Tag Archives: marcia mcnutt

Global Warming May Have Severe Consequences for Rare Haleakala Silverswords

HONOLULU — While the iconic Haleakalā silversword plant made a strong recovery from early 20th-century threats, it has now entered a period of substantial climate-related decline. New research published this week warns that global warming may have severe consequences for the silversword in its native habitat.

Known for its striking rosette, the silversword grows for 20-90 years before the single reproductive event at the end of its life, at which time it produces a large (up to six feet tall) inflorescence with as many as 600 flower heads. The plant was in jeopardy in the early 1900s due to animals eating the plants and visitors gathering them. With successful management, including legal protection and the physical exclusion of hoofed animals, the species made a strong recovery, but since the mid-1990s it has entered a period of substantial decline. A strong association of annual population growth rates with patterns of precipitation suggests the plants are undergoing increasingly frequent and lethal water stress. Local climate data confirm trends towards warmer and drier conditions on the mountain, which the researchers warn will create a bleak outlook for the threatened silverswords if climate trends continue. (more…)

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Mining Waste Byproduct Capable of Helping Clean Water

LEETOWN, W.Va. – A byproduct resulting from the treatment of acid mine drainage may have a second life in helping clean waters coming from agricultural and wastewater discharges, according to a recent study by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey Leetown Science Center.

The report, published in the Journal Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, shows that dried acid mine drainage sludge, or residuals, that result from treating acid mine drainage discharges can be used as a low-cost adsorbent elsewhere to efficiently remove phosphorus from agricultural and municipal wastewaters. The phosphorus that has been adsorbed by the mine drainage residuals can later be stripped from the residuals and recycled into fertilizer. The mine drainage residuals can be regenerated and reused for a number of additional treatment cycles. Application of this novel, patented technology has the potential to simultaneously help to decrease acid mine drainage treatment costs, prevent degradation of aquatic ecosystems, and recycle valuable nutrients. (more…)

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USGS Study Tracks Pacific Walrus, Observes Effects of Arctic Sea Ice Loss on Behavior

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Sparse summer sea ice in the Arctic over the past five years has caused behavioral changes in Pacific walruses according to research published by U.S. Geological Survey and Russian scientists. The effects on the walrus population are unknown.

“The loss of sea ice is the ‘why’ for the change in walrus behavior; the tracking data tells us the ‘where’ in terms of their new forage patterns,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “What awaits to be seen is ‘how much will it matter?'” (more…)

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Not-So-Permanent Permafrost

MENLO PARK, Calif. — As much as 44 billion tons of nitrogen and 850 billion tons of carbon stored in arctic permafrost, or frozen ground, could be released into the environment as the region begins to thaw over the next century as a result of a warmer planet according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey. This nitrogen and carbon are likely to impact ecosystems, the atmosphere, and water resources including rivers and lakes. For context, this is roughly the amount of carbon stored in the atmosphere today.

The release of carbon and nitrogen in permafrost could exacerbate the warming phenomenon and will impact water systems on land and offshore according to USGS scientists and their domestic and international collaborators. The previously unpublished nitrogen figure is useful for scientists who are making climate predictions with computer climate models, while the carbon estimate is consistent and gives more credence to other scientific studies with similar carbon estimates. (more…)

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Science Working to Combat Deadly White Nose Syndrome in Bats

New findings on white-nose syndrome are bringing scientists closer to slowing the spread of this deadly bat disease, according to recent and ongoing studies by the U.S. Geological Survey.

WNS has killed more than 5 million bats since it first appeared in New York in 2007, and the disease, caused by the fungus Geomyces destructans, has spread to 19 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces (view map). (more…)

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Climate Change to Cripple Southwestern Forests

Trees Face Rising Drought Stress and Mortality as Climate Warms

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — Combine the tree-ring growth record with historical information, climate records, and computer-model projections of future climate trends, and you get a grim picture for the future of trees in the southwestern United States. That’s the word from a team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Arizona, and other partner organizations.

The research, published in Nature Climate Change this week, concluded that if the Southwest is warmer and drier in the near future, widespread tree mortality likely will cause substantial changes in forest and species distributions. (more…)

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3-D Mapping of Isaac Water Levels

A new technology is being deployed by U.S. Geological Survey scientists this weekend to map urban flooding caused by Hurricane Isaac. Called “terrestrial lidar,” or “T-lidar”, this new capability will enable scientists to collect highly detailed information in select population areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama where the hurricane had the greatest impact.

The portable instrument allows scientists to quickly generate 3-D maps of buildings, dams, levees and other structures, and can show areas of storm damage as well. In a four-to-five minute scan, the instrument collects millions of topographic data points in a full 360-degree view to quickly produce highly accurate topographic information and can map areas up to two-thirds of a mile away. (more…)

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Scientists Explore Changing Arctic Ocean

Scientists are setting sail on August 25 to study ocean acidification in the Arctic and what this means for the future survival of marine and terrestrial organisms.

The Arctic Ocean is one of the most vulnerable places on the planet for acidification, yet it is the least-explored ocean. Acidification can disturb the balance of marine life in the world’s oceans, and consequently affect humans and animals that rely on those food resources.

Ocean acidification is particularly harmful to organisms such as corals, oysters, crabs, shrimp and plankton, as well as those up and down the food chain. Higher acidity decreases an organism’s calcification rate, meaning they lose their ability to build shells or skeletons. (more…)

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