Category: Environment

Legal wrangling continues over rare oil patch plants

The rare Graham's penstemon grows primarily in the oil and gas patches of western Colorado and Utah. Photo courtesy Susan Meyer.
The rare Graham’s penstemon grows primarily in the oil and gas patches of western Colorado and Utah. Photo courtesy Susan Meyer.

Federal court says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must take another look at listing decision

Staff Report

There’s a new legal twist in the long-running battle over rare wildflowers in northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah. This week, a federal court, restored Endangered Species Act protection for two species of penstemon that grow only in oil shale formations in the region.

Conservation activists won protection for the plants in 2013, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that 91 percent of Graham’s beardtongue populations and 100 percent of White River beardtongues were threatened by the impacts of oil and gas development. But a year later, the agency reversed course, claiming that a voluntary conservation agreement would mitigate those threats. Continue reading “Legal wrangling continues over rare oil patch plants”

New surveys confirm Great Barrier Reef damage

Heat-driven coral bleaching continues to take a toll

Staff Report

A new survey of the Great Barrier Reef shows that an ocean heat wave that peaked last March killed up to 95 percent of corals in some parts of the northern reef.  And in the aftermath of the worst coral-bleaching event on record, predatory snails are now taking on toll on the remaining corals.

According to the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, researchers recently returned to 83 reefs they surveyed at the height of the bleaching event.

“Millions of corals in the north of the Great Barrier Reef died quickly from heat stress in March and since then, many more have died more slowly,” said Dr. Greg Torda whose team recently returned from re-surveying reefs near Lizard Island. Continue reading “New surveys confirm Great Barrier Reef damage”

The lungs of the Earth

Study eyes forest ecosystem tipping points that can drive climate change

The tipping point of forest ecosystems can, in turn, drive climate change by altering the global carbon cycle. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Tropical forests are the Earth’s lungs, helping drive global respiration and transpiration – key steps in the climate cycle. That’s been the case for millennia, according to a University of California, Davis-led study that tracked atmospheric CO2 levels from 330 to 260 million years ago by examining fossilized leaves and soil-formed minerals.

The last time Earth experienced both ice sheets and carbon dioxide levels within the range predicted for this century was a period of major sea level rise, melting ice sheets and upheaval of tropical forests, where dramatically dynamic forest regeneration cycles were a big factor in driving the climate between warmer and cooler phases. Continue reading “The lungs of the Earth”

Sunday Set: Along the Danube


Most travelers have heard of the Wachau region. The fertile hillsides along the Danube River have long been designated as a World Heritage region for its cultural and natural landscapes. But just across the river is another slice of forest, the Dunkelsteinerwald, that’s not quite as famous but just as beautiful. On a mid-October weekend, we hiked from the pilgrimage town of Maria Langegg up the restored Aggstein Castle, which was built in the 12th century. Like many others  along the Danube, the castle was an outpost for charging toll to passing ships, a payment made in exchange for maintaining the paths along the shore that were used to tow ships upstream. But the area was inhabited long before that, with signs of civilization dating back to the Celtic era — and long before. Just across the river, construction workers in 1908 unearthed the famed Venus of Willendorf, a prehistoric fertility figurine dating back to about 25,000 BC.

Colorado River Delta still benefiting from flood experiment

Colorado River delta
The Colorado River Delta captured in a 2004 image from the International Space Station. Via NASA Earth Observatory.

Monitoring report documents renewed life

Staff Report

In just two years following a man-made flood in the Colorado River Delta, cottonwoods and willows have grown 10 feet tall, rebuilding habitat for other native plants and animals, according to a new monitoring report on the international experiment to re-water the long-arched region.

“This short-term event has had lasting consequences. This really demonstrates that a little bit of water does a lot of environmental good,” said Karl W. Flessa,  professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona. Continue reading “Colorado River Delta still benefiting from flood experiment”

Melting Andes glaciers pose risk in Bolivia

Research in the Andes challenges some of the conventional wisdom about glaciers and mountains.
Research in the Andes challenges some of the conventional wisdom about glaciers and mountains.

Water shortages, sudden floods on the climate change menu in South America

Staff Report

Researchers already know that the world’s tropical glaciers are melting fast, but a new study published in The Cryosphere, an European Geosciences Union journal, helps pinpoint some of the potential impacts. The research focused on the Bolivian Andes, where glaciers dwindled by 43 percent in the last 30 years. The melting ice has created lakes that could burst and flood downstream towns, according to lead author Simon Cook a lecturer at the Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK.

The glacier meltdown also threatens regional water supplies. The 2.3 million residents of  La Paz and El Alto get about 15 percent of their water supply from glaciers, and double that during the dry season.  One lake in the region has already dried up, according to the authors, who said their study is one of the first to look specifically at recent large-scale glacier change in Bolivia. Continue reading “Melting Andes glaciers pose risk in Bolivia”

How will Antarctica respond to global warming?

Long-term studies show potential impacts of climate change

Antarctic biodiversity is at risk from climate change. Photo by Bob Berwyn.
Antarctic ecosystems are at risk from climate change. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

A new set of scientific reports highlights the value of long-term observations in relatively undisturbed ecosystems and also offers a preview of how global warming may change Antarctica in coming decades.

The research shows that a period of unusual warmth in 2001 and 2002, caused by a confluence two natural climate cycles,  accelerated the microbial food chain and shook up the distribution of penguin populations and thinned glaciers according to October issue of the journal BioScience .

The research came out of two long-term ecological research stations, including Palmer Station, on the West Antarctic Peninsula, where scientists study how “changing sea ice extent influences marine ecology and the multilayered food webs of the coastal, nearshore, and continental slope ecosystems.” Other studies were done at the  McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER, in an ice-free polar desert where glacial meltwater plays a huge role in ecosystems. Continue reading “How will Antarctica respond to global warming?”