Category: Environment

Climate: Death Valley sets heat record in June

Death Valley heat record
Ripples on Mesquite Flat sand dunes, Photo courtesy Death Valley National Park.

Average temperature for the month more than 6 degrees above the historic norm

Staff Report

The deadly heatwave that spread across the southwestern U.S. in June also brought a new record high average temperature to Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth. According to the National Park Service, last month was the warmest June on record in the national park, with the average temperature for the whole month registering at 101.9 degrees Fahrenheit — about 6 degrees above the long-term average.

Death Valley’s average daily high temperature this June was 115.5 degrees Fahrenheit and the average overnight low was 88.2 degrees. In spite of a record-setting average temperature, Death Valley only set a new daily record one day last month, with 126 degrees recorded on June 21, 2016. The highest temperature ever recorded in Death Valley in June was just a few years ago: 129 degrees on June 30, 2013. Continue reading “Climate: Death Valley sets heat record in June”

Conservation groups seek trade sanctions against Mexico in effort to save the endangered vaquita

Continued illegal gill net fishing cited in push for ban on Mexican seafood

vaquita
There may be as few as 60 endangered vaquita remaining in the Gulf of California. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

In what could be a last-ditch effort to save imperiled vaquita in the Gulf of California, conservation advocates are urging the Obama administration to launch economic sanctions against Mexico to halt that country’s trade in totoaba. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the sanctions would be justified because Mexico is violating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) by not enforcing the ban on totoaba trade.

The June 28 letter to high level U.S. Cabinet officials is the latest step in a long-running an complex struggle to prevent extinction of vaquitas, an endangered porpoise that lives in only a small section of the upper Gulf of California. My some estimates, there may only be 60 individuals remaining. Continue reading “Conservation groups seek trade sanctions against Mexico in effort to save the endangered vaquita”

Reaching Paris climate goals would help polar bears survive

New research suggests that capping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius would lower chances of big population decline by preserving critical sea ice

 Eric Regehr, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Can these mighty Arctic predators survive the era of human-caused global warming?  Photo courtesy Eric Regehr, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Staff Report

Now that the world has a clear target for limiting global warming, scientists say they show how how achieving the goal would protect at least some ecosystems and vulnerable species from impacts.

One newly updated study found that aggressively cutting greenhouse gas emissions would help ensure the survival of polar bears, listed as threatened because of Arctic sea ice declines. Polar bears depend on the ice as platforms for feeding around the biologically rich continental shelves of the Arctic Ocean. Continue reading “Reaching Paris climate goals would help polar bears survive”

Colorado River pulse flow released surge of greenhouse gases

New growth in delta could offset CO2 released from riverbed

Colorado River delta
The Colorado River Delta captured in a 2004 image from the International Space Station. Via NASA Earth Observatory.
Our special series on the Upper Colorado River is made possible with support from the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Contact Summit Voice for other sponsorship opportunities and click on the banner to visit the river district online.
Supported by the Colorado River District.

Staff Report

Human management of natural ecosystems always has unintended consequences, and the Colorado River is no example. After decades of intense dam building and diversions, the mighty river is a mere shadow of it former self, reduced to a trickle in some places and polluted by return flows in others. Along its entire length, ecosystems, including riparian zones and native fish, have suffered, with some of the biggest impacts in the Colorado River delta.

In an effort to restore at least some key reaches of the river, scientists and water managers have teamed up to try mimic some of the Colorado’s natural functions, with controlled releases of water to build up beaches. Those efforts culminated in early 2014 during an eight-week experiment that unleashed a mighty torrent of water from Morelos dam (on the border with Mexico and the USA).

The huge surge (130 million cubic metres) of water raised river levels down to the delta, which has been starved of water for decades. Scientists closely monitored how the release — and potential future releases — affect agricultural crops and natural plant and animal life of the lower delta.

But the pulse flow had another side effect. As the water washed over earth and rocks that had been dried out for many years, it dissolved carbon and sent a surge of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Continue reading “Colorado River pulse flow released surge of greenhouse gases”

Court deal a win for fee-free public lands access in SoCal

Public lands access activists make progress in fight against recreation fees. @bberwyn photo.
Public lands access activists make progress in fight against recreation fees. @bberwyn photo.

Settlement addresses pesky Adventure Pass fees on 4 Southern California national forests

Staff Report

A long-running and stubborn battle by activists against the spread of public lands access fees has paid off once again in Southern California, where the U.S. Forest Service agreed to designate and mark free parking areas for hikers who aren’t using developed facilities.

The court-sanctioned deal stems from yet another legal battle over federal recreation fees. Public land agencies started charging for access to plug alleged budget holes; public lands advocates have been trying to limit the spread of the fees and make sure they’ve only levied in the places specifically authorized by Congress — namely at developed recreation sites, and not just for general hiking access. Continue reading “Court deal a win for fee-free public lands access in SoCal”

Sunday set: Changing world

Global warming will irrevocably alter the face of the Earth

The more I report on climate change and the environment, the more I learn to cherish the landscapes that I see, because it’s really starting to sink in that humankind, during this Anthropocene Age, is fundamentally changing Earth’s ecosystems, altering the climate and impacting the landscape on levels seem almost inconceivable.

Take the Danube River (or most other major rivers, for that matter), where I spent a few hours Saturday afternoon swimming to cool of from a hot summer day in the city. While the water offered cool relief, I couldn’t stop thinking about a story I wrote a few years ago about scientists who discovered how, at times, there’s more plastic pollution than fish larvae in Europe’s second-biggest stream.

And watching sunset colors tinge the Ötscher, the highest peak peak in the eastermost reaches of the Alps, was a reminder that global warming is inexorably changing mountain ecosystems to the detriment not only of nature, but to ancient agricultural practices that are a culturally important part of life in the Alps. Continue reading “Sunday set: Changing world”

Bleaching risk on the rise for Great Barrier Reef corals

Global warming is likely to overwhelm corals'
Global warming is likely to overwhelm corals’ built-in thermal tolerance mechanisms within the next few decades, leading to more bleaching and mortality. Photo courtesy Dr. Peter Mumby.

Study identifies bleaching and mortality thresholds for imperiled coral reefs

Staff Report

The steady rise in ocean temperatures projected for the next few decades will put more and more corals at risk of bleaching, as the warm water simply overwhelms their thermal tolerance mechanisms.

Recent research along the Great Barrier Reef shows that corals have been able to survive past bleaching events because they were acclimated to warmer temperatures by being exposed to a pattern of gradually warming waters in the lead up to each episode. But global warming is likely to change that, the scientists said.

Before long, temperature increases of as little as 0.5 degrees Celsius may push many corals over the edge as the warm water causes them to expel the algae-like dinoflagellates that help keep them alive and give them their color.

Lead author Dr. Tracy Ainsworth from Coral CoE said  bleaching is like a marathon for corals.

“When corals are exposed to a pre-stress period in the weeks before bleaching, as temperatures start to climb, this acts like a practice run and prepares the coral. Corals that are exposed to this pattern are then less stressed and more tolerant when bleaching does occur,” Ainsworth said. Continue reading “Bleaching risk on the rise for Great Barrier Reef corals”