Looking Back on Climate: “Role of Weather Mysterious Despite Study (1977)”

Oil spills. Floods. Heat waves. Water wars. Biodiversity loss.

We live amid a torrent of news and information — including reports and controversies about the environment. It’s helpful to step out of the rushing stream occasionally and take a look back.

Here are two items I’ve been thinking about.

From dust to dust

First, a remark made by paleogeologist Tjeerd Van Andel (who recently passed away) about a quarter century ago in one of my college classes  managed to lodge itself in my (now increasingly addled) mind.

According to Van Andel, the United States benefited from an unusually stable weather cycle for the four decades following the Dust Bowl era of the mid-1930s. This stability coincided with and facilitated the rapid development of the American agriculture and economy across a period of modernization. This period, which includes the post-WWII boom, often serves as a baseline for comparison (or expectations).

Our still-growing understanding of global geophysical and socio-ecological systems shapes our interpretation of history — and informs planning for an increasingly complex future. Any beliefs regarding national exceptionalism, the causes of economic success, or our recent path of consumerism must be evaluated in the changing ecological or environmental context. Considering increasing climate variability and planetary boundaries, past experience is not a guarantee of future growth….

“People should be aware of the full range of what can happen.”

The second item is an article from the Toledo Blade, dated March 13, 1977. Given the past year’s climate controversies, this summer’s heat waves and floods, and Van Andel’s comments, it resonated with me. [I came upon the piece through Google Timeline, but that particular issue seems to be currently unavailable through the Google News link.]

Meteorologists and climate scientists have long been making the case that we should be better prepare for a more variable world. This article from over 30 years ago predates scientific consensus on man-made global warming — although even back then, climate scientists like Stephen Schneider and James Hansen had begun to recognize the warming trend. The National Weather Service meteorologists in this article, however, emphasize the need to build “resiliency” against more extreme weather patterns. The article mentions global population and development pressures and somewhat presciently identifies arid and semi-arid regions as particularly vulnerable; these regions have been in the news recently.

Also of note: the author, Robert Cowen, was the longtime science reporter/editor at the Christian Science Monitor. The world’s population in 1977 was roughly 4.2 billion (now around 6.6 billion). The largest city was Tokyo, followed by New York City. Carter was President. The cost of a gallon of gas was US$0.62 ($2.35 per liter). I was in junior high. Things change.

“Role of Weather Mysterious Despite Study”

By Robert Cowen

Don Gilman, chief of the U.S. National Weather Service’s long-range forecasting group, says he as mystified as anyone as to why North America has had such a rough winter.

You can’t see through the complex interactions of the atmosphere and ocean and say “This is the cause of that,’” he explains.

But one thing he feels certain – you don’t have to invoke a return of the Ice Age to account for it. Drought in the West, freezes in Florida, or a snow blitz in new York merely show what the present climate can do. And the hardships this is causing emphasize how vulnerable the United States, indeed the world, has become to what should be expectable extremes of weather.

“People,” Dr. Gilman says, “should be aware of the full range of what can happen.”

Years of analysis have produced only disagreement among the specialists as to long-term climate trends. But, on one point, they tend to put increasing emphasis – the recent past has been relatively kind as far as weather extremes are concerned in some important areas, such as the United States corn and wheat belts.

Living patterns evolved during milder years—modes of farming, energy consumption, land use, or transportation – often can’t take it when the weather turns nasty.

On a global scale, burgeoning population and economic development are putting so much pressure on resources that the surpluses of fat years are no longer adequate reserves for weather-related lean periods.

It is this loss of resiliency to cope with rare, but expectable, weather extremes that meteorologists believe to be the real climatic threat now facing the United States and the world.

Developers of arid and semiarid lands should be especially weather-wary. Such lands – for example, Africa’s Sahel, California, and the North American Southwest, or the Soviet Union’s “new” agricultural region – suffer most from unanticipated swings of weather.

“I haven’t seen anything like it since 1917-18,” says Dr. Gilman, adding by way of reassurance: “That winter broke in February, and we may see this one break too.”

Will this turn out to be a “once-in-50-years” winter unlikely to return for a long time, or could its pattern repeat next year? No meteorologist can answer this. But what Dr. Gilman and his colleagues do know is that what has happened can happen again. Moreover, the very fact that they can’t predict next winter suggests this possibility must be planned for.

“What people should do,” Dr. Gilman says, “is to figure it just isn’t safe to use only the past 10, 20 or even 30 years of weather data as a guide in weather-related planning. A much longer record is desirable – just as long a record as they can get.”

Update: I came across this article today: Water Scarcity in American Southwest Gets Serious. Indeed, the arid regions mentioned in the article have become recurring headlines in the news. (h/t @Blackdogworld and @InvasiveNotes)

Image credit: Tim Lindenbaum, Flickr/Creative Commons

Minor revisions: October 21, 2010

Biodiversity and the City 4: What Edward Norton Should Know for the UN’s Biodiversity Summit

Diplomats from around the world are gathering this week in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly and Climate Week. While much discussion focuses on climate change, there is additional pressure during this International Year of Biodiversity to build consensus for the upcoming Biodiversity Summit (COP 10) in Nagoya, Japan. A “High level meeting on Biodiversity” takes place at the UN this Wednesday, September 22.

The actor Edward Norton, who was named Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, recently penned an op-ed calling for greater action on biodiversity by world governments, especially the Obama administration in the United States.

In anticipation of the Biodiversity Summit, Marielle Anzelone wrote the excellent piece below for the Huffington Post over the summer. The global loss of biodiversity, which has been compared to rivets popping out of an airplane wing, needs greater public attention.

Anzelone, formerly the plant ecologist for NYC Parks’ Natural Resources Group, is leading tours of New York City’s tremendous biodiversity this week for the visiting diplomats.

I think this is a vital aspect of deliberations. Though undoubtedly informed by solid scientific input, the Biodiversity Summit will ultimately aim for high-level agreements and commitments about valuing and protecting habitat. I expect that virtually all of the diplomats from around the world live in cities and are more accustomed to engaging politicians than to understanding nature where they live.

Biodiversity, like climate change, is a broad concept that invokes somewhat amorphous global systems. But biodiversity is also about plants and animals that live in, or inhabit, places. This wildlife thrives or declines alongside — to varying degrees — human communities. Conservation, therefore, cannot succeed without buy-in and regular participation from local residents. Local biodiversity conservation also supports climate change mitigation and adaptation and human security.

Conservation efforts will have to expand in and around urbanizing areas (a challenging negotiation). There will be a concurrent session in Nagoya called the City Biodiversity Summit. Nonetheless, helping diplomats to recognize the ongoing interplay of wildlife amidst large human populations, like in New York City, is vitally important.

If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere….

- – -

Actor Edward Norton is unhappy. He is miffed because although he had starred as The Hulk in an earlier movie, he was not cast as the great green hero in a follow-up film. Cheer up, Ed! You’ve landed an even greener role: United Nations’ Biodiversity Ambassador. As the former botanist for New York City, I know first-hand the importance of biodiversity. In fact, I’ll be hosting international diplomats on a tour of New York’s nature this fall for the UN’s Biodiversity Summit. Since we’re going to be colleagues, I’d like to help you prepare for your new role. Here are some things you should know.

Urban nature exists. Most people embrace Kurt Vonnegut’s description of the Big Apple as a “Skyscraper National Park”. While accurate at 51st Street and 7th Avenue, it obscures the fact that there is bona fide nature in the five boroughs, even in Manhattan. New York City has more open space than Los Angeles and Chicago combined. These 53,000 acres include towering forests, vibrant marshes and grassland meadows. The world looks increasingly like New York, with more people now living in urban settings than rural areas. The city’s 8 million residents are drafting a blueprint for biodiversity from which global lessons can be learned.

Clean air isn’t free. Local biodiversity provides us with fresh air to breathe and pure water to drink. Humans benefit from abated floodwaters and the pollination of food crops. Nature provides these ecosystem services for free, but there is clearly a price to be paid for their loss. Purifying contaminated water costs money. Recently a study commissioned by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection determined that natural ecosystems provided benefits worth $18 billion per year, equal to the state’s construction industry. Continue reading

On Dust

This is the Amazon rainforest. Or at least a part of it.

Last week, an item in the Guardian (UK) highlighted a surprising connection between the Amazon rainforest and the Sahara desert — how one region in Chad supplies the Amazon with half of the rainforest’s mineral nutrients.

Around 40m tons of dust is carried by prevailing winds from the Sahara to fertilise the Amazon basin each year. This is a very satisfying finding, since the extraordinary fertility of the Amazon rainforest – one of the richest and most biodiverse places on earth – has been a puzzle. Tropical rains leach nutrients from jungle soils, and the soils of the Amazon forest are notoriously poor, which is why clearance for cattle farming is such a bad idea. Biologists had calculated that the forest needed at least 50m tons of fresh mineral nutrient each year to keep its trees tall and in leaf. In 2006 an international team of researchers established that at least half of this annual mineral supply is quarried from one tiny location in the Sahara, the Bodélé depression in Chad. A combination of fortuitously placed mountain ranges that flank a basin of diatomite sands so focus the winter winds as to scour the depression and lift from it an average of 700,000 tons of dust each day, and air-freight it across the Atlantic.

So for thousands of years, and without any fuss, a tiny part of one of Africa’s poorest countries has annually subsidised the growth economy of one of the world’s most richly endowed. This discovery is yet another insight into the intricate dance performed by earth, air, fire and water in the service of life; and another reminder of the enduring intercontinental interdependence that sustains human civilisation. We should respect the IUCN‘s [International Union for Conservation of Nature] concern for the deserts. Without green things, we could not breathe. Without deserts, there might be no forests.

NASA’s Earth Observatory posts satellite images of massive dust clouds — including the one above — blowing from deserts (and other brilliant photographs from space).

According to the Climate Matters blog of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, scientists from a wide range of disciplines convened earlier this summer to coordinate their research on dust, much in the way that the oceanographic community came together in the 1990s to collaborate more effectively. Why dust?

Dust is a global phenomenon. Where it comes from, where it goes, and how it impacts climate and the biogeochemistry of land and oceans are questions that span all the realms of earth science.


Dust influences the radiative balance of the planet in two different ways, either directly by scattering and absorbing incoming solar radiation, or indirectly by changing the optical properties of clouds, themselves an important player in the climate system. Dust also contains iron, a limiting nutrient in many areas of the ocean, so when dust falls onto the ocean, it can act as a fertilizer for the growth of algae, or phytoplankton, which uses CO2. Dust not only affects climate, but also is influenced by it: its production, atmospheric transport and deposition are sensitive to climatic conditions.

During Earth’s history, dust has been strongly linked with climatic conditions: Ice cores and marine sediments tell us that the ice age world was much dustier than today’s world. Thus dust is both a driver and a passive recorder of climate change under different climatic regimes of the Earth’s past. However, its exact role in past climate change remains poorly constrained. Understanding the links between dust and climate in the past will be crucial to evaluate the future impacts of dust on the Earth’s climate system in a warming world.

One could add a recent study (here and here) that suggests soot may be the second greatest contributor to global warming — behind carbon dioxide, but ahead of methane. Produced by the combustion of fossil fuels and borne around the globe by winds, soot helps to accelerate the melting of glaciers and Arctic ice by absorbing more of the sun’s radiation. Controlling soot may be the most effective short-term measure to slow warming.

On this ceaseless swirl of land, air, and water, everything is in motion. The movement patterns are part of the relative stability of the climate system around which life has evolved and upon which we rely. Climate change’s uncertain impacts on the atmospheric and oceanic flow and upon the well-timed relationships between plants and animals naturally raise great concern. Wind and water also transport pollutants across state and national boundaries and even from continent to continent. Whether they involve global warming or specific pollutants, these vast connections make all life “downstream.”

Circumnavigate This! Two Ocean Voyages: One by Land, One by Sea

All Life has its roots in the meeting of earth and water. –TH Watkins

The Blue Marble - NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckli

When you look at photos of the Earth from space, what do you see?

Does the ocean frame the land? Or does the land frame the ocean?

This question relates to an aspect of vision called figure-ground perception. You probably have experienced figure-ground questions in visual illusions like this image. As creatures of the land, we’re inclined to consider the land as the primary object, or figure, and the seas as background. The seas seem relatively flat and uneventful, although belying tremendous mountain ranges (more here) and teeming life hidden beneath the surface. Yet from space, Earth is a blue planet. Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is clearly Ocean.”

What do you look at when you stand at the ocean’s edge?
If you’re like me, when you arrive at a coastline or beach, you’ll look first across the vast expanse of water towards the gentle curve of the horizon. Then your eyes will scan to the right or left and follow the meeting of land and water off into the distance.

The shape of that coastline — whether sandy beach, rocky shores, or precipitous bluffs — reveals a history of interaction between land and water, a relationship uninterrupted for eons. The coastline connects.

I’ve recently come across two ambitious journeys — one by land and one by sea — that are focusing attention on our world of water: how we are affected by the health of our oceans and the potential social and ecological impacts of sea level rise.

Atlantic Rising: A ferry in Guinea

One by land: Atlantic Rising

A trio of young explorers has taken the terrestrial route, basically driving their Land Rover around the Atlantic Ocean to engage students and bring attention to coastal areas, habitats, and livelihoods along the Atlantic that will be affected by sea level rise.

Atlantic Rising explores what will be lost around the Atlantic Ocean if sea levels rise by one metre. Our work in low-lying communities around the ocean rim is journalistic and educational. We are creating a network between 15,000 pupils; enabling them to build friendships, share experience and collaborate on climate change projects. We are also reporting the stories of people whose lives are already being affected by sea level change and providing a platform for marginalised voices.

Sponsored by the Royal Geographic Society, Atlantic Rising follows the Atlantic’s potential coastline across 31 countries. The journey so far has taken the trio from London to the West African coast. Along the way, they have encountered threatened wetlands, vulnerable villages, and inspirational conservation efforts. From Ghana, they crossed the Atlantic by container ship to Brazil and will now follow the one-metre contour to North America.

Launch of capsule for the Message in a BottleIn February, Atlantic Rising released Message in a Bottle, a satellite-tracked buoy that contains letters from students living in communities along the Atlantic. Students can follow the buoy’s path to learn about ocean currents, as well as engage with children from other participating schools.

Our project draws upon the historical connections between Atlantic countries to build new relationships around the Atlantic rim. It confronts pupils with the different global experiences of climate change and shows them the realities of sea level change in other Atlantic countries.

While sea level rise will ultimately vary significantly depending upon topography, wind and current, Atlantic Rising’s journey brilliantly highlights the fragility of ecosystems and the interconnected future of all people living by the sea.

The Around the Americas Route

One by sea: Around the Americas

In the tradition of Darwin’s HMS Beagle, Nansen and Amundsen’s Fram, and the HMS Challenger, the crew of the 64′ sailboat Ocean Watch has undertaken a modern voyage of discovery, called Around the Americas. A project of the Pacific Science Center and Sailors for the Sea, Around the Americas is circumnavigating the American continents “with the mission of inspiring, educating, and educating citizens of the Americas to protect our fragile oceans.”

A permanent crew of four highly-experienced “nautical geezers,” led by Captain Mark Schrader, and rotating scientists and educators staff the Ocean Watch on its 25,000 mile (40,200 km) voyage, which launched from Seattle in late May 2009. The crew’s logs make for fascinating reading.

From Baffin Island in the Arctic Sea to the Straits of Magellan near the tip of South America, the Ocean Watch is traversing every possible climatic region of the seas. The crew is conducting science experiments on subjects as varied as polar science,  jellyfish populations, ocean currents, pollution, and underwater ambient sound.

Schrader: “We hope the adventure of the trip will get people’s attention, but then we need to demonstrate with good science that we’re approaching a critical time for the health of our oceans.”

The Ocean Watch is now one of six small boats to make it through the Northwest Passage, west to east. Back in 1982, Captain Schrader circumnavigated the globe. At the time he wanted to sail the Northwest Passage.

But with the Arctic ice pack, it wasn’t possible at the time. In the past 100 years, only about 100 boats have made the passage, most of them Coast Guard ice breakers. Now, the conditions have changed dramatically. We need to make people aware of what’s happening in the oceans before we lose the Arctic ice pack all together, before conditions become irreversible.

Last month, the Ocean Watch was sailing off the shore of Chile between ports of call, when the earthquake hit and tremors raced undersea. The quake and tsunami savaged the land and triggered alerts thousands of miles away; the crew, of course, did not feel a thing. Please read the log entry about Chile.

Seascape, Straits of Magellan

This off-hand comment by one fisheries researcher captures in simple terms the need to understand better the oceans:  “It’s a big black box out there. Things have been wacky.”

Check out David Thoresen’s beautiful photographs on Flickr. And for the latest position of Ocean Watch, look here.

H/T to @eclecticechoes, @geographile for “Mountains in the Sea” link

Credits: “Blue Marble,” NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Atlantic Rising photos, courtesy of Atlantic Rising; Seascape, courtesy of Around the Americas, ©David Thoresen

Here come the floods


CC/Flickr image: USGS

The first flood of the season arrived early in Natchez, Mississippi.

Meteorologists at the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center of the National Weather Service had been tracking late January rainfall (“high-water events”) upstream in the Mississippi River Basin.

On Jan 21, the Tennessee River Valley got 1-2 inches of rain, on Jan. 22 the Ohio River Valley received 1.5 inches, on Jan. 24 1.5 inches fell over the Missouri River Valley and on Jan. 25 the Tennessee River Valley received another 1.5-3 inches of rain.

Under “normal” conditions, the Mississippi doesn’t rise significantly until March, as snow melt and other precipitation starts flowing down the river. Even prior to this early precipitation, autumn had dumped substantial rainfall on the Midwest (“the wettest October ever in St. Louis”). As a result, water tables are already high. Spring rain on top of a saturated ground equals more flooding.

Communities along rivers in the Midwest are bracing for would could be a whopper of a spring flood season, with the National Weather Service warning of a “high probability” of significant flooding along parts of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and their tributaries.

Big Watershed

The Mississippi River Basin is remarkably vast, drawing water from 31 states and two Canadian provinces and covering 40% of the continental United States. Water takes approximately three months to flow from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, to the Gulf of Mexico. Imagine the rain and snow melt shedding off this broad landscape, collecting in the capillaries of streams, merging into rivers, and amassing into the slow wave that rolls down the Mississippi. On the Lower Mississippi, forecasters can see a flood building a long way upstream.

On February 8, the Mississippi reached flood stage at Natchez. While the crest of the flood has already passed New Orleans, flood stage waters continue in some areas between Natchez and Baton Rouge. As the river remained above the 48-foot natural riverbanks this past weekend, crews in Natchez keep a close eye on “sand boils” that form as water displaces soil under the city’s levees. Sandbagging around these boils is part of the seasonal fight against floods. When the river subsides, the crews will wait for the next rise later this spring.

A report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program predicted for the Midwest:

“an increase in precipitation in winter and spring, more heavy downpours, and greater evaporation in summer, leading to more periods of both floods and water deficits.” More “droughts, floods and other extreme events,” in other words.

The flood of media

While the weather is a topic of daily chatter pretty much everywhere, I suppose most people in the U.S. pay little attention to river levels these days. “How’s the hydrological cycle?” rarely comes up in polite conversation. Rivers (and the seas) aren’t as central to most people’s livelihoods or for commerce and transportation as they once were — even though 500 million tons of commercial traffic continues to move on the Mississippi each year.

As spring nears and so does the snow melt, media coverage of Midwestern floods is beginning to appear.

Floods tend to be treated by the media as isolated — and dramatic — news stories. Throughout the year, some part of the world is likely to be passing through its rainy season. So flood stories are not hard to find.

Recent headlines from around the world:
: Eight people die in heavy Zambian floods due to poor drainage
Afghanistan: Afghan floods, avalanches kill 20
São Paulo: Living with the floods
Cumbria, Ireland: The extreme floods in Cumbria
Madeira, Portugal: Madeira floods kill 42, divers hunt for missing


Typhoon Ondoy; CC/Flickr image by IRRI Images

Treehugger recently posted this slide show on the destructive power of floods. The media coverage of the “Snowpocalypse” on the East Coast may transform into news of floods. And, alas, flood stories will become part of the saga in post-quake Haiti, especially when hurricane season arrives.

“Natural” disasters

Floods undoubtedly unleash tremendous pain and suffering around the world, wreaking havoc on the assumed stability of human social and economic affairs. What makes a flood a “natural disaster” — and a headline — is the presence of humans. The combination of human population growth, the expansion of settlements along rivers and coastlines, and increasing threats from climate destabilization will certainly mean more floods:

Droughts and floods account for more than half of the world’s total deaths from disasters, according to the United Nations. But unlike many other catastrophes, most water crises are man-made. Nature may bring the occasional monsoon downpour or dry spell, but environmentalists agree that global warming, dams, deforestation and slash-and-burn farming exponentially exacerbate these seasonal weather patterns.

Sea-level rise, storm surge, and extreme weather events will all contribute to coastal and riverine flooding. In many parts of the world, sewage, toxic runoff, and water-borne disease, like cholera, extend the impact of floods. Inevitably, the most vulnerable communities bear the burden of these disasters. In the U.S., of course, the disproportionate burden of Hurricane Katrina on the poorest residents of New Orleans remains the most visible example.

A flood, in a way, poses a variation on the old question, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Is it a media story? Flood and flooding are often used interchangeably. Perhaps there’s a distinction between a “flood” and “flooding.” A “flood” represents a condition or an event. “Flooding” is both a local phenomenon and a process, part of the temporal ebb and flow of ecosystems, the timeless hydrological cycles under which landscapes and other species have evolved.

Channeling the river

Since the late 1800s, the Mississippi River Commission has focused on improving navigation and flood control on the lower Mississippi. In 1928, the MRC launched the Mississippi River and Tributaries project, one of the world’s most extensive engineering projects, led by the Army Corps of Engineers.

In order to maintain “order,” much of the Upper and Lower Mississippi River has been dramatically channeled with levees and reservoirs and locks, in the process destroying wetlands and altering the flow of water and sediment. The Mississippi River Delta is in terrible shape. In the state of Missouri, the river now has less than one-fifth of the original wetlands. According to Ana Barros, a civil and environmental engineer at Penn State,

A channel has no capacity to adapt to variable conditions. Tamed, constricted, “It can’t evolve to prepare itself for the next event. This river has nowhere to go.”

For Barros, part of understanding the river is learning to respect it: recognizing that ultimately it will not be controlled. “We must learn to work with the river instead of against it.” This means recognizing the river as a complex, self-regulating system, and seeking to restore as much of its integrity as possible. At the same time, she says, “We have to anticipate the worst, and design systems that work well in failure.”

River restoration is a critical and growing field. Reconnecting the river and floodplains will help to reduce flooding. Even the Corps has begun to integrate conservation biology principles. But the field also needs more coordination and will have to evolve as our understanding of climate change and river ecosystems deepens.

Learning to work with the natural systems will also inevitably force significant tradeoffs. Along the Mississippi, agriculture and urban centers have expanded in conjunction with the channelization of the river. Reintegration of natural buffer areas will place constraints on the location of development along the river. Commercial traffic on inland waterways will also have to adapt. But this is a long-term process of necessary rethinking and restoration.

Ultimately, this restoration involves shifting the focus from “floods” to “flooding.” As Ana Barros suggests, we will have to learn to respect the river. We can also reacquaint ourselves with and embrace the pattern of the river:

Rivers pulse in reflection of the seasons. When there is snowmelt and during rainy seasons, the total volume of water in the river increases.  As water in the river channel rises, islands and riverbanks that are usually exposed are submerged. Increased levels of water scour the land it flows over and increases the amount of sediment carried with the current.  The process is reversed in the dry season. Land that was submerged is exposed, less water and slower current allow particles to settle out of the water and be deposited on the riverbed itself. Year after year this cycle is repeated.

Thanks to @River_Restore, @NEMWIUpperMiss, @DDimick, @troutheadwaters

What are Landscape Conservation Cooperatives?

“…climate change does not respect juridictional boundaries.”
– Hector Galbraith, Director – Climate Change Initiative, Manomet Center for Conservation Studies

Of course, no sooner do I post about colleges and universities collaborating at the bioregional level than I come across this exciting initiative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: landscape conservation cooperatives.

From the Service’s FAQ sheet:

What are landscape conservation cooperatives?
Landscape conservation cooperatives, or LCCs, are self-directed, applied conservation science partnerships that will drive success at landscape scales. Collectively they create a seamless, national network of interdependent partnerships between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, other federal agencies, states, tribes, NGOs, universities and other entities which will inform resource management decisions to address national-scale stressors, including climate change.

Seeking to “address the impacts of accelerating climate change on wildlife and the habitats upon which they depend,” the Service has pulled together a national collaborative strategy for strategic habitat conservation on the landscape level, seeking to “put the right science in the right places.”

Check out this video (4:08) from the Service’s Northeast Region:

Source: USFWS Northeast Region (If you have trouble viewing the video, you can also visit this page.)

As pointed out in the video, LCCs provide a new institutional framework for addressing ecological issues beyond the state level. The FWS proposed an interim national geographic framework of 21 conservation areas.

Just as flyways have provided an effective spatial frame of reference to build capacity and partnerships for international, national, state and local waterfowl conservation, the national geographic framework will provide a continental platform upon which the Service can work with state and other partners to connect project- and site-specific efforts to larger biological goals and outcomes. By providing visual context for conservation at “landscape” scales — the entire range of a priority species or suite of species — the framework helps ensure that resource managers have the information and decision-making tools they need to conserve fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service

From these 21 areas, the Service is forming eight initial LCCs in the following geographic areas: Pacific Islands, Great Plains, Plains and Prairie Potholes, South Atlantic, North Atlantic, Great Northern, California and Arctic.

Working Together for Wildlife — and People

In June 2009, the Service convened the inaugural Conservation Leadership Forum to launch discussions toward the development of the national strategy.

Though the primary objective of the strategy is ensuring abundant, healthy, and distributed populations of fish and wildlife, leaders noted the effort would be tied to a larger goal of improving quality of life for all Americans by providing clean water, clear air and “green” infrastructure critical to sustainable and healthy human communities. While investments in the strategy would be national, the group agreed collaboration and information sharing must extend to the global community. …

Forum participants also agreed the strategy must be developed with an eye toward the future. By 2050, Selzer said, the U.S. population is projected to be mostly urban, minority, and increasingly beset by health issues such as asthma and diabetes. He urged the group to view its conservation work in the larger context of a changing society and articulate a vision that resonates with tomorrow’s audiences.

The LCC brings a valuable approach to coordinating scientific research and for promoting preservation. The Service’s information mentions a “continental” platform, so it will be interesting to see how this initiative integrates research and policy beyond the U.S. borders, as well as how it connects with the efforts of the Wildlands Network. I also wonder what other interdisciplinary collaborations might evolve from this landscape perspective.

A tale of (two) cities

photo by Henkik Johansen (CC)  http://www.flickr.com/photos/zoned_dk/1014057757/

photo by Ivan Mlinaric (CC) http://www.flickr.com/photos/eye1/3912807143/

Top: Copenhagen (Henrik Johansen, CC); Bottom: Istanbul (Ivan Mlinaric, CC)

Week two of the climate summit in Copenhagen.

Put delegates from 190+ nations in a city together with NGOs, activists, and media…and shake.

I’m not sure what outcomes to expect. As the conference nears its conclusion, perhaps the participants will eke out a positive agreement. Let’s hope that nations make individual commitments to reduce CO2 emissions and forge greater cooperation towards sustainability.

Amidst the chaos that accompanies crisis and diversity are authentic concerns, ambition, and goodwill. There are positive signs: as I’m writing this, the media announced that the U.S. and five other nations will pledge US$3.5 billion to protect rainforests.

Still, do I expect boldness? Not really. People in power tend not to want to change the rules. Risk averse “leaders” dance around each other at summits. And when a crowd moves towards a precipice, it’s difficult to convince those pushing to change direction. (That’s the real challenge here.)

As others have noted, anything beyond agreeing to agree that global warming is a problem (which nations have been doing since Rio in 1992) and that negotiation will continue, would be progress. Twitter posts (“tweets”) today from Alex Steffens of Worldchanging and Hunter Lovins of Natural Capital Solutions:

Steffens: Having been at both, I agree. @hlovins COP same people as at Rio saying same thing, no advances

Lovins: Insanity at COP 15. Going to 350.org event with Bill McKibben. Word is talks completely broken down. Real action in cities anyway, not here

“Cities act”

As Lovins notes, cities are moving ahead to address climate change. This week, two conferences — one in Copenhagen alongside the global summit, one in Istanbul — focus on the role of cities.

Continue reading