Science news and reports: Recognizing anthropogenic drought; Mercury-laden fog swirls over coastal California, researchers find; Melting snow and groundwater levels in the Sierras; Crazy hot days, crazy warm nights in the Central Valley; and more …

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Neon refinery exhibit, photo by Lori Greig

In science news this week, New journal article on recognizing anthropogenic drought; Mercury-laden fog swirls over coastal California, researchers find; Restoration efforts playing dividends for two key San Francisco Bay area endangered species; Melting snow and groundwater levels in the Sierra Nevada; Crazy hot days, crazy warm nights: A new study on climate change in the Central Valley; I flew with NASA to study the California drought from the sky; California levee’s vulnerability; The peninsula watershed: To open or not to open; The fingerprints of sea level rise, and more ….

Water and climate: Recognize anthropogenic drought: (Article by Amir AghaKouchak, David Feldman, Martin Hoerling, Travis Huxman & Jay Lund):  “Since 2012, California has been experiencing its worst drought in more than a century. Temperatures are breaking records and the region is down a year’s worth of rainfall1. Forests, fish and wildlife as well as the regional economy are struggling.  California is known as the United States’s salad bowl because of its prolific fruit, vegetable and nut production. But fields have had to be left fallow, contributing to statewide losses of US$2.2 billion in 2014 (ref. 2). More than 12 million trees have died (see go.nature.com/vrgp1e), with cascading impacts on amphibians, birds and mammals. Streams and wetlands are drying up, including the American River hatcheries of steelhead and Chinook salmon. More than 17,000 jobs have been lost, mainly in poor rural communities.  … ”  Read more from Nature.com here:  Water and climate: Recognize anthropogenic drought

Mercury-laden fog swirls over coastal California, researchers find:  “What do the roof of a building in a West Coast redwood forest, a bluff in California chaparral, and a research vessel in Monterey Bay have in common? They’re often draped in tendrils of fog. That makes them prime sites for collecting fog water samples. And there’s something else that can be found at those sites: , according to atmospheric chemist Peter Weiss-Penzias of the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC).  ... ” Read more from Phys Org here:  Mercury-laden fog swirls over coastal California, researchers find

Restoration efforts playing dividends for two key San Francisco Bay area endangered species: The week of July 20 proved to be a huge milestone for two endangered species and a restoration area known as Pond A21, located on the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge near San Jose, CA.  Pond A21, one of the Island Ponds, is a key component of an impressive effort that began in 2003, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife acquired approximately 15,000 acres of former commercial salt ponds from the Cargill Salt Company with the goal of restoring the area for a variety of native species – including endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and California clapper rail, recently renamed Ridgway’s rail. Another significant marker occurred in 2006, when A21 was breached as part of the Initial Stewardship Plan of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. … ”  Read more from the US FWS Field notes here:  Restoration efforts playing dividends for two key San Francisco Bay area endangered species

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Melting snow and groundwater levels in the Sierra Nevada: Most of us have strong opinions about snow during the winter. For some, it’s a curse. Others enjoy the recreation heavy snowfall brings. Yet, once warmer weather comes, we tend to forget about those piles of fluffy white stuff that once towered over our driveways.  In mountainous regions, snow cover plays a critical role in water supplies. Typically, melting snow meets with three fates. It can run off the surface of the soil. It can evaporate and return moisture to the air. Finally — and most importantly — it can replenish underground water levels. This process is groundwater recharge. … ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Melting snow and groundwater levels in the Sierra Nevada

Crazy hot days, crazy warm nights: A new study on climate change in the Central Valley:  “Last week I, along with an international group of scientists, published a study in the journal Climatic Change in which we found that the hottest summer days (24 hour periods) in the Central Valley were twice as likely to occur due to climate change. Heat waves in California’s Central Valley have become progressively more severe in recent decades due to  higher humidity and warmer nighttime temperatures. Observations obtained from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center show that Central Valley nighttime temperatures were nearly 2°F (1°C) warmer in the 2000s compared to the 1901-1960 average and even higher for the whole of California  ... ”  Read more from The Equation blog here:  Crazy hot days, crazy warm nights

I flew with NASA to study the California drought from the sky:  “It didn’t look good. Dark sapphire pools dotted the bare grey peaks of the Sierras, ringed in too many concentric circles of sediment to count. As I flew above the mountains with NASA scientists on a tricked-out DC-8 plane, the effects of four years of drought were painfully evident to the naked eye. But it’s what we couldn’t see that we were here to study.  For a week this summer, NASA’s flying laboratory did loops over California as part of the Student Airborne Research Program, known as SARP. Students from all over the country work closely with the agency to collect data to study topics from industrial pollution to the health of local forests.  And for the past few years, the effects of California’s drought. … ”  Read more from Gizmodo Australia here:  I flew with NASA to study the California drought from the sky

California levee’s vulnerability:  “Farshid Vahedifard, an MSU faculty member since 2012, is lead author on the letter titled “Drought threatens California’s levees.”  The letter discusses the threats that ongoing extreme drought poses on California’s levee systems and highlights an urgent need to invest in research regarding the vulnerabilities of these systems under extreme climatic events. Earthen levees protect dry land from floods and function as water storage and management systems, the letter states. Vahedifard points to a 2011 report by the California Department of Water Resources which says that over 21,000 kilometers of earthen levees deliver approximately two-thirds of potable water to more than 23 million Californians and protect more than $47 billion worth of homes and businesses from flooding.  However, current drought conditions pose “a great risk to an already endangered levee system,” the authors warn. ... ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  California levee’s vulnerability

The peninsula watershed: To open or not to open:The hiking group was supposed to meet 20 minutes ago, but I’m sitting here on the roadside staring at a locked gate and a handful of discouraging signs. “Hazardous Fire Area,” “Bioregional Habitat Restoration Project,” “No Parking Any Time” (twice). Past the gate, a road winds up through thick green hills half-hidden in fog.  I’ve been waiting for weeks to get behind this gate, but that barely makes me a newcomer to the scene: Pressure on the landowner to open the area to public recreation has been mounting for decades. So far that pressure has been relieved only by docent-led hikes like the one I’m meant to be on today, but now it may have reached a breaking point. ... ”  Read more from Bay Nature here:  The peninsula watershed: To open or not to open

Increasingly severe disturbances weaken world’s temperate forests: A new paper published today in Science magazine has synthesized existing studies on the health of temperate forests across the globe and found a sobering diagnosis. Longer, more severe, and hotter droughts and a myriad of other threats, including diseases and more extensive and severe wildfires, are threatening some of these forests with transformation. Without informed management, some forests could convert to shrublands or grasslands within the coming decades.  “While we have been trying to manage for resilience of 20th century conditions, we realize now that we must prepare for transformations and attempt to ease these conversions,” said Constance Millar, lead author and forest ecologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station. … ”  Read more from the USGS here:  Increasingly severe disturbances weaken world’s temperate forests

Warming seas and sea level rise:  “Sea level rise is a natural consequence of the warming of our planet.  We know this from basic physics. When water heats up, it expands. So when the ocean warms, sea level rises. When ice is exposed to heat, it melts. And when ice on land melts and water runs into the ocean, sea level rises.  For thousands of years, sea level has remained relatively stable and human communities have settled along the planet’s coastlines. But now Earth’s seas are rising. Globally, sea level has risen about eight inches (20 centimeters) since the beginning of the 20th century and more than two inches (5 centimeters) in the last 20 years alone.  All signs suggest that this rise is accelerating. … ”  Read more from Climate.gov here:  Warming seas and sea level rise

The fingerprints of sea level rise: When you fill a sink, the water rises at the same rate to the same height in every corner. That’s not the way it works with our rising seas.  According to the 23-year record of satellite data from NASA and its partners, the sea level is rising a few millimeters a year — a fraction of an inch. If you live on the U.S. East Coast, though, your sea level is rising two or three times faster than average. If you live in Scandinavia, it’s falling. Residents of China’s Yellow River delta are swamped by sea level rise of more than nine inches (25 centimeters) a year.  These regional differences in sea level change will become even more apparent in the future, as ice sheets melt. … ” Read more from Climate.gov here:  The fingerprints of sea level rise

Shouting to be heard: At-sea cacophony puts strain on dolphins: Anyone who has attempted to hold a conversation at a crowded party or near a blaring band knows how exhausting it can be just trying to communicate. The same is true for dolphins and other inhabitants of the ocean, where the sounds of ships and sonar muddy the auditory landscape in the form of “noise pollution.” While some sonar frequencies can have catastrophic effects on whale and dolphin behavior, leading to mass strandings on shore, a new study shows noise can also take a more subtle toll over the long term. Noise pollution changes the way dolphins communicate and forces them to use more energy, according to a study lead by the NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of California Santa Cruz. Published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, the study shows that dolphins need to make louder and more frequent calls to communicate in areas with a lot of noise, which diverts much-needed energy away from important biological processes like reproduction. ... ”  Read more from the FishBio blog here:  Shouting to be heard: At-sea cacophony puts strain on dolphins

July 2015 was warmest month ever recorded for the globe:  “The July average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46°F (0.81°C) above the 20th century average. As July is climatologically the warmest month for the year, this was also the all-time highest monthly temperature in the 1880-2015 record, at 61.86°F (16.61°C), surpassing the previous record set in 1998 by 0.14°F (0.08°C).  Separately, the July globally-averaged land surface temperature was 1.73°F (0.96°C) above the 20th century average. This was the sixth highest for July in the 1880-2015 record. … ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  July 2015 was warmest month ever recorded for the globe

USGS scientists study impacts of Gold King Mine release:On August 5, while investigating the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency accidentally triggered the release of approximately three million gallons of acidic, metal-rich mine wastewater from the Gold King Mine into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River. The Animas River flows south into the San Juan River, which is a tributary to the Colorado River.  USGS scientists from several offices are providing scientific input following the release. For example, a USGS analysis of streamflow data from USGS streamgages along Cement Creek and the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado, showed that the release was approximately three million gallons, and these results were provided to EPA. Additionally, USGS scientists are studying various environmental effects of the release. Water and sediment samples are being collected along Cement Creek upstream from Silverton, downstream along the Animas River from Silverton to the confluence with the San Juan River, and downstream along the San Juan River in neighboring New Mexico and Utah. … ”  Read more from the USGS here:  USGS scientists study impacts of Gold King Mine release

Maven’s XKCD Comic Pick of the Week …

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About Science News and Reports: This weekly feature, posted every Thursday, is a collection of the latest scientific research and reports with a focus on relevant issues to the Delta and to California water, although other issues such as climate change are sometimes included. Do you have an item to be included here? Submissions of relevant research and other materials is welcome. Email Maven.

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