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The Plant that Ate the South’s Northern Take Over by CityTech blogger Quinn Jackson

As a kid driving through the rolling roads of central Mississippi, I would stare in awe out the car window at the towering trees peaking over of the red clay below. The dense forestry and thick rocks lining the highways blanketed by a thick vegetation created a masterful display of deep green; I was dumbfounded by this plant plastering itself onto anything it could reach.

 

We would eventually pull onto the family land, and I would jumped out of the car and run to the edge our family built lake and pick beautiful leaves off of that green blanket to keep all to myself. Running back to my great-uncle to bestow upon him my treasures, he would laugh at me saying, “girl, you must be a yankie thinking that devil’s plant has beauty.”

 

That devil’s plant he was speaking of was none other than Kudzu, the great weed that ate Southeastern United State.

 

Originally intended to reduce soil erosion, Southern Farmers of the late 19th century were urged to plant kudzu. The plant was branded as nature’s miracle; it was going to solve agriculture, ecological, economic, and social problems. But before anyone could stop it, Kudzu spread like wild-fire. Kudzu can grow at the astonishing rate of a foot per day declaring its dominance by climbing up trees, and rocks, telephone poles, etc., and killing trees by creating a dense green cover that blocks all sunlight. Due its extensive roots system, Kudzu is nearly impossible to eradicate or contain its growth. Currently, the plant covers around 7,400,000 acres in the United States, making it appear as if the plant has been here since the beginning of time.

The featured map shows the distribution of the spread of Kudzu in the United States by county.

 

So what’s all the hoop-la about kudzu, this is a Climate Change blog. Well what climate change means to Kudzu is an increase of its domain over the American landscape. As atmospheric CO2 levels rise and winter temperatures increase, the vine will become more compatible with the climates of the Northern United States.

 

Kudzu, like other legumes, is a nitrogen fixing organism that increases and aids the nitrogen cycle by using bacteria in the plants roots to transform atmospheric nitrogen to readily available ammonium in the soil. This increased rate of ammonization, results in increased levels of nitrogen oxides that are collected by the soil.

 

In a study by Hickman et. al. It was found that areas infested with Kudzu have nitrogen cycle increased up to ten times faster in Kudzu based soils versus those without kudzu. And that levels of nitrogen oxide 3 were doubled. These higher levels of NOx and additionally, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in the soil, create the perfect recipe for ozone.

 

Ozone is a gas that occurs naturally in the upper layers of the atmosphere protecting the earth from ultraviolet sun rays. Ozone that is not in these upper layers of the atmosphere however is a pollutant. 4 Ozone in the tropospheric, ground level layer affects the air that we breathe, causing health concerns for everyone. This greatly affects anyone with lung issues, children, and the elderly. Additionally, higher levels of ozone can affect sensitive ecosystems, damaging plants and vegetation.

 

As the growth boundaries of kudzu increase due to climate change, it is allowing for additional ozone pollution to occur, affecting urban centers and regions that already have high levels of air pollutants. Additionally this increase on nitrogen and nitrification in northern soils can be detrimental to less susceptible vegetation.

 

It has reasonably been concluded that the northern spread of Kudzu coincides with increased NO emissions, increasing concentrations and frequency of ozone pollution. While the amount of ozone created by Kudzu is minuscule in comparison to other noxious emitters (i.e. cars), it is significant to understand this small piece of the ozone puzzle as we, as a country and individuals, seek to limit our role in climate change.

So no, we’re not all going to die tomorrow from the ozone pollution emitted by this green invader, but it is valuable to understand its effects on the climate and consequently how climate change is increasing Kudzu’s potential impact on the northern half of the United States. While great-uncle might be exaggerating by declaring this plant to be the work of the devil, it is hard to deny Kudzu’s power and domestication of the land it touches.

 

Slider Photo Credit: Helene Schmitz / TURN gallery

Featured Photo Credit: Invasive.org / EDDMAPS.org

 
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What are the biggest risks/threats facing your region/country? Flooding Versus New York City! by CityTech blogger Yocelyne Portillo

It is no surprise that climate change has affected us in many ways. More specifically, climate change has affected the USA. And depending on the place or state you reside, the effect of climate change may be different. In this article I will like to discuss the effects climate change has on my home region of New York City (NYC). The big issues NYC faces are flooding and sea level rise.

 

NYC is surrounded by water and throughout its history, it has relied on this water for transporting shipments and people from place to place. However, the city as we know it, could be affected by a rise in sea level that could lead to more flooding.

 

As a result of global warming, sea level is rising. This rise in sea level is causing an increase on the strength of storms that could cause greater damage to the city than usual flooding. In the article, “Climate Change Will Bring Major Flooding to New York Every 5 Years” by Robinson Meyer, a study conducted by a group of climate scientists estimates that higher sea level will lead to greater storm surges and increase in intense hurricanes. Robinson Meyer says, “New York City has experienced 7.5-foot floods several times in the past decade. Superstorm Sandy loosed 10- or 11-foot floods on much of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, killing 43 people and inundating more than 88,000 buildings.” Additionally, according to the article, NYC also faces a threat from the possible collapse of the West Antarctic Ice sheet.  The collapse of the ice sheet is a threat because the “powerful gravitational pull currently keeps sea levels on that coast usually low.” therefore, if the ice sheet collapses, there could be greater flooding.

 

Flooding and sea level rise are big threats to NYC as they increase in the near and distant future. If we don’t act now, those years could come closer than we think. There is only so much scientists can do to estimate the time and effects of climate change damages. It’s better to prepare now than to lament the disasters later.

Photo Credit: Mike Segar / Reuters

 
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California: Is the Worst Yet To Come? by Barnard Blogger Melody Tai

Recently, I was showing a friend a photo of my dog, and she half-jokingly commented that my dog looked as if he were standing in the middle of a deserted wasteland. That wasteland she referred to was actually the parched grass and cracked dirt of my Southern California backyard, once a lush green color but now completely dried out from the last five years of drought. Unfortunately, the death of my backyard is among the least significant of the laundry list of casualties of the California drought, of which include dwindling populations of native fish, and what the Los Angeles Times calls a “trail of death” in the Sierra pine belt. Although recent wet weather and Governor Brown’s announcement of the end to one of the worst droughts in California history on April 7, 2017 may have prompted a collective sigh of relief from the west coast, the worst may be yet to come. As reported by Think Progress, University of California, Santa Cruz Professor Lisa Sloan, who co-authored the paper that used computerized models to predict the California drought back in 2004, warns that the situation facing the west coast in the coming decades could be significantly more alarming.

In their study, “Disappearing arctic sea ice reduces available water in the American west,” Prof. Sloan and graduate student Jacob Sewall examine the “direct climate response” to a loss in concentration of sea ice in the Arctic. Using computer modeling, the pair found a link between this change in sea ice cover and a reduction of rain and snowfall in an already drying American west. Sewall explains, where the sea ice is reduced, heat transfer from the ocean warms the atmosphere. In turn, this creates columns of warm air that have given rise to an unusually high-pressure zone, forcing the jet stream northwards and blocking the usual Pacific winter storms. The unprecedented persistence of this zone has even inspired the moniker, “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,” dubbed by Stanford University Ph. D student Daniel Swain. According to Swain’s most recent research published in Science Advances, the Triple R, coupled with other large-scale atmospheric conditions, will lead to more extreme patterns of both wet and dry weather in the future. As a result, this finding suggests that California should be preparing to endure not only harsh droughts, but also prolonged periods of excess rains in the future. Between Sloan, Sewall, and Swain, the combined research already points to a bleak future, but Sloan also mentions that the situation will likely be worse than what she and Sewall modeled, given that they did not account for other greenhouse gases besides CO2, they could have been more liberal in the amount of ice melted in the model, and they also did not account for possible changes in land use – all of which are factors that affect precipitation patterns around the globe. Thus, California may have survived this drought, but if climate change continues to progress at the magnitude and pace it has been in the past few decades, then later battles may not be as easily won.

All of this begs the question: what can be done to prepare for and adapt to these increasingly extreme climate conditions? All-in-all, the answer boils down to a statement emphasized by Gov. Brown after he announced the end of the emergency state of the drought:  “Conservation must remain a way of life.” Given these recent scientific findings, such a sentiment could not hold truer, and in this respect, Californians seem to have the right idea pertaining to both the drought and climate change as a whole. According to Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of California’s Water Resources Control Board and “water czar”, a large part of California’s resilience in the face of the drought was the willingness of the California people to change their mindsets and participate in wise use of the diminishing resource. The New York Times calls Californians “experts in conservation”, citing the simple yet effective ways individuals have been saving water, including shorter showers, embracing native plants in favor of traditional lawns, and washing cars less, among others. In regard to climate change adaptation, California also leads the pack, maintaining strict air pollution rules in defiance to the Trump administration and pledging to uphold Paris Accord goals despite Trump’s intent to withdraw. The future is uncertain, and it is clear that California certainly has its work cut out in regard to environmental concerns, but between a pro-environment state government and the cooperation of individual citizens, you can bet that California will be weathering any storms to come.

 

 
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Hurricane Sandy impacts on Oceanside, NY by Barnard Blogger Maggie Paul

Nearly 5 years ago, Hurricane Sandy gained momentum across the Atlantic and eventually devastated many coastal cities, including my hometown Oceanside, NY. Governor Cuomo estimated New York State damages at $41.9 Billion. Hurricane Sandy was later deemed the largest and most powerful hurricane to have ever formed in the Atlantic Basin.  The World Resources Institute reports that “evidence is mounting  that human-induced warming is contributing to increased frequency and intensity of several types of extreme weather events, including heat waves, torrential downpours, and coastal flooding. These trends are expected to continue – with associated damages worsening – in an increasingly warmer world.” The increased frequency and intensity of weather events comes as a result of rising sea levels, warmer temperatures, and increased precipitation- all resulting from a changing climate.

The record breaking magnitude of Hurricane Sandy exemplifies the potential for climate change to increase the intensity of weather events. New York Harbor wave heights were as high as 32.5 ft. Two cities- Dulles, VA and Baltimore, MD recorded the wettest day ever in October the day of Hurricane Sandy (October 29th). Additionally, numerous cities recorded an all-time low pressure.

The night the storm hit, I was a freshman in High School, racing to finish an essay for my first Model United Nations Conference that was due at midnight. At the time the laptop I had needed to be plugged in at all times. The lights began flickering as I proofread my completed paper. Before I could submit however, the whole house went black. Thankfully, my house is relatively far away from the ocean and the flooding, but a majority of my town was devastated. My Model United Nations trip got cancelled shortly after, due to the fact that my advisor’s house experienced flooding almost reaching the second floor of his house in Long Beach, NY. Neighbors reported colorful explosions in the sky the night of the storm, which was later confirmed as the exploding transformers. A whole block in a nearby neighborhood was burned down allegedly as a result of the exploding transformers, but it was rumored to be caused by an arsonist looking to ensure funds to repair houses after the storm damages. The days following the storm were surreal. Boats from nearby docks were carried blocks inland by the flooding waters, and nearly every seaside residence suffered basement or first floor flooding. The only places open were a pizza shop giving out free slices and water, and a firehouse that was receiving clothing and food donations. The storm disproportionately hurt low income families, who could not afford to pay for repairs to their homes and were given no other option but to move out of town.

After the wake of the storm, most houses did not regain electricity for several weeks. Public schools were even cancelled for a week and a half. It was a cold fall so many looked towards generators to heat their homes- I personally stayed over a friends house in the following days because my family did not have a generator. I also took advantage of the generator to charge my cell phone and keep updated about the aftermath of the storm. This shift towards generator use magnified gas dependence in the community. Each gas station had lines curling around the block. People were either looking to fill up their cars to get away from the flooded area or use the gas for generators. A movement towards more renewable energy sources such as Solar Power or Wind Power could minimize this reliance in the future. Additionally, it would limit the amount of greenhouse gas added to the atmosphere, further heating the planet.

Under Trump’s presidency, The United States is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. On November 7th 2017, Syria signed on to the agreement, making the United States the only Country in the United Nations who has not agreed to work collaboratively to prevent climate change. Considering the United States is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, it is imperative for the U.S. to be fully involved in any international efforts to fight against it. I am currently majoring in Urban Studies with a concentration in Environmental Science and Sustainable Development with a Minor in Political Science at Barnard College. My hope is that my studies will enable me to implement policies in the United States that will prevent further anthropogenic climate change by corporations while also researching sustainable development plans for future city projects. Although my state New York has joined the U.S. Climate Alliance (a sub national coalition of states independently pledging to follow the goals of the Paris Agreement), cooperation must occur on the federal level to successfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to ongoing climate change.

 
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Climate Change and the Place You Know the Best by Barnard Blogger Thandi Nyambose

I chose to focus my blog on Malawi, my father’s place of birth. He is from Lilongwe, the capital city, but he grew up in a rural village called eManyaleni, where his parents were subsistence farmers cultivating primarily maize. When I was young, he told me stories about catching fish with his hands in the river and trapping tiny songbirds to roast on sharp sticks. He hunted for honey in the hills above his village, laughing off stings because the waxy honey was so delicious. It all sounded like a series of idyllic adventures to me as a child. He doesn’t talk about the things he didn’t have growing up. No electricity, often not enough food or water. My father is the only one from eManyaleni to go to college; the only one to come to the US; the only one to have a PhD. The first time I traveled to the village I was seventeen, and it holds a very important place in my heart.

It frightens me to see the way climate change is ravaging this country as I feel a very personal connection to it. The biggest threats facing Malawians are periods of intense drought and delayed, erratic rainfall, which are increasing in both variability and intensity (Stringer et al., 2009). These risks manifest in many tragic ways. For example, the New York Times reports of a communal well in a Malawian village that was contaminated by January floodwaters that swept away homes and crops (Revkin, 2007). Not only can this sort of heavy rainfall displace entire villages, it brings with it the threat of both disease and malnutrition.

Because nine out of every ten Malawians live in rural areas and rely on rain-fed subsistence agriculture (Stringer et al., 2009: 756), periods of drought have been linked to severe famine. As the population continues to expand rapidly, more and more people who rely on agriculture, particularly maize as a cash crop, will have their livelihoods in the hands of the frequent climactic hazards (Ellis et al., 2003). This year, farmers were relieved by good rain and a bounty harvest, but it came after a long three years of drought in Malawi (Bafana, 2017). And this is not the first time: in the 2004-2005 growing season, drought left behind a “catastrophic maize harvest” putting five million people — more than a third of the country — in need of emergency food resources (Rosenberg, 2014). Events of this sort will continue to fuel rural-to-urban migration, as the unpredictability of rainfall shifts Malawians away from their reliance on agriculture as a main source of income and into the urban workforce. Other steps being taken to adapt to the current and future impacts of climate change include planting hybrid maize and modifying the growing season to adjust to new rainfall and temperature patterns (Stringer et al, 2009: Table 5). Many smallholder farmers move completely away from mono-cropping, diversifying into legumes like groundnuts and soya (Bafana, 2017). Some supplement with tobacco. This way if one crop fails due to drought, they may be able to compensate with income from the others. However, many still feel unsure of what crop to plant, and when. I hope that 10 years into the future we will have developed an effective way to manage these climate extremes for an already vulnerable population. I believe that a change in agricultural practice is a start, but there is a long and challenging journey to go.

 
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