Science news and reports: Horizontal levees, the long view on sea level rise, next gen snow surveys, surf and turf, bacterial communication, and more!

Amoeba proteus, by Proyecto Agua

A new kind of levee: With sea level rise is predicted to rise at least one foot in the Bay Area, planners are preparing now for the deluge.  Wetlands have shown to be an effective barrier, but 80% of the Bay’s intertidal habitat has been lost to development.  The Bay Institute is working to evaluate a new type of levee that combines flood protection with habitat: ” … A “horizontal levee” is an expanded marshland in front of a manmade levee. By maintaining a wide tidal marsh in front of a manmade levee, urban areas are buffered from sea level rise.  Specifically, the marshland on the seaside of the levee can decrease the size and power of the incoming waves. It can also serve to buffer the incoming water and decrease the wear and tear on the levee. … ”  Read more from Quest here:  Are Wetlands Nature’s Best Defense Against Sea Level Rise?

Taking the long view on sea level rise:  A new study estimates that the sea level will rise about 7 feet over the next one thousand years for every degree (Celsius) that the temperature rises.  The study combined analyses of four major contributors to potential sea level rise into a collective estimate, and then compared it with evidence of past sea-level responses to global temperature changes:  ” ...”The study did not seek to estimate how much the planet will warm, or how rapidly sea levels will rise,” noted Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and author on the PNAS article. “Instead, we were trying to pin down the ‘sea-level commitment’ of global warming on a multi-millennial time scale. In other words, how much would sea levels rise over long periods of time for each degree the planet warms and holds that warmth?” … ”  Read more from PhysOrg here:  Scientists outline long-term sea-level rise in response to warming of planet

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The next generation of snow surveys:  Currently, snow is measured by snow surveyors on skiis and electronic sensors placed in the high country in reachable locations, but the results are imprecise and unreliable, much like measuring a football field by placing a pencil in one spot and making a measurement.  But a new experiment could change all of that:  ” … Painter’s plane, which he calls the “Airborne Snow Observatory,” is equipped with a LIDAR, a thick-beamed laser that rapidly pulses over the snow, pinging back readings that, when compared against baseline data from the pre-snow autumn, give Painter the snow depth, within 10 centimeters of variance. The spectrometer gives him what is called snow albedo, a measure of how reflective the snow is. This will tell him how much of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the snow. The whiter the snow is, the more it reflects that energy. The darker it is, the more it absorbs and the faster it melts. Combine this information with ground measurements of how dense the snow is—how much water it contains—and you can accurately predict what’s in store for spring. … ”  Read more from Pacific Standard here:  How NASA Hopes to Better Monitor and Control Our Water Supply in the West

The life of a salvaged fish … it’s not good:  ” … Fish — including endangered species like the Delta smelt — are put in holding tanks then trucked to other parts of the Delta and released. From there, little is known about their fate. But most scientists agree it’s not good. Predator often wait for what amounts to a daily feeding. … ”  So what happens once you’re caught?  Capital Radio takes you on a tour here:  The Challenges of Salvaging Smelt and Other Delta Fish

Cattle grazing and salmon:  The effects of cattle grazing are well known:  ” …  The negative impacts of cattle grazing on steelhead trout and other salmonids have been well documented. As livestock graze along riparian corridors, their heavy hooves erode and compact the soil, and also increase the width of streams by flattening riverbanks. Livestock are also associated with higher nutrient concentrations, higher water temperatures, lower macroinvertebrate abundance, and a decline in overhanging vegetation and shrub cover, all of which can be detrimental to salmon. … ”  However, a new study suggests that the two can coexist.  The Fishbio blog has more:  Surf and turf

Paying for drinking water infrastructure:  With California’s drinking water infrastructure needs totalling over $44 billion, how could we possibly pay for that?  ” … A new report from American Rivers describes in depth the various options available for financing new drinking water infrastructure. According to the report, about 90% of the financing for water infrastructure in the United States comes from two sources: State Revolving Funds (SRFs) and municipal bonds. The SRF distributes low-interest loans to water utilities for infrastructure projects, and municipal bonds are long-term, often tax-exempt debts that are issued by local governments or the water systems directly. These costs are ultimately borne by the customer and are repaid through water rates and other fees. … ”  Read more from the Pacific Institute:  Financing Drinking Water Infrastructure – Updates from the Golden State

New USGS report examines the health of our streams:  The national assessment looked at a wide array of assessments and measurements, such as biological communities, streamflow modifications, and the presence of chemical constituents:  ” …  To assess ecological health, USGS scientists examined the relationship of the condition of three biological communities (algae, macroinvertebrates, and fish) to man-made changes in streamflow characteristics and water quality. The ability of a stream to support these biological communities is a direct measure of stream health.  Stream health was reduced at the vast majority of streams assessed in agricultural and urban areas. In these areas, at least one of the three aquatic communities was altered at 83 percent of the streams assessed.  In contrast, nearly one in five streams in agricultural and urban areas was in relatively good health, signaling that it is possible to maintain stream health in watersheds with substantial land and water-use development. … ” More from the USGS here:  Health of U.S. Streams Reduced by Streamflow Modifications and Contaminants

Bacterial communication and sustainable agriculture:  Scientists have discovered that bacteria are quite good at group communication:  ” … Bacteria, it turns out, emit signaling molecules to “convince” neighboring bacteria to express a gene, and when a sufficient density of these molecules is detected, a positive feedback loop kicks in that gets the laggards on board. This phenomenon, known as quorum sensing, was first observed in bioluminescent bacteria 40 years ago, but its importance and applications are still being explored. For example, once the role of quorum sensing in causing virulent behavior (the ability to cause disease) to be expressed was understood, it raised the very exciting possibility that we might be able to interrupt that communication and thus keep the bacteria dormant rather than virulent (sometimes called “quorum quenching”). … ”  The Cool Green Science Blog has more on a project to apply this to agriculture:  Disrupting Bacterial “Communication”: A New Idea for Sustainable Agriculture

Fighting invasive species in the cloud:  Fast spreading invasive species can impact infrastructure, agriculture, and other industries as well as the ecosystem, but how can resources managers keep up?  Now there’s a new tool in the cloud: ” ...iMapInvasives is a cloud-based database and mapping system that tracks and monitors invasive species in real-time. The tool is being used in 7 states and spreading quickly (as fast as an invasive, you might say). It can be used for any taxa of invasive species — from common aquatic weeds like Eurasian watermilfoil to invasive insects such as Asian longhorned beetle — and it’s so easy that even citizen scientists can use it. … ”  Read more from the Cool Green Science blog here: Cloud Computing: A Key Tool in the Fight Against Invasive Species


Photo:  Today’s science photo is from flickr photographer Proyecto Agua.  More info (in Spanish) here.


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