Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Ag and Natural Resources’ Category

On the East Coast of the U.S. today, there was a minor earthquake centered in Virginia, my former home. 370 miles away in Central New York, it could be felt, but just barely. It reminded me of a video of Japan’s Sendai earthquake from March of this year. I am not referring to the terrifying videos of the tsunami, but the far less disturbing, but still dramatic and unusual, video of liquefaction filmed in a Chiba City park by CNN iReporter Brent Kooi. The original video has apparently been removed from YouTube because of a copyright claim. Surprisingly, I did find a shorter version of the original. Take a look. Liquefaction may sound boring, but I assure you that the image of the earth “breathing” is not. Perhaps “swelling” like an ocean wave is a better metaphor. The most dramatic images are those of the opening cracks moving back and forth with the tremors, and, in one case, water sloshing around in the crack. Less obvious to the video viewer is what was clear to Brent Kooi – the fact that pools of water were suddenly appearing all around him. Landfill in an earthquake.

 

Read Full Post »

It’s not your everyday, run of the mill design problem. But it is an everyday reality – cows produce significant amounts of the greenhouse gas (GHG), methane, and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are therefore point sources of GHG pollution. There are arguments for ending the CAFO practice, but these controversial land uses appear to be with us for the foreseeable future anyway. Can the impacts be mitigated? Can agroforestry techniques be used to mitigate the emissions, and, if you plant a lot of trees, do you still have enough open land to maintain farm functionality? These are the questions asked by the ESF graduate student, Au Ta, in his capstone project, supervised by Dayton Reuter and me. His study produced some very interesting results.

Forested buffer alternatives were tested

Graduate students in landscape architecture programs sometimes produce studies that are worthy of peer-reviewed publication, but these projects often remain hidden in their respective departments. As a discipline, we need to move toward the expectation that this work will be published, either in traditional print media or through online journals. Our colleagues in other disciplines would not squander these resources! Like many LA graduate theses and capstones, Au’s project was not designed from the outset to be a carefully controlled study, but instead evolved over time into something interesting, thought-provoking, and not necessarily easy to publish in science journals because of the degree of intuitive design involved. But the project is well-crafted and reaches some surprising conclusions. Click continue reading to read the abstract and get a link to the entire paper. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Depending on the study. A new paper by Sodhi et al., featured in the Yale E360 blog, says that conservationists are doing some things right. Land and marine habitat conservation are in the plus column, with more than 100,000 protected areas, covering 7.3 million square miles globally.

Sodhi, N.S., R. Butler, W.F. Laurance, and L. Gibson. 2011. Conservation successes at micro-, meso-, and macroscales. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2011.07.002

Read Full Post »

In a comment on this post, Svend Rumbold points out that the data about bird and bat mortality is probably based on impacts with conventional horizontal axis turbines and not the vertical axis models. Digging a little deeper into the sources for the Climatewire story, I find these things:

  • Bird and bat mortalities from wind turbines are becoming more significant problems globally because of the phenomenal increase in the wind energy industry – now growing more in developing countries than in industrialized ones. (See the Renewables 2011 Global Status Report, by REN21.)
  • Curiously, the 116-page REN21 report mentions vertical axis turbines only once, and it was in relation to ocean technology – suggesting to me that almost all of the growth in wind farms involves horizontal axis turbines.
  • The American Bird Conservancy is actively promoting bird- and bat-friendly wind projects, and the organization endorses a set of recommendations that was developed in 2007 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee.
  • The 2007 advisory guidelines are all about landscape planning and say virtually nothing about technology choice. The emphasis is on landscape-level analysis and site selection, detailed site studies, site construction best management practices, post-construction mortality studies, and other monitoring. It seems that there is some degree of confidence that better site selection can lead to fewer mortalities.
  • U.S. politics enters the equation: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued new draft guidelines in July – guidelines that the wind industry applauds and the American Bird Conservancy opposes because most of the wildlife protection language has been removed.
  • The bat research cited in Climatewire is this:  Baerwald, E.F., G.H. D’Amours, B.J. Klug, et al. 2008. Barotrauma is a significant cause of bat fatalities at wind turbines. Current Biology 18 (16): R695-R696. The same authors published a study in July of this year where they document their bat migration research based on bat mortality on wind farms in Alberta, Canada.

Read Full Post »

When I was a graduate student, one of my favorite landscape planning books was Design For Human Ecosystems by John T. Lyle, and it is still a favorite. It was originally published in 1985, with a paperback edition published in 1999. A major premise of the book, and, indeed, of all landscape planning, is that careful analysis of landscape resources leads to land use planning and design solutions that achieve a balance between different, and often, competing interests. If that could just be the case more often than not! A reminder of how intractable some issues can be comes from the world of renewable energy.

We have heard for some time that wind turbines kill birds, and we keep hoping that a solution may be found to this problem, like the development of slower moving turbines. A report today from Umair Irfan of ClimateWire (subscription service from E&E Publishing) tells us that the problem has not been solved. While house cats and windows kill many urban bird species, turbines pose a unique threat to many more species of birds, including whooping cranes and raptors. Less reported, though, is the significant threat to bats. With white nose syndrome devastating the hybernating bat species, it is especially distressing to hear that wind turbines are killing migratory bat species.

“Many more bats than birds are killed by wind turbines, and they are killed in two ways: simply by being hit by the blades, and some are killed by pressure changes due to the sweep of the blades without even being hit,” said John Whitaker Jr., a professor of biology and director of the Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation at Indiana State University, in an email.

Because bats use sound to navigate and can detect moving objects, like insects, exceptionally well, many are better able than birds to avoid striking the blades. However, they can’t detect the invisible swath of low pressure left behind turning blades. Bats then fly into this area, and their internal airways rapidly expand, causing internal bleeding.

This phenomenon, known as barotrauma, accounts for more than half of all turbine-related fatalities in bats, according to a 2008 paper in the journal Current Biology.

Simply mapping landscape resources and locating the best areas for wind energy generation and the most significant migration areas, ala Lyle, McHarg, and others, will not lead to a solution to this problem. From a land use planning perspective, it is an issue of conflicting values. As wind energy proliferates around the globe, we have to hope that a technological solution can be found soon. That would seem to be the shortest path to resolving the dilemma.

Read Full Post »

Just too much depressing news (on many fronts) to keep up the optimism (see here and here for therapist reference). I try hard to not focus on the bad news too much, but I can’t ignore it either. The latest in a post by Richard Black of BBC News, discussing the woeful inadequacies of our network of conservation areas (i.e., protected lands and waters) for protecting biodiversity with this quote from Peter Sale of the Canadian Institute for Water, Health, and the Environment:

“We’re talking about losing 50% of species in the next half century – that’s faster than any previous mass extinction event – and anybody who thinks we can go through a mass extinction and be perfectly fine is just deluding themselves.”

The article, published this month, that prompted the post by Black is this one:

Mora, C. and P.F. Sale. 2011. Ongoing global biodiversity loss and the need to move beyond protected areas: A review of the technical and practical shortcomings of protected areas on land and sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series 434: 251-266.

Read Full Post »

Susan Riya, Director of the New York State Water Resources Institute, shared the following map with the State of Upstate conference attendees in June. I have been thinking of this map ever since. The map was derived from the hydrologic landscape regions of the United States dataset published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2003. It depicts the ratio of potential evapotranspiration (PET) to precipitation (PPT).

Hydrologic Landscape Regions of the U.S.

What is striking to me is the blue swath that runs from the tip of Maine to Louisiana as well as the lighter blue area along the Eastern Seaboard. I have called many communities in these two regions home; I know the landscape well. The map depicts current conditions, and I am eager to see similar maps that depict projected change. I know that New York State is expected to remain water-rich, and I suspect that much of the darker blue region will as well. But the area along the seaboard, especially the Southeast (portions of Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia), has already been experiencing droughts, and I fear that the region might be much drier in the future. Personally, I think it would be heartbreaking to see the steamy lushness replaced by crunchy dryness! The other effect is that the cool, water-rich places will be very attractive to people escaping the heat and dry conditions. New York State – get ready for a resurgence in population!

Read Full Post »

So the tractor-trailer is parked out in the woodland (or other natural area), and you have to decide which species you will bring on board for a ride to their new habitat. A trip north or to a higher elevation perhaps? You cannot save them all, and you are not even sure that you are saving them because of all the uncertainties involved with the move. What a dilemma! But this is essentially the situation we are faced with as species are threatened by altered habitats due to climate change. The idea of a new Noah’s Ark is called assisted migration, assisted colonization, or managed relocation, (mentioned in an earlier post) and it is very controversial. A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change acknowledges the controversy, but says that managed relocation is happening anyway. Given the desire to relocate species in the hope of saving them, researchers at CSIRO, the University of Queensland, and the U.S. Geological Survey present a decision-making framework. Dr. Eve McDonald-Madden of CSIRO is quoted as saying:

The decision-making framework we have developed shows that the best timing for moving species depends on many factors such as: the size of the population, the expected losses in the population through relocation, and the expected numbers that the new location could be expected to support. It would also rely on good predictions about the impact of climate shifts on a particular species and the suitability of areas to which they can move –  an often difficult issue in the case of rare species because we just don’t have this sort of detailed information.

Another CSIRO researcher, Dr. Tara Martin, discusses which species are likely to make it into the ark:

Managed relocation is not a quick fix. It will be used in some specific circumstances for species that we really care about, but it will not be a saviour for all biodiversity in the face of climate change.

Western Larch (U.S. Forest Service image)

Yes, controversial or not, people are beginning to actively intervene in species relocation. The June issue of Discover magazine has an article titled The Transplanted Forest: A Bold Experiment in Preemptive Climate Adaptation about ongoing efforts in British Columbia to relocate the western larch (Larix occidentalis), an important timber species. A related effort (and a less controversial one) – linked by the idea of active adaptive management – involves altering the habitat itself if possible. A recent New York Times article, titled Seeing Trends, Coalition Works to Help a River Adapt, highlights efforts to aid chinook salmon, another economically important species, in the Nisqually River (Washington State) through stream and watershed enhancements.

The coalition is reserving land farther in from wetlands so that when the sea rises, the marsh will have room to move as well; it is promoting hundreds of rain gardens to absorb artificially warmed runoff from paved spaces and keep it away from the river; and it is installing logjams intended to cause the river to hollow out its own bottom and create cooler pools for fish.

Read Full Post »

Image by Thomas R Machnitzki, Wikimedia Commons

Ever since I began giving serious consideration to what specific steps can be taken by landscape planners and designers in response to climate change, I have been thinking about refugia. I first encountered this term as a university student when it was used to describe a place near my hometown. I grew up in the vast, flat inner coastal plain that follows the Mississippi River northward from the Gulf of Mexico. I had never thought of this landscape as being particularly special for its botanical bounty, so I was surprised to learn that one of my favorite places – the forested bluffs along the Mighty Mississippi – provided refuge for species during the last Ice Age. That discovery has given me a curious sort of pride in my hometown landscape ever since! The Botanical Institute of Texas describes the refugia along the Mississippi like this:

During the ice age, many plant species shifted southward, and at glacial maximum around 18,000 years ago, boreal forest reached Arkansas, with spruce and tamarack in the Tunica Hills along the cold, foggy Mississippi valley.  Deciduous forests of oak and hickory extended to the Gulf of Mexico.  As the glaciers retreated and the climate warmed, pines and other species from refugia in Florida, along the lower Mississippi River, and southern Texas and northern Mexico, spread across the southeast.

As we contemplate the opposite movement of species, the northward shift, we must begin to identify and protect places of refugium. Major land conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy are already engaged in this sort of planning exercise as they account for climate change impacts on the lands they manage. Federal land management agencies are also considering ways to provide refuge to species, in part because of a 2009 executive order by President Obama that mandated integration of climate adaptation planning into all agency planning activities. These are positive steps, but, like all conservation activities, they need to extend beyond public lands and private conservation lands to have the greatest effect. This is where planners and designers can make a contribution – considering the potential for refugia on privately held land in communities across the country. It’s the next step in environmentally sensitive areas planning and an opportunity to “mainstream” climate adaptation into ongoing community planning and design.

In its simplest form, “hot-surviving” refugia are found on the northern slopes of hills and mountains, at higher elevations, in mountain coves and hollows (known as “hollers” in another place I’ve called home), and in deep canyon recesses. The good news? These places are very easy to identify in the landscape! The next steps, a bit more difficult. In another post, I will discuss a related topic, the controversial idea of assisted migration.

Read Full Post »

What do you do when historical data is no longer useful for predicting the future? Climate change is making the already-difficult proposition of predicting environmental phenomena even harder. Consider societal efforts to manage the flood system. The concept of a 100-year flood is based on the idea that history is useful indicator of future states and “most likely” scenarios. A 2010 paper by Gersonius et al.* tackles the question of how we might begin to plan for shifts in flooding regimes by using adaptive management strategies. This paper is at the leading edge of climate adaptation design research, and there is a need for much more.

Gersonius et al. contrast the traditional approach with an adaptive approach. They say that traditional approaches are based on the assumption “that it is possible to define a singular optimum adaptation strategy according to the ‘most likely’ or average future projection” (p.15). Big investments of public dollars are common with the traditional approach – essentially a large bet on the promise of a singular optimum strategy (one-off interventions). The paper’s authors argue for an adaptively resilient approach instead, an approach better suited to the uncertainties of climate change.

Rather than taking a traditional approach, responsible climate adaptation requires an alternative approach that attempts to assess and manage the resiliency of the flooding system for long-term future change. The aim of this approach is to keep the system within a configuration of states that give at least acceptable functioning despite the occurrence of possible changes (Walker et al. 2002**). This means that the approach acknowledges that projections are ‘always wrong’ and that it is necessary to plan for a range of possible future conditions.

The authors’ modeling results suggest that adaptation decisions that include LEARNING about future climate parameters could reduce overall costs between 5 and 17% over a single high risk traditional, or “robust,” intervention. The figure below illustrates the concept.

(a) Adaptively resilient approach contrasted with (b) traditional "robust" approach

*Gersonius et al. 2010. Managing the flooding system’s resiliency to climate change. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers ES1: 15-22.

** Walker et al. 2002. Resilience management in social-ecological systems: A working hypothesis for a participatory approach. Conservation Ecology 6:14.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »