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Showing posts with label Science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Science. Show all posts

Saturday, August 24, 2019

What's Mars solar conjunction, and why does it matter?

What's Mars solar conjunction, and why does it matter?
This animation illustrates Mars solar conjunction, a period when Mars is on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth. During this time, the Sun can interrupt radio transmissions to spacecraft on and around the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The daily chatter between antennas here on Earth and those on NASA spacecraft at Mars is about to get much quieter for a few weeks.

That's because Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the Sun, a period known as Mars solar conjunction. The Sun expels hot, ionized gas from its corona, which extends far into space. During solar conjunction, this gas can interfere with radio signals when engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars, corrupting commands and resulting in unexpected behavior from our deep space explorers.


To be safe, engineers hold off on sending commands when Mars disappears far enough behind the Sun's corona that there's increased risk of radio interference.


"It's that time again," said Roy Gladden, manager of the Mars Relay Network at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Our engineers have been preparing our spacecraft for conjunction for months. They'll still be collecting science data at Mars, and some will attempt to send that data home. But we won't be commanding the spacecraft out of concern that they could act on a corrupted command."


When is this taking place?


Solar conjunction occurs every two years. This time, the hold on issuing commands—called a "command moratorium"—will run from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7, 2019. Some missions will have stopped commanding their spacecraft earlier in preparation for the moratorium.


What happens to the spacecraft?


Although some instruments aboard spacecraft—especially cameras that generate large amounts of data—will be inactive, all of NASA's Mars spacecraft will continue their science; they'll just have much simpler "to-do" lists than they normally would carry out.


On the surface of Mars, the Curiosity rover will stop driving, while the InSight lander won't move its robotic arm. Above Mars, both the Odyssey orbiter and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will continue collecting data from Curiosity and InSight for return to Earth. However, only Odyssey will attempt to relay that data to Earth before conjunction ends. Meantime, another orbiter, MAVEN, will continue to collect its own science data but won't support any relay operations during this time.


All of this means that there will be a temporary pause in the stream of raw images available from Curiosity, InSight and the other Mars missions. Mars solar conjunction impacts operations of all spacecraft currently at Mars, not just NASA's.


What happens when solar conjunction ends?


Once conjunction is over, the spacecraft will beam the data they've collected to NASA's Deep Space Network, a system of massive Earth-based radio antennas managed by JPL. Engineers will spend about a week downloading the information before normal spacecraft operations resume.


If the teams monitoring these missions determine any of the collected science data are corrupted, they can usually have that data retransmitted after the moratorium ends on Sept. 7.

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For moratorium on sending commands to Mars, blame the Sun Provided by NASA Citation: What's Mars solar conjunction, and why does it matter? (2019, August 24) retrieved 24 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-mars-solar-conjunction.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.Original Article © Copyrights phys.org

Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts

Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts
The carcass of a cow lies partially embedded in the drying lake bed of the Aculeo Lagoon, in Paine, Chile, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Despite having one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world Chilean authorities declared an agricultural emergency this week as rural areas in the province of Santiago suffer the effects of the worst drought that has hit the area in decades. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Officials in Chile say the capital city and its outskirts are suffering from the worst drought in many years.

The government has declared an agricultural emergency in many areas to try to fast-track a series of relief measures for farmers, including provision of drinking water and medicine for animals.


Santiago Metropolitan region, Coquimbo, Valparaiso and O'Higgins are among the worst-hit areas.


Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker said this week that 2019 is one of the driest years Chile has faced in six decades.


Officials are increasingly concerned by the effects of climate change after a long-drought. The world's leading copper-producing country uses large quantities of water for the industry, which is the backbone of the economy.


Chile will host a global conference on climate change in December.


  • Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts
    A boat sits parked the floor of the the Aculeo Lagoon lake bed, in Paine, Chile, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Officials in Chile say that the capital city and its outskirts are suffering from the worst drought in decades. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
  • Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts
    A resident rides his horse on the floor of the the Aculeo Lagoon lake bed, in Paine, Chile, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Officials in Chile say that the capital city and its outskirts are suffering from the worst drought in decades. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
  • Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts
    A cow grazes on the floor of the Aculeo Lagoon lake bed, as seen from a dock once surrounded by water, in Paine, Chile, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Despite having one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world, Chilean authorities declared an agricultural emergency this week as rural areas in the province of Santiago suffer the effects of the worst drought that has hit the area in decades. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
  • Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts
    A vaquero stands watch as his cows graze on the floor of the the Aculeo Lagoon lake bed, in Paine, Chile, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Despite having one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world, Chilean authorities declared an agricultural emergency this week as rural areas in the province of Santiago suffer the effects of the worst drought that has hit the area in decades. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
  • Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts
    A vaquero lassos a cow near an abandoned pier at the Acuelo Lagoon in Paine, Chile, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Despite having one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world Chilean authorities declared an agricultural emergency this week as rural areas in the province of Santiago suffer the effects of the worst drought that has hit the area in decades. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
  • Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts
    A water park sits abandoned due to drought conditions at an Aculeo Lagoon resort, in Paine, Chile, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Despite having one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world Chilean authorities declared an agricultural emergency this week as rural areas in the province of Santiago suffer the effects of the worst drought that has hit the area in decades. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
  • Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts
    A for sale leans against brush dried by drought backdropped by the Aculeo Lagoon lake bed, in Paine, Chile, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Despite having one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world, Chilean authorities declared an agricultural emergency this week as rural areas in the province of Santiago suffer the effects of the worst drought that has hit the area in decades. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
  • Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts
    Jorge Romero dismantles a relative home that once served as a resort, preparing the land for sale, near the now dried up Aculeo Lagoon, in Paine, Chile, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Despite having one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world Chilean authorities declared an agricultural emergency this week as rural areas in the province of Santiago suffer the effects of the worst drought that has hit the area in decades. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
  • Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts
    Jorge Romero carries wreckage from a plane that he found while walking on the lake bed of the Acuelo Lagoon, in Paine, Chile, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Despite having one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world Chilean authorities declared an agricultural emergency this week as rural areas in the province of Santiago suffer the effects of the worst drought that has hit the area in decades. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

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European farms, wildlife parched in post-heatwave drought

© 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Citation: Worst drought in decades hits Chile capital and outskirts (2019, August 24) retrieved 24 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-worst-drought-decades-chile-capital.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.Original Article © Copyrights phys.org

A novel technology for genome-editing a broad range of mutations in live organisms

A novel technology for genome-editing a broad range of mutations in live organisms
Neuron targeted using the SATI technology. Credit: Salk Institute

The ability to edit genes in living organisms offers the opportunity to treat a plethora of inherited diseases. However, many types of gene-editing tools are unable to target critical areas of DNA, and creating such a technology has been difficult as living tissue contains diverse types of cells.

Now, Salk Institute researchers have developed a new tool—dubbed SATI—to edit the mouse genome, enabling the team to target a broad range of mutations and cell types. The new genome-editing technology, described in Cell Research on August 23, 2019, could be expanded for use in a broad range of gene mutation conditions such as Huntington's disease and the rare premature aging syndrome, progeria.


"This study has shown that SATI is a powerful tool for genome editing," says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory and senior author of the paper. "It could prove instrumental in developing effective strategies for target-gene replacement of many different types of mutations, and opens the door for using genome-editing tools to possibly cure a broad range of genetic diseases."


Techniques that modify DNA—notably the CRISPR-Cas9 system—have generally been most effective in dividing cells, such as those in the skin or the gut, using the cells' normal DNA repair mechanisms. The Izpisua Belmonte lab previously showed that their CRISPR/Cas9-based gene-editing technology, called HITI (for homology-independent targeted integration), could target both dividing and non-dividing cells. Protein-coding regions function like recipes for making proteins, while areas called non-coding regions act as chefs deciding how much food to make. These non-coding regions make up the vast majority of DNA (~98%) and regulate many cellular functions including turning genes off and on, so could be a valuable target for future gene therapies.


"We sought to create a versatile tool to target these non-coding regions of the DNA, which would not affect the function of the gene, and enable the targeting of a broad range of mutations and cell types," says Mako Yamamoto, co-first author on the paper and a postdoctoral fellow in the Izpisua Belmonte lab. "As a proof-of-concept, we focused on a mouse model of premature aging caused by a mutation that is difficult to repair using existing genome-editing tools."


The new gene knock-in method, which the scientists call SATI (short for intercellular linearized Single homology Arm donor mediated intron-Targeting Integration) is an advancement of the previous HITI method to enable it to target additional areas of the genome. SATI works by inserting a normal copy of the problematic gene into the non-coding region of the DNA before the mutation site. This new gene then becomes integrated into the genome alongside the old gene via one of several DNA repair pathways, relieving the organism of the detrimental effects of the original, mutated gene, without risking damage associated with fully replacing it.


The scientists tested the SATI technology in living mice with progeria, which is caused by a mutation in the LMNA gene. Both humans and mice with progeria show signs of premature aging, cardiac dysfunction and dramatically shortened life span due to the accumulation of a protein called progerin. By using SATI, a normal copy of LMNA gene was inserted in the progeria mice. The researchers were able to observe diminished features of aging in several tissues including the skin and spleen, along with an extension of life span (45% increase compared to untreated progeria mice). A similar extension of life span, when translated to humans, would be more than a decade. Thus, the SATI system represents the first in vivo gene correction technology that can target non-coding regions of DNA in multiple tissue types.


Next, the team aims to improve the efficiency of SATI by increasing the number of cells that incorporate the new DNA.


"Specifically, we will investigate the details of the cellular systems involved in DNA repair to refine the SATI technology even further for better DNA correction," says Reyna Hernandez-Benitez, co-first author on the paper and a postdoctoral fellow in the Izpisua Belmonte lab.

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A new CRISPR/Cas9 therapy can suppress aging More information: Keiichiro Suzuki et al, Precise in vivo genome editing via single homology arm donor mediated intron-targeting gene integration for genetic disease correction, Cell Research (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41422-019-0213-0 Journal information: Cell Research Provided by Salk Institute Citation: A novel technology for genome-editing a broad range of mutations in live organisms (2019, August 24) retrieved 24 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-technology-genome-editing-broad-range-mutations.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.Original Article © Copyrights phys.org

Migrating mule deer don't need directions: study

New study: Migrating mule deer don't need directions
Mule deer move across a sagebrush-covered basin in western Wyoming. New University of Wyoming research shows that deer navigate in spring and fall mostly by using their knowledge of past migration routes and seasonal ranges. Credit: Joe Riis

How do big-game animals know where to migrate across hundreds of miles of vast Wyoming landscapes year after year?

Among scientists, there are two camps of thought. First is that animals use local cues within their vicinity to determine where to migrate. Animals might move up to areas with greener forage—often termed green-wave surfing—or move down from mountains with deeper snow. The second idea is that animals develop memory of the landscape where they live and then use that information to guide their movements.


Recent research from the University of Wyoming has found that memory explains much of deer behavior during migration: Mule deer navigate in spring and fall mostly by using their knowledge of past migration routes and seasonal ranges.


The study found that the location of past years' migratory route and summer range had 2-28 times more influence on a deer's choice of a migration path than environmental factors such as tracking spring green-up, autumn snow depth or topography.


"These animals appear to have a cognitive map of their migration routes and seasonal ranges, which helps them navigate tens to hundreds of miles between seasonal ranges," says the lead author of the paper, Jerod Merkle, assistant professor and Knobloch Professor in Migration Ecology and Conservation in the Department of Zoology and Physiology at UW.


The findings recently were published in Ecology Letters, a leading journal within the field of ecology. Co-authors of the paper included Hall Sawyer, with Western EcoSystems Technology Inc.; Kevin Monteith and Samantha Dwinnell, with UW's Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources; Matthew Kauffman, with the U.S. Geological Survey Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at UW; and Gary Fralick, with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.


Scientists had long presumed that migratory behavior was dictated by availability of food resources and other external factors. Where you find resources, you will find species that exploit them, the theory went.


The UW team found it is not that simple. Without the intrinsic factor of landscape memory to guide deer between seasonal ranges, the long-distance corridors of western Wyoming's Green River Basin, for example—exceeding 300 miles round-trip in some cases—would not exist in their present form.


"It appears that green-wave surfing helps them determine when to move within a kind of 'map' in their brain," Merkle says. "The timing of spring green-up determines when an animal should migrate, but spatial memory determines where to migrate."


The finding has important conservation implications. Because landscape memory so strongly underlies mule deer migratory behavior, the loss of a migratory population also will destroy the herd's collective mental map of how to move within a landscape, making it very difficult to restore lost migration routes. Patches of potential habitat likely will go unused.


"This is yet another study that makes clear that animals must learn and remember how to make these incredible journeys," say Kauffman, who leads the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, where the research was conducted. "This is critical for conservation, because it tells us that, to conserve a migration corridor, we need to conserve the specific animals who have the knowledge necessary to make the journey."


The study bolsters the findings of a 2018 paper in the journal Science by a UW-led team that found translocated bighorn sheep and moose with no knowledge of the landscape can take anywhere from several decades to a century to learn how to migrate to vacant habitats.


Similarly, strategies such as off-site restoration or mitigation may be unsuccessful if restored habitats are not "discovered" and integrated into the memory of individuals.


The study further makes a case that biologists will not be able to successfully predict migration corridors—or optimally manage populations—based on environmental information or range quality alone. Managers will find it difficult to evaluate potential conservation actions without directly gathering movement data, crucial information that reveals the migration knowledge that animals carry around in their heads.


Moreover, the research shows that migrants can obtain greater forage benefits during spring migration using memory of a vast landscape, compared to migrants that rely simply on foraging cues in their local area.


This suggests that the migratory routes we see today are optimized across generations for green-wave surfing in large landscapes. These learned migration corridors are not readily discoverable by animals if they cannot access the memories established by past generations.

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Migrating mule deer track 'green waves' of spring forage More information: Jerod A. Merkle et al, Spatial memory shapes migration and its benefits: evidence from a large herbivore, Ecology Letters (2019). DOI: 10.1111/ele.13362 Journal information: Ecology Letters Provided by University of Wyoming Citation: Migrating mule deer don't need directions: study (2019, August 24) retrieved 24 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-migrating-mule-deer-dont.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.Original Article © Copyrights phys.org

Friday, August 23, 2019

The causes and risks of the Amazon fires

AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
This Aug. 21, 2019 satellite image courtesy of Planet Labs, Inc. shows smoke billowing from forest fires in Nova Bandeirantes in Mato Grosso, Brazil. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

Fires have been breaking out at an unusual pace in Brazil this year, causing global alarm over deforestation in the Amazon region. The world's largest rainforest is often called the "lungs of the earth." Here's a look at what's happening:

___


WHAT'S BURNING?


Brazil's National Space Research Institute, which monitors deforestation, has recorded 76,720 wildfires across the country this year, as of Thursday. That's an 85% rise over last year's figure. And a little over half of those, 40341, have been spotted in the Amazon region.


The agency says it doesn't have figures for the area burned, but deforestation as a whole has accelerated in the Amazon this year. The institute's preliminary figures show 3,571 square miles (9,250 square kilometers) of forest—an area about the size of Yellowstone National Park—were lost between Jan. 1 and Aug. 1. That already outstrips the full-year figure for 2018 of 2,910 square miles (7,537 square kilometers).


Stricter enforcement of environmental laws between 2004 and 2014 had sharply curbed the rate of deforestation, which peaked in the early 2000s at about 9,650 square miles a year (25,000 square kilometers).


Meanwhile, large fires also have been burning in neighboring countries such as Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina.


AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
This photo released by Mato Grosso Firefighters, shows the Chapada dos Guimaraes wild fires, in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday said he might send the military to fight massive fires in the Amazon as an international outcry over his handling of the environmental crisis grows. (Matto Grosso Fire Department via AP)

___


WHAT'S CAUSING THE FIRES?


Paulo Moutinho, co-founder of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, said this week that "it is very difficult to have natural fires in the Amazon; it happens but the majority come from the hand of humans."


Moutinho, who has been working in the Amazon forests for nearly 30 years, said fires are mostly set to clear land for farming, ranching or logging, and they can easily get out of control, especially during the July-November dry season. Moutinho says this year hasn't been especially dry. "We're lucky. If we had had droughts like in the past four years, this would be even worse."


Critics of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro say ranching and mining interests eager to expand their holdings have been emboldened by his oft-stated desire to increase development in the region.


___


AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
Fire consumes an area near Porto Velho, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018. Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE AMAZON?


The world's largest rainforest, ten times the size of Texas, is often called the "lungs of the earth," and 60% of it lies within Brazil.


Trees store carbon absorbed from the atmosphere, and the Amazon each year takes in as much as 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.


The Amazon's billions of trees also release water vapor that forms a thick mist over the rainforest canopy. It rises into clouds and produces rain, affecting weather patterns across South America and far beyond.


It's also home to an estimated 20% of the earth's plant species, many of which are found nowhere else.


"With each hectare burned we could be losing a plant or animal species that we didn't even know about," said Andre Guimaraes, director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute.


  • AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
    This Aug. 20, 2019 satellite image courtesy of Planet Labs, Inc. shows smoke billowing from fires in Mato Grosso, Brazil. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
  • AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
    Fire consumes the jungle near Porto Velho, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018. Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall.(AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
  • AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
    Wildfires consume an area near Porto Velho, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018. Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
  • AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
    Wildfires consume an area near Porto Velho, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018. Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
  • AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
    Fire consumes an area near Porto Velho, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018. Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
  • AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
    Fire consumes an area near Porto Velho, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018. Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
  • AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
    Virgin jungle stands next to an area that was burnt recently near Porto Velho, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018. Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

___


WHAT IS 'THE TIPPING POINT?'


Climate scientist Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo and Thomas Lovejoy, an environmental scientist at George Mason University, have estimated that the "tipping point for the Amazon system" is 20% to 25% deforestation. Without enough trees to create the rainfall needed by the forest, the longer and more pronounced dry season could turn more than half of the rainforest into a tropical savannah, they wrote last year in the journal Science Advances.


If the rainfall cycle collapses, winter droughts in parts of Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina could devastate agriculture, they wrote. The impacts may even be felt as far away as the American Midwest, according to Bill Laurance, a tropical ecologist at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia.


Lovejoy said Friday that close to 20% of the Amazon already has been deforested.


"I worry that the current deforestation will push past the tipping point leading to massive loss of forest and biodiversity," he said.


AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires
Fire consumes the jungle near Porto Velho, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018. Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

Lovejoy also said that the government has proposed infrastructure projects "which would push yet further beyond and accelerate the dieback. It will add to the climate change challenge, massive loss of biodiversity and all that means in foregone human health and economic benefit."


___


BOLSONARO'S VIEW


Bolsonaro took office on Jan. 1 after campaigning on promises to loosen protections for indigenous lands and nature reserves, arguing that they were helping choke Brazil's now-struggling economy by stifling its major agricultural and mining sectors.


He has expressed a desire to protect the environment, "but without creating difficulties for our progress."


Bolsonaro has also feuded with non-governmental groups and foreign governments, including Germany and France, which have demanded Brazil do more to protect the Amazon. Bolsonaro calls it meddling by people who should improve the environment in their own countries. This week he even suggested, without evidence, that a non-governmental organization or activists could be setting fires to make him look bad.


He has disputed figures released by the space research institute, and the agency's head recently was forced out after defending the figures.

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The Amazon is burning and smoke from the fires can be seen from space

© 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Citation: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires (2019, August 23) retrieved 23 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-amazon_1.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.Original Article © Copyrights phys.org

Scientists explore outback as testbed for Mars

Scientists Explore Outback as Testbed for Mars
Scientists with NASA's Mars 2020 mission and the European-Russian ExoMars mission traveled to the Australian Outback to hone their research techniques before their missions launch to the Red Planet in the summer of 2020 to search for signs of ancient life on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This week, scientists from NASA's upcoming Mars 2020 mission joined their counterparts from the joint European-Russian ExoMars mission in an expedition to the Australian Outback, one of the most remote, arid regions on the planet. Both teams came to hone their research techniques before their missions launch to the Red Planet next summer in search of signs of past life on Mars.

The researchers know that any proof of past life on Mars will more than likely be almost microscopic in size. That's where the Pilbara region of North West Australia comes in.


"The Pilbara Outback is home to the oldest confirmed fossilized lifeforms on Earth, called stromatolites," said Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "If we can better understand how these fossils came to be here—and the nearby geological signposts that help point the way to them—we'll be that much more prepared when hunting for signs of life on Mars."


The field trip was led by Martin Van Kranendonk, a professor of geology and astrobiology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.


"Just as the Apollo astronauts visited areas of geologic interest on Earth before they journeyed to the Moon, the scientists of Mars 2020 and ExoMars are doing their due diligence before their missions make the 100-million-plus-mile [160-million-plus-kilometer] trip to the Red Planet," said Mitch Schulte, Mars 2020 program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Martin helped them by providing a thorough and thought-provoking look into the geologic features of the Pilbara."


The first joint science trip for the Mars 2020 and ExoMars teams will conclude Aug. 24, when the scientists will pack up their field notes, fold up their tents and return to home. But the results from this astrobiology expedition will have positive, long-lasting ramifications in humanity's hunt for evidence that we are not alone in the universe.


The launch window for Mars 2020 opens on July 17, 2020. It will land at Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The launch window for ExoMars opens July 25, 2020. It will land on the Red Planet in March 2021.

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Space samples link NASA's Apollo 11 and Mars 2020 Provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory Citation: Scientists explore outback as testbed for Mars (2019, August 23) retrieved 23 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-scientists-explore-outback-testbed-mars.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.Original Article © Copyrights phys.org

Western states oppose plan to charge for US reservoir water

Attorneys general from a dozen western states want the Trump administration to halt a proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that they say usurps states' authority over their own water.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the Water Supply Rule proposed in the waning days of the Obama administration could allow the Corps to charge for water drawn from reservoirs it manages.


Stenehjem and attorneys general from Idaho, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming sent a letter Thursday to the Trump administration asking to withdraw the proposal, which has lingered for nearly three years.


Stenehjem said Friday he thought the proposal had languished but attorneys general recently learned that it was still being reviewed.


"They have continued with it stubbornly and we are worried these rules could be implemented," said Stenehjem, who is heading the effort. "The use and management of water that flows through states always has belonged to states. The Corps is clearly wrong and they need to take it back and undo it."


The Corps did not immediately respond Friday to telephone calls seeking comment.


The agency, in its request for comments on the proposal in December 2016, said the intent "is to enhance (the Corps') ability to cooperate with interested parties by facilitating water supply uses of reservoirs in a manner that is consistent with the authorized purposes of those reservoirs, and does not interfere with lawful uses of water under state law or other federal Law."


Stenehjem said the proposed rule has "implications for all states" but it would especially be harmful to the six reservoirs of the Upper Missouri River, including South Dakota's Lake Oahe and North Dakota's Lake Sakakawea, the biggest along the 2,341-mile river.


The Corps' proposal, he said, could require "municipal, industrial and domestic users" of water from the reservoirs to "sign a water supply contract and pay the Corps for the water."


In North Dakota, it would mean 75% of the Missouri River water could be subjected to "unlawful" fees, Stenehjem said.

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Wet winter doesn't end climate change risk to Colorado River

© 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Citation: Western states oppose plan to charge for US reservoir water (2019, August 23) retrieved 23 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-western-states-oppose-reservoir.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.Original Article © Copyrights phys.org

Industry guidance touts untested tech as climate fix

The draft specifically mentions a procedure that would see aerosols injected directly into Earth's stratosphere to reflect more
The draft specifically mentions a procedure that would see aerosols injected directly into Earth's stratosphere to reflect more of the Sun's heat, a process known as Solar Radiation Management

Draft guidelines for how industry fights climate change promote the widespread use of untested technologies that experts fear could undermine efforts to slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, AFP can reveal.

The guidance appears to encourage high-polluting sectors to take the cheapest route towards limiting global warming, potentially decoupling emissions cuts from the temperature goals outlined in the Paris climate agreement.


The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a global industry-driven non-profit group comprising more than 160 member states, has produced new draft guidance on climate action for businesses.


Rather than measuring climate action by the yardstick of emissions reduction, the draft, seen by AFP, concentrates on managing "radiative forcing", which is the amount of excess energy trapped in Earth's atmosphere.


Specifically, it looks at techniques for manipulating the climate through large-scale geoengineering, notably one called Solar Radiation Management (SRM).


SRM entails injecting heat-deflecting aerosols directly into Earth's stratosphere to bounce more of the Sun's heat back into space.


Studies have shown that SRM could be extremely effective—and relatively inexpensive—in stemming rising temperatures.


But there are fears that tinkering with Earth's atmosphere could unleash a tide of unintended consequences, potentially destabilising global weather patterns and undermining food security.


"There is a really profound risk when you take something as untested, controversial, politically volatile and morally risky as geoengineering and you make it the subject of industry-driven, market-oriented standards," said Carroll Muffett, president of the Centre for International Environmental Law.


"What is so significant about this process is that the ISO is a global standard-setting body. Companies tout their ISO compliance as a demonstration of the validity of what they are doing," he told AFP.


An ISO spokeswoman confirmed the validity of the draft guidance but said it was subject to significant further debate and modification.


An ISO working group will meet next week in Berkeley, California, to discuss the draft and will proceed with it only "if there is consensus", she told AFP.


'Substantial risks'


The 2015 Paris climate deal commits governments to capping temperature rises to "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 Farenheit) above pre-industrial levels in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.


The accord strives to stay within a safer limit of 1.5C of warming.


To do so, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says mankind must eventually reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, the safest route to this being a rapid, sweeping drawdown in coal, gas and oil burned for energy.


The IPCC, in its landmark 1.5C report last October, decided against including SRM in its climate models, which project several pathways towards net zero.


It said that while SRM could be "theoretically effective" it comes with "large uncertainties and knowledge gaps as well as substantial risks" to society.


In March, discussions at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi were held up over a dispute centred on the future governance of geoengineering schemes such as SRM.


Sources close to the talks told AFP at the time that the US and Saudi delegations voiced "fierce opposition" to even the mention of international oversight.


"Our interpretation is that they want to avoid further regulation, governance, oversight over these technologies and it's definitely in the interest of the fossil fuel industry," said Linda Schneider, senior programme officer at the Heinrich Boll Institute.


Trade organisations funded by oil and gas majors have for several years advocated SRM, including the influential American Enterprise Institute (AEI).


One AEI policy paper from 2013 concluded: "The incentives for using SRM appear to be stronger than those for (greenhouse gas) control."


AEI did not respond to an AFP request for comment.


Muffett said that geoengineering, and SRM in particular, was preferred by big polluters as it could "allow business as usual to continue in the near term to take slower action to reduce emissions."


Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative and a former UN deputy secretary general for climate change, agreed that the ISO stance on geoengineering could distract from vital emissions cuts.


Geoengineering the planet
Geoengineering the planet

"Governments, corporations, regions, and cities might wish to continue with the fossil fuel emissions economy because there is another technology now that maybe can give us a solar shield to cool the planet," he told AFP.


Upside?


The October 2018 IPCC 1.5C report made it clear that even drastic cuts in carbon pollution may not be enough to stop potentially dangerous temperature rises.


Its 1,200-page assessment allowed for a climate crisis "Plan B" in the form of bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology, which would require planting millions of square kilometres in biofuel crops and then drawing off the CO2 produced when they are burned to generate energy.


By contrast, SRM lowers temperatures but does nothing to remove greenhouse gases. Its proponents say it has the potential to buy Earth time to retool its economy away from fossil fuels.


Jessica Strefler, from the carbon management team at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said the technology already exists to implement large-scale SRM.


Computer modelling of the effect of injecting tonnes of sulphate particles into the stratosphere suggest that as few as 200 planeloads of aerosol a year could halt global warming.


SRM has another obvious advantage: cost.


Strefler said the geoengineering tech would cost "at least one order of magnitude" less than emissions cuts.


"It's dangerously cheap," added Pasztor. "Peanuts."


The draft ISO guidelines urges companies to prioritise "cost-effective" approaches to managing temperature rises, something campaigners fear will push firms further towards SRM.


Yet SRM, even if successfully deployed to maintain surface temperatures, will do nothing to offset the other effects of global warming, including acidifying oceans and crop damage.


For Strefler, the main argument against the technology is how it is governed.


"There's not really a limit to how much we could do. So then who decides which temperature is most desirable? Do we limit them to 1.5C? Do we want to go down to 1C, or to pre-industrial temperatures?" she said.


"Who decides that?" she added. "There's a huge international conflict potential."


Industry influence


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Chance (UNFCCC), the main international, government-led climate process, measures each nation's contribution towards fighting global warming in terms of emissions cuts.


But the ISO appears to propose a news standard altogether, in which progress is defined by "management" of radiative forcing to fix the climate to an undefined temperature.


It also defines the Paris temperature goals as "problematic".


The ISO itself says "industry experts drive all aspects" of the guidance development process, something Muffett said was cause for concern given that industry, including oil and gas majors, often advocate self-regulation when it comes to greening their business models.


"Here you see geoengineering pushed as a solution through precisely the sort of voluntary approach that industry has long advocated," he said.


While ISO guidelines are voluntary and advisory, they help to shape global international business norms.


"You have a wide array of the world's most damaging companies from an environmental perspective who can point very proudly to their ISO certification. It's a body that is by design heavily industry-influenced," said Muffett.


Pasztor said governance of geoengineering technology, because of its global ramifications, "cannot be left to a subset of actors".


"When it comes to tough decisions that have large impacts—large-scale land use for carbon capture, but the most obvious is SRM—they need engagement from different governments," he said.


"When you look at the ISO process, that's much more limited and that's not right because most of the impacts, good or bad, will be on developing and vulnerable countries that are not part of that process."

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Net-zero: climate-saving target or delay tactic?

© 2019 AFP

Citation: Industry guidance touts untested tech as climate fix (2019, August 23) retrieved 23 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-industry-guidance-touts-untested-tech.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.Original Article © Copyrights phys.org

Caffeine does not influence stingless bees

Caffeine does not influence stingless bees
Stingless bees of the species Plebeia droryana, just 3 millimeters in size, collecting solution from a dispenser photo. Credit: Christoph Grüter

The western honey bee (Apis mellifera) that has a sting for use in defense is common in Western Europe. Stingless bees, on the other hand, are mainly at home in the tropics and subtropics. They are a very social group and live in colonies. They construct hives where they store honey for their colony. While the western honey bee reacts to the presence of caffeine in nectar and pollen and becomes more active in terms of foraging the corresponding food source, it would seem that stingless bees find caffeine to be less appealing. "We looked at stingless bees in Brazil but found there was no effect when we offered them caffeinated feeds," said Dr. Christoph Grüter of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). "In the context of our study, the behavior of the insects was not influenced by the presence of caffeine." Some plants add caffeine or other secondary metabolites to their nectar with the aim of manipulating the activity of pollinators. The western or European honey bee and the bumblebee are indeed susceptible to this form of deception. They increase their foraging of the resource in question, thus benefiting the plant through enhanced pollination but, at the same time, the food materials the insects collect can be of poor quality, resulting in potential harm to themselves and their colony.

First investigation to consider the effect of caffeine on stingless bees


Caffeine is a compound present in various plant species, including coffee, tea, and citrus fruits. It is known to stimulate the central nervous system—in humans as well as in honey bees. When honey bees encounter caffeine, their motivation to increase their collecting behavior is reinforced. As a result, they take up more nectar, their learning capacity is improved, they tend to visit blooms that offer caffeine more frequently, and increasingly direct other bees to the food source in question. Over the long term, however, this can have negative consequences for a colony. Certain plants seem to be using specific substances such as caffeine to attract more insects and thus increase the extent of their own pollination while investing minimal sources of energy in the nectar and pollen they produce. Once a honey bee has come across a plant offering caffeine, she will—upon returning to the hive—direct her sisters to the existence of this food resource by means of the waggle dance despite the fact that this plant may contain far less sugar than resources provided by other plants. In other words, this very plant may be of poorer quality as far as the needs of the colony are concerned.


Caffeine does not influence stingless bees
A stingless bee of the species Plebeia droryana visiting a blossom of the plant Euphorbia milii. Credit: Christoph Grüter

Dr. Christoph Grüter and his team have undertaken the first study designed to examine how stingless bees react to caffeine. Working in collaboration with researchers of Goethe University Frankfurt and the University of São Paulo, they selected Plebeia droryanaas the test species, a small bee that is indigenous to southern Brazil and is about the size of a common ant. There are more than 400 different species of stingless bee that have their habitats in Central and South America. P. droryanais one of the main pollinators of coffee. "Although coffee plants can form coffee beans without pollination, pollination will increase the yield," explained Tianfei Peng, Ph.D. student in Grüter's team and lead author of the study. "As coffee bushes produce pollen and nectar, bees are readily attracted to them." The stingless bees transport the pollen back to the hive in the pollen baskets on their hind legs while they store the nectar in their so-called communal stomach—just as honey bees do.


Stingless bees get their buzz from sugar rather than caffeine


The team of biologists first trained stingless bees to collect a sugar solution from a feed dispenser they had set up on a former coffee plantation near São Paulo. They then offered the insects both sugar solution with and without a caffeine additive, whereby the concentration of the stimulant was adjusted to the caffeine content naturally present in Brazilian coffee plants. Some of the tiny, just 3-millimeter-sized insects were marked with a dye so that they could be recognized and their behavior monitored. The researchers then documented how often the bees returned to the food source, how rapidly they collected the solution, and whether they informed their sisters about it. Although stingless bees do not perform the waggle dance, they do use some other form of communication. This is yet not fully understood, but may involve laying down trails of pheromones or sounds generated by thoracic vibrations.


Caffeine does not influence stingless bees
Tianfei Peng, Ph.D. student at JGU and lead author of the study, compiling test results on the campus of the University of São Paulo. Credit: Christoph Grüter

"We did not see an effect attributable to caffeine in any of the results we obtained," summarized Grüter. "The rate at which the bees visited the dispensers was the same, irrespective of whether caffeine was present or not." Evolution may be one explanation of why stingless bees are not seduced by caffeine. It is possible that P. droryanahas developed tolerance towards the effects of caffeine over time. After all, coffee has already been cultivated in Brazil for almost 300 years. Another possibility is that the physiological responses of stingless bees differ from those of other bee groups.


Although caffeine had no effect on the foraging behavior of the test bees, the researchers did record another interesting outcome: When solutions with higher concentrations of sugar were on offer, the bees more often chose to visit the higher concentration solutions, in other words, the better quality food sources. The researchers' next step, according to Grüter, is to investigate how stingless bees react in an environment in which there is no tradition of coffee growing, such as in Australia, for instance.

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Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers More information: Tianfei Peng et al. Resource profitability, but not caffeine, affects individual and collective foraging in the stingless bee Plebeia droryana, The Journal of Experimental Biology (2019). DOI: 10.1242/jeb.195503 Journal information: Journal of Experimental Biology Provided by Universitaet Mainz Citation: Caffeine does not influence stingless bees (2019, August 23) retrieved 23 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-caffeine-stingless-bees.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.Original Article © Copyrights phys.org

This rat is foiling developers' plans to capitalize on a weaker Endangered Species Act

san bernardino
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Southern California developers have long sought relief from regulations protecting wildlife, and earlier this month the Trump administration obliged, formally moving to weaken the federal Endangered Species Act.

But any boon for business could be short-lived—California is stepping in to protect species left vulnerable by federal rollbacks.


The California Fish and Game Commission, for example, recently declared the San Bernardino kangaroo rat a candidate for the state endangered species list, a decision that could create legal obstacles for a 8,407-home development in Rialto.


The panel issued its decision after a nonprofit group, the Endangered Habitats League, argued that intervention was urgently needed to protect the rodent, a federally listed species, from threats including urban sprawl and President Donald Trump's "politicization of federal regulatory agencies."


No one was more astonished by the commission's 4-0 vote than a group of development opponents, who thought they had lost a 10-year effort to bolster protection for the rat. That came after federal biologists reversed themselves in July—concluding that the Rialto development would not be the death knell for the rat—even though the subdivision would cover 1,048 acres of critical habitat.


For Lynn Boshart, 72, whose home overlooks the disputed property, the state's action was a stay of execution.


"We were stunned—then jubilant," Boshart said. "Presenting our case to the commission was an act of desperation after we'd exhausted all other options."


Breaking into a smile, she added, "This fight isn't over after all."


At the center of the fight is a 3-inch-tall rodent that had lost 95% of its habitat by the time it was listed as a federally endangered species a decade ago.


San Bernardino kangaroo rats, named for the way they hop across the ground, have adapted to a sage-and-sand habitat of meandering flood plains, rocky channels, grasslands and low shrubs.


It shares this landscape with an array of predators, including great horned owls, coyotes and snakes. But its biggest long-term threat is habitat fragmentation caused by sand-and-gravel operations, highway construction and new homes.


In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had designated 33,295 acres as critical habitat for the rat, but by 2018 only 16,000 acres were considered functional, including a portion of Lytle Creek Wash, where the Rialto homes are planned.


"We're not saying don't build that development," Boshart said. "Just scale it back a bit, and move it away from the wash."


While running for president, Trump railed against the Endangered Species Act for stifling development and harming farmers. During a 2015 campaign rally in Fresno, he complained about water regulations designed "to protect a certain kind of 3-inch fish," the delta smelt, which has complicated the pumping of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Central Valley farms.


After months of signaling its intention to weaken federal protections for species, the administration unveiled its rollback on Aug. 12. Among other things, it for the first time will allow federal authorities to take into account the economic cost of protecting a particular endangered species.


Before that action, the Endangered Habitats League had spent months investigating the administration's connections and communications with the Lytle Creek Development Co., based in Irvine.


Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the group learned that Ron Pharris, the company's chairman, had reached out via email on July 12, 2018, to Ian Foley—then a legislative assistant for Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif. - asking for help in "moving this important project forward."


Pharris asked Foley to arrange a personal meeting with Assistant Interior Secretary Susan Combs, a Trump appointee who has referred to endangered species listings as "incoming Scud missiles." He planned to use graphs and maps, he said, to "help her better understand the key issues which we have been unable to satisfactorily resolve" with local federal biologists reviewing the environmental impacts of the planned development.


Those biologists, he said, were "NOT using the best available science and information gathered about this project; rather, they seek ways to view the project through the lens of their preconceived belief of what biological conditions on the site 'should' be."


Pharris was particularly worried that they were preparing a "draft biological opinion" that would call for removing as much as one-third of the project's footprint in an effort to protect the rats and their habitat.


On July 26, 2018, Paul Souza, regional director of fish and wildlife's pacific southwest region, sent an email alerting his staff that the developer had bypassed the office and taken its concerns directly to Washington.


"Please make the point that the regional office is prepared to work with the developer," he said, "and find a fair and reasonable solution."


A year later, the service issued a draft biological opinion that said the "proposed action is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the San Bernardino kangaroo rat," nor the value of critical habitat in the area.


It pointed out that the developer planned to avoid and conserve at least 892 acres of natural open space, more than half of which would be for the benefit of the rat.


Contacted by the Los Angeles Times, Pharris said: "I just do my thing—and yes, that includes conversations at both the state and federal level."


Combs was unavailable for comment. Souza declined to say whether Combs had contacted him about the project. But in a prepared statement, he said it was not uncommon for interested parties to communicate with senior officials. "We are creating a conservation strategy for the species and expect to finalize our technical review in the weeks ahead," he added.


When the Endangered Habitats League petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to intervene, the group argued that the Trump administration's politicization of federal environmental agencies threatened the rat's survival.


"State listing is a necessary backstop to the disregard of law and science by federal government agencies under the current administration," said Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League.


In issuing its decision, the state commission declined to endorse Silver's argument about the politicization of federal agencies. But it did agree the rat might be in trouble.


"The fact that the species continues to decline after being federally listed for all these years suggests to me that something about the federal Endangered Species Act may not be working right," said Melissa Miller-Henson, acting executive director of the commission.


The commission's action provides interim protection for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat until a final decision is made on listing within the next year, officials said.


California could soon make other moves to backstop the Trump administration's weakening of environmental laws.


State Senate leader Toni Atkins, a Democrat, has introduced legislation, SB 1, that decrees California will step in and adopt any federal environmental protection the Trump administration attempts to gut.


"This bill's purpose is simple and clear," Atkins said. "It gives the state Fish and Game Commission discretion to safeguard protections for our endangered species rolled back by the current federal administration."


Atkins aims to push her bill through the Legislature before it adjourns for the year in mid-September.


That won't be easy.


"SB 1 is under attack," said Kim Delfino, California program director for the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, "by opponents including the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Farm Bureau Federation and big water districts."


To hear the chamber tell it, the bill is a "job killer" that "would negatively impact the growth, employment and investment decisions of almost every major California business."


On Wednesday, seven environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's rollback of the Endangered Species Act.


In the meantime, conservationists are waiting to see how skirmishes between California and the Trump administration will play out on the ground.


Boshart has recently been leading strolls through the rat's remnant kingdom of buckwheat, yuccas, sage and soft, loose sand on the northern edge of Rialto in San Bernardino County, to win more support for her cause.


"Just after we moved here 12 years ago," Boshart likes to say, "I saw a San Bernardino kangaroo rat stand up on its hind legs and say, 'Hello!' to me. We've been good neighbors ever since."

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US environmental groups sue over wildlife protection rollbacks

©2019 Los Angeles Times

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Citation: This rat is foiling developers' plans to capitalize on a weaker Endangered Species Act (2019, August 23) retrieved 23 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-rat-foiling-capitalize-weaker-endangered.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.Original Article © Copyrights phys.org

The West is trading water for cash. The water is running out

southwest
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

When it comes to global warming's one-two punch of inundation and drought, the presence of too much water has had the most impact on U.S. agriculture this year, with farmers across the Midwest swamped by flooding throughout the Mississippi Basin.

But in the Southwest, it's the increasing lack of water that's threatening the agricultural economy, as well as the welfare of 40 million Americans and part of the food supply for the entire nation.


The 1,450-mile-long Colorado River serves as a source of water for seven states, but climate change and overuse have caused its levels to drop precipitously. From 2000 to 2014, flows declined 19% from the 20th century average, according to American Geophysical Union Water Resources research. By 2100, the river flow could fall as much as 55%.


The threat to fresh water is of course global in scope. The World Resources Institute reported this month that access to water for hundreds of millions of people is now at risk due to global warming. Along the Colorado River, climate change is also taking its toll, responsible for aridification—the progression from cyclical drought to a permanent decrease in water.


With big Western cities clamoring for a share of the river's diminishing supply, desert farmers with valuable claims are making multimillion-dollar deals in a bid to delay the inevitable. It's an echo of the historic manipulation that long ago subdued this waterway, the carver of the Grand Canyon and icon of the American West. But if the river's water keeps falling, more radical measures will be needed to protect what remains.


Since the 19th century, the biggest users of Colorado River water have been farmers, turning millions of acres of unforgiving landscape in California and Arizona into a patchwork of green and brown visible from space. For a century, their water supply has been governed by agreements among the states along the river basin. But the water itself is doled out by state administrators in part under a "first in time, first in right" mechanism that's even older, dating back to the decades following the American Civil War.


When the states came together in the 1920s to sign a compact dividing rights to the river, they were operating from an overly optimistic assessment of how much water was available. Thus behind the eight-ball from the start, increasing water demands in the decades since have created a situation where more water is taken out of the river than flows into it. In March, with the river's main reservoirs now below half of total capacity and the federal government about to step in, the states reached a temporary deal to cut river water use.


But in 2026, a more severe reckoning looms when a long-term deal must be struck. The Colorado River provides drinking water for 1 in 10 Americans, many in cities such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver and Phoenix. It also waters almost 90% of the nation's winter vegetables, according to American Rivers, an advocacy group. When the broader compromise is due, it may remake how an entire region grows food and uses water.


"It wasn't like one state used more water than they were supposed to: Each state is using what they're legally entitled to under the compact," said John Berggren, a water policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates. When you combine institutionalized overuse with an accelerating climate crisis, Berggren explained, that's when you get "the problem."


The "first in time" aspect of Colorado River rights began in the late 1800s, and is known as Prior Appropriation. A claimant, having through diversion of the river made beneficial use of the water (by farming or mining, for example), can continue to take the same amount they always have in perpetuity, or convey that "senior right" as a form of property. As faster-growing states like California accumulated more claims, however, slower-growing upriver states feared they'd be shut out.


The 1922 Colorado River Compact was meant to fix this. The agreement meant that some 7.5 million acre-feet of water (equal to an entire acre of land covered in 1 foot of water, or 326,000 gallons) would be allotted every year to both the Upper Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) and the Lower Basin (Nevada, Arizona and California). Since the river flows from north to south, Upper Basin states are obligated to make sure Lower Basin states get their due.


But the math was wrong, and there was much less water available over the following years than the signatories had predicted.


Since 1989, Lower Basin states have often used much more than their share under the compact. As agriculture and big cities expanded, the deficit was made up by tapping the massive reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The river itself long ago ceased flowing into the Gulf of California, instead petering out in the Mexican desert. As water levels continued to decline and climate change added to the river's stress, the Lower Basin has engaged in what John Fleck, director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico, called "de facto prior appropriation."


"The math is unbelievably simple," said Douglas Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado Law School. "You just can't use more than comes in."


As Western cities grew, added demands were placed upon the Colorado River. But unlike many of the desert farming communities, urban areas have made great strides in water conservation. Examples include Las Vegas paying residents to rip out their lawns and plans by Los Angeles to recycle 100% of its wastewater by 2035.


But it's not enough to slow the river's demise, given that about 70% of it goes to agriculture. Robert Glennon, a regents professor at the University of Arizona, said there needs to be improved efficiency in how desert farms irrigate their crops, as well as mutually beneficial programs to divert water to urban areas seeking insurance policies against future drought.


Indeed, a brisk trade "water marketing" has sprung up. Municipal water authorities pay hundreds of millions of dollars to holders of senior river rights, or to fund rural conservation efforts, in exchange for water. Glennon said the farmers and their water districts long ago realized that, unless they inked deals with the big cities, the federal government would eventually step in.


No government is going to let some of its biggest cities go dry over antiquated claims to water, according to Glennon, author of Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It. "If you don't take advantage of doing deals with the cities for a modest amount of money, what you're going to see is new legislation that crimps your rights, insists on greater conservation without paying for it," he said.


For a price, cities can divert Colorado River water intended for crops via aqueduct to kitchen taps in Santa Monica and La Jolla. The water marketing model has been so successful that agricultural land use in the region is projected to decrease as conversion to urban use accelerates, according to a 2012 Bureau of Reclamation study.


One of the biggest water marketing deals was in 2003. The Quantification Settlement Agreement will soon send 200,000 acre-feet of water westward annually at a "melded supply rate" of $474 per acre-foot, for an approximate annual price of $94 million. The water originates from the rural Imperial Irrigation District (IID) in southeastern California and ends up with the San Diego County Water Authority. The IID also has a deal with the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), which serves Los Angeles and Orange counties, sending them 105,000 acre-feet a year at $111 per acre-foot.


The Palo Verde Irrigation District (PVID), a roughly 131,000-acre area next to where the river forms California's border with Arizona, is locked into a 35-year deal with the MWD, which paid $6.2 million last year. Under the agreement, the MWD can demand that the rural district leave 28% of its land fallow to free up 115,000 acre-feet of water for some of Southern California's largest cities and approximately 20 million people.


Not counting upfront payments, the MWD paid the farmers of the Palo Verde district about $164 million between 2005 and 2018. Deven Upadhyay, assistant general manager and chief operations officer of the MWD, said water marketing deals provide California's southern cities with latitude to deal with changing climate conditions.


"We'll continue to pursue flexible arraignments that allow us in wet years to store water, in drier years to do exchanges with other agencies," he said.


With that kind of money at stake, even tiny water districts are getting involved. The Bard Water District, near the Mexican border, is only about 7,000 acres. But it's already on its second, two-year pilot program in which it agrees to leave 2,000 acres fallow in exchange for money from the MWD. It made $950,000 for farmers and water district improvements during its first pilot in 2016-201.


But there is another price to be paid for these arrangements, said Ron Derma, general manager of the Bard district. Damage to residents and businesses who aren't parties to the deals, and who depend on the farming economy, is getting worse. Leave too much land untilled, Derma warned, and the commercial infrastructure that supports agricultural communities could be permanently hobbled.


"You got people that depend on irrigation, you got people that spray (pesticides), tractor sales—all the things that are connected to farming," he said.


But Bart Fisher, a board member of the Palo Verde Irrigation District and owner of an 11,000-acre farm a few miles from the river, said water marketing programs are beneficial to the community. Fisher, who MWD records show has collected at least $30 million under the fallowing agreement (not including any upfront payments), acknowledged that the deal has some "unanticipated, negative effects." But he added that keeping land fallow also requires work, and that the influx of money fuels the local economy.


"There are elements of the economy that get a big bump when fallow payments come in," Fisher said. "I get phone calls from the local John Deere dealer wondering when will there be a newer fallow program so they can sell new equipment."


The local water districts and their member farmers have come to rely on all that city money. The MWD has slowly become the largest owner of land in the Palo Verde district, with 22,000 acres and the water rights that come with them. The PVID eventually sued, accusing the MWD of "thinly veiled attempts" to turn local lands into "water farms," according to court documents. The University of Arizona's Glennon said the 2017 lawsuit, which has since been dropped, sprang from fear among the farmers that their cash payments would dry up.


"The gravy train would come to an end," Glennon said.


The MWD is quick to note that as part of the water marketing deals, it has made an effort to support rural towns, including paying $6 million for "community improvement" to the Palo Verde district, which is centered on the town of Blythe.


The town of almost 20,000 people is named for Thomas Blythe, who in 1877 became one of the first to establish rights to Colorado River water. The municipality, hard up against the Colorado River's western bank, is surrounded on three sides by cropland. The farmers here are at the top of the list when it comes to claims on river water. Blythe's 1877 claim yielded upwards of about 450,000 acre-feet a year as long as the Lower Basin still received 7.5 million acre-feet.


But Blythe itself is hurting. Census data estimate the median household income has decreased from about $48,000 in 2012 to less than $40,000 in 2017. Robert Conway, the general manager of Jordan/Central Implement Co., said the town has gone downhill since the fallowing program began.


"There's not a lot of trickle-down economics in Blythe, that's for sure," he said.


For rural communities further down the list of water rights, the growing shortage of Colorado River water has become an existential threat. Arizona's Pinal County, an agricultural community wedged between Phoenix and Tucson, ranks near the bottom when it comes to claims. Here, farms lay fallow not for money, but simply because there's not enough water.


Paul Orme, general counsel to four Pinal County irrigation districts, said planned reductions in water allotments may force local farmers to leave as much as 40% of their land unfarmed.


"The irrigation districts are going to have to tell their farmers at some point that instead of delivering you 'x' amount of water, we can deliver you 'y,'" Orme said. "It will be up to the farmers to determine if they can make that work."

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