Jessica Leber: Hobby Naturalists

Yale E360:

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Amateur contributions to taxonomy are far from new — “Darwin wasn’t a professional,” notes David Pearson, an Arizona State University ecologist and beetle expert — but this work became the more exclusive domain of traditional academic and museum institutions in the 20th century. More recently, however, Pearson says the heyday of Darwin’s Victorian era — when amateur naturalists driven by their own curiosity helped dramatically expand the world’s biodiversity catalog — is having a comeback.

The data, though limited, support the trend. A 2012 study found new species of multicellular land and freshwater animals are being discovered at an “unprecedented rate” in supposedly well-explored Europe. Crucially, it found “non-professional” taxonomists were responsible for more than 60 percent of those new species descriptions from 1998 to 2007. In the ocean, it’s a similar story — 40 percent of first authors of recently identified marine mollusks have been so-called “amateurs.” Another paper by New Zealand researchers argued that because of these citizen scientists, as well as new tools to analyze species and online access to knowledge, “the field has never been stronger,” they write, despite a decline in funding for the formal profession.

Marc Devokaitis: Sharp-shinned Hawk in the Yard

Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

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Raptors—especially Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks—have become a familiar presence at urban and suburban feeders around North America. But it wasn’t always this way.

In a 2017 retrospective of Project FeederWatch results, we noted that Cooper’s Hawks increased their presence fourfold at FeederWatch sites over the past two decades. The agile accipiters occurred at just 6% of feeders in 1989, but by 2016 had increased to around 25% of feeders. Cooper’s Hawks have historically been thought of as a rural species, picking songbirds from branches in surprise attacks in the woodlands and forests. But one clear factor in the surge of FeederWatch reports has been their expansion into suburban and urban areas.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology took these results and went further, trying to find out what might be behind these increases.

Daniel McGraw: Lake Erie Bill of Rights

The Guardian:

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The citizens of Toledo, on the western basin of Lake Erie, will now be voting on a controversial legal bill on 26 February. What they will be deciding is whether Lake Erie has the same legal rights as a corporation or person.

There have been cities and townships in the United States that have passed ordinances making some types of polluting illegal, but no American city or state has changed the legality of nature in a way that is this big and this extensive – effectively giving personhood to a gigantic lake.

Called the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, it would grant personhood status to the lake, with the citizens being the guardians of the body of water. If passed, citizens could sue a polluter on behalf of the lake, and if the court finds the polluter guilty, the judge could impose penalties in the form of designated clean-ups and/or prevention programs.

“What has happened in Toledo is that we have lost our faith in the current mechanisms of power, and decided to take things into our own hands,” said Bryan Twitchell, a Toledo school teacher.

Erin Jordan: Iowa Commission Won't Set Lake Pollution Limits

The Gazette:

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The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission on Tuesday unanimously denied a petition asking the state to set pollution limits on Iowa lakes. The vote in Des Moines followed a presentation by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Iowa Environmental Council, which jointly filed a petition for rule making. The groups argued numeric limits for water transparency, chlorophyll-a, total phosphorus and total nitrogen would better help the state protect lakes used for recreation and drinking water.

But the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recommended the commission deny the petition, saying numeric limits would result in costly changes and more federal regulation. The Law and Policy Center also asked for numeric limits in 2013, but the commission denied the petition then as well.

Interesting… aren’t there benefits of setting a pollution standard for a lake or a group of lakes?

Frances Cairncross: A Global Warming Solution is R&D and Phased In Carbon Tax

Anthropocene:

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The world is playing a rigged casino game. “Every year that we inject more CO2 into the atmosphere, we spin the planetary roulette wheel … and the more we continue increasing the emissions that warm the planet, the more the odds are stacked against a favorable outcome.”
So what’s the smartest way to play such a game? Or, more to the point: Is there a way to speed up a massive leap from dirty to clean energy sources that would otherwise take many decades?

A team led by MIT’s Daron Acemoglu has recently argued that the best way to replace carbon-based energy with noncarbon fuels might be to start off with a high level of government subsidies for research and development of clean technologies. (1) Over the course of half a century, these subsidies would be gradually withdrawn and a carbon tax introduced at rates that would build to a crescendo over a century or so before declining. The boost to R&D would speed up the switch to clean energy without cutting economic growth, as a carbon tax alone might do.

Thus the carbon tax would become an effective way to bring about the transition to clean technology only after enough R&D had been done to shift the incentives for innovation.

Kirsti Marohn: 'Forever' Chemicals in Groundwater

MPR:

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“We do know that these chemicals just don’t break down,” said Matt Simcik, a University of Minnesota professor who has done extensive research on PFAS. “So once we’ve made them, they’re around forever.” About 20 years ago, studies found that PFAS were showing up around the globe: in water, soil, wildlife and even in humans. Scientists are still studying the health effects of the chemicals, but research has linked prolonged exposure to PFAS to health problems including some cancers, thyroid disease and infertility.

”There’s strong evidence they have adverse biological effects,” said Bill Arnold, a University of Minnesota professor who has studied methods to remove PFAS from water. “The data isn’t 100 percent conclusive, but the prevailing wisdom is that it’s not good to have them in your bloodstream. And we all have them in our bloodstream.”

EPA's Forever Chemicals Plan

AP:

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Under pressure from Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it would move toward setting safety limits for a class of highly toxic chemicals contaminating drinking water around the country. Environmentalists, congressional Democrats and state officials countered that the agency wasn’t moving fast enough.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler released an “action plan” for dealing with the long-lasting substances, which have been linked to health threats ranging from cancer to decreased fertility. The perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known collectively as PFAS, have turned up increasingly in public water systems and private wells.

Gavin Van Horn: Shagbark Thoughts

Center for Humans and Nature:

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Small places, small encounters. We start where we are, with what is available to us. An iridescent bird who has learned to seek bread from human hands is not a bad place to begin. Which reminds me of the wise words of writer and lepidopterist Robert Michael Pyle. There’s a moving chapter entitled “The Extinction of Experience” in Pyle’s memoir of childhood exploration, The Thunder Tree. There he notes that when people think of extinction, they often think of rare species—Javan rhinos and Bengal tigers. Animals that are large or furry, or a combination of both, draw the lion’s share of our attention. As important as big, charismatic species are, Pyle sets his sights on something closer to home. He expresses concern over a potentially more devastating loss, “the extinction of experience.” This type of extinction is more subtle, occurring at the scale of the neighborhood, and therefore less appreciated and harder to detect. Rarely is ink wasted on headlines about this type of extinction. One season a copper-colored butterfly flutters by, the next year it is gone, cool concrete substituted for purple coneflower.

These small disappearances could be characterized as lesser losses. After all, in Chicago there are the forest preserves, many miles of lakeshore, innumerable municipal parks. Even if we get to those places only once in a while, the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet or Nat Geo Wild allows the exotic to burst into our living rooms. For Pyle, this way of thinking reflects the slow erosion of intimacy with so-called throwaway landscapes.

Stephanie Hemphill: Farmers Reducing Phosphorus Runoff

ENSIA:

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Why exactly does Green Bay need saving? Because it suffers from too much phosphorus, which contributes to Cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae. Around the world, these bacteria are turning water a disgusting shade of green and other colors, and producing poisons that can sicken people and kill animals. And when the algae die off they can rob oxygen from other life in the water, killing fish and other aquatic life.

Around Green Bay, several small streams carry excess nutrients from farm fields into the bay and eventually into Lake Michigan. One of them, Silver Creek, is the focus of a pilot project designed to answer a crucial question: Can farmers reduce their pollution enough to help the bay, while remaining profitable? The project lies within the boundaries of the Oneida reservation, and more than half the land is owned by the tribe, which leases a lot of land to non-tribal growers...

Five years in a pilot program isn’t much time to clean up a stream, but the ultimate goal of adaptive management is to bring Silver Creek up to the state’s water quality standard for phosphorus. NEW Water says the project has cost US$1 million dollars annually over the last four years. That’s a lot cheaper than US$100 million for a new treatment plant. And how well is it all working?

The project promises to provide extensive data about how well various agricultural practices work to reduce polluted farm runoff. The weekly samples from five monitors along Silver Creek provide baseline measurements from the year before the BMPs started. This is not as precise as more expensive continuous monitoring would be, but it offers more experimental rigor than most studies can provide.

Those five monitors continue to track water quality. So far, the results are mixed. In 2016, three of the monitors showed phosphorus reductions, one stayed essentially the same and one showed a slight increase. In 2017 the area was drenched with what felt like endless rainfall, soaking the fields and making them more vulnerable to runoff. The phosphorus numbers went up, but not to levels seen pre-BMPs. “I was very happy to see that even with a very wet year we never even approached the concentrations we saw before we started installing these best management practices,” NEW Water’s Erin Houghton says.

Tom Jacobs: Mother Nature

Pacific Standard:

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“Mother Nature” is a rather antiquated way of referring to the natural world. It seems ridiculous to anthropomorphize something so huge and diffuse, let alone to assign it a gender. But new research from China suggests that reviving this image could inspire people to act in more environmentally conscious ways.

”Our results show a robust implicit association between women and nature,” writes a research team led by Ting Liu of Nanjing University. “The metaphor ‘Mother Earth’ builds on this association and leads to increases [in] one’s connection with nature, which in turn leads to increases in pro-environmental behavior.”

The results suggest that anthropomorphizing nature as a mom “could be a relatively low-cost but useful strategy in environmental promotion.” They suggest that ads or public-service announcements promoting green behaviors should consider including elements “such as a female face and body characteristics” to reinforce the connection between nature and femininity.

The paper.

Sara Chodosh: Chronic Wasting Disease and Humans

Popular Science:

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CWD appears limited to deer, moose, and elk. But University of Minnesota researchers warned local lawmakers this week that we should be taking action now to prevent the potential spread to humans. Michael Osterholm, director of the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention, testified that “It is my best professional judgment based on my public health experience and the risk of BSE transmission to humans in the 1980s and 1990s and my extensive review and evaluation of laboratory research studies … that it is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead. It is possible that number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events,” according to the Pioneer Press.

Osterholm would know; he’s seen this kind of thing before. For a long time, experts thought another prion disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, couldn’t infect humans. Then they discovered that it actually was possible (though extremely rare) for humans who ate infected meat or came into contact with infected tissue to contract a variant of the human prion disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob. Osterholm was one of the experts who sat on British review panels at the time of the mad cow disease scare, and predicted the prions could make the leap into humans.

Adam Hinterthuer: Lake Water Level Changes and Mercury in Fish

Center for Limnology:

A study has found an connection between water levels in lakes and toxic mercury levels in fish. When droughts cause water levels to drop, the levels of mercury found in fish also plummet. In extended periods of wetter weather, water levels rise and levels of mercury in fish increase. The phenomenon was discovered by a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as they examined long-term data from several lakes in northern Wisconsin. In previous work, the researchers had found that, roughly once a decade, water levels in the northwestern Great Lakes and northern Wisconsin’s inland lakes fluctuate between high and low levels and back again.

The scientists turned to 32 years of data on mercury levels in more than 1,300 walleye, a fish popular with anglers and restaurants throughout the Great Lakes region. And when the researchers plotted out that data, they saw a very familiar pattern — mercury levels in walleye follow the 10-year water level fluctuations.

Nadja Popovich: Lake Ice Future

New York Times:

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In a study published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists for the first time quantified the effects of rising temperatures on ice cover across 1.4 million lakes in the Northern Hemisphere. They found that, from Wisconsin to Japan, thousands of lakes that used to freeze reliably every winter already see some years without ice, and that “an extensive loss of lake ice will occur within the next generation.”

The vanishing ice will affect cold-water ecosystems and be felt by millions of people who live near northern lakes, the study said.

The study.

Genna Reed: PFAS Task Force Calls for Action

Union of Concerned Scientists:

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Earlier this week, members of Congress announced the creation of a bipartisan task force intended to shine a light on the dangers of nationwide PFAS contamination. The group plans to hold briefings to further educate members of Congress and to write and push for strong legislation and funding through the appropriations process.

This exciting news comes as the public continues to wait for answers from the Trump administration, which has largely been all talk and no action on this issue. The EPA’s anticipated PFAS management plan has been delayed and documents uncovered by Politico revealed that the Department of Defense (DoD) had recently been eyeing Michael Dourson to lead a study on the health risks of PFAS. You might remember Dourson as the toxicologist who withdrew his name from consideration as EPA chemicals head last year after his industry conflicts and record of weakened standards were exposed. DoD’s consideration of Dourson for this work is a slap in the face to the communities calling for science-based thresholds that are health-protective.

The establishment of this task force is a great opportunity for Congress to push for urgent, strong action and answer the calls of so many Americans for whom drinking their own water presents a public health risk...

Lindsey Konkel: Potential Ideas for Using Stormwater

Environmental Health News:

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In some water-stressed regions, scientists and engineers are working to optimize the use of plants to remove nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from storm water. High levels of these nutrients in ground and surface water can lead to algal blooms and harm drinking water sources.

Ana Deletic is a water-engineering expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia. She has helped to engineer massive rain gardens in Australia, Israel and China—some up to an acre in size—to help filter these common pollutants out of urban wastewater. “These are simple-looking systems, but they are not. They are living machines that must be tailored for local conditions,” Deletic told EHN.

Many urban environments have a history of contamination with toxic metals including lead and cadmium. Deletic said that zinc from rusting metal roofs has become a public health concern in some cities in Australia and New Zealand. Plants may be able to help remove heavy metals, too. “Plants need small amounts of metals to grow, so over time they will suck up some of these contaminants,” said Deletic.

Prioritizing Lakes for Conservation

Lake and Reservoir Management:

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Abstract:
Identifying lakes in which to invest water quality conservation efforts can help more effectively target efforts and more efficiently utilize limited resources. The objective of this study was to compare different approaches to prioritize Minnesota lakes primarily for water quality protection or restoration. Lakes were objectively ranked using a multi-criteria values-based model that included phosphorus-loading resilience, level of watershed degradation, and feasibility of water quality protection or restoration. We explored how the list of priority lakes might change when incorporating benefit:cost ratios that used a hedonic model to predict land value increases with total phosphorus loading reductions. In addition, we examined the influence of including data on lakes with unique or high-quality biological communities. The multi-criteria values-based model was moderately correlated with the benefit:cost ratio approach; however, the exclusion of benefits and cost in the prioritization would likely result in the loss of a modest amount of potential benefit ($20%). A focus on impaired waters would likely result in considerable forgone benefit ($80%) and substantially higher costs. We provide recommendations on how to combine prioritization approaches along with a peer review process to produce lake priority lists that are both defensible and practical.

This article is available as a pdf for a limited time at this link.

Andrew Freedman: Only 5% of the Earth's Landscape Remains Unaltered

Axios:

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Humans have a greater influence on the world’s landscape than previously thought, according to a comprehensive new high-resolution analysis of human modification of the planet. The map, published in the journal Global Change Biology, is meant to guide conservation strategy in the coming years. Why it matters: The new study finds that just 5% of the Earth’s land surface is currently unaffected by humans, far lower than a previous estimate of 19%.

The study found the least modified biomes tend to be in high latitudes and include tundra, boreal forests, or taiga and temperate coniferous forests. On the other hand, the most modified biomes include more tropical landscapes, such as temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, as well as mangroves.

Jason Daley: The Dragonfly Migration

Smithsonian Magazine:

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The green darner dragonfly, Anax junius, embarks on a rigorous, multi-generational migratory relay race up and down North America every year that largely goes unnoticed, according to a new study published in the journal Biology Letters.

Dragonfly experts knew that the common emerald green and blue insects migrated, but tracking the jet-setting three-inch-long insect is tricky. The slender insects are too small for radio trackers and don’t travel in easy-to-spot swarms like monarchs or birds. To bring the details of the dragonfly’s journey to light, researchers consulted 21 years of data collected by citizen scientists and analyzed more than 800 green darner wing samples collected over the last 140 years from museums, reports Susan Milius at Science News.

Ibram X. Kendi: To the Deniers of Reality

The Atlantic:

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The disbelievers do not believe that either climate change or racism is real. Or they do not believe they are caused by emissions of greenhouse gases or racist policies. Or they do not believe that regulating them would be better for society.

All this disbelief rests on the same foundation: the transformation of science into belief. It is a foundation built from the economic, political, and ideological blocks that stand the most to lose from the aggressive reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions and racial inequities. These defensive voices engage in the same oratorical process, attack the credibility of scientists, disregarding their consensus and reducing their findings to personal beliefs.

The effect: Science becomes belief. Belief becomes science. Everything becomes nothing. Nothing becomes everything. All can believe and disbelieve all. We all can know everything and know nothing. Everyone lives as an expert on every subject. No experts live on any subject. Years of intense and specialized training and research and reflection are abandoned, like poor Latino immigrants, like the poor body of our planet...

Signs reign in the realm of belief. Belief reigns in the realm of what we cannot or do not know. Let me say it differently. I know because of science. When I do not know, I believe or disbelieve. As such, the end game of the transformation of science to belief is the execution of knowing. And the end of knowing is the end of human advancement...

Fascinating article, and read his conclusion. Nassim Taleb stated “you will never fully convince someone that he is wrong, only reality can”. I guess since our climate is changing at long time scales, many deniers can stick with their false beliefs for a long time. This is why civic leaders are so important — leaders can articulate the needs and push the necessary change forward.

Maddie Stone: Drilling to Reach an Antarctic Lake

Gizmodo:

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the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) team announced they’d reached Lake Mercer after melting their way through an enormous frozen river with a high-pressure, hot-water drill. The multi-year effort to tap into the subglacial lake—one of approximately 400 scientists have detected across Antarctica—offers a rare opportunity to study the biology and chemistry of the most isolated ecosystems on Earth.

The only other subglacial lake humans have drilled into—nearby Lake Whillans, sampled in 2013—demonstrated that these extreme environments can play host to diverse microbial life. Naturally, scientists are stoked to see what they’ll find lurking in Lake Mercer’s icy waters.

“We don’t know what we’ll find,” John Priscu, a biogeochemist at Montana State University and chief scientist for SALSA, told Earther via satellite phone from the SALSA drill camp on the Whillans Ice Plain. “We’re just learning, it’s only the second time that this has been done.”