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Archive for the ‘Landscape Research’ Category

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

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The SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT has produced some interesting maps using US and UK phone call and text data, and they suggest new ways to think about regional identity. Aaron Saenz, of the technology blog Singularity Hub, asks if these regions make more sense than our current delineation of states. Certainly for politics, marketing, and perhaps public policy, among other things, there are implications for the kinds of connections that these maps reveal. Best of all, the SENSEable City Lab is making their call and SMS data available here for you to make your own visualizations!

Who do you call or text? Image from Saenz, Singularity Hub, & MIT

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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.

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Just ran across a 2007 paper that the authors claim “produces the first large-scale estimates of the US health related welfare costs due to climate change.” The authors are the economists Olivier Deschenes from UC Santa Barbara and Michael Greenstone from MIT. (Greenstone is the former chief economist with the Council of Economic Advisors in the first year of the Obama administration.) The study looks at the costs of an individual’s adaptation to climate change – things like taking medication to offset air pollution or increasing air conditioner usage to cope with high temperatures. This finding stood out:

Individuals are likely to respond to higher temperatures by increasing air conditioning usage; the analysis suggests that climate change will lead to
increases in annual residential energy consumption of up to 32% by the end of the century.

When petroleum costs began to rise and supply was threatened by the Iraq War, research into alternative energy was suddenly thrust into high gear after a few decades of relative inactivity. Just in the last 10 years, 70s era research was rediscovered and used to further our current interests in alternative energy. It’s time for landscape planners and landscape architects to re-engage with our equivalent research – the 70s era “design with climate” research that was conducted as a response to the energy crisis of that time. Among the climate adaptation needs it could serve is residential energy consumption.

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Climatewire (subscription service), from E&E Publishing, reports the surprising conclusion of a study just published in Environmental Research Letters. Some cities, like Dallas, TX, may not be cooled by deployment of white or light-colored roofs and pavements while other cities, like Los Angeles, are. Regional variation is apparent. The study also looked at the effect of desert photovoltaics, with their low albedo (reflectivity), on temperature and found that they can increase an area’s temperature by approximately 0.5° Celsius. White or light-colored roofs and pavements deflect heat, bouncing it back into the atmosphere and creating the cooling effect we desire. But, the study conducted by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests that there is a feedback effect whereby the bouncing sunlight can disrupt wind and cloud patterns, leading to changes in a region’s hot and cold spots. In humid Dallas, for example, clouds have a cooling effect on a hot day, and deflected heat from white roofs (if deployed widely) could limit cloud formation and therefore raise temperatures according to the study’s model. The researchers conclude that cool roofs are still useful tools, but that the effects might not be as uniform as we may have thought. Regional weather patterns should also be taken into consideration.

The study is available here.  Milstein, D. and S. Menon. 2011. Regional climate consequences of large-scale cool roof and photovoltaic array deployment. Environmental Research Letters 6(3).

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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.

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2010, 2005, 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001. What do these years have in common? They are the top 10 hottest years (in descending order), according to NASA, since records began in 1870. 2010 and 2005 are tied for being the hottest years (combined land and ocean surface temperatures). So what was going on in 2008? I guess it’s the data point that “proves” nothing is going on?  😉

What can physical planners and designers do to help people, especially city-dwellers, adjust to a future of deadly heat waves? Designers already have the knowledge and skills to create comfortable outdoor spaces, but can heat-mitigating designs be ramped up to a scale necessary to save lives? How would we do this? What more do we need to know? All new research begins with a review of what we already know, and I have an initial summary of research literature for this topic. If this interests you, click here to read more. The diagram below (click on the image for a better view) is referenced in the link. And if you experienced a snowmageddon or snowpocalypse last winter, you might summon up that memory now as an escape from the high temps of July and August.

Framework for reducing urban vulnerability to extreme heat (Wilhelmi and Hayden 2010)

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