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Does a Drought Ever Really End? Looking Back at the California 2011-2014 Drought by Barnard Blogger Lauren Aboodi

California droughts have been a constant issue for California residents. Researchers have continued to study the variability of these droughts and how common their occurrences have become in relation to the past. A study done by researchers, Daniel Griffin and Kevin J. Anchukaitis entitled, “How unusual is the 2012-2014 drought”, investigates the 2012-2014 drought in the context of the last 1200 years by creating two paleo-climate reconstructions. Through their research, they found that this drought was the most severe drought of the millennium, but not necessarily outside the range of possible natural variability (Griffin et. al2014). In regard of the causation of the drought, Griffin and Anchukaitis concluded that reduced precipitation and record high temperatures were key factors (Griffin et. al 2014). Richard Seager and others investigated the causes of the droughts in California from 2011-2014 in their study, Causes of the 2011-2014 California drought. They found that in addition to natural variability in precipitation, the long-term warming trend of climate change most likely was one of the factors of the droughts. In another study conducted by Richard Seager and other colleagues, they found similar results. According to their study entitled, “Contribution of anthropogenic warming to California drought during 2012-2014”, although precipitation is the main factor in what controls the range of droughts in California, anthropogenic warming was responsible for 8-27% of the drought in 2012-2014 and 5-18% in 2014 (Williams et. al 2015). This suggests that while natural variability is a strong factor, climate change has increased the overall amount of occurrences of droughts in the region.

The relationship between droughts and climate change is explored in Michael E.Mann and Peter H. Gleick’s article, “Climate change and California drought in the 21st century”, which explores the relationship between dry years and warm years. Their article suggests that more and more evidence is supporting the conclusion that climate change is affecting how often droughts occur, how large they are, and how long they last (Mann et. al 2015). While warmer temperature may not directly affect the amount of precipitation, it does affect the amount of water available. The connection between higher temperatures and droughts is that they are both extreme variables that negatively affect the amount of water available to California residents. In the article, Global warming and changes in risk of concurrent climate extremes: Insights from the 2014 California drought, by Amir AghaKouchak and others, they discuss how the understanding of droughts could be negatively impacted by discounting or completely ignoring the rising temperature that is concurrent with the drought. Understanding the changing climate as a contribution to the harsh results of a drought is key to mitigating and dealing with droughts in the future. A drought itself, is difficult for residents to deal with and puts the water supply in danger.

In addition to this issue, the study, California drought increases CO2 footprint of energy, In Sustainable Cities and Society, by E. Hardin and others, found that the carbon dioxide footprint in California increased 33% annually as compared to emissions prior to the drought (Hardin et. al 2017). This study demonstrates how when droughts occur in California energy usage increases. Hardin and others investigate how the distribution of water and attempts to save it domestically during the California drought were not necessarily successful because of the competitive usage in urban, ecological, and industrial spheres (Hardin et. al). While water conservation is an important aspect to water-energy planning, it is not solely responsible for the increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, as climate changes occur there needs to be nationwide planning to deal with drought occurrences and energy usage on a larger scale.

It is easy to forget about a drought after the extreme regulations are ended because it appears to be over. Julie Lurie, journalist for Mother Jones, discusses this in her article, “Yes, California Has Been Getting Rain. But the Drought Isn’t Over Yet”. Although in 2017 it is raining and the drought looks over, it is not. More planning progress is needed for the future of California’s environmental health and energy usage reduction. According to Lurie, groundwater supply is still low and the issues of over-pumping are still present (Lurie 2017). There’s less stress to create change and improve the water-energy plan when the droughts effects aren’t being felt by California residents. As Lurie quotes Peter Glieck, chief scientist and president emeritus of the Pacific Institute, “A couple wet years and the pressure disappears for a while” (Lurie 2017). The response to the apparent end of the California drought and forgotten negative effects is indicative of a larger problem. We only want to change and plan when we’re receiving the brunt of a problem like having to shorten showers or not water lawns. However, once the drought appears to have ended, the conservation tasks and general improvements to the water-system diminish (Lurie 2017).

 

 
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Cape Cod in 30 Years: The Arm of Massachusetts will cease to exist by Barnard Blogger Kate Barrett

Throughout my entire life, nature has been a huge part of the environment that I live in. I grew up in a small town on Cape Cod, living no more than ten minutes from the beach. My father works as a fisherman in the summers, and spends his winters working on research trips with crews of ten to twenty marine biologists. I am always aware of the biological ecosystems around me, and see the looming threats of climate change approaching. In fact, climate change has already started to affect many aspects of life

on the Cape. Sea levels are rising at an incredibly rapid rate, which causes many horrible consequences: bluff erosion, over wash, urban inundation, island breaching, extinction of certain species, wetland loss, and water quality reduction – just to name a few. The groundwater systems are also being heavily impacted as sea levels rise because it alters the natural flow. There is a huge worry that the cape will “fall into the sea”. However, this may not be completely true. Sure, major changes to the coast will occur through erosion and other factors, but it must be noted that sea-levels have been rising at various rates for thousands of years; the more recent rises have just been at alarming rates. If the people living in these areas are able to prepare and counter-act these rises, we may be able to delay and reduce the amount of rise. People have already started to build their ocean-front houses on stilts to protect from not only rising sea levels but flooding due to hurricane season blowing waves.

The rising sea levels are an issue all across the globe, but it is especially harmful to the Cape and the islands like Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, since most of the Cape is not functioning as a static system. I personally have noticed winters becoming warmer. Seawalls have been blown down and destroyed. Some of my closest friends’ houses have been flooded and ruined. My father has found significant issues maintaining the safety of his boat because the waves during hurricane season are simply too rough for it to remain in the water. The crashing of each tide can easily demolish his 40-foot fishing vessel. It is extremely frightening to see these changes so close to home. I truly believe that the country is being set extensively far back due to our president pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. As a student minoring in Environmental Science, I feel that I must find other people as passionate about ending climate change as I am and make an effort to fight the rising climate through rallies, protests, and educating the people of the Cape.

If climate change continues to impact Cape Cod at this rate, 30 years from now, much of the land and many towns on the arm of Massachusetts will cease to exist. Erosion and flooding will have completely eliminated the infrastructures and towns surrounding. Many industries will suffer, like tourism and agriculture. Tourism in the summertime is a huge economic moneymaker for Massachusetts, as thousands of people come to visit each year. Restaurants are booming, beaches are overcrowded, and tourist clothing shops are located on every single street corner. If that were all to disappear, Massachusetts would be facing a ginormous profit deficit. Alongside tourism, agriculture is a huge aspect of life on the Cape. The towns profit from being large producers of cranberries, fish, and shellfish. Cape Cod’s fisheries and oysters, in particular, are famous and sold all around the world. The cranberry industry was born in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts, which continues to be one of the top locations for production. The Cape Cod Cranberry Grower’s Association stated that drought due to climate change is easily one of the largest concerns for the cranberry industry because cranberry bogs rely on their in-ground irrigation system to grow. As a worried member of society, I will try my best to leave the smallest carbon footprint possible, but this issue is one that will only be fixed through a larger mass of community contribution. Getting the word out and educating people on the horrid effects of climate change is the first step to defeating it. I am hoping that once more people are aware of what is happening to the country, then maybe we will have a greater chance.

 

 
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North Carolina Coast at Great Risk from Sea Level Rise by Barnard Blogger Kaitlyn Dickens

Rising sea level is a global issue that has been exacerbated by climate change and global warming, in particular. Sea levels have varied naturally over the history of the Earth, falling during the ice ages and rising during periods of warming. With the current rising of sea levels, many coastal communities are being threated, including those on the coast of North Carolina. The coast of North Carolina is more than a set of beautiful beaches that could be permanently lost due to sea level rise. Eastern North Carolina is predominately low-lying salt marshlands, farmlands, and a chain of barrier islands. These areas are considered extremely vulnerable to the impacts of rising sea levels. Most of these impacts can be broken down into three categories: historical, economic, and environmental. First, there are numerous historic landmarks, including the Wright Brother’s Monument where the first flight occurred, lighthouses, and state parks. These landmarks are an important part of history that could be lost forever. Secondly, private homes, businesses, and other structures located on the coast could be damaged and/or destroyed. Included in other structures are public infrastructure, such as roads and sewer systems, which were costly to install. Third, natural ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and important fisheries could be altered negatively or ruined with the rising sea levels. In addition, there is potential for the contamination of drinking water as saltwater levels rise to levels higher than the water table (https://deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/coastal-management/coastal-management- hot-topics/sea-level-rise#1).

Climate Central’s report titled “North Carolina and the Surging Sea” aimed to project and quantity the impact rising sea levels and costal floods could have on North Carolina’s coast. Throughout the report, they discuss the effects of 4 feet and 8 feet increase in sea levels; however, their Surging Seas Risk Finder map presents complete results for all sea levels. A portion of this map is shown for what North Carolina’s coast could look like after a 4 feet increase in sea levels. Note that any land covered in blue is projected to be completely submerged at this level of seawater increase.

It is projected that sea levels in Duck, North Carolina could increase by 4 feet as early as 2090, but more likely by 2130. With this sea level increase, it is estimated that around 1.3 million acres of land and 61,000 homes would be submerged across North Carolina’s entire coast. This equates to $8.8 billion in property value and 82,000 affected residents. In addition, nonresidential buildings and public infrastructure are at risk as well. With a 4 foot increase in sea level, 2,541 miles of road, 15 schools, 108 houses of worship, and 2 power plants could be flooded beyond repair. Around 130 EPA-listed sites, which are known to include hazardous waste and wastewater generators, could be submerged. These sites are of particular concern because the hazardous materials could contaminate the water and spread to other areas (https://riskfinder.climatecentral.org/api/reports/state/north-carolina.us/state- report).

Combined with rising sea levels, other effects of global warming have the potential to harm the coast of North Carolina. Heavier rainfall and more powerful storms are commonly associated with increasing temperatures. Coupled with higher sea levels, the coast will become increasing vulnerable to storm surges and intensive flooding. Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist with the Climate and Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, projects that the number of floods seen in Duck, NC will increase from a few tidal floods a year to more than 30 events by 2035, and up to 150 extensive floods by 2045. In the southern beaches of North Carolina, these numbers escalate to more than 350 annual floods by 2045 (https://www.coastalreview.org/2017/10/panelists-dangerous-inaction-rising- seas/). Events of this magnitude would not only destroy property, but could make the land inhabitable – especially the barrier islands. Barrier islands are comprised mostly of very sandy soils, and as these sands become increasingly saturated with water, it will become almost impossible to maintain structures there.

 
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Climate Change in Russia by Barnard Blogger Emma Brody

Climate change is now affecting the entire globe on some level. Certain places have been more affected than others, and will continue to be affected in different severities and ways. Russia has already been affected by climate change; many of the issues that are already arising will continue into the future, and will most likely become more complex and severe. The National Intelligence Council has issued a report detailing some of the impacts Russia is already experiencing, and hypothesizes about some future impacts. The Council reported that climate change has brought “milder winters; melting permafrost; changing precipitation patterns; the spread of disease; and increased incidence of drought, flooding, and other extreme weather events” to Russia. Milder winters will lead to a lessened heating demand in the winter, which will mean Russia will need less energy to use as heat. With milder winters and generally warmer temperatures, water availability will increase in northern Russia (but may decrease in southern regions). Rivers will contain more water; this increase of water will have both negative and positive consequences: It will be difficult for Russia to manage rivers with more water, as they may flood more often or change course. In extreme weather events, which may increase in frequency and intensity, the rivers will be especially unstable and difficult to manage. However, with an increased flow of water through these northern rivers, Russia will have the opportunity to increase the amount of power generated by hydroelectric plants.

While Russia may be able to increase its hydroelectric energy production, The National Intelligence Council expects the country’s oil and gas industry to be negatively impacted. One of the reasons for this negative impact is that as the climate warms, the Russian permafrost will thaw earlier and deeper. This more extensive permafrost thawing will cause construction difficulties; new facilities cannot be built on land that will thaw extensively because as it thaws whatever is built on top of it will collapse. Facilities that are already built on permafrost may experience structural damage or be forced to close as the permafrost melts. With a warming climate and thawing permafrost, agriculture will also be impacted. As Russia experiences warming in its northern regions, areas that were once too cold to be agricultural land will be warm enough to be suitable for growing some crops. Seasons will also shift to occur earlier. Though an increase in the area of land suitable for agriculture would theoretically lead to an increase in crop yield, the National Intelligence Council’s report was uncertain about the magnitude of crop yield change. Russia may be able to grow different types of crops in its changing climate (although it is also uncertain if these crops would succeed in practice), but the yields of crops that are planted in the current climate may lessen in the future climate. As the climate changes, Russia’s biomes may also change. One threat to a large biome of northern Russia, the boreal forest, is fire. With a warming climate, there may be an increase in the number of fires affecting the forest. These fires may also be more severe, harder to control, and thus may burn larger areas of land. With this increase in occurrence and severity of forest fires, the forests may have an increased concentration of young growth.

Climate change will also have more direct impacts on the people of Russia. The National Intelligence Council has predicted that as countries and regions further south than Russia warm, more people may decide to immigrate to Russia. Additionally, many of the areas most affected by climate change will often be smaller countryside towns, so communities in more rural areas

of Russia may experience exacerbated socioeconomic inequality. However, one issue that will affect Russians no matter their economic status will be an increase in habitat of certain insects. As northern latitudes experience warmer temperatures, insects will move farther north, and will bring with them diseases such as encephalitis, which ticks will bring to Russia. Anthropogenic climate change has been occurring for many years, and will continue for many more unless humans act to reduce their impact on the Earth. Many of the impacts discussed above will occur in other regions as well as Russia; we must act promptly to address these issues brought about from climate change.

 
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The Plant that Ate the South’s Northern Take Over by Barnard 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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