Science news and reports: Wetlands restoration, non-native fish, atmospheric rivers, the amazing life of sand, why past ENSO cases aren’t key to predicting the current case, and a new study shows shift from snow to rain decreases streamflow, and more …

The Columbia Glacier - one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world

The Columbia Glacier – one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world

In science news this week, Study finds restoring wetlands can lessen soil sinkage and greenhouse gas emissions; Do non-native fish have a place in the Delta?, Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park: fracture-controlled erodibility and great rock climbing; The amazing life of sand; Mussels on California Coast contaminated with giardia transmitted from land-based sources; New coral species off of California discovered; Landlocked Chinook salmon discovered in Oregon; Fish models: A (brief) history; Scientists replicate the tide with two buckets, aquarium tubing, and a pump; Synthetic fish measures wild ride through dams; Groundwater patches play important role in forest health, water quality; Why past ENSO cases aren’t the key to predicting the current case; The mystery of Earth’s water origin solved, plus the latest research on atmospheric rivers, the impacts of climate change on streamflows and more …
Weekly Science News

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Study finds restoring wetlands can lessen soil sinkage, greenhouse gas emissions: Restoring wetlands can help reduce or reverse soil subsidence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to research in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta by Dartmouth College researchers and their colleagues. The study, which is one of the first to continually measure the fluctuations of both carbon and methane as they cycle through wetlands, appears in the journal by Global Change Biology.  ... ”  Read more from PhysOrg here: Study finds restoring wetlands can lessen soil sinkage, greenhouse gas emissions

Do non-native fish have a place in the Delta? Speeding down a channel of the Cache Slough, an appendage of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, biologist Matthew Young deftly navigates our small research boat, which is sitting rather low in the water. Dressed in construction worker orange waders and a jacket, his curly brown hair protruding from under this green knit hat, Young, a marine biologist and a Delta Stewardship Council science fellow, is full of excited energy, which is remarkable considering both that it’s 4 a.m., and he and his team of researchers have three 12-hour days of fish sampling in the Delta ahead of them.  … ”  Continue reading from the Earth Island Journal here:  Do non-native fish have a place in the Delta?

Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park: Fracture-Controlled Erodibility, Great Rock Climbing: “Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park is an iconic American landscape: It is a sub-alpine meadow surrounded by glacially sculpted granitic outcrops in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Because of its accessibility and aesthetic appeal, it is a focal point for both vacationers (up to 4,200 people per day) and geoscientists. It also has historical significance: The idea for a Yosemite National Park came to John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson over a campfire there. ... ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park: Fracture-Controlled Erodibility, Great Rock Climbing

The amazing life of sand:  “Every grain of sand has a story to tell.  By studying the composition and texture of sand, geologists can reconstruct its incredible life history. “There’s just a ton of information out there, and all of it is in the sand,” said Mary McGann, a geologist at the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, CA.  McGann recently took part in a comprehensive research project mapping sand’s journey into and throughout San Francisco Bay.  Patrick Barnard, another USGS geologist who helped oversee the project, said that it will help scientists understand how local beaches are changing over time. In particular, Barnard wants to understand why beaches just south of San Francisco Bay are among the most rapidly eroding beaches in the state. … ”  Read more from KQED Science here:  The amazing life of sand

Mussels on California Coast contaminated with giardia transmitted from land-based sources: “The pathogen Giardia duodenalis is present in mussels from freshwater run-off sites and from areas where California Sea Lions lounge along the coast of California, according to a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis. One of the G. duodenalis strains found is known to infect humans; the two others occur mostly in dogs and other canids. “Thus, the detection of these assemblages implies a potential public health risk if consuming fecally contaminated water or uncooked shellfish,” says coauthor Woutrina Smith. The research is published ahead of print in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.  ... ”  Read more from PhysOrg here:  Mussels on California Coast contaminated with giardia transmitted from land-based sources

New coral species off of California discovered:  “In the first intensive exploration of California’s offshore areas north of Bodega Head, a consortium of federal and state marine scientists used small submersibles and other innovative technologies to investigate, film and photograph marine life that has adapted to survive in offshore waters reaching 1,000 feet deep.  The exploration took place in September on NOAA’s R/V Fulmar and focused on two main sites: the head waters of Bodega Canyon and “the Football” — an area west of Salmon Creek and north of the canyon nicknamed for its oval shape. Prior to this expedition, scientists knew little about these areas except that they were thought to contain nutrient-rich and biologically diverse marine life. … ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  New coral species off of California discovered

Landlocked Chinook salmon discovered in Oregon: “With the fall migration of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in full swing along the Pacific coast, students across the region are learning the classic salmon life cycle: fish are born in freshwater, migrate to saltwater, and return to freshwater to reproduce. This “anadromous” life history strategy that spans rivers and the ocean is almost the very definition of being a salmon. But some salmon actually bypass the middle, ocean-going phase entirely. For example, sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) have a landlocked form, known as kokanee, that skip saltwater altogether. Instead of heading to the ocean, kokanee migrate to and grow up in lakes, before returning to rivers to spawn. Fisheries scientists describe this entirely freshwater life-history strategy as “adfluvial.” … ”  Continue reading at the FishBio blog here: Landlocked Chinook salmon discovered in Oregon

Fish models: A (brief) history:  “In a previous Fish Report (The Salmon Mega-model), we discussed the very important role that mathematical models play in fisheries management. These models have quite an extensive history, dating back to the late 1800s, when Danish biologist Carl Georg Johannes Petersen estimated the size of a fish stock using a model (1896). This model assumed that marked fish became randomly distributed in the population. Though Peterson’s basic concept is still widely used in many modern fisheries models, today’s models are far more complex, and often consist of a large number of linked sub-models in an attempt to incorporate as many biologically meaningful processes as possible. … ”  Continue reading from the FishBio blog here:  Fish models: A (brief) history

Scientists replicate the tide with two buckets, aquarium tubing, and a pump:Rachel MacTavish is growing salt marsh plants in microcosms that replicate the tide. She assembled them in an outdoor greenhouse at the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve in Georgia, USA, with buckets from a hardware store, aquarium tubing, and pumps. Her tidal simulation units could be an important tool for preserving and restoring environmentally important wetlands, because they enable researchers to investigate tidal marsh plant growth in a controlled setting.  “Tidal wetlands are often influenced by many factors, and controlled experiments allow researchers to isolate and untangle the roles of individual variables,” explains MacTavish, a graduate student in the Department of Biology at Georgia Southern University. “I was inspired to construct and test this tidal simulation method as a way to examine the effects of added nutrients and salt in the water on salt marsh plant nutrient uptake.” … ”  Read more from Science Daily here: Scientists replicate the tide with two buckets, aquarium tubing, and a pump

Synthetic fish measures wild ride through dams:  “In the Pacific Northwest, young salmon must dodge predatory birds, sea lions and more in their perilous trek toward the ocean. Hydroelectric dams don’t make the trip any easier, with their humanmade currents sweeping fish past swirling turbines and other obstacles. Despite these challenges, most juvenile salmon survive this journey every year.  Now, a synthetic fish is helping existing hydroelectric dams and new, smaller hydro facilities become more fish-friendly. The latest version of the Sensor Fish — a small tubular device filled with sensors that analyze the physical stresses fish experience — measures more forces, costs about 80 percent less and can be used in more hydro structures than its predecessor, according to a paper published today in the American Institute of Physics’ Review of Scientific Instruments. ... ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Synthetic fish measures wild ride through dams

Groundwater patches play important role in forest health, water quality:Even during summer dry spells, some solated patches of soil in forested watersheds remain waterlogged.  These patches act as hot spots of microbial activity that remove nitrogen from groundwater and return it to the atmosphere, researchers from several institutions, including Virginia Tech, report in a leading scientific journal.  The discovery provides insight into the health of a forest. Nitrogen is an important nutrient for plant growth and productivity, but in streams, it can be a pollutant. … ”  Read more from Science Daily here: Groundwater patches play important role in forest health, water quality

Why past ENSO cases aren’t the key to predicting the current case: Lately, many of us are wondering if a 2014-15 El Niño is going to materialize, and if so, how strong it might become and how long it will last. It might cross some folks’ minds that the answer to these questions can be found by collecting past ENSO cases that are similar and see what happened. Such an approach is known as analog forecasting, and on some level it makes intuitive sense.  In this post, I’ll discuss why the analog approach to forecasting often delivers disappointing results. Basically, it doesn’t work well because there are usually very few, if any, past cases on record that mimic the current situation sufficiently closely. The scarcity of analogs is important because dissimilarities between the past and the present, even if seemingly minor, amplify quickly so that the two cases end up going their separate ways. … ”  Read more from the ENSO blog here:  Why past ENSO cases aren’t the key to predicting the current case

Mystery of Earth’s Water Origin Solved:Where do the oceans come from? The study headed by Adam Sarafian of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, found that our seas may have arrived much earlier on our planet than previously thought.  The study pushes back the clock on the origin of Earth’s water by hundreds of millions of years, to around 4.6 billion years ago, when all the worlds of the inner solar system were still forming.  Scientists had suspected that our planet formed dry, with high-energy impacts creating a molten surface on the infant Earth. Water came much later, went the thinking, thanks to collisions with wet comets and asteroids. ... ”  Read more from National Geographic here: Mystery of Earth’s Water Origin Solved

Research reports and letters …

Climatological Characteristics of Atmospheric Rivers and Their Inland Penetration over the Western United States:This paper quantifies the climatological frequency and duration of atmospheric rivers (ARs) over the western U.S., as well as the contribution of ARs to heavy precipitation events and cool-season hydroclimate over this region. ARs are objectively identified within reanalysis data based on integrated water vapor transport, which is not only shown to be well-correlated with cool-season precipitation over the West, but also useful for tracking AR penetration from the coast to the interior. Hence, this study lays the groundwork for the development of forecasting tools that will enhance the predictability of ARs and their impacts on the western U.S. This paper presents key findings from a dissertation completed by Jon Rutz at the University of Utah, and is coauthored by his advisor, Jim Steenburgh, and by the CW3E director, F. Martin Ralph. It has also become one of the 10 most-read articles in Monthly Weather Review for the year. ... ”  Read the abstract and download the paper at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes here:  Climatological Characteristics of Atmospheric Rivers and Their Inland Penetration over the Western United States

A precipitation shift from snow towards rain leads to a decrease in streamflow: (W. R. Berghuijs1,2*, R. A.Woods2 and M. Hrachowitz):In a warming climate, precipitation is less likely to occur as snowfall. A shift from a snow- towards a rain-dominated regime is currently assumed not to influence the mean stream- flow significantly. Contradicting the current paradigm, we argue that mean streamflow is likely to reduce for catchments that experience significant reductions in the fraction of precipitation falling as snow. With more than one-sixth of the Earth’s population depending on meltwater for their water supply3 and ecosystems that can be sensitive to streamflow alterations, the socio-economic consequences of a reduction in streamflow can be substantial. By applying the Budyko water balance framework to catchments located throughout the contiguous United States we demonstrate that a higher fraction of precipitation falling as snow is associated with higher mean streamflow, compared to catchments with marginal or no snowfall. Furthermore, we show that the fraction of each year’s precipitation falling as snowfall has a significant influence on the annual streamflow within individual catchments. This study is limited to introducing these observations; process-based understanding at the catchment scale is not yet provided. Given the importance of streamflow for society, further studies are required to respond to the consequences of a temperature-induced precipitation shift from snow to rain.”  Read this letter published in Nature Climate Change here:  Berguijs et al 2014 Berghuijs Nature Climate Change-1

From the archives of the San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Journal …

Central Valley Salmon ReportAs a new addition to science news, I’ll be looking into the archives of the San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Journal each week, and picking out something interesting and worthy of another look.  Let’s start off with the single most popular downloaded report from the journal’s archives:  Central Valley Salmon: A Perspective on Chinook and Steelhead in the Central Valley of California, by John G. Williams.  The report reviews information regarding salmon and steelhead that is relevant to the restoration or rehabilitation of Central Valley habitats and management of Central Valley rivers, and includes chapters on life stages, habitats, migration, hatcheries, modeling, and more.  Since its publication in 2006, the report has been downloaded almost 12,000 times.  For the report, go here:  Central Valley Salmon: A Perspective on Chinook and Steelhead in the Central Valley of California

Maven’s XKCD comic pick of the week …

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