Science news & reports: Driest year in 500, climate change and Delta fish, sturgeon and diversions, Eel River observatory, good news for the Antioch dunes and more

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Tahiti, from NASA’s “Islands in the Sun” gallery
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This could be the driest water year in 500 years, says UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram:  She thinks the news stories proclaiming it the driest year on record aren’t truly capturing the seriousness of the situation:  “This could potentially be the driest water year in 500 years,” says Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary science and geography.  Ingram has an especially long-term perspective. As a paleoclimatologist — a scientist who studies changes in climate by teasing data out of rocks, sediments, shells, microfossils, trees and other sources — she’s accustomed to looking back over eons. And according to the width of old tree rings (which can record the coming and going of wet or waterless stretches), California hasn’t been so parched since 1580.  “These extremely dry years are very rare,” she says. ... ”  Read more from UC Berkeley here:  Why state’s water woes could be just beginning

Extreme drought by the numbers:  The FishBio blog takes a look:  “As a slew of recent headlines suggests, the water supply outlook for the San Joaquin Valley and the rest of California does not look good for 2014. In light of our lack of precipitation, snowpack, and water storage, Governor Brown recently declared the current drought an official state of emergency. The USDA Drought Monitor currently identifies 90% of the state in a Severe or Extreme Drought, with the worst conditions occurring in the southern Central Valley, and sure to have tremendous impacts on agriculture. Water managers around the state are scrambling to put water conservation measures in place for fear of a drought like that of 1976-77. However, some water saving measures, such as reducing the flows on the Sacramento and American rivers, will surely have damaging effects on Central Valley salmon and steelhead. …. ”  Read more from the FishBio blog here:  Extreme drought by the numbers

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Swimming upstream against climate change:  Fish surveys continue to show precipitous drops in populations of fish species and the future is not looking good:  ” … Moyle predicts that surveys such as this one will reveal even greater changes in coming decades — not only here in Suisun Marsh, but all across the state. The culprit? Climate change. An estimated 82 percent of California’s 129 native fish species have been deemed highly likely to dwindle in number — or go extinct — as a result of climate change over the next century, according to a recent article Moyle coauthored that appeared last May in the online journal PLoS One.  “There is already a general decline in native fishes — which is why climate change is such a problem,” Moyle says. “It accelerates the decline that’s already going on.”  The research that Moyle started decades ago now has a dual purpose: It offers evidence for the free fall, but it also may ultimately contribute to one of the best opportunities to soften this decline. … ”  Read more from Bay-Nature Magazine here:  Fish Forecast: Swimming Upstream Against Climate Change

Study says Sacramento River water diversions threaten green sturgeon:  “Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have used laboratory studies to estimate the risk to young green sturgeon, which may be killed by unscreened pipes that divert water from the Sacramento River into adjacent farm fields.  The study confirms that this ancient protected fish species may be jeopardized by the current system of water diversion pipes. The findings also suggest that the threat could be lessened by diverting river water more slowly and over longer periods of time, meeting agricultural needs while conserving the green sturgeon populations.  “Our work highlights the potential danger that unscreened water diversions pose to migrating juvenile green sturgeon — a risk that is poorly understood for this species,” said Jamilynn Poletto, a doctoral student in the laboratory of the study’s lead researcher Nann Fangue, an assistant professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology. … “  Read more from UC Davis here:  River water diversions threaten green sturgeon, study shows

New observatory for Eel River watershed:  “UC Berkeley scientists will receive $4,900,000 over the next five years to study the nearly 10,000 square kilometer Eel River watershed in Northern California and how its vegetation, geology and topography affect water flow all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  What the researchers uncover will help improve global climate models and modeling tools that can be used by state or regional decision makers to guide planning.  Their discoveries may eventually allow scientists to predict the impact of changing climate and land use on future droughts, floods, and supplies of water for drinking and agriculture. … “  Read more from PhysOrg here:  Eel River Observatory seeks clues to watershed’s future. The grant was one of four from the NSF.  Read the press release from the NSF here:  NSF awards grants for four new critical zone observatories to study Earth surface processes

UCD researchers discuss Sacramento splittail:  The River News Herald reports from a recent seminar:  “Friday marked the January installment of the Delta Science Program’s (in conjunction with the Ecosystem Restoration Program and Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program) “Brown Bag Seminar Series,” where experts on various issues pertinent to California’s water issues share their professional knowledge in a loose, yet informative, forum that serves to educate the public on the research performed at a multitude of higher levels of scholarship.  The focus of last week’s discussion was that of the two splittail populations that take residence throughout the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin River estuary.  Cited as a “California Species of Concern,” University of California at Davis researchers Dr. Melinda Baerwald, Dr. Nann Fangue and Dr. Ted Foin squeezed a remarkable amount of information into an hour-long presentation at the Cal EPA building in Sacramento.  The lecture outlined the ongoing research of the two different populations of splittail (San Pablo and Central Valley populations) that is currently being performed in both the field as well as in laboratories on the UCD campus. … ”  Read more from the River News Herald here:  UCD researchers discuss vitality of Bay-Delta splittail population.

River dredging project reaps big benefits for Antioch Dunes:(downsized) Dredged sand and river water piped to Antioch Dunes NWR  “The banks of the San Joaquin River, in the northeastern reaches of the San Francisco Bay estuary, were once lined with sand dunes twelve stories high. But decades of sand mining and encroaching development from heavy industries like shipbuilding have reduced the dunes to a few patches of land along the river, squeezing out much of the endemic wildlife that once called the dunes home. Two of those patches are the neighboring units of the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge—55 riverfront acres, tucked between a shipyard and a gypsum processing plant, that, at the time they were set aside in 1980, constituted the smallest national wildlife refuge in the country and the first ever created to protect endangered plants and insects.  Without a natural influx of sand, however—something that hasn’t happened since the adjacent dunes along the river were lost to development—even the protected enclave of the Antioch Dunes refuge struggles to maintain the riverine dune habitat that supports the federally endangered Lange’s metalmark butterfly, Contra Costa wallflower and Antioch Dunes evening primrose. … ”  Continue reading and find out how an innovative arrangement helped the refuge in the rest of this article from US FWS Field Notes:  ANTIOCH DUNES NWR: River Dredging Project Pays Unexpected Dividends for Endangered Species

FishBio blog reports on the installation of two PIT tag antenna arrays:  “California’s waterways are highly modified with extensive diversions. A special concern when diverting water through various canals and spillways is the entrainment of fishes, which can lead to increased mortality as fishes get stranded in diversion structures. In November 2013, we concluded our fish entrainment monitoring for two diversion tunnels in California’s Central Valley. FISHBIO fabricated and installed two of the largest Passive Inductive Transponder (PIT) tag antenna arrays built to date. These two fiberglass PIT tag antenna arrays each measure approximately 14 feet by 12 feet and weigh over 500 pounds each. … ”  Read more from the FishBio blog here:  A river ran through it

USGS and tribes work together on water issues:  “Water — in adequate quantities and quality — is key for healthy Tribal communities across the United States. Fundamental information on how much freshwater is available from streams, rivers, or aquifers, and whether that supply of freshwater is increasing or decreasing, is essential for the Nation’s economic and environmental health. Business and community leaders, farmers, wildlife managers, urban planners, homeowners, and people who use water for recreation all need very specific information about water for many different purposes.  Beyond its necessity and practical use, water on Tribal lands often has an added significance for its place in a Tribe’s cultural heritage. … ”  Read more from the USGS here:  USGS and Tribes Work Together to Gain Water Knowledge

New effort to map critical habitat for western wildlife:  “Along with global climate change, loss of habitat poses a prime threat to the well-being of Earth’s animals.  As people farm and develop more land that once teemed with a range of species, biodiversity and animal populations suffer. … Now, a new push by the Western Governor’s Association aims to map crucial habitat in the Western United States.  The project is dubbed CHAT, an acronym for Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool.  The project’s development depended in large part upon technology hones by the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program, a division of the Kansas Biological Survey.  The web-based tool was launched in December at the WGA’s winter meeting. … ”  Read more from PhysOrg here:  Research underpins effort to map, preserve wildlife in American West

The Winter 2013 edition of the NCRS’s Snow News is chock full of information that goes beyond snow and into how to use the new report generator, a climate science digest, a tornado browser and a rainfall atlas of Hawaii.  Check it out here:  Snow News

Cracked sea ice stirs up mercury concern: Just because it’s interesting …  “Vigorous mixing in the air above large cracks in Arctic sea ice that expose seawater to cold polar air pumps atmospheric mercury down to the surface, finds a NASA field campaign. This process can lead to more of the toxic pollutant entering the food chain, where it can negatively affect the health of fish and animals who eat them, including humans.  Scientists measured increased concentrations of mercury near ground level after sea ice off the coast of Barrow, Alaska, cracked, creating open seawater channels called leads. The researchers were in the Arctic for the NASA-led Bromine, Ozone, and Mercury Experiment (BROMEX) in 2012. … ” Read more from NASA’s Global Climate Change here:  NASA: Cracked sea ice stirs up Arctic mercury concern

Maven’s XKCD comic pick of the week:

Protip: You can win every exchange just by being one level more precise than whoever talked last. Eventually, you'll defeat all conversational opponents and stand alone.

Protip: You can win every exchange just by being one level more precise than whoever talked last. Eventually, you’ll defeat all conversational opponents and stand alone.

Picture credit:  Tahiti, from NASA’s Islands in the Sun gallery.  “We can take your mind, but you’ll need your own travel agent to get your body there.”  Click here to view the gallery.

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