Pulse Taking

‘Long memory’ is a term used in probability analysis. It originated in hydrology to predict flood patterns on the Nile River.

But do rivers remember where they once flowed?

Floraskin – Huth & Domenig Via: Data Is Nature

Floraskin – Huth & Domenig
Via: Data Is Nature

A large pulse of water was released along the Colorado River this year, an historic ecological undertaking meant to restore the once-lush downriver sections and delta. The goal of the 130 billion-liter (34 bn gallon) pulse was to imitate the spring floodwaters that once coursed the length of the river, but which have been diverted for other uses further upstream.

These images show the river before and after the water pulse was released. The river bed and tributary channels have been little more than dry markers for the memory of a river that once carried 18.5 trillion liters (4.9 trillion gallons) of water every year.

Before: An April 2013 view shows the dry river shell in northern Mexico. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Landsat 8 data from the U.S. Geological Survey

Before: An April 2013 view shows the dry river shell in northern Mexico.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Landsat 8 data from the U.S. Geological Survey

After: Water flows through the same area, April 2014. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Landsat 8 data from the U.S. Geological Survey

After: Water flows through the same area, April 2014.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Landsat 8 data from the U.S. Geological Survey

The final destination of the water is the Colorado Delta, which once formed a rich connection between the river and the Gulf of Mexico. The Delta has rarely seen river water since 1960.

As it turns out, the water pulse may not reach the Delta at all. Sand bars and shrubs are slowing the flow, even as conservationists work to re-establish trees and wetlands in its wake.

If there is such a thing, the long memory of the Colorado River may have to wait a while longer before it once again meets the Gulf of Mexico at the end of a long journey home.

 

http://www.livescience.com/45281-colorado-river-pulse-satellite.html

The Big Picture

A vast dust plume blows off Northern Africa. Photo: NASA/USGS

A vast dust plume blows off Northern Africa.
Photo: NASA/USGS

The dust of the Sahara is one of the world’s great transport methods for depositing minerals around the world. An estimated 60 – 200 million tons of mineral dust per year gets blown from the Sahara to points all across the globe, fertilizing the Amazon, affecting the weather, causing hazy skies, blanketing land and sea alike while providing the phytoplankton of the Mediterranean Sea with nutrients and adversely affecting the growth of coral reefs.

It’s a major global phenomenon that I only mention here and now because of this: The dust of the Sahara on our car in eastern France.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

On everyone’s cars, on all the plants and furniture outside, on the solar panels, on the windows and swirling on the streets.

At least I can feel a part of something much larger while I wait in line at the car wash.

 

 

The Proverbial Drop

The recent Warsaw Climate Change Conference ended with a couple of modest successes, the main one being that the conversation will continue between nations as to what to do about man-made impact on the climate.

An initiative to support efforts at slowing deforestation received funding to the tune of $280 million from three countries.

Developed countries couldn’t quite bring themselves to say more than they would be willing to ‘contribute’ to emission cuts, rather than ‘commit’ to them.

Mainly, the nations who use the most keep insisting that change will be slow, and expensive.

Developing countries requested the twenty developed nations which have contributed to and profited most from the fossil fuel economy to pledge funds to mitigate, adapt and readjust this economy and its effects.

Amounts requested were between $70 billion per year by 2016, or  $100 billion by 2020.

Meanwhile, an editorial piece by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in the New York Times today states that the developed countries currently subsidize the fossil fuel economy to the tune of $485 billion.

That’s $485 billion every single year.

Not all expensive habits are worth keeping.

So here’s hoping that even a drop in the bucket will create enough ripples to make a change.

Input and Loss

At the UNFCCC COP19 in Warsaw this week, a new programme was launched under the auspices of the World Bank: The BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes (ISFL).

The initial funding amount is set at $280 million USD. Norway has pledged up to $135 million to the initiative, Britain $120 million and the United States $25 million. The fund also hopes to attract further private and public funding.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to use the Global Forest Change tool released this week to look at forest change in each of the contributing countries, also in relation to their contribution to this new initiative.

Forest change Norway 2000-2012. The blue and red colors indicate net forest gain and loss, respectively. The colors here are almost exclusively seen on the Swedish side of the border. Norway does not rank among the top 50 nations in terms of deforestation, Sweden ranks 13th. Image via Global Forest Change / Earth Energy Partners

Forest change Norway 2000-2012. The blue and red colors indicate net forest gain and loss, respectively. The colors here are almost exclusively seen on the Swedish side of the border. Norway does not rank among the top 50 nations in terms of deforestation, Sweden ranks 13th.
Image via Global Forest Change / Earth Engine Partners

With a goal of encouraging reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the land sector, including REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), ISFL is intended to “help countries identify and promote climate-smart agricultural and low-carbon land-use practices in selected geographical areas where agriculture is a major cause of deforestation.”

The deforestation culprit in question is, by and large, commercial agriculture in regions including Latin America; subsistence and commercial agriculture contribute equally to an estimated two-thirds of deforestation in other areas like Africa and subtropical Asia.

The initiative sets itself the task of “adopting a landscape approach, (which) means implementing a development strategy that is climate smart, equitable, productive and profitable at scale and strives for environmental, social, and economic impact.”

Forest change in the United Kingdom 2000-2012, which is not among the top 50 nations in terms of forest loss.  Image via Global Forest Change / Earth Energy Partners

Forest change in the United Kingdom 2000-2012, which is not among the top 50 nations in terms of forest loss.
Image via Global Forest Change / Earth Energy Partners

Measures include “protecting forests, restoring degraded lands, enhancing agricultural productivity, and improving livelihoods and local environments.”

According to this Reuters article, one of the key problems faced by initiatives seeking to reduce deforestation is that “parties are focusing all their energy arguing about the politics of who governs REDD+ finance, when the real issue is a lack of demand.”

This is according to Matt Leggett, head of policy at forest think-tank Global Canopy Programme, who also stated that “the program must create demand for nearly 1.5 billion tones of carbon dioxide equivalent to cut deforestation by half, but current projects are only set to cut emissions by 160 million tones.”

Forest change in the United States 2000-2012. The US ranks 3rd globally in terms of net forest loss.  Image via Global Forest Change / Earth Energy Partners

Forest change in the United States 2000-2012. The US ranks 3rd globally in terms of net forest loss. (Canada ranks 4th.)
Image via Global Forest Change / Earth Energy Partners

Global Forest Map

A gorgeous new tool for assessing gain and loss in global forests was released this week by University of Maryland researchers, the result of a five year, broad-based collaborative project. The interactive map of Global Forest Change is powered by Google’s computing cloud will offer a means to establish forestry baselines around the world, with a great amount of detail.

Animation showing forest loss in Riau, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Much of this deforestation was to establish plantations for pulp and paper, timber, and palm oil production. Click image to enlarge.
Source: Mongabay.com

This excellent Mongabay.com article quotes the project’s lead author Matthew Hansen on the map and accompanying study (published in Science): “This is the first map of forest change that is globally consistent and locally relevant. Losses or gains in forest cover shape many important aspects of an ecosystem including, climate regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity and water supplies, but until now there has not been a way to get detailed, accurate, satellite-based and readily available data on forest cover change from local to global scales.”

It didn’t surprise me that Brazil and Indonesia are among the top five countries with the highest level of deforestation since 2000. The policies of those countries favor development of heavily forested, biodiverse areas.

Global Forest Map The red areas indicate net forest loss. Click on the image for the interactive map. Source: Earth Engine Partners

Global Forest Map
The red areas indicate net forest loss.
Click on the image for the interactive map.
Source: Earth Engine Partners

As an Indonesian palm oil representative once told me, we shouldn’t worry about the loss of rainforest because it was mostly all cut down already, anyway. In its place, palm oil plantations. “Trees are trees, so we have offset deforestation with sustainable new forests.”

The new Global Forest Change tool accounts for this as well, with layered levels of data allowing users to see whether the forests in question are old growth, diverse habitats, or newer second-growth utility forests.

It did come as a surprise that Russia has lost more forest than any other nation, and that the top five are rounded out by the United States and Canada.

From Mongabay.com, “Improved understanding of the state of forests through tools like these should boost the ability of decision makers — from lawmakers to business leaders — to establish policies that better protect forests.”