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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Lawns of the Future: Cash for Grass

cash for grass

Instead, plant food for pollinators.

“Together we can save precious water and invest in a more sustainable future.”


By Linn Smith

August 19, 2018—- Under Gov. Jerry Brown, Southern California has recently allotted $43 million a year to bring back it’s popular Cash for Grass program, a program which removes lawns and replaces them with  landscapes that require less water.

In the past Cash for Grass was implemented, but the program ran out of money, although it did manage to save a total of 237.3 billion gallons of water in the year it was in place. The past program was only partially successful, as it didn’t care what homeowners replaced their grass with, as long as it saved water.

climate change

The lawn of the future.

The New Cash for Grass Program

The new 2018 Cash for Grass program has strict guidelines. Here’s how it works:

In order to get the Cash for Grass rebate, homeowners must replace their grass with plants that are native, drought-tolerant varieties. Homeowners must cover 50% of the new area with drought-resistant plants and no more than 25% in rocks.

No bare soil can be showing. Bare areas must be covered with mulch to keep the soil moist. The homeowner must install some type of rain barrel to capture rain water from the surrounding area. The rainwater captured can be done by installing an underground tank that holds rainwater or digging trenches around plants to let rain soak into the roots.

Sustainable lawns

Cash for Grass

From Storm Drain to Ocean

In Southern California’s Cash for Grass program, no artificial turf may be used as it doesn’t give back to the ecosystem that produces food for butterflies and other pollinators or perform the necessary evapotranspiration—in other words, it doesn’t cool the environment! Also, artificial turf doesn’t hold water like healthy soil, but transports rainwater into street gutters which empty into the ocean in L.A.

Allowing rainwater to soak into the soil instead of running into the oceans will help replenish Southern California’s underground aquifers. According to http://www.dpw.lacounty.gov, “Storm drains in Los Angeles take rainwater and runoff from sprinklers straight to the ocean to avoid flooding, carrying contaminants to the ocean such as animal waste, auto fluids, fertilizers and pesticides which create health risk.”

Pollinator insects

Maintaining the health of our pollinator insects.

Urban Heat Islands

Allowing water to soak into the soil of a local area also helps cool large urban communities which have become heat islands. Heat islands are urban areas that have significantly warmer temperatures than surrounding rural areas because of city pollution and massive amounts of building materials. (For a history of heat islands see https://planetearth5.com/?s=heat+islands)

Greeley Colorado: Cash for Grass

The city of Greeley, Colorado recently implemented the same Cash for Grass program. They have started out by offering a free landscape lecture series on xeriscaping to residents. The class will cover the best way to transition from grass to a xeriscaped lawn, how to transform your landscape in a cost-effective way and planting areas that will attract the birds, bees and other pollinators.

Gov Jerry Brown says it well….. “Together we can save precious water and invest in a more sustainable future.”

Cash for Grass

Also see Planet Earth Weekly article: https://planetearth5.com/?s=history+of+lawns for further information


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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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Watering Your Garden with the Olla Clay Pot System

Olla watering

Garden with less water

“The ancient Olla method consists of unglazed, porous clay terracotta pots buried in the ground.”

By Linn Smith

July 24, 2018—–I was sitting in the shade outside a museum in Tucson last winter when a conversation started between my family and another family nearby. The topic? Olla (pronounced “oy-yahs”) pots…a watering system used by the Chinese 2000 years ago!

Why hadn’t I heard of this method? Growing up in the upper Midwest, where the soil is rich and rain plentiful, nothing ever needed watering! Crops thrived in the moist, rich, black soil of our farm and most farmers had never seen an irrigation system.

traditional watering method

Wheel crop irrigation

Irrigation Systems

On my first trip to Colorado, in my early 20’s, we traveled Highway 76 past crops being irrigated by a rolling irrigation system on wheels, which ran over the top of the crops, dispersing water from the above pipes. The Wheel Line system is mobilized through the field by a gasoline engine, spraying water on crops throughout the field. It seemed like an expensive way of farming, both environmentally and economically, depleting the nearby water sources, while battling with ongoing surface water rights.

Olla: Ancient watering system

Olla: use less water

The Olla Watering Method

As complex as the Wheel Line system is, at the other end of the spectrum is the simplest method…Olla pots. The ancient Olla method consists of unglazed, porous clay terracotta pots buried in the ground. The drier the soil the more water is pulled from the pots by roots sucking water through its pores, or by soil moisture tension which is the result of nearby drier soil drawing water out of the pots, allowing for moisture equilibrium between the soil outside and inside the pot.

Olla: make your own

Place putty on inside and outside of pot

Olla watering system

Bury Olla in soil

Making Your Own Olla Pots

You can either buy olla pots or make your own. Here’s one way to make your own:

Put white putty on the inside and outside of an unglazed terracotta pot (the clay pots you usually plant flowers in) to seal the hole in the bottom. Bury the pot all the way up to the rim next to your plants and fill it with water. Put the plant base (which usually comes with the pot) over the top of the pot to prevent evaporation. The roots of the plants nearby will find their way to the pot and attach to it, seeping out the moisture and also, as stated before, equilibrium will allow the drier soil to pull water out through the pot’s pores.

Olla pots

Pour water in the olla pot

The Olla watering system is a great water saver, plus a dependable method of watering the garden if you’re leaving on vacation for a few days!

The Olla Watering System

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Great Barrier Reef


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Climate Change Threatening the Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Coral bleaching

“The dying of the reefs is attributed to a process known as bleaching.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

July 19, 2018—–Coral reefs are one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. They differ from land ecosystems in that the major populations making up the system are animals rather than plants. Land ecosystems include forests, grasslands and deserts, for example. Coral reefs essentially consist of animal species. The huge variety of animals includes those with backbones and those without. The most prevalent animals are those without backbones such as sponges, snails, clams, scallops and squid. Better known animals are starfish and sea urchins.

Coral reefs are also home to nearly a fourth of all species of fish. The primary food for the animal species is algae. The algae supply the animals with sugars and oxygen in return for shelter and carbon dioxide. These microscopic algae are responsible for the basic color of reefs.

climate change

Bleaching occurs when the reef is under stress.

Rising sea temperatures are resulting in massive destruction of the reefs. They are dying at an unprecedented rate. Massive bleaching events have been largely an event of the last 40 years. Prior to that, bleaching events occurred an average of every 27 years. The first massive bleaching was recorded in 1982-83. There is no record of large scale bleaching prior to that time. Now severe events are averaging about every six years.

Reefs: Coral Bleaching

Rising ocean temperatures affect coral bleaching of the reefs.

Bleaching of the Reefs

The dying of the reefs is attributed to a process known as bleaching. The bleaching is actually the result of the death of the microscopic algae that both color and feed the coral. When sea water gets too warm for prolonged periods of time, corals become stressed, causing them to expel the algae. This expelling of the micro-organisms leaves the coral appearing bleached or whitened.

Coral can survive for a period of weeks without the algae, but with longer periods of time the algae begins to die. A number of factors can cause the algae to die, but only warmer than average water temperature can cause widespread loss. It can occur with sea temperatures being as little as 1°C (2°F) above normal monthly temperatures.

coral bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef and coral bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef lies off the coast of Australia. In 1981, it was listed as a World Heritage Site. It is the earth’s largest system of coral reefs. It is one of the largest heritage sites covering an area of more than 336,000 square kilometers (130,000 square miles). It consists of nearly 3000 individual reefs of varying size and almost 1000 islands, also of varying size.

At the time of this writing a greatly expanded area of coral bleaching has been detected off the east coast of Australia. Almost all of the reefs from the city of Cairns northward show evidence of bleaching. Since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, water temperatures are the warmest around the north end of the reef nearest the equator and decrease southward. In all, nearly half of the reef is suffering bleaching.

In the northern reaches, where the water is the warmest, bleaching is affecting some 75 percent of the reefs. Going southward to the region offshore from Cairns the bleaching is affecting an average of 25 to 50 percent of the reef. In recent months water temperatures have been warmer than usual and the area of bleaching is expanding southward.

In 2017, the Great Barrier Reef off Australia experienced its second year in a row of extensive bleaching. At least a third of the reef was affected reducing the variety of species. The risk to the reef is due to both global warming and more frequent episodes of abnormal warming.

Fragments of Hope

Building a healthy coral reef.

The Future of the Reef

In the summer of 2018, the future looks bleak for the reef. Reefs can make a substantial start to recovery from bleaching events in 10 years or longer. The problem is that now the interval between events is getting shorter and there is insufficient time for the corals to recover.

At the current rate of warming, by the middle of the 2030’s, severe bleaching may occur as often as every two years. Within 35 years ocean temperatures may rise enough to essentially prevent reefs from surviving in large areas!

Coral bleaching and the Great Barrier Reef

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Also see similar article on Planet Earth Weekly: https://planetearth5.com/2018/05/13/transplanting-creating-healthier-coral-reefs/


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The Holocene (Holocene-Anthropocene?): Earth’s Environment Since Deglaciation

Anthropocene

Anthropocene and human impact

“With the advent of agriculture, human alteration of the environment began to take place quite rapidly.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

July 30, 2018—-The Holocene is the last currently recognized geological epoch. Holocene means “entirely recent.” It is also the shortest. As between other epochs interconnected events mark the boundary between the Pleistocene and the Holocene. Climatic change was a key factor at the boundary. Toward the end of the long retreat of the ice, the climate alternated between warm and cold. The ice sheets began to melt rapidly about 14,000 years ago.

During the initial phase of melting in North America the water created two rivers now known as the Missouri and Ohio. These two rivers formed at the front of the ice sheet. These rivers joined into what is now the Mississippi River. The volume of water in the Mississippi must have been tremendous based on the width of the Mississippi River Valley. So much fresh water flowed into the Gulf of Mexico that it altered both the salinity and temperature of the Gulf.

As the sea ice melted in the Atlantic, the southern limit retreated northward allowing warmer water from tropical regions to flow further North. The clockwise circulation around the North Atlantic including the Gulf stream developed. The weather patterns around the North Atlantic Ocean came into existence that were much like those of today.

Anthropocene

Lessons from the fossil record: Discarded consumer good. anthropocene layer in the rock strata.

Younger Dryas Event

By 11,500 years ago, only scattered areas of ice sheets remained in western North America. The main ice sheet was in eastern Canada. Real warming of the northern hemisphere could not take place until most of the ice had melted. However, at about this time a fairly rapid reversal of the melting took place. The edges of the ice sheet moved towards the equator once again and some small ice sheets reappeared. This cold period became known as the Younger Dryas event, (named for a small flower found in cold climates). The warming was not a global event. It took place mainly around the North Atlantic Ocean. Evidence of glacial ice at this time is found largely on Greenland, maritime Canada, and northern Europe.

Anthropocene

The human impact on our earth.

Climatic Optimum

Seven thousand years ago conditions had warmed again such that only remnants of the ice sheet remained. The warming peaked about 5500 years ago. Basically, only the Greenland ice sheet and the ice on the Antarctic continent remained. Although it varied in intensity and timing from place to place, the warming was a global event. Mean atmospheric temperatures were warmer than today and the term climatic optimum or thermal maximum was coined to describe this period. In Europe temperatures averaged two to three degrees Celsius (5 ½º F) above the present. There the tree line was some 100 meters (330 ft) above that of today. In Africa there was a rapid drying and expansion of the Sahara Desert. Evidence indicates a major migration out of settlements in the region as food supplies dwindled. Remnants of these settlements are scattered over much of the region.

Anthropocene

The human impact on Earth.

Anthropocene (?)

The Anthropocene is the name given to a recently proposed epoch that coincides with the impact of the human species on our planet. Boundaries between epochs have been placed where there was a significant change in the environment. There is justification for the creation of the new epoch. With the advent of agriculture, human alteration of the environment began to take place quite rapidly.

A major problem is that there is no agreement as to where the boundary should be placed. Some argue that it should be placed at the beginning of the Holocene some 14,000 years ago. Others advocate placing it at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around 1780.

There seems to be agreement that the Anthropocene, if it becomes a recognized epoch, should coincide with some stage in the technological development of the human species. The recognition of the Anthropocene as an epoch is yet to be determined.


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The Origin of Lawns and Their Environmental Impact

“We should all know by now that lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment.”

By Linn Smith

This is an article I published several years ago, but felt it needed reiterating, as it is summer, the time most people drag their mowers out if the garage. Our changing climate requires rethinking our former habits.

Sustainable living

It’s our responsibility to change.

Lawns of the 16th century

Lawns are not a natural part of our environment. Lawns originated around the 16th century as grassy fields around English and French castles. Trees were cut down around the castles, leaving only grassy fields that would reveal an enemy coming forth in the wide open spaces. When the trees were cut, the grasses and flowers sprouted naturally, creating a meadow. “Lawn” originated from the word Launde, which means an opening in the woods. The moist climate of Europe supported these grassy meadows which eventually became our lawns of today.

The History of Grass Lawns

“Grass” is from the plant family Gramineae, which has over 9000 species of plants. In the late 16th century “grass” lawns became fashionable, rapidly catching on among the wealthy. In 16th and 17th centuries lawns were mostly wildflowers and herbs such as chamomile.

Origination of the Lawn

The castles created meadows, “lawns”, to watch for
approaching enemies.

Until the 19th century, mowing consisted of a scythe, shears for edge trimming, a gardener to maintain the lawns, and/or cattle and sheep grazing around the estates. In the 18th century this was a sign of the wealth, the vast lawn showing the amount of wealth of the owner (reminds me of Jane Austin novels)–lawns implied a staff and servants with scythes, shears and edging irons.

Mowers: Creating Easier Lawn Maintenace

In 1870 the push mower was invented, and in 1919 the gasoline mower allowed for much less effort in maintaining a lawn. (A note of interest: during World War 1, Woodrow Wilson had a flock of sheep, about fifty, cutting the White House lawn, which saved manpower during the war. He sold their wool to the Red Cross.)

When the suburbs sprouted up in the U.S. after the war, the architects created lawns around homes, which increased the value of the house and was inviting to the post war families who enjoyed lawn games of croquet, badminton, ect. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s, houses were sold with lawns already in place. With the gasoline mower and the sprinkler system, the lawns were easily maintained.

Xeriscaping

Save water with Xeriscaping

The Downside of the Beautiful Lawn

So, here’s the downside of our beautiful, European lawns today! In an article on Smithsonian.com, Sarah Zielinski says it nicely, “We should all know by now that lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment. Keeping turf from turning brown wastes water, people use too many pesticides and herbicides, toxic chemicals that contaminate the fish we eat and water we drink. And mowing burns fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Plus nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere with fertilization!”

And one more negative impact of our nice lawns–we are harming the bee population which we depend so heavily on for pollinating the wonderful foods we love! So, unless you are maintaining your lawn with only a scythe, push mower or sheep, maybe it’s time to rethink what we plant in our yards!

Overpopulation and hunger

A depletion of resources.

Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping is a water conserving method that orginated in Colorado. It originated from the Greek word “Xero”, which means dry and “Scape” meaning view. It does not mean zero landscaping. It does mean planting plants that will do well with little watering. The plants are not necessarily native to the area, but are selected for their water conserving abilities.

Xeriscaping makes more water available to the community and the environment and reduces maintenance, with just occasional weeding and mulching. Less cost and less maintenance leaves more time for other things! Xeriscaping also reduces water pollution, as herbicides and pesticides don’t end up in the groundwater.

New Mexico has been planting the most beautiful yards using water conserving plants for centuries! It’s time to rethink our beautiful lawns and think about creating beautiful Xeriscaped yards instead!

Lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment!

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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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Garden the Sustainable Way

Organic gardening

Gardening sustainably produces healthier food.

Life on earth is incredibly interdependent!

By Linn Smith
May 30, 2018—-Springtime! It’s time to plant the garden and flowerbeds. Here are a few tips for gardening sustainably, without destroying or putting toxic substances into the soil. Instead, sustainable methods provide nourishment to the soil and plants.

Go Organic

In 1987 a United Nations report defined sustainability as, “Practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is what our Planet Earth Weekly site is all about! For years now we have been writing, providing ideas and actions you can take to do just that! Leave a healthy planet for future generations!

Here are a few tips. First, compost. Look around you. Nature naturally decomposes living matter back into the soil, providing humus, decomposing leaves and plant life with microorganisms. Humus helps plants absorb nutrients and combat diseases.

At our house composting means putting otherwise wasted food parts in a steal bowl by the sink, which eventually makes its way to a fenced in compost pile near the garden. Everything organic can be put back into the soil, an environmentally healthier method than putting the waste in a plastic bag, sending it to the dump where it will stays for years. This is a year around endeavor, where the compost eventually makes its way to the flower and garden beds. It is worked into the soil in the springtime. When plants die in the fall, throw them back onto your compost pile—a completed sustainable cycle!

Build Trellises

Another tip, build trellises with fallen branches. Below are a few ideas.

Organic garden

Garden Sustainably

Sustainable gardening

Trellis made from tree branches

Living Sustainably

Be creative

Mulching the Garden

Mulch! It saves on water, and when you mulch sustainably using leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, sawdust or compost, you also enrich the soil. Make sure you weed before you lay down the mulch, and also provide a thick layer of mulch, usually 2-6 inches, depending on whether your garden is in partial shade or full sun. Also, if using sawdust, you may want to fertilize first with blood meal, a high nitrogen product.

rainbarrel

Rain barrel to harvest roof water

Rain Barrel

Next, get a rain barrel. You can save on your water bill by recycling rain from your roof onto your garden. In Colorado rain barrels were illegal until several years ago because of water rights. ( See https://planetearth5.com/2017/06/23/solar-uses-in-the-west-monitoring-the-irrigation-ditch/ for further explanation of water rights). Several states, such as Nevada, still have laws against it, so check your state policies before investing in a rain barrel.

Heirloom Seeds

Last, plant heirloom seeds. They are likely to produce more nutritious and flavorful veges and they are open pollinated so you can save them to plant next year. Seeds from plants that are cross pollinated hybrids don’t do well when the seeds are saved from year to year. When you save heirloom seeds you’re saving from plants that have thrived in your garden the year before, so most likely will do well the next year.

sustainable garden

Create natural arches to your garden

As Jayne Poynter stated after spending two years in Biosphere 2, “On a day to day basis I was very aware that Biosphere 2, with the plants, the algae, were providing me with my oxygen and I was providing them with their carbon dioxide. It was incredibly interdependent. It’s like that on Planet Earth, but it’s so big you don’t realize it, or think about it.” https://planetearth5.com/?s=biosphere+2

Keep the cycle going!