Science news and reports: Climate change and California’s fishes, nutrients and pollution in SF Bay, drought, dams, river rocks and more, plus award-winning science visualizations

sfbay_oli_2013106_lrgWebinar on climate change and California's native fishes now available:  Earlier this month, the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy, a key partner of the Center for Watershed Sciences, held a webinar on climate change and California's native fishes with Peter Moyle and Rebecca Quiñones: “Today, nearly 50 percent of California’s native freshwater fishes face a high risk of extinction. Add the stress of climate warming, and the projected extinction rate rises to 83 percent within the next 100 years if present trends continue. Much of the unique California fish fauna will vanish and cede their habitats to carp, bass and other alien fishes. More effective conservation efforts would come from a better understanding of the biology and vulnerability of native fishes.  Presentation includes: Introduction to California fish fauna,effects of climate change on native and non-native species, and how we can buffer the effects of climate change on native fishes.”  Watch the webinar here:  Climate Change Threats to California Inland Fishes

The salmon survival pyramid:  “Throughout the watersheds of California’s Central Valley, bright orangey red salmon eggs are hatching into wiggling, yolk-sac-bearing alevin, developing and growing in the safety of river gravel. A similar transformation is also taking place in a more unlikely environment: inside classrooms throughout the state. Students participating in the Salmon in the Classroom program are currently raising salmon eggs in classroom tanks, watching the fish hatch and grow from eggs into alevin, and eventually into fry that they will release into the river.  FISHBIO staff recently visited a few participating classes to introduce an activity called the salmon survival pyramid. … ”  Read more from the FishBio blog here:  The salmon survival pyramid

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New draft permit for nutrient discharges into San Francisco Bay from wastewater treatment plants available for public review: The San Francisco Bay Water Board has released for public review a new draft permit for nutrients discharged from municipal wastewater treatment facilities in the Bay Area. This permit will be the first step in a multi-year plan to address a potentially growing problem with nutrients in San Francisco Bay. Recent research shows that reductions in Bay sediments and other factors have made the Bay more susceptible to adverse effects from excess nutrients. These effects include algae blooms and oxygen depletion that may harm fish and other aquatic life. The draft permit proposes requirements to characterize the quantity and types of nutrients wastewater treatment facilities discharge and to evaluate potential wastewater treatment upgrades. The draft permit would also require support of scientific studies in the Bay to inform whether nutrient reductions will be needed to avoid adverse effects in the future. The Water Board will consider adopting the permit at its hearing on April 9, 2014. … “  Read more here from the San Francisco Bay Water Board: New Nutrients Requirements on Wastewater to San Francisco Bay

Tracking next generation pollutants in the San Francisco Bay:  ““Without data, we wouldn’t have much to say about the State of the Estuary,” said James Cloern, as he kicked off the second session of Wednesday’s morning plenaries on water quality.  After thirty years of watching the ups and downs in the data streams coming in from various monitors in the Estuary, this US Geological Survey senior scientist is an avid proponent of public investment in collecting data on the water, in the water, over decades, and on a regular basis. His newest conclusion, after reviewing the latest trends in phytoplankton biomass and suspended sediment concentrations, is that the Bay’s historic resistance to nutrient pollution is weakening.  “The Estuary’s resistance comes from strong tides, high turbidity, and fast grazing [of algal blooms] by clams, but I’ve seen four signs that the Bay could now be on a trajectory toward the kinds of impairments seen in other nutrient-rich estuaries,” said Cloern. … ”  Read more from ESTUARY News here:  Tracking Next Generation Pollutants

A new source of water for coastal cities?  Fresh groundwater can underlie the ocean, extending far out to the sea.  Could this one day be a water resource for coastal cities?  KQED Science explains:  “Underground boundaries between land and sea aren’t as stark as they are to us as we stand on the beach. Water knows this. Groundwater everywhere responds slowly to changes above, even geological changes. In most of the Earth’s crust, water moves around a meter per year. This enormous contrast between surface water and groundwater may be the big fact that hydrologists appreciate more than the rest of us, even geologists, who know a lot about slow things. … ”  Read more from KQED Science here:  Could We Find Tomorrow’s Water Supply Under the Ocean?

NASA studies the drought:  “California is supposed to be the Golden State.  Make that golden brown.  The entire west coast of the United States is changing color as the deepest drought in more than a century unfolds.  According to the US Dept. of Agriculture and NOAA, dry conditions have become extreme across more than 62% of California’s land area—and there is little relief in sight.  “Up and down California, from Oregon to Mexico, it's dry as a bone,” comments JPL climatologst Bill Patzert. “To make matters worse, the snowpack in the water-storing Sierras is less than 20% of normal for this time of the year.” … ”  Read more from NASA Science here:  California Drought

Drought hurting plants, animals too:  “Humans aren’t the only creatures affected by the prolonged drought we’re enduring in California. Many of our floral and faunal friends rely on rain, rivers, streams and snow for survival. Their routines have already been altered by the lack of rain. And more change is sure to come with little precipitation on the horizon. Here is a quick look at just some of the powerful effects the drought is having on our state.  One of the scariest by-products of drought is the increased danger of wildfires. … ”  Read more from the Academy of Sciences here:  Drought hurting animals, plants

“Macro-portrait” of birds and wetlands under climate change:  Researchers have found a correlation between the amount of wetlands available and the abundance of waterfowl:  “More wetlands meaning more waterfowl may sound like a no-brainer, but researchers were able to land at conclusion using macrosystems ecology said Nancy McIntyre, a professor of biological sciences and curator of birds at the Natural Science Research Laboratory.  The research appeared in a special edition of the peer-reviewed journal, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, dedicated to macrosystems ecology.  “The novelty of what we're doing is in taking the weather data from the past to be able to say certain types of precipitation conditions led to X amount of available wetlands, which was associated with Y number of birds,” McIntyre said. “If future climate scenarios say we should get fewer but more extreme precipitation events, then we can estimate how many wetlands and birds will be around in the future, so long as no more wetlands are converted into farm use or turned into neighborhoods. That's work in progress. It sounds straightforward, but it has never been done because of the complexity and the massive amount of data used here.”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Macro-portrait of future bird and wetland scenarios under climate change

Could big dams provide engineered resilience to climate change?  ” … Until recently, scientists only studied how cold water releases from dams can send a thermal shock to downstream aquatic species — impacting fish growth and reproduction. But, not long from now due to the changing climate, what was a thermal shock could be a cool splash of relief, as dam managers increase efforts to mimic the timing and quantity of natural stream flows. A growing trickle of evidence, including a 2013 report [PDF] from Australia’s National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, suggests that dams can provide engineered resilience to climate change — if we can figure out how to dial in a suitable temperature. It’s a strategy dam managers around the world are exploring. … ”  Read more from Ensia here:  Big Dam Turnaround

How river rocks become round as they move downstream:  “For centuries, geologists have recognized that the rocks that line riverbeds tend to be smaller and rounder further downstream. But these experts have not agreed on the reason these patterns exist. Abrasion causes rocks to grind down and become rounder as they are transported down the river. Does this grinding reduce the size of rocks significantly, or is it that smaller rocks are simply more easily transported downstream?  A new study by the University of Pennsylvania's Douglas Jerolmack, working with mathematicians at Budapest University of Technology and Economics, has arrived at a resolution to this puzzle. Contrary to what many geologists have believed, the team's model suggests that plays a key role in upholding these patterns, but it does so in a distinctive, two-phase process. First, abrasion makes a rock round. Then, only when the rock is smooth, does abrasion act to make it smaller in diameter. … ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Geophysicist teams with mathematicians to describe how river rocks round

Water scarcity, water stress, and water risk – what's the difference?  The Pacific Institute's Insights blog explores: “Over the past couple years, the Pacific Institute’s Corporate Sustainability Program, in its role with the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, has been developing the Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines, which provide a common framework for how companies can report water-related information to stakeholders in a meaningful manner. One of the core goals of this effort is to encourage companies to report their water-related information in a more harmonized way, so that companies are thinking and talking about water in a similar, more comparable way. … ”  Continue reading from the Pacific Institute's Insights Blog here:  Defining Water Scarcity, Water Stress, and Water Risk: It’s Not Just Semantics

Report: Water Quality Impacts of Extreme Weather Events:  “The objective of this research was to identify and characterize water quality impacts, ranging through all levels of conveyance and treatment from source to tap, of extreme weather-related events. This project was specifically intended to support the Water Research Foundation’s Climate Change Strategic Initiative objective to provide water utilities with a set of tools to identify and assess their vulnerabilities, and develop effective adaptation strategies. By identifying the characteristics of extreme weather-related events, better characterizing the impacts of these events on water quality, and documenting the “lessons learned” from such events, we can help utilities obtain a better understanding of the potential impacts of extreme weather events on water quality so that they can prepare and respond to such events quickly and effectively.”  Read the executive summary from the report by the Water Research Foundation here: Water Quality Impacts of Extreme Weather-Related Events

The Conditions for Successful Collaborative Negotiation over Water Policy: Substance versus Process:  This working paper from the Department of Economics at the University of Calgary is written by Christopher Bruce and Kaveh Madani:  “Collaborative negotiation has been widely-used for developing water policy. Nevertheless, a serious lacuna remains in our understanding of the factors that determine whether the negotiators in this bargaining process will be able to reach agreement. This paper argues that this failure results because the literature has focused on the process that is followed in negotiations, to the virtual exclusion of the substance of the issues that are to be resolved. As a consensus can only be reached concerning a change in policy if each party receives compensation for the concessions that it makes, a pre-condition for collaborative negotiation is that each party must have control over some asset that it can “trade” with the other parties. When this condition is met, we say that the process has “substance.” … .”  Read the full paper here:  The Conditions for Successful Collaborative Negotiation over Water Policy: Substance versus Process

The beauty of atmospheric rivers and other weather phenomena:Puddles in the street and the drum of rain on the roof are beautiful sights and sounds for drought-stressed Californians. The forecast continues to call for big rain this weekend from an “atmospheric river,” a plume of moisture stretching thousands of miles across the Pacific and splashing onto land right smack on the Northern California coast. It’s not just the sight of water in the sky, though: visualizations of the rivers themselves are stunningly gorgeous. … ”  Find out more from Bay-Nature here:  The Beauty of an Atmospheric River

The National Science Foundation's International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge winners:The challenge, in its 11th year, was created to exemplify the old axiom: A picture is worth a thousand words. It celebrates the long tradition of using various types of illustrations to communicate the complexities of science, engineering and technology for education and journalistic purposes when words aren't enough. We asked contestants to provide visualizations that illustrate powerful scientific concepts,” said Judith Gan, NSF's director of Legislative and Public Affairs. “We were delighted by this year's entries. These visualizations are both beautiful and captivating; they connect scientists with citizens in a way that excites popular interest of subjects normally reserved for academic rigor.”  “The winners offer a feast for the eye and the mind, making complex science vivid and beautiful,” said Tim Appenzeller, Science's chief news editor. … ”  I”ll say!  Very cool.  Read the press release from the NSF here:  2013 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge winners named

The best of LandSat 8 (Picture credit):  NASA says LandSat 8 has delivered on its promises. “It was built to extend a four-decade record of Earth observations. One year after launch, Landsat 8 has deepened the archives and our insights — not just of the land, but of the sea and sky.”  See more images and find out more from NASA here:  Landsat 8 Delivering On Its Promises

Maven's XKCD Comic Pick of the week:

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