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”→
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.
Dried grass glows under afternoon sunlight against the backdrop of a dark forest in Thayatal National Park, Lower Austria.
Late afternoon light shimmers on budding trees in Thayatal National Park, Lower Austria.
A fallen beech in Thayatal National Park, Austria.
Green tinged fields in Lower Austria under an evening sky.
A spring rainstorm builds above the agricultural plains north of Vienna, Austria.
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.
Apricot trees blooming the world heritage Wachau region along the Danube between Krems and Melk.
A wild fruit tree blooms along the Danube River near Dürnstein the world heritage Wachau region of Austria.
Delicate fruit blossoms promise a bountiful harvest in the Wachau world heritage region, along the Danube River near Vienna.
A riot of spring color as the fruit trees bloom in the Wachau.
A fruit orchard along the Danube bursts into full bloom in the Wachau world heritage region of Austria.
Spring greens dominate the steep hillsides of the Danube River Valley near Spitz, Austria.
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.
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”→
NASA, Harvard scientists study wine harvest dates in cool-weather countries
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”→