbons break down through chemical interactions with certain air pollutants such as ozone. This breakdown process results in the creation of more air pollutants, including hydroxyl and nitrate radicals, which further increase the breakdown rate of plant odors. Continue reading “Air pollution seen as another factor in honeybee decline”

Can the Hochbärneckalm survive global warming?

Climate change threatens traditional mountain agriculture in the Alps

Hochbärneck Alm Austria
The Hochbärneck Alm (900 meters) in Lower Austria’s Alpine region. @bberwyn photo.

Supported by the Earth Journalism Network and Internews

By Bob Berwyn

LOWER AUSTRIA — Austria’s high alpine pastures, called Alms, are an important part of the country’s cultural tradition. For centuries, herders have driven cattle and sheep up and down the sides of the mountains following seasonal cycles of plant growth and snow melt.

The livestock grazing is managed mindfully to promote vegetation growth and biodiversity. It may be a difficult concept to grasp at first, but the rhythm of alpine grazing actually fosters biodiversity. Orchids, medicinal herbs and wildflowers thrive in the clearings and create lush green open patches in the landscape that are aesthetically pleasing.

In recent decades, the simple shelter huts near the pastures have also been developed as a recreational and economic resource, providing meals and lodging for tourists and serving as base camps for trekkers and cyclists.

At the Hochbärneck Alm, 900 meters elevation, there are also two ski lifts, but this past winter, they only operated for two days. Just 20 years ago, the ski season ran from late November through March. In recent years, it has barely snowed and temperatures were have been above the 20th century average nearly every day.

But climate change is taking a toll on Austria. The country’s average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, more than twice the global average of .85 degrees Celsius, according to a 2014 climate assessment. That warming spells big changes for mountain environments, including the bucolic pastures around the Alm. For now, the cowbells still chime, but the future is uncertain.

A sustained heatwave last summer hit Austrian agriculture especially hard, and the odds of more extreme weather are good, according to many recent climate studies. The heatwave also took a big bite out of Austria’s glaciers, where decades of rapid melting is one of the clearest signs of global warming.

Austria’s government has formally recognized the cultural, economic and ecological values of traditional mountain agriculture as part of its climate policies, and an ambitious national adaptation plan seeks to address the challenges by helping communities boost ecosystem health. Keeping forests, meadows and streams healthy is one of the best ways to protect against climate change impacts.

With support from the Earth Journalism Network and Internews, we’ll be exploring this topic for the next several weeks, following herders as they move their livestock up into the Alpine zone, on through to the end of the summer, when the cows-bedecked with flowers and bells, are driven back to the valley towns for the winter in a colorful procession.

We’ll explore some of the best practices for sustaining ecosystems and mountain communities and ask whether the farmers are getting the support that’s needed, as spelled out by the adaptation plan. And we’ll here from them what changes they’ve already experienced.

Follow our Twitter feed for frequent updates and Instagram for photos from the reporting project — and don’t be afraid to ask questions or add comments about global warming in the Austrian Alps. We’ll include those questions in our interviews with environmental experts, resource managers and government officials as we report on climate change in the Austrian Alps.

climate change austrian alps
Austrian farmers increasingly are having to adapt to big shift in seasonal weather patterns as the globe warms. @bberwyn photo.

 

 

 

Morning photo: Countryside …

Spring landscapes

The Lower Austrian landscape encompasses everything from wild beech forests and deep river canyons to manicured fields — not to mention acres and acres of vineyard, but that’s another story! Austrians are still getting used to the concept of national parks. Thayatal was founded in 2002, so some local visitors still don’t quite understand why the park managers simply leave downed trees on the ground. It’s considered a waste by some, and the park features signs explaining how it’s a deliberate effort to recreate landscapes where natural processes are left to function without much interference. In this small country, nearly every acre of land is spoken for, most of it outside towns and cities dedicated to agriculture, but slowly, resource managers are making some headway in restoring natural ecosystems in a few areas, to the benefit of native species.

Food waste a big factor in global warming equation

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A student at Summit Cove Elementary School drops an uneaten orange in the trash can. @bberwyn photo.

1.3 billion tons of food per year are discarded annually

Staff Report

By 2050, food waste could account for up to 10 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, according to scientists with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Reducing that amount of waste is one way of tackling climate change, the researchers said, explaining that about a third of global food production never gets anywhere near a plate.

That percentage could increase dramatically if emerging countries like China and India adopt Western diets. The study suggests greenhouse-gas emissions associated with food waste could increase from 0.5 gigatons to as much as 2.5 gigatons by mid-century. Continue reading “Food waste a big factor in global warming equation”

Morning photo: Marillenblüte

Spring in the Wachau world heritage region

Nothing says spring like blooming fruit trees, and one of the most beautiful places to view this annual spring spectacle is in the Wachau region of Austria, along the Danube River between Krems and Melk. Perhaps best known for producing stellar crops of apricots — not to mention wine grapes, the Wachau is designated as a world heritage region for the values of its cultural landscape, including agriculture, ancient castles and villages and terraced vineyards that have been cultivated for centuries.

The area’s natural forests were cleared during the Stone Age, from which date famed relics like the Venus of Willendorf, a fertility figure shaped some 25,000 years ago. Around 800 AD, bishops from Salzburg and Bavaria started cultivating the hillsides for wine grapes, creating the present-day landscape pattern of vine terraces. Learn more about the region at UNESCO’s world heritage website.

Study maps increasing threat of large wildfires in Europe

European wildfire danger
Smoke from wildfires burning in Greece in 2007 was captured in this image by NASA’s Aqua satellite. At least 60 people died in the fires, which also destroyed hundreds of homes. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory page for more information.

Global warming, shifting land-use patterns heighten risk to urban, tourist areas in Mediterranean region

Staff Report

It’s pretty clear that global warming is going to increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires in many parts of the world. One study has shown, for example, that massive fires in Siberia in 2012 were caused in part by a “stuck” weather pattern in the region.

A new study University of Leicester researchers maps high-risk wildfire zones in Europe, including cities and tourist areas like Catalonia, Madrid and Valencia — all tabbed as facing potentially catastrophic wildfires. Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Italy and Spain could also see more wildfires in the wildland-urban interface zone, according to the study published in the Journal of Environmental Management. Continue reading “Study maps increasing threat of large wildfires in Europe”

Global warming is already affecting wine production

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Wine grapes at harvest time in southern France. @bberwyn photo.

NASA, Harvard scientists study wine harvest dates in cool-weather countries

Staff Report

Global warming is changing centuries-old climate patterns that are crucial for wine production in cool-weather regions, a new study from NASA and Harvard concludes. After analyzing climate records and grape harvesting dates from 1600 to 2007, the scientists found that harvests started happening much earlier during the second half of the 20th century.

These shifts were caused by changes in the connection between climate and harvest timing. Between 1600 and 1980, earlier harvests were linked to years with warmer and drier conditions during spring and summer. After that, global warming caused earliers harvests in years without droughts. Continue reading “Global warming is already affecting wine production”