SCIENCE NEWS: In the Sierra, new approaches to protecting forests under stress; Severe West Coast erosion during 2015-2016; New study identifies organic matter composition as a critical factor controlling mercury methylation; and more …

In science news this week: In the Sierras, new approaches to protecting forests under stress; Severe West Coast erosion during 2015-2016; Data on blue whales off California helps protect their distant relatives; Monarch overwintering numbers remain low in the West despite conservation efforts; New study identifies organic matter composition as a critical factor controlling mercury methylation; Why nature restoration takes time; Turbocharging science: New supercomputer triples Earth system science capability with greater efficiency; and February 2017 ENSO update: Bye, bye La Nina!

In the Sierra, new approaches to protecting forests under stress:  ““The clearest way to the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” declared John Muir, whose belief in the necessity of untrammeled and enduring nature became the bedrock of contemporary conservation. No forests inspired Muir more than those blanketing the Sierra Nevada, “miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed in light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.”  Today, the forests of Muir’s “Range of Light” and their celebrated woody inhabitants are pitted against the 21st century’s version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — heat waves, extreme droughts, insect plagues, and massive wildfires — all linked to climate change. Some giant sequoias, the range’s most iconic conifers, suffered a sudden leaf dieback in 2014 as about half of their needles turned brown and fell to the ground. ... ”  Read more from Yale E360 here:  In the Sierra, new approaches to protecting forests under stress

Severe West Coast erosion during 2015-2016:  “Investigating 29 beaches along the U.S West Coast from Washington to southern California, researchers found that winter beach erosion was 76 percent above normal, by far the highest ever recorded, and most beaches in California eroded beyond historical extremes. If severe El Niño events such as this one become more common in the future as studies suggest, this coastal region, home to more than 25 million people, will become increasingly vulnerable to coastal hazards, independently of projected sea level rise.  The authors assessed seasonal changes on 29 beaches along approximately 2000 kilometers (1243 miles) of the U.S. West Coast. Surveying the beaches included making 3-D surface maps and cross-shore profiles using aerial lidar (light detection and ranging), GPS topographic surveys, and direct measurements of sand levels, combined with wave and water level data at each beach, collectively spanning 1997-2016. … ”  Read more from the USGS here:  Severe West Coast erosion during 2015-2016science-calendar

Data on blue whales off California helps protect their distant relatives:  “Scientists know a great deal about blue whales off California, where the endangered species has been studied for decades.  But they know far less about blue whales in the Northern Indian Ocean, where ships strike and kill some of the largest animals on Earth.  Now a research team has found a way to translate their knowledge of blue whales off California and in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean to the other side of the world, revealing those areas of the Northern Indian Ocean where whales are likely to be encountered. The team of scientists from NOAA Fisheries and the Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project published the findings this week in the journal Diversity and Distributions. … ”  Read more from the NOAA here:  Data on blue whales off California helps protect their distant relatives

New aquatic DNA database could transform water, wildlife management:  “Water projects necessarily have impacts on fish and other aquatic species. Water, after all, is habitat. So when a new dam or diversion is proposed, we need to find out what fish, frogs and other species will be affected, how many and how significantly.  Trouble is, those questions have always been answered based on limited data. It’s virtually impossible to survey a stream and know every creature that lives there. The stream is too big and the survey tools too crude.  Until now. The U.S. Forest Service is on the verge of unveiling a comprehensive genetic database of every stream and lake in the western United States. … ” Read more from Water Deeply here:  New aquatic DNA database could transform water, wildlife management

Monarch overwintering numbers remain low in the West despite conservation efforts:  “Monarch butterflies are an astonishing insect, especially in the winter. They migrate to Mexico and the coast of California, form dense clusters high up in the trees and hunker down until spring.  In 1997, a few scientists and volunteers in California, inspired by these orange and black clusters, began an organized effort to estimate the number of butterflies wintering along the central California coast, and the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count was born.  This year’s population estimate, released Feb. 8, indicates that monarch butterflies have not rebounded. The number of monarchs counted this year was slightly greater than last year, but so was the army of volunteers. More than 100 volunteers monitored a record 253 sites, the single greatest effort since the count began in 1997. ... ”  Read more from the US FWS here:  Monarch overwintering numbers remain low in the West despite conservation efforts

New study identifies organic matter composition as a critical factor controlling mercury methylation: “The biological formation of neurotoxic methyl mercury is an enigmatic process underpinning mercury-related health and environmental hazards. Nevertheless, the exact mechanisms and the factors controlling the process are still not well understood. In a collaborative effort, researchers at Uppsala and Umeå University now show that the formation of methylmercury in sediment is controlled by the molecular composition of the organic matter. The study has been published in Nature Communications. ... ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  New study identifies organic matter composition as a critical factor controlling mercury methylation

Why nature restoration takes time:  “‘Relationships’ in the soil become stronger during the process of nature restoration. Although all major groups of soil life are already present in former agricultural soils, they are not really ‘connected’ at first. These connections need time to (literally) grow, and fungi are the star performers here. A European research team led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) has shown the complete network of soil life for the first time. The results of the extensive study are published in Nature Communications. … ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Why nature restoration takes time

Turbocharging science: New supercomputer triples Earth system science capability with greater efficiency: “The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is launching operations this month of one of the world’s most powerful and energy-efficient supercomputers, providing the nation with a major new tool to advance understanding of the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences.  Named “Cheyenne,” the 5.34-petaflop system is capable of more than triple the amount of scientific computing performed by the previous NCAR supercomputer, Yellowstone. It also is three times more energy efficient. ... ”  Read more from NCAR’s AtmosNews here:  Turbocharging science: New supercomputer triples Earth system science capability with greater efficiency

February 2017 ENSO update: Bye, bye La Nina! Well, that was quick! The ocean surface in the tropical Pacific is close to average for this time of year, putting an end to La Niña, and forecasters expect that it will hover around average for a few months. Let’s dig in to what happened during January, and what the forecast looks like.  This La Niña wasn’t exactly one for the record books. Our primary index, the three-month-average sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Niño3.4 region, only dipped to about 0.8°C cooler than the long-term average during the fall of 2016. However, these cooler-than-average temperatures persisted for several months, and the atmosphere over the tropical Pacific responded as expected to the cooler waters. … ”  Read more from Climate.gov here:  February 2017 ENSO update: Bye, bye La Nina!

The most remote place on earth is also one of the most polluted:  “Scientists have discovered high levels of extremely toxic chemicals in the most remote place on earth — the 36,000-foot-deep Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean, according to new research published in the journal Natural Ecology and Evolution.  … ” Read more from Yale E360 here:  The most remote place on earth is also one of the most polluted

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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