Death came early to Hood Canal this year, demonstrating just how
odd and unpredictable ocean conditions can be.
Fish kills caused by low-oxygen conditions in southern Hood
Canal usually occur in late September or October. That’s when
low-oxygen waters near the seabed are pushed upward by an intrusion
of heavier water coming in from the Pacific Ocean and creeping
along the bottom. Winds out of the south can quickly blow away the
surface waters, leaving the fish with no escape.
That’s basically what happened over the past month, as
conditions developed about a month earlier than normal. South winds
led to reports of fish dying and deep-water animals coming to the
surface to get enough oxygen, with the worst conditions occurring
on Friday. Check out the video on this page by Seth Book, a
biologist with the Skokomish Tribe, who found deep-water ratfish
swimming near the surface.
The story of this year’s strange conditions actually begins
about a year ago and involves a 1,000-mile-long “blob” of unusually
warm ocean water off the West Coast. State Climatologist Nick Bond,
who coined the term “blob,” explains its formation in an article in
Research Letters with a summarized description by Hannah Hickey
The warm, low-density coastal waters related to the blob came
into Hood Canal on schedule last fall, but they were not dense
enough to flush out the low-oxygen waters, according to University
of Washington oceanographer Jan Newton.
Hood Canal entered 2015 with the least-dense waters at depth
over the past 10 years. They remained in a hypoxic state, meaning
that levels were below 2.5 parts per million. Sea creatures unable
to swim away can be unduly stressed and unable to function normally
at that level. Conditions worsened into the summer, when the
hypoxic layer at Hoodsport grew to about 300 feet thick.
By then, the annual intrusion of deep seawater with somewhat
elevated oxygen levels was on its way into Hood Canal, spurred on
by upwelling off the coast. This year’s waters are more normal in
density, though their arrival is at least a month early. By August
9, the hypoxic layer at Hoodsport was reduced from 300 to 60 feet,
pushed upward by the denser water.
It’s always interesting to see this dynamic play out. The layer
of extreme low-oxygen water becomes sandwiched between the
higher-oxygen water pushing in from the ocean and the surface
water, which ordinarily stays oxygenated by winds and incoming
streams. Without south winds, the middle low-oxygen layer
eventually comes up and mixes into the surface layer.
If south winds come on strong, however, the surface layer is
blown to the north, causing the low oxygen water to rise to the
surface. Fish, shrimp and other creatures swim upward toward the
surface, trying to stay ahead of the rising low-oxygen layer. When
the low-oyygen layer reaches the surface, fish may struggle to
breathe in the uppermost mixing layer. Unfortunately, the fish have
no way of knowing that safer conditions lie down below — beneath
the low-oxygen layer and within waters arriving from the ocean.
Jan Newton reported that the low oxygen levels in southern Hood
Canal earlier this year were the most extreme measured over the
past 10 years. So far, however, the fish kills don’t seem as bad as
those in 2003, 2006 and 2010, she said.
The graph below shows how the deep layer coming in from the
ocean at 279 feet deep contains more oxygen than the middle layer
at 66 feet deep. The surface layer, which normally contains the
most oxygen, dipped to extremes several times near the beginning of
August and again on Friday, Aug. 28. These data, recorded from a
buoy near Hoodsport, are considered unverified.
A new worldwide map of sea level rise, plotted with precision
satellite instruments, shows that the Earth’s oceans are rising
faster with no end in sight.
Sea levels have gone up an average of 3 inches since 1992, with
some locations rising as much as 9 inches. Meanwhile, some limited
areas — including the West Coast — have experienced declining sea
levels for various reasons.
Two years ago, climatologists released an international
consensus, which predicted a sea-level rise of between 1 and 3 feet
by the end of this century. It was a conservative estimate, and new
evidence suggests that ocean waters are likely to meet or exceed
the top of that range, possibly going much higher, according to
four leading researchers speaking at a news conference
The implications are huge and growing more important all the
time. At a minimum, waterfront property owners and shoreline
planners need to begin taking this into consideration. It doesn’t
make sense to build close to the shoreline if extreme high tides
will bring seawater to one’s doorstep.
If we hope to avoid local extinctions of key intertidal species,
we must start thinking about how high the waters will be in 50 to
For clues to the future, we can watch Florida, where vast areas
stand at low elevations. Even now, during high tides, Miami is
beginning to see regular flooding in areas that never got wet
before. This is the future of low-lying areas in Puget Sound, such
as estuaries. In the Pacific ocean, the threat of inundating
complete islands is becoming very real.
Along the West Coast, sea levels have actually declined over the
past 20 years, largely because of the cooling effect of the Pacific
Decadal Oscillation, a warming/cooling cycle that can remain in one
phase for decades. The cycle appears to be shifting, with the
likely effect that sea levels on the West Coast will soon rise as
fast or faster than the worldwide average, according to Josh
Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
The cause of sea level rise is attributed to three factors.
Scientists estimate that roughly one-third of the rise is caused by
thermal expansion of ocean waters, which absorb much of the energy
from global warming. Another third comes from the melting of the
massive Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The remaining third
comes from the melting of mountain glaciers throughout the world.
Researchers at yesterday’s news conference said they expect the
melting to accelerate.
Measuring the change in sea-level rise has become possible
thanks to advanced technology built into altimeters carried aboard
satellites. The instruments can distinguish changes in elevation as
small as one part in 100 million.
“The instruments are so sensitive that if they were mounted on a
commercial jetliner flying at 40,000 feet, they could detect the
bump caused by a dime lying flat on the ground,” said Michael
Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division.
While sea level rise can now be measured, predicting the rate of
future rise is difficult, because much of the melting by ice sheets
occurs out of sight under the water.
The Greenland ice sheet covers 660,000 miles — nearly the size
of Alaska. Satellite measurements have shown that an average of 303
gigatons of ice have melted each year over the past decade. The
Antarctic ice sheet has lost an average of 118 gigatons per year,
but some new studies suggest it could begin to melt much
In Greenland, researchers are reporting that one of the largest
chunks of ice ever to break away from land cleaved from the
Jakobshavn glacier in a “calving” event that left researchers
awestruck. More than 4 cubic miles of ice was loosed quickly into
the sea. Check out the news release by the
European Space Agency.
“This is a continuing and evolving story,” glaciologist Eric
Rignot said during yesterday’s news conference. “We are moving into
a set of processes where we have very tall calving cliffs that are
unstable and start fracturing and break up into icebergs …
“We have never seen something like this on that scale before,”
said Rignot, associated with JPL and the University of California
at Irvine. “Personally, I am in awe at seeing how fast the icefall,
the calving part of the glacier, is retreating inland year by
Other new information from NASA, including lots of graphics:
It’s hard to describe the surprise I felt when I first glanced
at a new graph plotting bulkhead construction and removal along
Puget Sound’s shoreline since 2005.
On the graph was a blue line that showed how new bulkhead
construction had declined dramatically the past two years. But what
really caught my eye was a green line showing an increase in
bulkhead removal. Amazingly, these two lines had crossed each other
in 2014, meaning that the total length of bulkheads removed had
exceeded the total length of bulkheads built last year.
Not only was this the first time this has ever happened, it was
totally unexpected. Few people really believed that bulkhead
removal could exceed construction anytime soon. I was happy to
write up these new findings in the latest
newsletter for the Puget Sound Institute, where I’m now
“It was pretty shocking — in a good way,” said Randy Carman of
the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who coordinated the
data based on state permits. “It makes me optimistic going
Randy helped develop the “vitals signs indicator” for shoreline
armoring, along with a “target” approved by the Puget Sound
Partnership. The target called for the total length of armoring
removed to exceed the total length constructed for the 10-year
period from 2011 through 2020.
Like many of the vital signs
indicators, this one for shoreline armoring was far from a sure
thing. In fact, like most of the indicators, the trend was going in
the wrong direction. Some people believed that the Puget Sound
Partnership was setting itself up for failure.
These were “aspirational” targets, Randy recalled, and meeting
them would be a tremendous challenge for many individuals,
government agencies and organizations.
As I described in some detail in the article for PSI, the number
of new bulkheads has declined, in part because of new government
rules. Meanwhile, the number of bulkheads removed has increased, in
part because of government funding.
But something else may be afoot, as pointed out by Sheida
Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, and
David Price, habitat program manager for WDFW. A new “culture” may
be taking hold in which people realize that bulkheads are neither
good for the environment, attractive nor functional when it comes
to people enjoying their own beach.
When talking to shoreline property owners who have removed a
rock or concrete bulkhead, often the first thing they tell me is
how much nicer their beach has become. No more jumping or climbing
off a wall. No more rickety stairs. One can walk down a slope and
plop down a lawn chair wherever the tide tells you is the right
“The factors are all in place for a paradigm shift,” Sheida told
me. “When people see the geotech reports for their own beach, they
can see there is a different way. People can take off their shoes
and put their toes in the sand.”
Getting contractors and real-estate agents to understand and
support new methods of beach protection and restoration is one
strategy being considered. Personally, I was impressed with the
change in direction by Sealevel Bulkhead Builders. Check out the
story I wrote for the
Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal.
It takes a little land to create the right slope to dissipate
wave energy without any man-made structure. In some cases, large
rocks and logs — so-called “soft shore protection” — can help
reduce erosion. In some situations where land is limited and wave
energy is high, a solid wall may be the only remedy. No matter
which option is used, one must consider the initial cost and
long-term maintenance — including consideration of sea-level rise
caused by global warming.
“The secret,” said Dave Price, “is less about the strong arm of
regulation and more about helping people understanding what they
Scientific evidence about the damage of bulkheads has been
building for several years. Among the impacts:
Loss of beach and backshore, which reduces the area used for
recreation, shellfish, bird habitat and forage-fish spawning.
Loss of slow, natural erosion, which helps maintain the
quantity and quality of sand and gravel along the shoreline.
Alteration of wave action, which can impede natural movement of
sand and gravel and scour the beach of fine sediment, leaving
hardpan and scattered rocks.
Increased predation of juvenile salmon by larger fish where
high tides leave deep water along the bulkhead, plus fewer insects
for food caused by loss of shoreline vegetation.
Bulkheads can cause a coarsening of a beach over time, with
harder and harder substrate becoming evident. Damage from one
bulkhead may be slow and limited, experts say, but alterations to
more than 25 percent of the shoreline, as we see today, has taken a
serious toll in some parts of Puget Sound.
Dave told me about the time he stood next to a concrete bulkhead
and watched the tide coming in. Large fish, such as sculpins, were
able to swim right up to the wall.
“I stood there and watched these fish come right in next to
shore,” he said. “These were big fish, and they came up right next
to the bulkhead. There was nowhere for the juvenile salmonids to
get out of there.”
The cartoon below was part of this week’s “Amusing
Monday” feature, and it illustrates the situation that Dave
described. I could say much more about changing trends in
bulkheads, given new studies funded by the Environmental Protection
Agency, but that can wait for future blog posts.
I am still baffled, as are the folks at the University of
Washington’s Seismology Lab, why people freaked out over the
earthquake article, titled “The Really Big One,” published this
month in New
Could it be that Northwest residents were unaware or had
forgotten about the risk of earthquakes in this area until a
national magazine called attention to the problem?
Was it the lack of credible details about earthquake risks in
the original article, which included this quote from an
emergency-management official: “Our operating assumption is that
everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”
Or maybe it was the rapid spread of information via social media
and the huge number people living in other parts of the country who
texted, tweeted and inundated Facebook with worries about their
relatives in the Pacific Northwest.
“I don’t really know what it was,” said Bill Steele, my longtime
contact at the UW’s Seismology Lab. “We are a bit baffled by it.
There is nothing really new.”
Although the author, Kathryn Schultz, left out specifics about
which areas might be affected more than others, she did tell a
compelling — and fairly accurate — story about what could happen
when the North America plate breaks free of the Juan de Fuca plate,
which is sliding underneath it.
I was pleased to see that she came back this week with a
follow-up article describing where the greatest shaking would
occur and which areas would be at greatest risk from a tsunami
unleashed by slippage along the Cascadia subduction zone. She also
suggests steps that people can take to protect themselves and their
property — something I have always felt is a mandatory part of any
story I write about earthquakes. Review a webpage put together by the
I’ve been very fortunate to have worked as a news reporter
during a time when many important discoveries were made in
Northwest seismology. I accompanied researchers digging in swamps,
riverbanks and man-made trenches, where they found traces of
ancient earthquakes. That work and much more comprises a body of
evidence across many disciplines that helps us understand how bad
our “big one” could be.
In 1999, I paused from covering individual discoveries about
earthquakes to write a story for the Kitsap Sun focusing on a few
of the researchers and their key findings. We called the story
“Finding Fault: 13 Years of Discoveries.”
I can’t begin to recount all the stories I’ve written about
earthquakes through the years, but I do recall warning people a few
years ago to get prepared after the massive Japanese earthquake
made headlines across the the globe (Kitsap
Sun, March 11, 2011):
“While Japan struggles to recover from one of the greatest
earthquakes in world history, West Coast seismologists are warning
that a quake just like it could occur at any time off the
Washington and Oregon coasts.
“In broad-brush terms, ‘the two earthquakes are very similar,’
said John Vidale, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismograph
Network at the University of Washington. ‘As a first guess, what
might happen here is what happened there.’
Of course, we have had our own earthquakes that should give us
plenty of reason to get prepared. The 6.8-magnitude Nisqually
earthquake on Feb. 28, 2001, occurred in the Puget Sound region and
served as a powerful wakeup call for many people.
The Nisqually quake was called the “miracle quake” because
nobody was killed, although one man died from a heart attack that
could have been related to the event. About 400 people were injured
and damage estimates ranged up to $4 billion. (U.S.
In the Puget Sound region, the shaking from the Nisqually quake
could be something like area residents will experience in a
Cascadia subduction-zone quake, though shaking from a subduction
quake is expected to last longer, depending on how much of the
plate breaks free. Things will not be the same in all places, and
communities closest to the Olympic Mountains might experience the
most damage from a subduction quake.
Five years after the Nisqually quake, Phyllis Mann, who was
director of Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management at the
time, was still wondering why many people were not prepared for an
earthquake in Kitsap County.
“Kitsap has never depended on the federal government as part of
its plan,” Phyllis told me in a
Kitsap Sun story published Feb. 28, 2006. “The federal
government can’t be with us the day of the disaster. With the
exception of the military, which is part of our community, you
can’t count on the feds early on.”
Mann used our interview to direct pointed questions at Kitsap
“Why aren’t you ready? What is it going to take? We keep asking
this question and finding out that people aren’t prepared. Where is
your food and water for three days? (A week is the latest
recommendation.) Where are your reunion plans? Is it my
responsibility as the county emergency manager to make sure
everyone does it?”
The New Yorker article failed to mention an earthquake threat
that should be of equal concern to residents of the Puget Sound
area. You may have heard of the Seattle fault, which runs from
Seattle across Bainbridge Island and Central Kitsap to Hood
Although the frequency of huge earthquakes on the Seattle fault
appear to be less than those along the Cascadia subduction zone, we
must not forget that a quake on the Seattle fault about 1,100 years
ago lifted up the south end of Bainbridge Island by 21 feet and
created a tsunami that inundated shorelines now occupied by people.
By contrast, a tsunami coming from the ocean after a subduction
quake might raise the water level quickly in Puget Sound but
probably no higher than what we see with daily tides.
In a way, the Seattle fault put the Kitsap Peninsula on the map
with a red bull’s-eye, which I wrote about five years ago. See
Kitsap Sun, May 8, 2010, along with the map on this page.
Bill Steele told me that he is sure that Kenneth Murphy,
regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
regrets saying, “Our operating assumption is that everything west
of Interstate 5 will be toast.” That may be a good “operating
assumption” for an agency trying to plan for the worse possible
emergency, but it is not a very good description of what
seismologists predict by modeling various scenarios.
Bill said many people failed to read the New Yorker article
carefully and took the comment to mean that most of Western
Washington would be hit with a 50-foot wall of water — something
that could not be further from the truth.
“The good news for us is that we have a pretty good 10,000-year
history of what happened on the fault,” Bill said. “We know how the
shaking will be distributed.” Again, look at the hazard map on this
page and note the strip of red along the coast.
While many earthquake experts are surprised by the reaction to
the New Yorker article, it has accomplished one goal of those who
understand the risks: getting people to create earthquake kits,
secure homes on their foundations and other things that could help
prevent damage and get people through the emergency.
“You have to take your hat off to the author,” Bill told me,
“because she got a lot of people thinking. It is not like the New
Yorker has that many subscriptions.”
Emergency managers may be studying the cascading events
triggered by the New Yorker article, including the initial
publication, the ripples running through social media and the
public alarm that rose up and eventually died down.
Directing public concern into action is what folks like Bill
Steele and others are doing right now. Check out the video in the
player below for Bill’s appearance on “New Day Northwest,” and
visit the webpage of the Pacific
Northwest Seismic Network for basic information and scheduled
discussions about earthquake risks. One public forum is scheduled
for Tuesday at the University of Oregon, and
other forums are under consideration at the UW.
Unique clouds at the edge of space appear to be showing up in
spring and summer more often than ever before, according to NASA
scientists, who speculate that climate change could be playing a
role in cloud formation.
I like the term “noctilucent clouds” for these night-shining
clouds glowing with a tint of blue — although NASA researchers
formally call them “polar mesospheric clouds.” That’s because they
show up at the poles in the mesosphere at about 50 miles up — the
outer edge of Earth’s atmosphere. If you are a scientist with a
perspective from satellites, you don’t really think about day or
The clouds are actually ice crystals about the size of particles
in cigarette smoke, according to an interesting article by NASA’s
Tony Phillips, who interviewed cloud-researcher and astronaut
Don Pettit in 2003. Because the clouds are so high up, they are
seen shortly after the sky turns dark at sunset, a time when
sunlight can still bounce off the crystals. Years ago, they were
seen only in the far-north latitudes in our part of the world, but
more recently they have been seen as far south as Colorado and
The temperature in the mesosphere is about -125 degrees Celsius,
or nearly 200 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Conditions up there
are extremely dry — far dryer than any place on Earth.
Like common clouds in the lower atmosphere, noctilucent clouds
need water vapor and a “nucleus” upon which the water can attach.
In the lower atmosphere, called the troposphere, ordinary dust and
many other particles are common enough as a result of winds. Cirrus
clouds can form in the highest layers of the troposphere, about 12
miles up. But until data came back from the AIM project, nobody was
sure what was happening at 50 miles up. Now, researchers believe
the nuclei are mostly space dust pulled in by Earth’s gravity.
The first reports of noctilucent clouds came in 1885 after the
eruption of the volcano Krakatoa. Researchers aren’t sure if
volcanic dust made it high enough into the atmosphere to form the
clouds, but that potential source disappeared long ago.
Noctilucent clouds are observed in late spring and summer when
upwelling winds carry water vapor up into the atmosphere. The
increasing frequency of cloud formation may be the result of
climate change. It turns out that when greenhouse gases warm the
Earth’s surface, the upper atmosphere actually gets colder as heat
escapes, helping the tiny crystals to form.
Another factor in climate change could be the increasing amount
of methane gas in the atmosphere. A complex series of reactions can
oxidize the methane to form water vapor, which can then form ice
One of the unexpected results of the AIM mission has been
unusual “teleconnections” between the north and south poles via the
mesosphere. It turns out that a slowing of stratospheric winds over
the Arctic affects circulation in the mesosphere, causing a ripple
effect around the globe. The southern mesosphere becomes warmer and
drier, leading to fewer noctilucent clouds.
These high-level connections were not even suspected when the
AIM spacecraft was launched, but they are revealing how weather on
one part of the globe may be connected to relatively rapid changes
in other far-flung regions. (Check out last year’s video below.)
Further studies of the upper atmosphere can be expected to bring
Hood Canal Coordinating Council is made up of county
commissioners from Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties, along with
leaders from the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.
When planning efforts began five years ago, the idea was to
create an “integrated” plan that would recognize all the ecological
functions taking place in the Hood Canal watershed and create a set
of strategies for addressing all the various problems.
The effort got off to a good start by identifying many of the
problems, ranging from declining fish populations to fragmented
upland habitats. But the complexity of those problems, the
variability of conditions and the numerous agencies responsible for
data and decisions eventually overwhelmed the planners. It was as
if they were trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle containing a
The coordinating council decided to refocus the effort on issues
that are under its purview while maintaining the long-term vision
of a sustainable Hood Canal ecosystem that benefits humans in a
variety of ways.
“Ideally, we will eventually get to all the issues,” said Scott
Brewer, the council’s executive director. “The board decided it
wanted to focus on something that would be the first strategic
priorities and then pick up the other things over time.”
In this context, the plan identifies five focal components:
Commercial shellfish harvesting,
Also, four major “pressures” are called out for special
Commercial and residential development,
Transportation and service corridors,
Climate change and ocean acidification, and
Wastewater discharges and stormwater runoff.
These are issues that the county and tribal leaders were already
addressing in one way or another, either through local actions or
through the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, which is recognized
under state law.
The new website OurHoodCanal.org highlights the connections
between human well-being and natural resources. The first findings
focus on three natural resource indicators — one each for
shellfish, forests and salmon — plus five indicators for human well
being — positive emotions, communication, traditional resource
practices, communities, natural resource industries and access to
last year, for example, showed that Hood Canal generates
positive emotions (at least most of the time) for the vast majority
of respondents, yet most Hood Canal residents say they don’t often
work together to manage resources, prepare cultural events or solve
“This is a work in progress,” Scott said about the planning
effort and related website. “We can start by telling a really good
story about what is happening in Hood Canal, then going on to make
connections and asking whether we are doing the right things.”
The first strategies identified in the plan involve:
Working together on local land-use planning,
Identifying failing septic systems and other sources of
Continuing projects to restore healthy runs of salmon,
Furthering a mitigation program to fully compensate for the
effects of development,
Finding ways to adapt to climate change, and
Developing a regional plan to reduce stormwater problems.
Meanwhile, the coordinating council has developed a new ranking
system for setting priorities for salmon restoration. Refinements
will come later, Scott said, but the system is currently being used
to identify restoration projects to be proposed for funding later
Under the Salmon
Recovery Prioritization (see “guidance” document) projects will
be given more consideration if they help highly rated salmon
stocks, such as fall chinook in the Skokomish River, summer chum in
the Big Quilcene and so on. Projects are given points for
addressing specific habitat types and restoration actions deemed to
be the most important.
If successful, this approach will result in funding the most
important restoration projects, as determined through a more
precise ranking process than ever used before, although it does
leave room for judgment calls.
While the Hood Canal Coordinating Council works on projects in
Hood Canal, other groups continue with similar efforts in other
“Everyone is prioritizing one way or another,” Scott told me,
“but they haven’t looked at it like we have.”
Scott said agencies and organizations that grant money for
salmon recovery or ecosystem restoration could call for an improved
ranking process throughout Puget Sound.
“A lot of money gets spread everywhere,” he noted, “but there
are some key spots throughout Puget Sound that need it more than
The Environmental Protection Agency has finally completed a new
rule that defines which waterways across the country fall under
federal jurisdiction for clean-water permits.
Enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act has been stuck in a
state of confusion since 2006, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that the Army Corps of Engineers was overreaching by requiring
permits for all sorts of waterways beyond the agency’s
jurisdiction. For background, check out my
Water Ways post from March 25, 2014, in which I describe the
court’s interpretation of “waters of the U.S.” — the key phrase in
The EPA requisitioned a scientific report about hydraulic
connectivity, concluding that even small streams can affect
downstream waters. The final language in the rule, designed to
reduce judgment calls by federal regulators, says tributaries would
come under federal jurisdiction only if capable of delivering
significant pollution downstream. Such tributaries would need to
have flowing water or related features — such as a streambed, bank
or high-water mark.
The rule has worried farmers, who want to make sure the federal
government does not try to regulate ditches designed for irrigation
and drainage. Language in the final rule says ditches will not be
regulated unless they are shown to be a remnant of a natural stream
that has been diverted or altered.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary for the Army, said the rule
represents a “new era” for the Clean Water Act. As she stated in a
“This rule responds to the public’s demand for greater clarity,
consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional
determinations. The result will be better public service
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the rule is grounded in
science and law. For downstream waters to be clean, upstream waters
also must be clean, she said.
McCarthy said the language was revised significantly since the
first proposal, taking into account more than a million public
comments and discussions in 400 meetings across the country. As she
told reporters in a telephone conference call:
“I think you will see that we have made substantial changes that
basically made this rule clearer, crisper and did the job we were
supposed to do. And I’m very proud of the work we have done
McCarthy also told the reporters that climate change increases
the importance of protecting water resources:
“Impacts from climate change — like more intense droughts,
storms, fires and floods, not to mention sea-level rise — affect
our water supplies. But healthy streams and wetlands can help
protect communities by trapping flood waters, retaining moisture
during drought, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering
pollution and providing habitat for fish and wildlife.”
The new rule was applauded by many environmental groups,
including the Sierra Club. Michael Brune, executive director,
“No longer will the Supreme Court’s confusing decisions on the
issue allow dirty fossil fuel companies to threaten people’s health
by dumping toxins into our lakes, rivers, and streams.”
Still, plenty of people contend that the EPA and Army Corps have
contrived this new rule to continue their over-reach into streams
that should be beyond federal jurisdiction. House Speaker John
Boehner, R- Ohio, issued
this statement in response to the EPA’s release of the new
rule, sometimes called “WOTUS” for “waters of the U.S.”
“The administration’s decree to unilaterally expand federal
authority is a raw and tyrannical power grab that will crush jobs.
House members of both parties have joined more than 30 governors
and government leaders to reject EPA’s disastrous WOTUS rule. These
leaders know firsthand that the rule is being shoved down the
throats of hardworking people with no input and places landowners,
small businesses, farmers and manufacturers on the road to a
regulatory and economic hell.”
The House has already passed a bill, HB
1732, that would put the brakes on implementation of the new
rule and send the EPA back to the drawing board for new language.
As you could expect, the vote was mostly along party lines. If the
Senate approves the bill, it is likely to be vetoed by the
The new rule is scheduled to go into effect 60 days from its
publication in the Federal Register. For more details, visit the
EPA’s website “Clean
It was the clever headline that caught my attention: “April
flowers bring May showers?”
But it was the latest research about pollen from the University
of Michigan and Texas A&M that got me digging a little deeper
and eventually arriving at the subject of clouds and climate
The bottom line is a possibility that pollen from trees and
flowers can break apart during a rainstorm. The broken pieces can
then float up into the air and seed the clouds for the next
Allison Steiner, associate professor of atmospheric, oceanic and
space sciences at U-M, began exploring how pollen might seed the
clouds after sweeping a layer of pollen off her front porch one
morning and wondering what happens after the pollen drifts into the
Atmospheric scientists have never paid much attention to pollen.
It is generally believed that pollen grains are too large to seed
the clouds. Instead, most attention has been focused on man-made
aerosols, such as particles from a coal-fired power plant. High in
the atmosphere, the particles can encourage moisture in the air to
condense, the initial step in the formation of rain.
But people with allergies may recognize that their symptoms grow
worse after a rainstorm when the air begins to dry out. As Steiner
explains in an
M-I news release:
“When we were looking in the allergy literature we discovered
that it’s pretty well known that pollen can break up into these
tiny pieces and trigger an allergic response. What we found is when
pollen gets wet, it can rupture very easily in seconds or minutes
and make lots of smaller particles that can act as cloud
condensation nuclei, or collectors for water.”
In a laboratory at Texas A&M, Sarah Brooks, a professor in
atmospheric sciences, soaked six different kinds of pollen in
water, then sprayed the moist fragments into a cloud-making
chamber. Brooks and her colleagues found that three fragment sizes
— 50, 100 and 200 nanometers — quickly collected water vapor to
form cloud droplets, which are 10 times bigger than the particles.
(It takes about 6 million nanometers to equal a quarter of an inch,
so we’re talking about very small particles.) Brooks noted in a
Texas A&M news release:
“Scientists are just beginning to identify the types of
biological aerosols which are important for cloud formation. Our
results identify pollen as a major contributor to cloud formation.
Specifically, our results suggest that increased pollen could lead
to the formation of thicker clouds and longer cloud lifetimes.”
The effect of cloud formation on global warming may be the most
important mystery in climate science today, according to Jasper
Kirby, a particle physicist who is leading a team of atmospheric
scientists from 15 European and U.S. institutions. Consequently,
the effect of aerosols on cloud formation must be equally
Clouds are known to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight back
out to space, but they can also contain heat at night, so cloud
formation plays a critical role in determining the rate of global
warming. To better predict global warming, one has to better
understand when and how clouds are formed at a “very fundamental
level,” Kirby told reporter Rae Ellen Bichell in
“Yale Environment 360.” Kirby added:
“By fundamental, I mean we have to understand what the gases
are, the vapors, that are responsible for forming these little
particles. And secondly, we have to understand exactly how quickly
they react with each other and how they form the aerosol particles
which … constitute the seeds for cloud droplets. And this process
is responsible for half the cloud droplets in the atmosphere. It’s
a very, very important process, but it’s very poorly
In the upper atmosphere, aerosols can directly reflect sunlight
back into space. These include man-made aerosols from industrial
pollution as well as natural aerosols, such as volcanic eruptions
and desert dust and now possibly pollen. Check out NASA’s webpage
Steiner, who is doing the pollen experiments, said understanding
natural aerosols is critical to understanding climate change:
“What happens in clouds is one of the big uncertainties in
climate models right now. One of the things we’re trying to
understand is how do natural aerosols influence cloud cover and
precipitation under present day and future climate.
“It’s possible that when trees emit pollen, that makes clouds,
which in turn makes rain and that feeds back into the trees and can
influence the whole growth cycle of the plant.”
For people more interested in the allergy aspects of this story,
I found a website called pollen.com, which
identifies a variety of ways that weather can affect pollen and
A mild winter can lead to early plant growth and an early
A late freeze can delay pollen production in trees, reducing
the risk of an allergic reaction,
Dry, windy weather increases the spread of pollen and worsens
Rain can wash pollen out of the air, reducing the risk of
exposure to pollen, but
Rain can also increase the growth of plants, especially
grasses, increasing the pollen levels.
Climate-change skeptics frequently bring up a 40-year-old story
about climate change — a fleeting notion that the Earth was
Talking about that story, which was picked up by Newsweek and
other publications, serves as a roundabout way for skeptics to
ridicule the science of global warming, suggesting that scientists
have never been able to get their story straight.
But the idea of global cooling failed to stand up to scientific
scrutiny, and the whole idea of global cooling soon
Now is the time to put that old story to rest, writes Peter
Dykstra, publisher of the nonprofit Environmental Health Sciences,
in a guest blog published on the
Scientific American website.
“Rush Limbaugh is a frequent flyer on the Newsweek story, making
the common error of promoting it to a ‘cover story.’” Peter writes,
noting that it was a single-page, nine-paragraph piece on page
“Lawrence Solomon, a kingpin of Canadian climate denial, added a
new twist two years ago, claiming that the global cooling theory
was growing to ‘scientific consensus,’” Peter said. “Yet the
American Meteorological Society published a 2008 paper, which
reported that even in the theory’s heyday, published papers
suggesting a warming trend dominated by about six to one.”
Peter goes on to describe how various people have used the story
to sew seeds of doubt about today’s leading climate-change
“Science, in particular, moves on as it becomes more
sophisticated,” he said. “The scientific community stopped talking
about global cooling three decades ago. It’s time to retire this
long-dismissed theory as an anti-science talking point.”
Peter’s blog includes a photograph of the old Newsweek story
from April 28,1975, so I enlarged it and read what it actually
said. Some excepts:
“In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by
about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain
production… During the same time, the average temperature around
the equator has risen by a fraction of a degree – a fraction that
in some areas can mean drought and desolation.”
“Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever
recorded, 145 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half
a billion dollars worth of damage in thirteen U.S. states.”
“To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent
the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s
“’Our knowledge of the mechanisms of climatic change is at
least as fragmentary as our data,’ concedes the National Academy of
Sciences report. ‘Not only are the basic scientific questions
largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to
pose the key questions.’”
“Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will
take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change or
even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more
spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the polar ice cap
by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might
create problems far greater than those they solve.”
Ironically, current research predicts that we will see
increasing weather anomalies as a result of climate change. Studies
also show that soot is unintentionally landing on the polar ice
caps, melting them even faster. On the other hand, thousands of
studies have now documented the warming trends in correlation with
an increase in greenhouse gases.
If anyone doubts the level of climate-change research taking
place, take a look at “Science Daily,” a website that
compiles reports on all kinds of studies. The category
“Climate” includes just a portion of the climate research
underway throughout the world.
“We must adapt to the inevitable impacts of a changing climate
by investing in communities to make them more prepared for the
current impacts and future risks of climate change. At the same
time, Washington must also take appropriate steps to reduce
heat-trapping emissions that would cause much more devastating
consequences in the decades to come…
“We ask that you implement a policy that establishes a price on
greenhouse gas emissions to encourage a shift to clean energy
solutions and drive low-carbon innovation that will foster the
clean industries of the future…
“The emissions choices we make today — in Washington and
throughout the world — will shape the planet our children and
grandchildren inherit. Please help create a cleaner, safer, and
healthier future for Washington. Let this be our legacy.”
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University
in Washington, D.C., holds an annual “Eco-Comedy Video
Competition,” based on a different environmental theme each year.
This year’s theme to challenge student creativity was “Clean water,
The winner of the Grand Prize and Viewers’ Choice awards this
year was a video called “Dude, or the Blissful Ignorance of
Progress” (shown in video player).
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking was founded on the
belief that films are vitally important educational and political
tools in the struggle to protect the environment, according to
Professor Chris Palmer, who started the center. The goal is to
train filmmakers to create films and new media that promote
conservation in ways that are ethically sound, entertaining and
All the contest entries can be found in the
comments section of the YouTube webpage about the contest.
I found another video on the center’s website that was not
involved in this particular contest but was both educational and
amusing. It was a public service announcement called “Tap Water.”