USGS study shows that extreme rainstorms are critical for groundwater recharge in the West

‘Without them, groundwater resources become depleted’

Raindrops ... @bberwyn photo.
Raindrops … @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Extreme precipitation events that cause severe flooding, loss of life and property damage aren’t exactly at the top of the weather wish list for most people. But it turns out they play a key role in replenishing underground aquifers in the western U.S.

The importance of groundwater will continue to grow in the years ahead — an era of population growth and climate disruption, so understanding the connection between big storms and groundwater recharge is critical, according to U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Reclamation scientists who have released a new study analyzing large, multi-year, quasi-decadal groundwater recharge events in the northern Utah portion of the Great Basin from 1960 to 2013.

They evaluated groundwater levels and climate information and identified five large recharge events with a frequency of about 11 to 13 years. Findings show these events provide a significant amount of groundwater recharge and storage across the northern Great Basin, causing water levels to rise in aquifers. Continue reading “USGS study shows that extreme rainstorms are critical for groundwater recharge in the West”

Climate: USGS measures Alaska land carbon stock

How will Arctic tundra respond to climate change? @bberwyn photo.

New assessment finds increased plant growth will absorb more carbon through end of the century

Staff Report

With temperatures in the Arctic warming far faster than the global average, scientists have been trying to quantify how climate change will affect the carbon cycle.

A new study led by U.S. Geological Survey and University of Alaska at Fairbanks scientists took a close look at the question in Alaska — an effort to get some baseline data on the carbon cycle against which to measure future changes.

Alaska makes up about 18 percent of the total U.S. land area but accounts for about 35 percent of the total carbon stock. The future of that carbon has big implications for global climate. If it’s released quickly, it could drive up global temperatures more than expected. And the carbon stored in high latitude ecosystems is considered to be vulnerable to climate change because of global warming. Continue reading “Climate: USGS measures Alaska land carbon stock”

USGS scientists sound another warning on amphibian extinctions

boreal toad
The last living boreal toad found 2006 in the Cucumber Gulch wetlands in Breckenridge, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

Focused local conservation efforts needed to stem slow the rapid decline

Staff Report

In an era that’s already being defined by an unprecedented global rate of species extinctions, the amphibian die-off is especially troubling, and the trend continues unchecked, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

And for now, there is no smoking gun pointing to a single reason for the decline. That means there’s no easy answer, either, the scientists said, explaining that, across the U.S. there are multiple and geographically diverse factors that play role.

A 2013 study found that pesticides may be linked with die-offs of amphibians, bats and birds because the toxic chemicals suppress immunity. More recently, researchers identified a new invasive fungus that threatens salamanders in the U.S., and yet another study said pollution and climate change are key threats to amphibians. In Spain, a newly discovered virus is taking toll on amphibians. Continue reading “USGS scientists sound another warning on amphibian extinctions”

Neonicotinoid pesticide impacts extend to wild bees

Study tracks neonicotinoid pesticide exposure in wild bee populations. @bberwyn photo.

Are native bees at risk from systemic pesticides?

Staff Report

Native wild bees are being exposed to toxic neonicotinoid pesticides, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research in northeastern Colorado.

The research focused on native bees because there is limited information on their exposure to pesticides. In fact, little is known about how toxic these pesticides are to native bee species at the levels detected in the environment.

“We found that the presence and proximity of nearby agricultural fields was an important factor resulting in the exposure of native bees to pesticides,” said USGS scientist Michelle Hladik, the report’s lead author. “Pesticides were detected in the bees caught in grasslands with no known direct pesticide applications.” Continue reading “Neonicotinoid pesticide impacts extend to wild bees”

Climate: Permafrost meltdown triggers quick release of greenhouse gases to atmosphere

USGS researchers make ground-based permafrost measurements in Alaska.
USGS researchers make ground-based permafrost measurements in Alaska. Photo courtesy USGS.

Alaska study helps quantify climate impacts of melting permafrost

Staff Report

Much of the carbon stored in ancient Alaska soils could be released to the atmosphere shortly upon melting, according to a new study that aimed to help quantify how fast permafrost decomposes and how much carbon dioxide is produced in the process.

The measurements are important because frozen organic soils are not part of the carbon cycle — but they will be as they thaw, potentially releasing huge amounts of heat-trapping gases. Continue reading “Climate: Permafrost meltdown triggers quick release of greenhouse gases to atmosphere”

Environment: Study finds neonicotinoid pesticides widespread in streams across the U.S.

Bad for bees, bad for people? @bberwyn photo.
Bad for bees, bad for people? @bberwyn photo.

Will fish and water bugs be decimated by systemic pesticides?

Staff Report

FRISCO — Neonicotinoid pesticides are spreading throughout the environment with as-yet unknown effects on human health, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The agency found the systemic pesticides in more than half the streams sampled across the country and in Puerto Rico during a survey between 2011 and 2014. This study is the first to take a nationwide look at the prevalence of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural and urban settings.

The research spanned 24 states and Puerto Rico and was completed as part of ongoing USGS investigations of pesticide and other contaminant levels in streams.

Neonicotinoids have been found to kill bee’s brain cells, and are also taking a toll on wild bee populations. Use of neonicotinoids has been banned in national wildlife refuges.

European food safety experts are already taking a hard look at the potential for human health impacts, saying that acetamiprid and imidacloprid may have harmful effects on people’s brain development and recommended lowering levels of acceptable exposures. Earlier this year, citing unacceptable hazards to bees — and on the recommendation of the EFSA — the European Union put a two-year moratorium on the use of three widely used neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid. Continue reading “Environment: Study finds neonicotinoid pesticides widespread in streams across the U.S.”

Losing ground: Coastal erosion seen as big threat in Alaska

A NASA Earth Observatory image shows part of Alaska’s coast.

New USGS study measures North Slope shoreline losses

Staff Report

FRISCO — In the eternal battle between land and sea, the sea appears to be winning in northern Alaska, where much of the coastline is retreating at a rate of more than three feet per year, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The region has some of the highest shoreline erosion rates in the world, according to the research, which analyzed more than 50 years worth of measurements.

“Coastal erosion along the Arctic coast of Alaska is threatening Native Alaskan villages, sensitive ecosystems, energy and defense related infrastructure, and large tracts of Native Alaskan, State, and Federally managed land,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS. Continue reading “Losing ground: Coastal erosion seen as big threat in Alaska”