Category: Environment

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”

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?”

EU warns of persistent air quality violations

5 countries now on notice face potential legal action

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Clouds and haze over Vienna, Austria, where particulate air pollution often exceeds standards set to protect human health. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

Five large EU countries are on warning after repeatedly failing to meet air pollution  standards for nitrogen oxide, a precursor to smog and a serious health risk in and of itself. If Member States fail to act within two months, the Commission may decide to take the matter to the Court of Justice of the EU.

Studies have shown that more than 400,000 people die prematurely each year due to poor air quality, while millions more suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Persistently high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) caused almost 70 000 premature deaths in Europe in 2013, which was almost three times the number of deaths by road traffic accidents in the same year.

Because of the persistent breaches, the European Commission this week sent final warning to  Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, urging those countries to improve air quality and safeguard public health.

Continue reading “EU warns of persistent air quality violations”

Global warming hampers post-fire forest regrowth in Colorado

‘We are seeing the initiation of a retreat of forests to higher elevations’

A June, 2011 wildfire in Keystone Gulch burned within a few hundred feet of vacation homes and full-time residences at the Colorado resort.
A June, 2011 wildfire in Keystone Gulch burned within a few hundred feet of vacation homes and full-time residences at the Colorado resort. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Global warming is likely one of the main factors that’s preventing some Colorado forests from regenerating after wildfires.

When they started studying eight wildfire sites that burned across 162,000 acres of low-elevation forests along the Front Range, University of Colorado Boulder researchers said they expected to see young trees popping up all over the place, but that’s not what they found.

There were no seedlings at all in 59 percent of the study plots and 83 percent showed a very low density of seedlings. Future warming and associated drought may hinder significant further recovery, the researchers concluded. Only 2 to 38 percent of plots surveyed, depending on the fire site, were considered stocked, or on their way to recovery. Continue reading “Global warming hampers post-fire forest regrowth in Colorado”

Bye bye Bluebells?

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Bluebell with raindrops. @bberwyn photo.

Global warming affects spring wildflower blooms

Staff Report

Data gathered by citizen scientists suggests that bluebells and some other spring wildflowers are slipping out of synch with seasonal temperature cycles.  A study published this week in Global Change Biology looked at 22 species of plants; all of them were found to be responding to warming temperatures in spring, by changing when their leaves or flowers emerged.

The data come from  hundreds of thousands of observations by amateur enthusiasts submitted to the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar project. The findings show some are liable to adapt less well than others to rising temperatures, which can impact on their chances to grow and reproduce. Continue reading “Bye bye Bluebells?”