Oceans can’t keep up with human emissions

A study out in Nature today puts some long-term figures on a trend that climate scientists and ecologists have seen coming for some time: Oceans are no longer absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere like they used to. Growing ocean acidity is slowing their ability to keep up as humans pump more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The study, conducted by Samar Khatiwala of the Georgia Institute of Technology and colleagues, built a mathematical model of seawater changes over the past 20 years, including empirical data on temperature, salinity and the presence of manufactured chlorofluorocarbons, or CFC’s. Using information from the model, they estimated the rate of change of human-generated carbon in the sea from the year 1765, at the advent of the industrial era, until 2008. Although oceans used to be able to keep up with the yearly rise in human-emitted carbon, absorbing more and more each year, Khatiwala’s study found that in the last 20 years, the oceans’ rate of absorption growth is slowing down. From 200 to 2007, the rate of increase dropped by about 10 percent. As Khatiwala told The New York Times: It’s a small change in absolute terms. What I think is fairly clear and important in the long term is the trend toward lower values, which implies that more of the emissions will remain in the atmosphere. Read more at Nature and at The New York Times. Khatiwala, S., Primeau, F., & Hall, T. (2009). Reconstruction of the history of anthropogenic CO2 concentrations in the ocean Nature, 462 (7271), 346-349 DOI:...

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Marine animals write their own atlas

Southern elephant seals were fitted with GPS collars to help provide data for the new atlas. Credit: Valeria Falabella, Wildlife Conservation Society The marine animals of the Patagonian Sea have apparently been hard at work  informing humanity about their home turf. An atlas of this sea, off the southeastern coast of South America, has been published using data from satellite transmitters affixed to a host of Patagonian vertebrates. The atlas is published by the Wildlife Conservation Society and BirdLife International. Twenty-five scientists collected the data over 10 years, using the transmitters to track marine animals from the coasts of southern Brazil to southern Chile. For example, the studies found that elephant seals travel about 6,200 miles during an average season at sea, and that they travel an additional 6,200 when they dive to find food.  Other tracked species include five species of albatross, three species of petrel, four varieties of penguin, two fur seal species and the South American sea lion. The atlas is being produced in English and Spanish and will be used to help inform policy decisions in the region, including managing fisheries and charting transportation routes of oil tankers. The Patagonian Sea, which spans 1.1 million square miles, is becoming increasingly threatened by development and overfishing, says the Wildlife Conservation Society. Claudio Campagna, who runs the Wildlife Conservation Society’s “Sea and Sky” initiative, says the atlas is unique because it was “essentially written by the wildlife that live in the Patagonian sea.”  Hopefully these new stakeholders will bring a fresh perspective to the table. Read more...

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A Conference about Water V: The EcoEd Digital Library

This post was submitted by Teresa Mourad and Jennifer Riem of ESA’s Education Office. The ongoing discussions at the Millennium Conference are highlighting the role that ecologists and social scientists play in issues related to water, ecosystem services, and drought. Preparing the next generation of scientists to research, adapt, mitigate and manage these challenges is a responsibility that we all share. While the plenary talks and poster presentations have all showcased the current scientific knowledge about these topics, EcoEd Digital Library is also showcasing a collection of teaching resources related to water resources that can be used to bring this knowledge into the classroom. These resources were all submitted by ecologists who have integrated their own research into their teaching and published their work for others to use. The collection highlights the close-knit relationship between research and education that must be developed in order to prepare future ecologists and social scientists to add to the knowledge being shared today. You can view the resources in the Drought & Water-Ecosystem Services Collection here. EcoEd Digital Library is part of the BioScience Education Network (BEN), which is the biology pathway of the National Science Digital Library. EcoEd DL accepts a wide variety of resources, including  photos and photo collections, videos, tables and figures, datasets, and classroom activities. The descriptions and keywords accompanying the resources allow instructors to search by keyword and browse by ecological concept. By submitting research products to the library, researchers can fulfill broader impacts requirements of funding agencies. Most importantly, educators will have access to the best scientific resources for their classrooms. EcoEd DL also welcomes resources on other ecological topics. For more information on how to submit, please visit the EcoEd Digital Library...

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A Conference About Water IV: Scum and Sludge

The scum (technical term) that rises to the top of waste water during processes. The ESA Millennium Conference took its participants out into the field yesterday in a series of field trips to learn about local water-related issues.  This blogger ventured out to the Wayne Hill Water Resources Center in Buford, GA, which processes around 28 million gallons of water per day, although the facility can handle up to 60 million gallons. We learned about the process of purifying water that comes to the plant from homes and businesses, which surprisingly takes each bit of water only about 8 hours to travel through the plant. The facility uses four stages of purifying: filters, a vortex, microorganisms and micropore membranes to clean and sanitize the water. Not to mention the initial process, which removes the scent from the sewage in respect of the communities nearby the plant. We learned from Paul Barr, an education specialist at the facility, what the difference is between the technical terms “scum” and “sludge”: scum rises to the top of the water (and looks like a root beer float, says Barr), while sludge settles to the bottom. The trip was a very informative one, even for scholars who study water for a living – it was clear that we academics had much to learn about the nitty gritty (pun intended) process of creating clean and potable water for society. To make the experience even more rich, the remnants of Hurricane Ida were passing through. Standing on the roof of a water treatment plant, staring down into massive drums of water covered with scum while withstanding gale-force winds and rain was quite an experience. Paul Barr of the Gwinnett Environmental Heritage Center in front of the machinery that removes the foul stench from waste water. One interesting caveat was that the plant is attempting to get to the point where they can sell the organic waste skimmed out by the sieving process as mulch and use the methane produced by the bacteria to produce heat used in other parts of processing. Red tape is preventing both of these advances at the moment, but the plant is committed to recycling and reusing as much as possible. An obvious manifestation of this goal is the plant’s associated Environmental and Heritage Center, an education center about water and the environment that hope to welcome more than 40,000 students through it doors by the end of the year.  Completed in 2006, the Gold Certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building has a sloped green roof, a series of rain chains, emphasizes windows to promote natural light and reduce energy...

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A Conference about Water III: Perceptions of Water Use

Todd Rasmussen takes questions after his talk at the ESA Millennium Conference. Yesterday’s morning sessions at the ESA Millennium Conference on water and drought wrapped up the keynote talks and moved into posters showcasing social and ecological studies surrounding water use. Denise Fort, a professor of law at the University of New Mexico, gave an overview of water law and the tradeoffs that occur when ecosystem health is at odds with human demands.  She touched on an interesting case against the Endangered Species Act involving the fifth amendment, where landowners have made the case that laws affecting use of their land, such as using less water or changing their agricultural practices, is equivalent to the government “taking” their land. In these cases, she said, we need to figure out an appropriate compensation for these landowners, possibly in the form of ecosystem services. Fort also made a point that would come to be a recurring theme in conversations later on in the day: the use of the word drought.  She pointed out that in many cases, a social drought such as those that have affected the Southwest or the Southeast is actually not a meteorological drought, or one that includes an unprecedented water scarcity. Nevertheless, she said, managing water scarcities needs to have a large measure of adaptation. “We’re not likely to return to average or normal,” she said. “If we keep doing what we’ve been doing in the past, it’s extinction for many species.” Likewise, in his talk, Todd Rasmussen of the University of Georgia told the audience that in most other cultures, the concept of the “American Way of Life” is not translated into their language, but instead said in English.  This idea of water inequity is one of the foundational concepts of the conference, and one that will probably be explored more in the conference workshops. Lisa Welsh explains her research to Jason West at the ESA Millennium Conference poster session. The poster session was another lively event, with researchers presenting their work on water scarcity and mitigation efforts from around the world. Lisa Welsh of Utah State showcased her work on the perception of drought in the Bear River Basin in the West.  This basin feeds several divisions in different ways, and Welsh found that the divisions are good predictors of people’s attitudes toward their water. In divisions where water is traditionally abundant, people are not as worried and in many ways are more vulnerable, Welsh says.  But in water-scarce regions, the people are much more ready to deal with an impending drought. Stay tuned for a virtual tour of the Gwinnett Water Treatment Plant (seriously,...

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