Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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Irrigation and Water Depletion in the Southwest United States

Water depletion

Irrigation in the Southwest U.S.

“We need to work together to feed the world, but we also need to work together to save and monitor our water resources.”

By Linn Smith

August 26, 2018—- On the farmland of my youth in the Midwest, my brothers and I spent much time baling hay for our cattle, but water was plentiful and plants thrived with no irrigation. Cows were in green pastures in the summertime and in winter months we fed hay when grasses died.

Farming in the Southwest

When traveling to southern New Mexico and southern Arizona, I often see hay and cotton fields in the middle of the desert and semi arid terrain. It seems an unlikely place to grow crops that have high water needs! 

Today the Southwest is water-stressed with many lawsuits taking place, both privately and between states, over water rights. The projection is that reduced precipitation by mid-century will result in reduced runoff into the water basins that feed irrigated fields.

I recently heard a local resident from Arizona say that Saudi Arabia was buying land in Arizona and California’s arid landscape for growing hay and shipping it back to their country. The export of hay (grasses grown for feeding animals) is booming in the U. S., with the amount of hay leaving the west coast ports increasing yearly. In 2017, the total exports of alfalfa and other hay reached 4.2 million metric tons and is continuing to grow.

The fact that hay and cotton are being exported is healthy for our economy, as many U.S. farmers are growing and exporting this commodity, mostly from states that require little irrigation for agriculture. The issue is growing crops in the desert Southwest in what is fast becoming an area where water is not replenishing itself in the rivers and reservoirs.

The Colorado river

Farmers in the Southwest are left little water for irrigation.

Depletion of our Water Resources

What is healthy for our aquifers and rivers when they are not replenishing? Doug Kenny, Director of the Western Water Policy Program at University of Colorado, says about potential water shortage. “Right now, it’s the effort to maintain the levels of water stored in the big reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. They’re about half full, which is about as low as they can go before mandatory cuts in water deliveries. It’s a math problem—managing water coming in vs. water going out. So far this century, people have pulled more water out than consistently flows in. That has to change.”

Saudi Arabia and the Southwest

 Most crops will only thrive with irrigation in the arid Southwest.  Saudi Arabia is confronting a major depletion in its aquifers which has brought its wheat and hay production to a halt. They have bought 1,000’s of acres in arid parts of the U.S., Arizona and Southern California (and several other countries), allowing them to take advantage of the U.S. water laws. The Laws of the Colorado River are currently under scrutiny by the Upper and Lower Basin states because of continuing depletion of the river and Lake Mead, which supplies water to the lower Colorado river basin states. Most crops will only thrive with irrigation in the arid Southwest.

The drought of Southwest U.S.

Lake Mead depletion

Southern California: Irrigating Crops vs Urban Use

In Southern California the Metropolitan Water District pays landowners to fallow their land, letting it lay without planting crops so that water is freed up for urban areas. Since 2005, over $200 million has been paid to farmers not to grow crops on this program. This allows water to be directed to Los Angeles and other cities in Southern California.

Has this program enabled corruption and profit from drought conditions? A single recipient, Fisher Ranch, owned by a board member of the operation, has received over $27 million a year since 2005 for leaving his land fallow.

Colorado River

Depletion of water for crop irrigation

The Water Crisis

As I continue to study depleting water conditions in the Western U.S., I realize in 20 years, if not sooner, we are going to be facing a water crisis due to climate change and over allotment of water rights and usage. We need to ask ourselves what changes are necessary today to alleviate the impending crisis.

Water shortage is going to be a complex problem in the future requiring many people to make sacrifices. We need to work together to feed the world, but we also need to work together to save and monitor our water resources. Education and awareness is a place to start.

The Southwest Water Crisis

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Pollinator Prairies and Highways: Feeding the Bees!

Pollinators

Pollinator habitats are necessary for our food sources.

“Pollinators, especially bees, are responsible for producing 1/3 of the food we eat.”

By Linn Smith
August 6, 2018—-In May 2018, Interstate 76, which stretches through the high plains farmland east of Denver, Colorado for about 185 miles, was designated a Pollinator Highway. The Pollinator Highway Project will not only be planted with food for pollinator insects, but also maintain the health of pollinator plants already growing along the highway.

I have traveled this stretch of highway many times and have always wondered at the vastness of the landscape in this sparsely populated part of Colorado. With almost 9000 miles of highway corridors in the state, I-76 is the perfect test area for the Pollinator Program. The program was initiated by Denver’s Butterfly Pavilion because it is a highway that is not only frequented by migrating butterflies, but also has enough space to eventually create a positive change in our environment by providing food for all pollinating insects.

Pollinator insects

Maintaining the health of our pollinator insects.

Definition of a Pollinator

What is a pollinator? According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, “A pollinator is any organism that helps with the cross-pollination of plants. They are vital to the survival of most of the world’s ecosystems, with an estimated 70-87% of flowering plants relying on pollinators. Many of these plants are food crops that humans rely upon and most of the others are key members of natural ecosystems. Bottomline: Pollinators are extremely important!”

Pollinators

Pollinator Prairies and highways

Colorado Pollinator Highway

For CDOT, Colorado Dept. of Transportation, this is a great opportunity to begin positive environmental changes using the space along its highways, replenishing and creating habitats for pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, moths, flies, bats, and hummingbirds. This will affect the future food supply of humans, as it’s said that 1 out of 3 bites of food we eat depends on pollinators. CDOT has stated that the pollinator plants along the highway will not affect travel, as the insects will stay in their habitat if it is well maintained.

Colorado will begin this project by planting an 8 mile stretch along I-76 near Julesburg, just over the state line from Nebraska. This test site will allow CDOT to gather data for plans on maintenance and longevity of future pollinator highways in the state. Besides creating habitats for pollinators, the pollinator highways will reduce maintenance in Colorado by reduced mowing. It is a win-win plan for the future.

If the dilemma of pollinator insect die-off is not addressed now, the future of the food we eat and the low prices we pay are in jeopardy. The decline of pollinators is due primarily to land use changes, pesticide use, invasive species, and climate change which can cause insect diseases and loss of habitat. According to CDOT, 30% of the honeybee population dies off yearly (with only a slight increase after die-off each year.) At this rate, the bee population is not sustainable in the long run.

Insect Pollination

Identify Plant Forage for pollinators

Protecting the Pollinator Habitat

The Colorado Department of Transportation will also be working to protect the pollinator habitat as a long-term solution for survival of pollinator insects. CDOT states, “Managing noxious weeds will also be more specialized along the corridor. In fact, we will have a roadside manager for the corridor, who will also oversee the statewide vegetation management program. The pollinator program will promote genetically appropriate plants that support self-sustaining dynamic ecosystems, which are resistant to invasion by non-native or invasive species.”

A variety of plants will be planted that will blossom at different times in the spring, summer and fall, creating food until the insects lie dormant (slow down) for the winter.

Pollinator Prairie

My friend’s well maintained prairie in the Midwest.

Pollinator Prairies

In the Midwest farmers are taking advantage of the CP-42 Pollinator Enhancement (PDF) program which helps and supports farmers that place part of their farmland in pollinator prairie. So far hundreds of thousands of acres have been planted in the CP-42 program.

A friend of mine has planted about 50 acres in pollinator prairie. He maintains it by going through on a regular basis and digging up invasive plants, such as small elm saplings. His land is near the river where the bottom part of the prairie floods several times a year, which hasn’t affected the pollinator plants so far, as they are not underwater for any length of time. He states, ““Once floodplain land is taken out of crop production and returned to natural prairie (pollinator Prairie), it acts as a very good filter in not only cleaning up dirty water ways, but preventing further flooding inland. Our rivers are dirty and prairie grass can act as a filter by allowing the water to run through the grasses.”

pollinator prairie

My friend’s well maintained pollinator prairie grass

Pollinators, especially bees, are responsible for producing 1/3 of the food we eat. What are the foods that need or benefit from pollination? Here are just a few: alfalfa (which can feed our meat and milk sources!), apples, berries, bananas, tomatoes, chocolate (Cocoa Bean trees) and coconut.

Learn how you can help to increase pollinator insects and food sources at: http://www.peopleandpollinators.org. You can also sign up to do volunteer work!”

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Pollinator insects and habitat


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The USA National Phenology Network: Taking the Pulse of our Planet

Phenology

Climate change affects all life.

“Phenology is nature’s calendar. It’s the study of plant and animal life cycle events.”

By Linn Smith
June 14, 2018—–I learned about Phenology when visiting Biosphere 2 several months ago. Upon entering I asked the question, “But where is Biosphere 1?” “It’s our Planet Earth!” our guide answered. (I knew little before entering!) On the grounds of Biosphere 2 is the Biosphere Village Phenology garden.

Climate Change

Birds depend on insects to feed their young.

What is Phenology?

Phenology is nature’s calendar. It’s the study of plant and animal life cycle events, such as leafing and flowering of plants, emergence of insects, and bird migration. Many of these events are sensitive to climate change. Birds build their nest to coincide with insects coming to life after a long winter. The insects are the necessary food for the baby birds and, as the climate warms and winters shorten, this nesting time period will change.

Phenology

What is it?

Monitoring animal and plant life, or Phenology, can help scientists predict which populations are in danger of extinction. It can also help manage invasive species, help predict human health problems, such as allergies, and predict optimum times to plant and harvest crops.

The Biosphere Phenology Garden

“The garden at the Biosphere is part of a nationwide effort to help scientists track impacts of climatic variation and change on the natural world. We are monitoring the timing and occurrence of seasonal events of this garden and reporting the observations to USA-NPN’s national data base.” (USA National Phenology Network)

Phenology

It helps us understand our changing environment.

How You Can Help!

And this is how you can get involved! Citizen Scientists were developed so all can participate in monitoring nature and recording the data. The USA National Phenology Network brings together citizens, government agencies, educators, students and nonprofit organizations to monitor the impacts of climatic variation and change on plants and animals across the U.S. The network harnesses the power of people and the Internet to share information and provide data to researchers.

USA-NPN invites anyone interested to volunteer as an observer so that they can better understand environmental trends and adaptation to climate change. Your own yard can serve as a phenology garden where you observe plants and report your findings. You can track the phenology of plants and animals through Nature’s Notebook, which is an online monitoring system, contributing to a national database that can be used by scientists and resource managers.

Phenology

It can help us understand why nature is changing.

Citizen Scientists at Work

“Cathie Bird finds being outdoors healing and inspiring. She goes outside nearly every day to see what other species are up to, and after she heard about Nature’s Notebook, she decided to record what she observes for the benefit of science. She feels “being an observer has connected me even more deeply with life in my neighborhood” and has “enriched my lifelong commitment to cultivate a deeper relationship with Earth.

Chris Nielsen started using Nature’s Notebook to observe native plants in the Northwest several years ago. Chris not only monitors plants at his home, but also at the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Shoreline, WA. What does Chris recommend for getting started with Nature’s Notebook? Don’t take on too many plants! Start out with just a few then take on more as you get comfortable with the program.”

Now is the time to step up to the plate and help out…..the time was actually yesterday, but as the old saying goes, better late than never! Find out more information at: https://www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook

Phenology, You can help!

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The Arctic Basin: Warming Faster than the Planet in its Entirety

Arctic Ocean

Melting of the Arctic Sea Ice

“The arctic basin is warming faster than most of the earth’s surface.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore
June 8, 2018—–The Arctic Basin consists of the Arctic Sea and the surrounding land. The climate of the basin is warming faster than any other area of Earth’s surface. Air temperature over the arctic has increased an average of nearly three degrees Celsius (five degrees Fahrenheit) over the last century. This is almost double that of the global average.

The Energy Exchange in Change of State Between Ice and Water

One very important feature of the energy balance distinguishes the Arctic Basin. Over 95% of the earth’s surface, the major change in the state of water in the environment is between liquid and gas. This entails evaporation and condensation. In the Arctic it is between solid and liquid. There is an energy exchange of about 80 calories per gram between solid and liquid. For the rest of the earth the energy exchange is much higher. The energy exchange between liquid and gas is 590 calories per gram. This is nearly seven times that of ice and water.

The implication of this is that melting or freezing takes place with relative small changes in heat added or heat lost in the environment!

The energy exchange in melting artic

Melting of the Arctic

Energy Exchange in the Tundra

Surrounding the Arctic sea is a grassland, generally known as the tundra. Such a grassland is found primarily only in the Northern Hemisphere. The southern margin of the tundra is delimited by the polar margin of a coniferous forest. Specific regions that contain tundra are the northern coast of North America, Iceland, Spitsbergen, coastal Greenland, and the Arctic borderlands of Eurasia.

A significant feature of the tundra is permafrost. Permafrost is permanently frozen ground. Extensive area of land in the basin are covered with it. Permafrost can vary from centimeters to many meters thick.

Ice and snow are highly reflective of solar radiation. However, in the summer months some of the solar radiation melts the permafrost. The surface layer of permafrost thaws leaving the deeper layer frozen. The result is that lakes and ponds are a characteristic of the tundra. Once the permafrost melts at the surface, the wet ground absorbs much more radiation and the thawing increases. However, except on the margins of the permafrost, there remains frozen ground beneath the surface.

How deep the permafrost melts will vary. The point is that once the surface thaws the solar energy that is absorbed goes up substantially. This in turn increases the rate of the thawing of the permafrost. As the earth’s atmosphere slowly warms this process is being accelerated.

climate change

The exchange of energy is causing rapid arctic melting.

Energy Exchange in the Arctic Sea

The Arctic Sea is a part of the world ocean that is frozen much of the year but increasingly is open during the summer months. The season when melting occurs has increased by three weeks since records began. At present, even in the summer, there is a large area that remains frozen. As the atmosphere slowly warms more of the ice cover melts. Open water absorbs much more radiation than the ice and this increases the temperature of the water which then increases melting of the ice. As a result, over recent decades, the sea ice has been thinning or melting entirely over large areas. Just as on land the conversion from sea ice to open water is increasing at an increasing rate.

Climate change

The rapidly melting artic

In summary, the arctic basin is warming faster than most of the earth’s surface. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the amount of energy it takes to change the state of water between solid and liquid is much less than it takes to change the state between liquid to gas. There is thus a net gain in heat that is proportionately higher than that of the rest of the planet. As the summer season increases in length more heat is absorbed in the environment adding to the general global warming!

Warming of the Arctic


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Climate Change and Human Population Growth Precipitated the Pleistocene Mass Extinction

climate change and species extinction

Climate change and extinction of species

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception!”

By John J. Hidore

May 19, 2018—-Changes in climate can and do result in the elimination of species of plants and animals. Evolutionary adaptation and ecological equilibrium may not take place as rapidly as the climate changes. Adaptation by plant and animal species to environmental change may take years, centuries or thousands of years.

Different species respond at different rates and in different forms to climate change. Plants are always producing hybrids and individuals with mutations. In any plant species, there are those individuals better suited to the extremes of the range of the plant. These individuals may thrive under changing conditions while the majority perish. In this manner, the optimum conditions for the species changes to those of the new environment. Animals may also come under more and more stress with changing environmental condition and some species become extinct.

Mass extinction and climate change

Mass extinction throughout time

The Paleozoic/Mesozoic Mass Extinction

At intervals through geologic time, events have taken place that resulted in the demise of many if not most living species. Extreme cases are called extinctions or mass extinctions. A current definition of a mass extinction is a widespread and unusually rapid decrease in the number of species of plants or animals. There have been at least 13 mass extinctions since life became abundant on the planet. As a result of these mass extinctions 99 percent of all species that have existed on the planet no longer exist.

The most extensive mass extinction of all time happened at the boundary between the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras. Ninety percent of all living species died out and very drastic changes took place in the fauna of the planet with a major collapse of marine fauna, especially those living in shallow water on the continental shelves.

Among the organisms that perished were the trilobites. Trilobites were one of the dominant organisms of the seas. They survived the previous two extinctions but couldn’t withstand the changes that mark this period in earth’s history. While many land species disappeared, there was no parallel to the mass extinction of marine animals. The changes were so drastic that the life of the following Mesozoic Era was quite different from that of the Paleozoic Era.

climate change and mass extinction

Survival or mass extinction

The Pleistocene Mass Extinction was a Global Event

In the recent history of the earth there have been two periods of accelerated extinction of biota during which the extinction rates were greater than evolutionary causes would predict. These two periods are the end of the Pleistocene Epoch and the modern period.

The Pleistocene extinction, took place over a period of a few thousand years, at the end of the last glacial advance (l8,000 to 8000 BCE). In a relatively short period of time, whether measured in either geologic time, evolutionary time or in terms of human history on earth, a large number of species of mammals and birds disappeared without being replaced. The period of greatest species loss was from 13,000 to 8000 BCE. During this time there was a rapid warming of the planet. Especially impacted species were the larger animals weighing more than 40 kg (88 lbs)The spacing of the extinctions over several thousand years makes it difficult to ascribe to climate events alone. Furthermore, most of the extinct animals were large enough to be conspicuous and edible.

The rate of extinction varied from place to place and through time. The rate of extinction was lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa where modern humans coexisted with the large animals the longest. The rate of extinction increased as distance from the African region increased. The highest rate of extinction occurred in South America.

mass extinction of species

Climate change and mass extinction

To some extent the rate of extinction paralleled the spread of modern humans. It was long believed that large mammals were too powerful for humans to hunt. Perhaps this was true for the individual hunter with spear or bow and arrow, but when hunters went out in groups, it is quite possible they could have been very successful hunters of large animals, even using only simple tools.

In Africa, pygmies hunted elephants with primitive tools. The Plains Indians of North America demonstrated they could successfully hunt large animals with primitive weapons. Herds of animals were driven off cliffs or into water by the use of fire and were either subsequently destroyed in the fall or drowned, or at least made far more vulnerable to attack. Modern humans became more sophisticated hunters as they spread from their place of origin in Africa. Places that were isolated from human migration for a longer period of time, such as some islands, suffered less species loss.

The Mass Extinction in North America

The largest North American mammals were hardest hit. Seventy percent of existing species became extinct. Horses and camels, which had evolved in the New World, became extinct on this continent, as did mammoths and mastodons, which had migrated into the New World over the once dry land of the Bering Strait. The ground sloth, saber toothed tiger, dire wolf, giant buffalo, antelope, and the giant beaver also disappeared, and yet there was no concomitant loss of small mammals, plants or aquatic organisms.

The spread of the human species and the state of the cultural development at the end of the Pleistocene suggests that humans were a major factor in this accelerated extinction. A surprising number of the fossilized bones of extinct animals and birds were discovered associated with charcoal and stone tools, such as arrowheads or spear points. Some of the sharpened tools were still embedded in the bones. Humans appeared in North America rather suddenly from Asia, occupied the continent, and began hunting animals that had never had a chance to adapt to this special type of predator.

The most recent extinction is that taking place today. How severe it will be is yet to be determined.

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Climate change and mass extinction


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Belize: Creating Healthy Coral Reefs

coral reef

Flying into Belize

“Coral nurseries use several methods of growing and attaching the newly grown coral to the bleached reef.”

By Linn Smith
May 13, 2018—–My daughter recently returned from Belize where she snorkeled among the fish of the Belize Barrier Reef, which runs along the coast for 190 miles. It’s part of the Mesoamerican Barrier reef, which is continuous from Cancun to Honduras… 560 miles. Belize has passed an ordinance prohibiting snorkelers from wearing sunscreen, but this tiny country is doing so much more to ensure the health of their reef and reefs around the world.

Bleaching of a Coral Reef

Coral reefs help protect our shorelines. They also provide food for many species of fish, which, in turn, provides food for the human population. Fishing is a major part of the economy in Belize, providing jobs, recreation and tourism. 

Coral reefs cover less than 1% of our ocean floor but support more than 25% of marine life. Due to global warming, hurricanes, diseases, overfishing, and the warming and acidification of the seas, coral bleaching is happening 4 times the rate of bleaching 40 years ago. Bleaching of a reef looks just like what the word bleaching implies…the reef turns white!

climate change

Bleaching occurs when the reef is under stress.

According to Wikipedia corals are, “A colony of genetically identical polyps, each polyp being a sac-like animal only a few millimeters in diameter, with a set of tentacles surrounding a central mouth opening.”

Corals get their color from the tiny algae that live on them, providing food for marine life. When it gets too hot or the corals get diseased or stressed, they dispel the algae, which is known as bleaching. Bleached corals are more vulnerable to diseases, which spread to surrounding healthy corals and makes it difficult for the reef to recover.

Fragments of Hope

A nonprofit organization, Fragments of Hope, is restoring the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef through transplanting coral from coral nurseries. Lisa Carne, a Marine Biologist, visited Belize after a devastating hurricane in 2001. She noticed fragments of living coral from the reef floating in the sea and asked herself if these could somehow be transplanted back onto the reef. After moving to Belize, Lisa received a research grant to study coral transplanting, thus the creation of Fragments of Hope.

Fragments of Hope

Building a healthy coral reef.

Fragments of Hope has transplanted almost 100,000, more temperature tolerant, coral fragments along the Mesoamerican Reef. With constant documentation and observation, only 7 of the the original 19 Elkhorn fragments transplanted in 2006 were lost. Not only are 12 of the original still surviving, they have also created satellite colonies! Fragments of Hope has created 28 gene bank nurseries of threatened coral species as of 2018.

Fragments of Hope

Restoring our reefs through attaching healthy coral.

Coral Nurseries

Coral nurseries use several methods of growing and attaching the newly grown coral to the bleached reef. A rope method uses a long strand of rope strung between a steel frame which is buried on the bottom of the sea floor. The rope is twisted slightly apart to insert the corals between the rope strands. When the coral is mature the entire strand of rope is attached to the bleached-out reef.
Several other methods use a cement mixture to attach fragments of coral to the reef or transplant coral plugs into the reef. The average growing time to create a healthy transplant is about a year.

Fragments of Hope has successfully trained 30 women for the diver roles over the past several years, a role that has previously been dominated by males. Women who successfully train can earn 3 times the minimum wage of Belize.

Fragments of Hope

Creating healthy coral reefs

United Nations Lighthouse Awards

Fragments of Hope has also expanded to other countries, including Jamaica, Colombia and St. Barth. Fragments of Hope offers training for others through manuals, videos and a precise curriculum to guide them towards success in saving the world’s coral reefs.

Fragments of Hope is a 2017 winner of the Lighthouse Awards, an award given by the United Nations to people and organizations that, “Shine a light on the activities underway across the globe that are moving the world toward a resilient, innovative and transformative solutions that address climate change, the economy and social and environmental challenges. The winners also address some of the most practical and replicable examples of what people are doing to tackle climate change.” The United Nations has been recognizing winners since 2011. There were 19 winners in 2017.

Anyone leading a results-driven project that is successfully addressing climate change may apply for the Lighthouse Momentum for Change Award. The next applications will be taken between February-April 2019. More information is at http://www.momentum.unfccc.in 

Also the Coral Reef Replenishment Manual can be downloaded from Google

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The Effect of Climate Change on the Saguaros of the Sonoran Desert

saguaro pic by Linn Smith

Saguaro of the Sonoran Desert

“Saguaros have evolved to rely on the summer monsoons and winter rains that prevail here.”

By Linn Smith
March 4, 2018—-Each morning I ride along the dirt paths in southwest Arizona, my dog in tow, and wonder at the giant Saguaros, towering, as if royalty of the desert. What do I know about these gigantic, human like plants? I know I am truly humbled by their presence. The beauty against the mountains, the size, the human like features of arms lifting to a blue sky above, their age and, while the world moves forward, these mammoth cactuses have survived the elements of a dry arid life in the Southwest…all part of my fascination!

But what about the survival of the Saguaros? What is the future of these majestic desert plants? With climate change comes a hotter, drier desert and with a hotter, drier desert comes a greater risk of fires and drought, making it difficult for the Saguaro to propagate according to the narrow margin of time allotted for seed dispersion that coincides with the monsoons.

And also….there’s Buffelgrass!

Saguaros

Buffelgrass competes with Saguaros for nutrients

Buffelgrass: A Giant Threat to a Giant Cactus

Buffelgrass is native to Africa and was transported to the desert of Arizona to prevent erosion and for cattle forage in the 1940’s. Many volunteers work tirelessly digging up the invasive grass, which competes with the Saguaros for food and water. The grass not only competes for the nutrients and water among the Saguaros, it is also fire-resistant, as the roots are able to survive a fire, allowing the Buffelgrass to endure the elements of nature and return healthier than ever.

Buffelgrass is highly flammable and burns very hot, much hotter than the Saguaros can survive. It changes a fire-resistant desert into a flammable grassland and, as climate changes and fires increase, so does the Buffelgrass. A healthy ecosystem is able to resist changes of climate due to global warming, but the buffelgrass creates an unhealthy environment for the Saguaros of the Sonoran Desert. When it fills in the bare areas between the Saguaros, the grass acts like fodder for fire caused by lightning strikes.

Climatecental.org states, “Like many such imports, which seemed like a good idea at the time, this one (Buffelgrass) has gone out of control. Approximately 2,000 acres of Saguaro National Park are currently covered with buffelgrass, and can spread at a rate of up to 35 percent per year. There’s no way for one park or its visitors to hold back global warming, but while park employees attack the fire-loving buffelgrass with herbicides, volunteers show up for communal buffelgrass pulls. It’s a difficult battle, but after great effort and thousands upon thousands of buffelgrass clumps yanked from the ground, mostly by volunteers, some land is declared free of the unwanted grass.”
The staff at Saguaro National Park states it like this, “The math of climate change is simple: Hotter summers mean a greater likelihood of fire. Warmer winters mean less chance for buffelgrass to die back in a hard freeze. It all adds up to long odds for the saguaros. If we start seeing buffelgrass come through and we have larger fires, really you can start calling us Buffelgrass National Park. The cacti are not going to survive that.”

Saguaro

Saguaros of the Southwest

The Saguaros and Monsoon Rains

The Saguaros only habitat on earth are the deserts of the southwest. Andy L. Fisher, chief of interpretation for Saguaro National Park says, “Even — or especially — in the desert, water is life. Saguaros have evolved to rely on the summer monsoons and winter rains that prevail here. Their adaptations to this regional weather cycle are so specific that the species is found in the Sonoran Desert and nowhere else on Earth. The saguaros have got it dialed in. They know exactly when they need to put up the fruit to put out the seeds, to get the seeds carried by the animals, to get seeds deposited just in time for the first monsoon rains.” If the monsoons fail to bring the needed rains within their usual timespan, these cactuses could soon become extinct, along with the many other species of plants throughout our planet dependent on timely conditions for survival.

Saguaro Population Regeneration

A seventy-five year study of the Saguaro cactus by the National Parks Conservation Association titled, “Saguaro Mortality and Population Regeneration in the Cactus Forest of Saguaro National Park: Seventy-Five Years and Counting,” created maps showing the percent of population change of the Saguaros according to sections. The study shows that only 12 of the 64 four-hectare (one hectare equals approximately 2.5 acres} plots had a population increase over the past 75 years in which the Saguaro was studied. The other 52 plots decreased in Saguaro population. Other studies document the same degree of regeneration.

Weiss, Castro, and Overpeck , who headed the study, contrasted the drought of the 2000s with the drought of the 1950s and point out the following. “Temperatures during the drought of the 2000s have been generally higher than during the 1950s drought due to climate change. They note that the higher temperatures increase the evapotranspiration especially in the foresummer prior to the monsoons. Hence, we suspect drought, not reproductive potential, is primarily responsible for the lack of regeneration in this population in the current era.”

The observations made during the past 75 years of this study suggest that the success of the Saguaro’s regeneration in the 21st century will depend on a combination of factors including climate and fire associated with the invasive non-native buffelgrass. Climate change may benefit some species, such as Buffelgrass, and cause extinction of others….the Saguaro, which is at risk of disappearing in the future!

If you are in the Southwest or just visiting and would like to spend a day for a worthy cause….digging Buffelgrass, contact the Desert Museum: https://www.desertmuseum.org/buffelgrass/volunteer.php

One last note, don’t try to poach a Saguaro to sell or relocate to your yard, as many are microchipped!

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 Agrivoltaics: Growing Food for the Future

Agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics: Food and Solar

“Agrivoltaics combines agriculture with energy efficiency while growing plants beneath solar panels.”

By Linn Smith

January 28, 2018—- Co-location means two or more groups, sharing the same place. Agrivoltaics, also known as Agrophotovoltaics, means using the same piece of land for solar power plus agriculture. Agrivoltaics, or solar farming, is a new way of growing plants, combining agriculture with energy efficiency while growing plants beneath solar panels.

Agrivoltaics: Dual Use of Land

In 1981, Adolf Goetzberger and Armin Zastrow developed the idea to improve overall production of crops. Dr. Goetzberger founded the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany. His work involved making solar an alternative to fossil fuels. In 1981, he published a paper titled, “Potatoes under the Collector,” which proposed a setup for solar energy systems in combination with agricultural land use.

agrivoltaics

Growing food with solar

Dr. Eicke Weber, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute stated, “In view of the dynamic worldwide growth of solar installations of the last decade and the increase in land usage resulting from solar installation systems, innovative concepts, like agrophotovoltaics (agrivoltaics) which facilitates the dual usage of agricultural land, help to further and accelerate the transformation of the global energy system.”

Dr. Goetzberger used the term Agrophotovoltaics or APV, as a method of harvesting the sun for both power and production of crops. APV is currently an ongoing project in Germany which demonstrates that land for both growing crops and solar electricity are compatible. Dual use of the land is resource efficient, reduces competition for land and opens up a new source of income for farmers.

The APV System

The APV system was installed on organic farmland in Germany in 2015. Approximately seven acres were used to produce crops under the ground-mounted solar panels, which were built about 5 yards off the ground. Four different crops were planted. The land in use not only generates electricity from the solar panels but is also growing food. The solar panels provide a uniform light distribution on the crops using reflection. To prove their theory, they also planted a control plot nearby using the same 4 crops, excluding the solar panels. The scientists wanted to determine which crops would grow best. Result: The crops under the APV system produced about 80% of that of the control crop. This experiment is ongoing and data will be analyzed in 2018.

agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics: Growing food to feed the planet.

Agrivoltaics and Biosphere2

A similar experiment was being conducted at Biosphere2 when I visited several weeks ago. This research, headed by Barron-Gafford, Assistant Professor, revealed that the solar system above the crops created a warmer environment than normal when no plants were beneath , similar to the heat-island effect that happens in cities surrounded by cement and asphalt. He stated, “So think about it, if you get rid of all the plants when you put in renewables energy, you’ve gotten rid of that cooling potential… plants under the panels would allow the air to circulate and would take up carbon for photosynthesis by opening up their pores, or stomata, while letting water escape from their leaves and you get a warmer environment. We wanted to see if you put the cooling effect back into the system by growing plants beneath the solar panels, you can actually cool those panels back down and mitigate that heat island effect.”

When solar panels get too warm they start to lose their efficiency. By growing plants beneath the panels they can cool down and retain that efficiency, which makes for more renewable energy per parcel of land. The panels also shade the plants, reduce evaporation and the crops require less water to grow underneath.

agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics

In the future, as world population grows, solar and land for food must not be in competition. The world population today is approximately 7.6 billion. Two hundred years ago it was 1 billion. At the close of the 21st century the population will be more than 11 billion. The question remains…will we be able to feed our planet’s population and meet the demand for clean energy?

Agrivoltaics and Clean Energy

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Living Green: Using Our Resources 

building green

Cities, states and individuals must do their part in preventing climate change.

Remember: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!

By Linn Smith

October 12, 2017—-People in developed countries are losing the ability to be resourceful! We “run to the store” impulsively on a daily basis. How did folks survive without today’s conveniences? Today nearby stores provide us with our every need, and we too often toss excess and unused products in the garbage, leaving our landfills and oceans overloaded with toxic materials that may never decompose!

Growing up on a farm, we grew most of our own food. Our basement was lined with many shelves containing hundreds of jars filled with colorful, canned foods from our garden. Cows, pigs and chickens provided us with fresh meat, and our dairy cows provided the milk we drank, and it wasn’t pasteurized! My mother strained the milk through a cheesecloth to get the big chunks (of whatever) out…..and my brothers, sisters and I all grew up healthy! Farm life was what we call green living today….but back then it was just life!

Families use to be resourceful. To obtain something they needed, they reused, fixed, mended or created something new from what they already had.  My grandmother created children’s mittens from old sweaters, it saved money and no new items were purchased.

Earth Day: Let's Clean and Green!

Earth Day today and every day!

Eco-friendly Steps to Going Green

What are some eco-friendly steps we can take to conserve today? Here are just a few:

1. Turn some of your yard (or all of it) into a garden and can or freeze the vegetables. Yards were originally for very wealthy families in England, who used sheep to keep the grass trimmed. Lawns weren’t meant to look like  golf courses. They had dandelions and clover. Today our lawns are toxic with chemicals and leave  huge carbon footprints!

2. Buy unpackaged products from local farmers at farmer’s markets.

3. Cook from scratch instead of buying processed food. It tastes better!

4. Make restaurants an occasional option, not a daily trip. (This includes Starbucks!).

5. Buy second-hand from used stores, garage sales, or auctions. Fix, mend or make-do.

6. Don’t buy more than you need. Several years ago we stored most of what we thought was our valuable “stuff” and went RVing. It cost well over $1000 to store. When we returned and assessed our “stuff,” we realized we could live without most of it. We had a garage sale, making several hundred dollars from the sale of our valuables that had cost over a $1000 to store!

7. Recycle and compost.

Earth Day

Clean Energy: Make It a Priority!

Why Not Go Green?

Here are some excuses people make to avoid helping our planet:

1. It’s too expensive…BUT, if you shop around most things are comparable.

2. One person can’t make a difference….YES, you can! Good thing everybody doesn’t feel this way!

3. No one else around me is living eco-friendly…..WELL, THEN….how ’bout you be the first!

4. It’s too late. The planet is already doomed….OK, pull your head out of the sand and look around at what positive people are doing!

5. Global warming is a myth. NO IT’S NOT! (But I won’t waste my time arguing with you on this point!)

6. It takes too much time and effort. It’s like anything else, it becomes routine when done on a regular basis.

Before you buy something, ask yourself if you really need it, or is there something you already have that could be used…or ask, Can I make do with less?

Remember: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!

Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!

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