Science News and Reports: March issue of ESTUARY News, State Water Board flow objectives, salmon habitat, a recap of recent Brown Bag Seminars, and more science news


Blooming phytoplankton off of Japan’s Hokkaido and Honshu islands, one of the images you can vote for in NASA Earth Observatory’s Tournament Earth 2014

March issue of ESTUARY News covers drought, longfin smelt, and changing nutrient conditions in the Bay, and more:  “It was so dry this winter Bay marshes browned, Sierra reservoirs dropped, and Delta waters cleared. California’s climate may still be Mediterranean but this year’s extremes are stressing fish, farmers and wildlife, leaving water and ecosystem managers planning for the worst. In this issue, ESTUARY explores the decline of longfin smelt, the innovative acquisition of a North Bay ranch for public wetlands, changing nutrient conditions in the Bay that could spur harmful algal blooms, and efforts to stave off drought impacts on salinity intrusion in the Delta. Other articles cover a new book on Suisun Marsh, a new community-supported fishery, and the retirement of the first woman hired to guard San Francisco’s water supply. You’ll also find a special section describing California efforts to help park, forest and wildlife managers cope with climate change.”  To read the issue, go here:  March issue of ESTUARY News

Delta Science Program Independent Panel Helps State Water Board With Flow Objectives:  “Following a two-day public workshop in early February, a panel of independent scientists convened by the Delta Stewardship Council’s science program is preparing a report intended to help narrow areas of scientific disagreement and uncertainty over the flows necessary for a healthy Delta estuary.  The report is expected to be completed by mid-March, and will be used by the State Water Resources Control Board to help set flow objectives for the Delta as part of the Board’s update of the 2006 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. Meeting those flow objectives is one of the requirements for consistency with the Council’s Delta Plan (Chapter 4, Ecosystem Restoration Policy 1 (23 CCR section 5005) and Recommendation 1). ... ”  Read more from the Delta Stewardship Council here:  Delta Science Program Independent Panel Helps State Water Board With Flow Objectives

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Delta Science Program’s recommendations on methods for determining regional instream flow criteria for priority Delta tributaries:  Phase 4 of the State Water Board’s update to the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan will develop and implement tributary-specific policies for priority tributaries to the Bay-Delta watershed, with a focus on the Sacramento River watershed.  This process will be setting criteria on tributaries that so far have not had such criteria determined for them, and so to aid in the process, the State Water Board has enlisted the help of the Delta Science Program, who produced this report:  Delta Science Program’s Recommendations for Determining Regional Instream Flow Criteria for Priority Tributaries to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  The State Water Board will be holding a public workshop on the report on March 19.  Click here for the meeting notice.

Collaborative Science and Adaptive Management Program (CSAMP) progress report:  The Court has granted another year’s extension on the remanded Delta smelt and salmonid biological opinions (see article here), having accepted the CSAMP progress report.  You can read the progress report submitted to the court here:  Progress Report to the Collaborative Science Policy Group

Collaborative Adaptive Management: Challenges and Opportunities: In researching the article on the judge’s ruling (see above), I came across this article in the journal Ecology and Society, written by Lynn Scarlett; here is the abstract: “Collaborative adaptive management merges three essential features of twenty-first century conservation and resource management—science, collaboration, and a focus on results. These features intersect in conservation and resource management contexts characterized by: (1) high degrees of uncertainty; (2) complexity resulting from multiple variables and non-linear interactions; (3) interconnectedness—among issues, across landscapes, and between people and place; and (4) persistent, possibly dramatic, change. In this context, many resource management decisions present communication challenges, information challenges, coordination challenges, and action challenges. Collaboration and adaptive management, in part, are responses to these challenges. Many resource management questions are technical and complex. But policies and project decisions have distributional effects and often involve trade-offs. These effects raise issues about the respective roles of scientists, technical experts, and the public; underscore the relevance of adaptive decision frameworks, and heighten the importance of collaborate decision making. This essay examines collaborative adaptive management in this context from the perspective of a decisionmaker.”  Read the article here:  Collaborative Adaptive Management: Challenges and Opportunities

Green sturgeon and entrainment:  “Living in the Sacramento River can be a risky business for juvenile green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris). The young fish must swim through a gantlet of water diversion pipes sticking into the river like so many straws, sucking up irrigation water – as well as unlucky fish. Once pulled into the pipes, a process known as entrainment, fish are either killed when they collide with water pumps, or get stranded once dumped into canals, ditches or farm fields. Essentially, all entrained fish are lost from a population, which can deal a blow to an already threatened species like the long-lived, slow-maturing green sturgeon that spawn in the Sacramento River. ... ”  Read more from the FishBio blog here:  Pulled into pipes: Green sturgeon and entrainment risk

Science fellow’s research looks at how flows restore salmon habitat:How do flow releases potentially restore salmon habitat? That’s one of the questions Delta Science Fellow Erin Bray sought to discover in her 2011-2013 research—a study that will help inform one of the recommendations outlined in Chapter 4 of the Delta Plan; to create more natural functional flows. … In 2009, plans were underway to release water from Friant Dam on an interim, experimental basis, as part of a court-approved settlement to restore a self-sustaining Chinook salmon fishery to the San Joaquin River. Bray’s project investigated the effects of those releases, as well as other factors, on physical properties such as water temperatures and the flow of water through the pores between gravel (intragravel) that create viable habitat for Chinook salmon. … ”  Read more from the Delta Stewardship Council here:  How do Flows Potentially Restore Salmon Habitat?

In terms of salmon spawning, bigger isn’t always better: While bigger salmon can carry more and move larger sediment than smaller salmon, the larger fish also take up more space in a riverbed when they build their nests, or redds, in stream gravel. Hence, bigger salmon can fit fewer redds into a particular riverbed area than their intermediate-sized counterparts, which can maximize the number of eggs they can place in a riverbed.  Simply put, smaller salmon take up less space when they nest and don’t have to move as many grains to lay their eggs, says Clifford Riebe, a UW assistant professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics. ... ”  Read more here from PhysOrg:  Smaller salmon spawn better in riverbeds than larger counterparts

A recap of recent Delta Science Program Brown Bag Seminars:  “Once or twice a month, the Council’s Delta Science Program (DSP) hosts educational brown bag seminars on diverse topics important to the Delta ecosystem and its watershed. These seminars, sponsored in conjunction with the Ecosystem Restoration Program and the Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program, are part of the DSP’s science synthesis efforts and provide a forum for the science and management community to gain insight about new and/or upcoming issues.  Here’s a look at what we talked about over the last two months ... ”  Read more from the Delta Stewardship Council here:  Brown Bags Spotlight Science and Management Issues

State Water Board posts appendix on mercury and fish tissue concentrations: Water board staff are currently writing a draft technical report for the Statewide Mercury Control Program for Reservoirs that will include reductions in controllable mercury sources to reservoirs, as well as address methylmercury formation and bioaccumulation within the reservoirs.  In preparation for that, water board staff have posted  Appendix A: Importance of Primary and Secondary Production in Controlling Fish Tissue Mercury Concentrations, which describes how productivity at the bottom of the reservoir food web affects methylmercury bioaccumulation. This appendix will be included in the draft technical report for the Statewide Mercury Control Program for Reservoirs and together they will be submitted to scientific peer review. Note that water board staff are not taking comments on this document at this time. The technical report is expected this summer.  Read the appendix here:  Appendix A: Importance of Primary and Secondary Production in Controlling Fish Tissue Mercury Concentrations  For more on the program, visit the State Water Board’s Statewide Mercury Program Page

Characterizing Nutrient TRENDS, Loads, and Transformations in Suisun Bay and the Delta: The conceptual model for the Pelagic Organism Decline recognizes that multiple factors may act in concert to degrade habitat in Suisun Bay and the Delta (Baxter et al.,2010).  Anthropogenic nutrient loads are considered to be one potential factor: recent studies hypothesize that anthropogenically-altered nutrient concentrations or ratios exert bottom-up pressures on Delta and Suisun food webs (e.g., Dugdale et al., 2007; Parker et al., 2012; Glibert et al., 2011).  Understanding the underlying causes of habitat degradation and the POD requires a broad and integrated analysis of all potential drivers. In addition, a better understanding of nutrient concentrations, sources, and fate in Suisun Bay and the Delta is necessary in order to inform near-term nutrient management decisions. The goals of this project are to use existing data resources to: 1. Explore seasonal, spatial, and temporal variability in nutrient concentrations,particularly forms of nitrogen, in Suisun Bay and the Delta. 2. Estimate nutrients loads into and out of these systems. 3. Assess the importance of nutrient transformations.”  View the poster from the SF Estuary Institute here:  Characterizing Nutrient TRENDS, Loads, and Transformations in Suisun Bay and the Delta

Placing Science-Based Tools in the Hands of Land and Resource Managers Planning for Climate Change: This insert is included with this month’s ESTUARY News:  “The timeline for impacts of climate change and sea level rise on Pacific coast wildlife refuges, Sierra habitats, state parklands, and federal forests gives us a few decades of wiggle room, but the time is now, not later, to make adjustments so species and landscapes can adapt, says Debra Schlafmann of the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative. This special 8-page progress report describes half a dozen projects providing just the kind of maps, data, models, and other information resource managers need to address this global challenge locally on the ground.”  To download the insert, go here:  California Landscape Conservation Cooperative Insert

Drought could wipe out key species on the Carrizo Plain:  ” … The state’s wild lands aren’t just drying up: They’re changing. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a vast stretch of grassland in the central state sometimes referred to as “California’s Serengeti.”  Grasslands are the most bio-diverse habitat in California, and Carrizo is particularly rich, supporting a variety of endangered and threatened species including giant kangaroo rats, blunt-nose leopard lizards, California condors and San Joaquin kit foxes. In most winters, a huge alkali sink in the middle of the plain fills up with water, attracting thousands of sandhill cranes. Pronghorn antelope and tule elk have been re-introduced. When there’s water—even a little water—the plain burgeons with square miles of wildflowers and teems with wildlife. ... ”  Read more from UC Berkeley’s Our Environment blog here:  California’s Endangered Serengeti: Drought Could Wipe Out Key Wildlife on Carrizo Plain

Less snowpack will harm ecosystem:  “A new study shows that the consequences of milder winters – a smaller snowpack leaving the ground to freeze harder and longer – can have a negative impact on trees and water quality of nearby aquatic ecosystems far into the warmer growing season. The research shows that soil freezing due to diminishing snowpack damages the roots of sugar maple trees and limits their ability to absorb essential nitrogen and other nutrients in the spring. This leads to greater run off of nitrogen into ground water and nearby streams, which could deteriorate water quality and trigger widespread harmful consequences to humans and the environment.”  More from Science Daily here:  Less snowpack will harm ecosystem, study shows

New invasive species research focuses on behavior: The joint research between Queen’s and several South African institutions centred on the behaviour of some of the “world’s worst” invasive species, including the large-mouth bass, an invasive fish which typically devastates invertebrate and other wherever it is introduced.  Previously, the search for general characteristics of invasive species had been elusive, but work carried out by Professor Jaimie Dick and post-doctoral researcher Mhairi Alexander, both from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s and Centre for Invasion Biology in Stellenbosch, South Africa, revealed that the ecological impacts of invasive species might be readily predicted from features of their behaviour. … ” Read more from PhysOrg here: New invasive species breakthrough sparks interest around the world

Research looks at humankind’s dramatic impact on an ecosystem:  “Researchers supported in part by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) have compared the effects of human activities with historic periods of climate change using data collected from wetlands along the lower Hudson River in New York State. What did they find? Over the past millennium, humankind has had the greatest impact on ecosystem change at the study sites.  The scientists were able to track how the ecosystem has changed during recent periods in Earth’s history, including the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and the Little Ice Age (LIA). They compared what they saw to more recent changes brought about by humankind. The results highlight just how dramatic a force of change humans can be on planet Earth. ... ”  Read more from NASA’s Global Climate Change here:  An ecosystem feels the human touch

NASA/JAXA launch effort to measure global rain and snow: The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a joint Earth-observing mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), thundered into space at 10:37 a.m. PST Thursday, Feb. 27 (3:37 a.m. JST Friday, Feb. 28) from Japan. The four-ton spacecraft launched aboard a Japanese H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima Island in southern Japan. The GPM spacecraft separated from the rocket 16 minutes after launch, at an altitude of 247 miles (398 kilometers). The solar arrays deployed 10 minutes after spacecraft separation, to power the spacecraft.”  More from Science Daily here:  NASA-JAXA launch mission to measure global rain, snow

The National Atlas and the National Map to merge this year:  “During this year, National Atlas of the United States and The National Map will transition into a combined single source for geospatial and cartographic information. This transformation is projected to streamline access to maps, data and information from the USGS National Geospatial Program (NGP). …  The USGS will continue its long history of providing topographic maps, geospatial data and other geographic information by offering a range of scales and layers of geospatial information on The National Map Viewer and through US Topo maps.  As a result of the conversion to an integrated single source for geospatial and cartographic information, will be removed from service on September 30, 2014.   “We recognize how important it is for citizens to have access to the cartographic and geographic information of our nation.  We are committed to providing that access through”, said Mark DeMulder, NGP Director.”  More from the USGS here:  The National Map and National Atlas Merge

See the underwater world from a shark’s perspective:  Proving once again that they can put a GoPro anywhere, the LA Times reports:  “Scientists have strapped cameras onto free-swimming sharks, capturing a shark’s-eye view of their underwater world.  The footage from 14 tiger sharks, six Galapagos sharks, five sandbar sharks, five bluntnose sixgill sharks and a prickly shark is the first to be taken of sharks, by sharks in their natural environment.  One clip from a camera attached to a male sandbar shark show the pursuit of a female; another shows its wearer’s point of view as it meets up with dozens of other sharks in a mixed group — including sandbars, oceanic blacktips and scalloped hammerheads — and swimming together for most of the day. ... ”  Read more and view a video from the LA Times here: Sharks with cameras: See underwater world from their perspective

Vote for the best Earth image in Tournament Earth 2014: Thirty-two will vie for the title, but only one can be the winner. They are the best Earth images of the year, the top 32 from 2013. But which ones will be good enough to survive head-to-head competition? From March 3 through April 4, Earth Observatory readers can vote for their favorite images of the year, whittling the total from 32 to 16 to 8 to 4 to 2 in a tournament of remote sensing science. The competition will be stiff in the four sections — Data, Art, Event, and Photograph — so it is up to you to separate the winners from the losers. Come back each week to vote in the next round and help us choose a winner.”  NASA’s Earth Observatory Tournament Earth 2014

Maven’s XKCD comic pick of the week:

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