Climate change

Selection cutting: Panacea or damage in disguise?

Selection cutting: Panacea or damage in disguise?

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 10/26/17

t’s not difficult to convey the environmental impacts of clear-cut logging; just look at the big, ugly bald patches of scarred earth after a clear-cut and you get it. But too often, an alternative to clear-cutting — known as selection logging — is offered as a panacea. Wow, it looks so much better than a clear-cut, especially when you’re looking at photos taken by timber companies doing the logging.

But if you get down into the weeds, so to speak, as forest scientists do, you start finding that selection logging also has problems…they’re just not as visible. One of the biggest problems of selection logging is the ground disturbance from the haul roads and skid trails cut into the forest to take the trees out.

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Plastic pollution now found in drinking water all over the world

Plastic pollution now found in drinking water all over the world

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 9/14/17

Sometimes reading a science article can be downright scary. On September 5, I read a piece in the Guardian, “Plastic fibers found in tap water around the world, study reveals.” U.S. scientific researchers analyzed tap water samples from more than a dozen nations for an investigation by Orb Media (orbmedia.org), a non-profit journalism group. The Orb study, entitled “Invisibles: The plastics inside us,” concluded that billions of people on five continents are drinking water contaminated by plastic micro-particles.

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California state parks do more than provide public recreation

California state parks do more than provide public recreation

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 8/17/17

Have you noticed all the mountain bikes strapped on cars traveling over Highway 17, especially on weekends? Demand for biking and other forms of recreation in the public spaces of Santa Cruz County is steadily increasing and much of that demand is coming from “over the hill” in the San Francisco Bay Area. Apparently, people increasingly need to escape from the stress of living in Silicon Valley.

At the same time, California State Parks has cut way back on acquiring new parklands in Santa Cruz County and throughout the state, following a complete reorganization of state parks beginning in 2013.

As demand steadily increases for recreation, sometimes people forget that state parks — as well as county and city parks and other public spaces — were originally set aside to do more than provide trails for public recreation. They were also established as natural areas to preserve habitat for other lifeforms and to ensure that natural processes — part of our planet’s life support system — function properly.

 

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Conservation group’s winning strategy to protect island communities

Conservation group’s winning strategy to protect island communities

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 3/16/2017

Seacology, a Berkeley-based non-profit, got its start in 1990 when the island of Samoa’s government ordered the remote village of Falealupo to either build a new school house or lose its state-funded teachers. Desperate to continue their children’s educations, the cash-strapped community saw only one way out: Sell the logging rights to the 30,000-acre ancestral rainforest surrounding the village.

It just so happened that Dr. Paul Cox, an American ethnobotanist, was conducting field research in that same rainforest when he learned of the villagers’ dilemma. Shortly afterwards, Cox made a proposal to Falealupo’s leaders: If he could raise the money to build the new school, would the village agree to forever protect its surrounding forest?

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When the going gets tough, local high school kids get going

When the going gets tough, local high school kids get going

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 12/15/2016

When a colleague telephoned the other day, I asked him how he was doing. “In and out of depression,” he said. He’s not usually down in the dumps, but I understood. He’s a scientist. He’s deeply concerned about things like climate change, drought, sea-level rise and mass extinctions. The planet’s future is looking downright scary right now, especially as climate-change deniers assume power in Washington.

I’ve been wondering how aspiring young scientists are coping with this gloomy situation. That’s why I attended the San Lorenzo Valley High School’s Environmental Conference last night, hosted by science students Julianna Manseau, Kate Ussat and Haile Davis. Jane Orbuch, an acclaimed science teacher at the high school, sponsored the conference. But, she insisted, “The girls organized the whole thing — from setting up speakers, getting permissions, publicizing, and working with school personnel — it was entirely their gig.”

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Full STEAM ahead: Artist creating a business to return art to schools

Full STEAM ahead: Artist creating a business to return art to schools

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 11/17/2016

What would happen if our nation’s schools embraced the teaching of art to enhance student understanding of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects? According to local artist and entrepreneur Ed Martinez, integrating hands-on art projects into the widely accepted STEM curriculum would result in nothing short of an educational paradigm shift.

“Decades ago art was isolated from the academic environment. That made it easy to eliminate the arts from the curriculum, and that’s what we have now,” Martinez says.

“Many kids are lost along the way because their curiosity is not stimulated by book learning alone. When hands-on art projects are added to the STEM curriculum, students begin to recognize and tap their own genius,” he adds.

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Calling all earthlings: Planet at the crossroads

Calling all earthlings: Planet at the crossroads

I spent the past 10 days in Honolulu with some 9,500 conservationists from 192 countries, attending the IUCN Worldwide Conservation Congress, “the most important conference going on in the world today, but most people don’t know about it,” according to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

“We tend to think that the biggest threat is ISIS or interest rates ... amazing that we don’t think about the state of our biosphere,” Friedman added.

Conference attendees didn’t need any convincing. The 2016 conference theme “Planet at the Crossroads” highlighted the urgent need to change humankind’s path toward irreversible climate change and unprecedented species extinction.

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Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier puts on a show

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

posted in the Santa Cruz Sentinel March 17, 2016

The face of Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier is as tall as a 20-story building. In the background are the Andes and in the foreground is Lake Argentina.

It was Feb. 13 — month 10 of my yearlong trip around the world — and I stood bedazzled in front of the spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina. It’s hard to comprehend the size of this aquamarine-tinted mass of ice. It’s 19 miles long, 3 miles wide, and 200 feet tall where its front edge meets Lake Argentina.

Perito Moreno Glacier, part of Los Glaciares National Park, is one of South America’s most popular tourist attractions, and with good reason. Chances are, if you wait for five or 10 minutes on the park’s viewing deck, you’ll witness the glacier as it drops or calves huge chunks of ice into the lake. This is part of a natural process that occurs as the glacier slowly expands and moves forward down the valley toward the lake.

 Perito Moreno Glacier, part of Los Glaciares National Park, is one of South America’s most popular tourist attractions.

Perito Moreno Glacier, part of Los Glaciares National Park, is one of South America’s most popular tourist attractions.

Perito Moreno is one of 48 glaciers within the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water. A few thousand years ago, glaciers here in the southern Andes covered much larger areas than they do today. They advanced like gargantuan caterpillars, fed by voluminous year-round snowfall characteristic of this part of the world. As they grew and moved slowly downhill, the glaciers eroded the rocky landscape, carving out expansive valleys edged by steep cliffs.

Our group took a small cruise boat onto Lake Argentina — getting as close as we dared — to watch Perito Moreno Glacier as it was calving. Park guides explained that this was a critical time; every three or four years, as the glacier expands forward, it connects to a point of land that juts out from the shore of Lake Argentina.

When the glacier meets this point of land, it forms an ice dam dividing the lake in half. The level of the top half of the lake begins to rise as water collects behind the dam. Eventually, the ice dam gives way, and an enormous surge of water smashes through, roaring down to the bottom half of the lake and thrilling expectant spectators.

Park guides told us that they have a 24-hour web-camera aimed at Perito Moreno’s ice dam and they expected it to break at any time. That day, we were lucky to see the glacier calving chunks as big as houses. Like most of the other observers with their cameras ready, we were hoping to actually witness the collapse of the ice dam ... but it wasn’t to be that day.

Park guides explained that Perito Moreno Glacier is exceptional in yet another way; it is still expanding, despite global warming. Most other glaciers in the world, as well as in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, are shrinking in response to increasing average global temperatures.

Why Perito Moreno Glacier is still expanding while most others are shrinking is still somewhat of a mystery. Every glacier has its own unique line of equilibrium. Above that line, the glacier takes on ice; below the line, it loses ice. Our parks guides explained that, to date, the enormous snow accumulation in the Andes has been enough to keep Perito Moreno growing, even as it loses a tremendous amount of ice at its front.

On March 10, just three weeks after my visit to Perito Moreno Glacier, I was watching the news in Quito, Ecuador, when I learned that the glacier’s great ice dam had just burst, creating an awe-inspiring show of collapsing ice and surging water. You can view the collapse of Perito Moreno’s ice dam on YouTube: https://youtu.be/JBpZvkNuUwU

Cutting-edge research in a tropical paradise

by Betsy Herbert

"Earth Matters," published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 02/18/16

  Undergraduate researchers from California work at the UC Berkeley Gump Research Station in Moorea, French Polynesia. Betsy Herbert — Contributed   In month nine of my yearlong trip around the world, I decided to hang out on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia during the offseason. What a great way to experience this tropical paradise and to appreciate the scientific research underway here!  I began my stay by going for a group swim in a crystalline turquoise lagoon alongside 4-foot sting rays and black-tipped reef sharks. While the sharks were not at all aggressive, the rays seemed downright affectionate, sliding against our bodies and peering at us from strangely human-looking eyes.  My beach bungalow at the laid-back Kaveka Hotel was an idyllic retreat with “Bali Hai” views of Cooks Bay and the coral reef that separates it from the Pacific Ocean. Directly across the bay, I could see UC Berkeley’s Gump Research Station, the hub of scientific inquiry that has helped to make Moorea the most studied island in the world.  In 1975, Richard B. Gump, the original owner of San Francisco’s premier gift store, donated the land on Moorea to UC Berkeley to establish the research center, with the goal of analyzing the island as a model ecosystem to understand how global changes are affecting it over time.  Frank Murphy, associate director of Gump Research Station, said Moorea makes an exceptional natural laboratory. The island is small enough (about twice the size of Manhattan) to enable scientists to construct an inventory of all of the non-microbial species known to be living there. The Moorea Biocode project was designed to accomplish this feat and is the first of its kind.  Envisioned by the center’s director, Neil Davies, Moorea Biocode enlisted researchers from 2008-2010 to ascend jagged peaks, slog through tropical forests and dive among coral reefs to sample the entire spectrum of Moorea’s animal and plant life. The end result will be a library of genetic markers and physical identifiers for every species of plant, animal and fungi on the island — and this library will be available to the public.  The coral reefs and lagoons that surround the island of Moorea have been of particular interest to “swarms of scientists who come here every year,” says Murphy, as part of the Moorea Coral Reef Long-term Ecological Research project. Though coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, worldwide almost 20 percent have been lost and another 35 percent could be lost by 2050.  These scientists have been monitoring and recording data about Moorea’s coral reefs for more than 15 years.  “This approach has considerable potential in better understanding how global climate change will affect reef corals, and we are working toward developing modeling approaches to achieve this outcome,” according to Peter Edmunds, a researcher from Cal State Hayward.  Another exciting project envisioned by Davies is the making of a digital model of the entire Moorea ecosystem, including its biological, physical and human cultural aspects. Named “Moorea IDEA,” for Island Digital Ecosystem Avatar, the end product would be an online 3-D model. Scientists and others could pose questions online, and the model would simulate how different impacts might affect the entire ecosystem.  I asked Murphy if people on Moorea were worried about sea-level rise, as a result of global warming.  “We’re in better shape than lots of places,” he said. “If worse came to worse and everything crashed, we could almost be self-sufficient.”  That’s because Moorea has tall mountains and considerable arable land. Other places, such as in the Motu archipelago, Murphy posits, “will be underwater in 60 years, because the atolls don’t have any high ground. A whole history of culture will be going underwater.”   Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer on a year-long journey around the world. You can read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website, www.betsyherbert.com.    

Undergraduate researchers from California work at the UC Berkeley Gump Research Station in Moorea, French Polynesia. Betsy Herbert — Contributed

In month nine of my yearlong trip around the world, I decided to hang out on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia during the offseason. What a great way to experience this tropical paradise and to appreciate the scientific research underway here!

I began my stay by going for a group swim in a crystalline turquoise lagoon alongside 4-foot sting rays and black-tipped reef sharks. While the sharks were not at all aggressive, the rays seemed downright affectionate, sliding against our bodies and peering at us from strangely human-looking eyes.

My beach bungalow at the laid-back Kaveka Hotel was an idyllic retreat with “Bali Hai” views of Cooks Bay and the coral reef that separates it from the Pacific Ocean. Directly across the bay, I could see UC Berkeley’s Gump Research Station, the hub of scientific inquiry that has helped to make Moorea the most studied island in the world.

In 1975, Richard B. Gump, the original owner of San Francisco’s premier gift store, donated the land on Moorea to UC Berkeley to establish the research center, with the goal of analyzing the island as a model ecosystem to understand how global changes are affecting it over time.

Frank Murphy, associate director of Gump Research Station, said Moorea makes an exceptional natural laboratory. The island is small enough (about twice the size of Manhattan) to enable scientists to construct an inventory of all of the non-microbial species known to be living there. The Moorea Biocode project was designed to accomplish this feat and is the first of its kind.

Envisioned by the center’s director, Neil Davies, Moorea Biocode enlisted researchers from 2008-2010 to ascend jagged peaks, slog through tropical forests and dive among coral reefs to sample the entire spectrum of Moorea’s animal and plant life. The end result will be a library of genetic markers and physical identifiers for every species of plant, animal and fungi on the island — and this library will be available to the public.

The coral reefs and lagoons that surround the island of Moorea have been of particular interest to “swarms of scientists who come here every year,” says Murphy, as part of the Moorea Coral Reef Long-term Ecological Research project. Though coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, worldwide almost 20 percent have been lost and another 35 percent could be lost by 2050.

These scientists have been monitoring and recording data about Moorea’s coral reefs for more than 15 years.

“This approach has considerable potential in better understanding how global climate change will affect reef corals, and we are working toward developing modeling approaches to achieve this outcome,” according to Peter Edmunds, a researcher from Cal State Hayward.

Another exciting project envisioned by Davies is the making of a digital model of the entire Moorea ecosystem, including its biological, physical and human cultural aspects. Named “Moorea IDEA,” for Island Digital Ecosystem Avatar, the end product would be an online 3-D model. Scientists and others could pose questions online, and the model would simulate how different impacts might affect the entire ecosystem.

I asked Murphy if people on Moorea were worried about sea-level rise, as a result of global warming.

“We’re in better shape than lots of places,” he said. “If worse came to worse and everything crashed, we could almost be self-sufficient.”

That’s because Moorea has tall mountains and considerable arable land. Other places, such as in the Motu archipelago, Murphy posits, “will be underwater in 60 years, because the atolls don’t have any high ground. A whole history of culture will be going underwater.”

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer on a year-long journey around the world. You can read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

 

Redwood Champions Amid Drought and Climate Change

Redwood Champions Amid  Drought and Climate Change

by Betsy Herbert, Ph.D.

published in the Mountain Echo, newsletter of the Sempervirens Fund, Fall 2014

Redwoods are extraordinary. The more we learn about them, the more extraordinary they prove to be. We’ve known for a long time that California’s coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are the world’s tallest trees and among the longest-living. Scientists are now confirming that redwoods play an important role in the local water cycle and in achieving a healthy, stable climate.

By meticulously measuring redwoods, scientists are determining how fast they’re growing, storing carbon and capturing fog, and how they are responding to climate change. For example, a team of scientists is working on the “Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative” (RCCI), with support from Sempervirens Fund, to quantify how accelerating climate change is affecting California’s redwoods.

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Making “green” part of your travel plans

Making “green” part of your travel plans

If you’re watching your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it’s clear that riding a bike, walking, skateboarding, using a ZipCar or taking the bus are all better choices than driving a personal vehicle . . . at least for shorter trips.  

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A new revenue stream from California's redwoods

A new revenue stream from California's redwoods

San Lorenzo Valley Water District is preparing to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from its redwood forested watershed lands -- without cutting a single tree.

By conducting a rigorous inventory of the vast amounts of carbon stored in its forests, the district can qualify to sell carbon credits through the California Cap and Trade Program, a key piece of the state's Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as AB32.

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Fracking Fears: County to review state's draft regulations

Fracking Fears: County to review state's draft regulations

"As the nation develops greater awareness of fracking technology, we have growing concerns about what's pumped into the ground, how it impacts water supplies, and how it undercuts our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said county Supervisor John Leopold. "Add secrecy to the mix, and we have a real need for reasonable and effective regulation."

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Hear ye, hear ye: Environmental events that shaped our county in 2012

Hear ye, hear ye: Environmental events that shaped our county in 2012

It's the time of year to pause and reflect -- I list below some of the 2012 events that helped shape our Santa Cruz environment.

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Santa Cruz scientist initiates global effort to Save the Frogs!

Santa Cruz scientist initiates global effort to Save the Frogs!

Ecologist Kerry Kriger -- founder and director of the nonprofit Save the Frogs! -- is leading an international campaign to reverse the unprecedented and worldwide decline of frogs and other amphibians including toads, newts and salamanders.

"Frogs and other amphibians are the most threatened group of animals on the planet," said Kriger, who believes the trend can be reversed if people get involved and take action.

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Can Redwoods Survive Climate Change?

Can Redwoods Survive Climate Change?

It’s hard to imagine that the iconic coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) could be vulnerable to extinction. After all, redwoods have demonstrated legendary resilience to some fairly severe onslaughts. Even after massive clear-cutting, redwood forests have rebounded--as they have over the past century in the Santa Cruz Mountains--with a force reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Redwoods are also renowned for their resistance to both fire and disease.

Yet, redwoods are at risk.

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Reason enough to hug a tree: Coast redwoods combat climate change

Reason enough to hug a tree: Coast redwoods combat climate change

Did you know that the world’s forests, including California’s coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are helping in a big way to combat climate change? As forests grow, they pull vast amounts of carbon out of the air and store it within their enormous biomass. Forests cover about 30 percent of the earth’s surface, so climate change scientists are looking at the forests with renewed interest to help solve the world’s carbon problem.

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