Category Archives: Climate change

Audubon warns that bird species are threatened by changing climate

Birds in Kitsap County and across the globe are telling us that the world is changing — and rarely in ways that benefit our avian friends.

Loss of habitat is affecting even our most common birds, according to a study published this month in the journal Science. Bird populations across North America have dropped by nearly 3 billion since 1970, a decline of 29 percent, the study says. Writer Rachael Lallensack of Smithsonian magazine does a good job putting the issue into perspective.

Coming on the heels of that abundance study is a forward-looking report by the National Audubon Society that focuses on the future of bird species, particularly with respect to climate change.

“Two-thirds of America’s birds are threatened with extinction from climate change,” said National Audubon President David Yarnold in a news release, “but keeping global temperatures down will help up to 76 percent of them.”

The Audubon report, called “Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink” (PDF 3.9 mb), holds out hope, Yarnold said, “but first it’ll break your heart if you care about birds and what they tell us about the ecosystems we share with them. It’s a bird emergency.”

Being relatively mobile creatures, birds are good indicators of habitat changes, as they generally move north to seek temperatures suitable for their kind. They may find their new habitats already occupied, squeezed by space or not quite as conducive to reproductive success, given the stresses they face. The result is often a shrinking of their overall range.

“We never saw California scrub jays this far north,” said Gene Bullock, president of Kitsap Audubon Society. “Now they are nesting all along our coasts.

“We never saw Anna’s hummingbirds in the winter,” he added. “Now they are coming to winter feeders as far north as Cordova, Alaska.”

On the other hand, Gene told me, birds such as common nighthawks — identified by their nightly calls of “peent … peent … peent” as they move about — are largely gone from the Kitsap Peninsula.

The new report shows photographs of 22 “highly vulnerable species” for most of Kitsap County, 50 “moderate vulnerable speces,” 29 “low vulnerable species” and 37 “stable species.” The Rufus hummingbird, for example, is expected to disappear from the lowlands of Puget Sound as it loses 39 percent of its range in Western Washington and Western Oregon while increasing its range by 26 percent in Northern British Columbia, Canada. That’s under the best climate scenario that we can hope for at this point.

Adding to the climate-change problems for birds is the loss of forests to development throughout the Puget Sound region, Gene said. A decline in insect populations — in part because of pesticides — constrains the populations of some birds, while a dwindling number of forage fish constrains others.

“Audubon scientists are showing us pretty clearly that habitat loss is huge,” Gene said, “but in the long run climate change will be the number-one culprit as the ranges of birds continue to shrink. It’s affecting all of our species across the board.”

Brooke Bateman, senior climate scientist for National Audubon, led the study of climate-related effects, including sea level rise, urbanization, cropland expansion, drought, extreme spring heat, fire weather and heavy rain. The scientists examined 140 million bird records, including observational data from amateur bird watchers as well as professional field biologists.

“Birds are important indicator species, because if an ecosystem is broken for birds, it is or soon will be for people too,” she said. “When I was a child, my grandmother introduced me to the common loons that lived on the lake at my grandparent’s home in Northern Wisconsin. Those loons are what drive my work today, and I can’t imagine them leaving the U.S. entirely in summer — but that’s what we’re facing if trends continue.”

To help people understand the potential effects on birds where they live, Audubon experts created a zip-code-based tool call “Birds and Climate Visualizer.” The result is a listing of vulnerable species based on location and whether the temperature rises by 1.5, 2 or 3 degrees Celsius. Without major change, the temperature is certain to rise by 1.5 degrees by 2050, expert say.

The Audubon website also includes a report for each state. The Brief for Washington (PDF 4.2 mb), for example, predicts a major shakeup in the state’s biological communities. Changing the plants that will grow in a particular place changes the diversity of wildlife, including birds.

“By the end of the century under a 3-degree C (5.4-degree F) global warming scenario, approximately 30 percent of the state of Washington will transition to a different biome,” the brief states. “At present, the largest biome in the state is conifer forest, covering 59 percent of the state. By the end of the century, conifer forest will cover approximately 46 percent of the state.”

The report ends on a note of optimism: “We have the ability to reverse the direction of this massive threat. We can adapt, improve, and innovate; we can protect birds, the planet, and ourselves. We can power our cars, homes, cities, factories, farms, communities and economy with clean energy —without contributing to climate change.”

While striving to reduce climate change, people can take steps to improve the resilience of habitats, so that changes occur more slowly and birds have a chance to survive. Restoring coastal wetlands, for example, can provide refuge for birds as sea-level rise wipes out nesting areas. Cleaning up pollution and protecting floodplains can help birds adapt to increasing drought and extreme rain events, according to the report.

Gene Bullock, who has been involved in Kitsap Audubon for more than 15 years, says he has never seen stronger support for the organization, which is growing in membership and financial strength. Thanks to generous donations, Kitsap Audubon is playing an important role in preserving habitats throughout Kitsap County, including the Kitsap Forest and Bay Project (PDF 1.5 mb).

I expected Gene to tell me that concerns about climate change have become a central part of everything that Kitsap Audubon does — but that’s not the case. Aside from specific presentations and discussions about the threats to birds, the organization remains focused on learning about birds, watching them in the wild and having fun with fellow bird-watchers.

Monthly educational programs and field trips near and far are mainstays of the organization. Check out the Kitsap Audubon Society website and “The Kingfisher,” the monthly newsletter of Kitsap Audubon.

Gene says his organization is environmentally oriented, but members also realize that there is a risk from the “Chicken Little syndrome.”

“People are tired of hearing about apocalyptic gloom and doom,” he said. “You have to offer them hope and point the way to things they can do to help — and there are a lot of things you can do in your own backyard.”

To help birds in your neighborhood, he suggests that people stop using toxic chemicals, keep bird feeders clean, use decals to reduce window strikes and keep cats indoors.

In terms of climate change, the National Audubon Society makes these suggestions:

  • Reduce your use of energy, and ask elected officials to support energy-saving policies.
  • Ask elected officials to expand clean energy development, such as solar and wind power.
  • Encourage innovative and economic solutions to reduce carbon pollution, such as a fee on carbon in fuels and specific clean-energy standards for appliances and other devices.
  • Advocate for natural solutions, such as increasing wetlands and protecting forests and grasslands, which provide homes for birds. Grow native plants on your own property.

Amusing Monday: Movement of music captures climate discord

Using music to describe measurable changes in climate — and expressing the anxiety caused by the ongoing changes — is one approach to the climate problem that has been engaging scientists and musicians alike.

I’ve been following several methods of converting data to sound, which approximates music in some ways (Water Ways, Jan 16, 2017). But the Climate Music Project in San Francisco starts with a nearly complete musical composition and allows the data to alter the sound in remarkable ways.

Composer Erik Ian Walker had been writing and recording music for 30 years when he joined the Climate Music Project in 2015, collaborating with scientists and technicians to explore musical approaches to climate change.

“I welcomed the invitation to write and perform ‘Climate’ for CMP because I feel very strongly about the necessity to communicate the urgency of stopping the negative effects of human-caused climate change,” Erik said in an interview on CMP’s website. “Being a composer, this was the best use of my talents to do something. I also like the intersection of science and music very much, so it was a good fit….

“Decisions that had to be made were whether the climate data was going to be the music (sonification), or whether the data was going to alter music composed before the data collided with it,” he continued. “We chose the latter, as that was the more interesting scenario for a dramatic rendering…

“The hardest part was composing a ‘theme’ and framework that would not devolve too fast as the data we were using began to change the music,” he said. “There is a subjective response of the ear, outside of prescribed numbers, that gauges where ‘double’ of something is, for example. So, we had to find an ‘end point’ of the piece, where the greatest degree of climate change would be, hear what that would sound like, and work backward from there.”

The result is shown in the first video on this page, which shows the piece accompanied with dynamic charts and graphs. In fact, if you happen to be in San Francisco on Sept. 19, you can see and hear a CMP performance of “Climate” at the Exploratorium in the Embarcadero waterfront district.

The piece is about 30 minutes long and offers two scenarios: one in which humans continue on the current path of pumping massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and another in which major changes are made to keep the rise to less than 3.6 degrees F. — the goal of the Paris Climate Accord.

Reporter John Metcalfe describes in CityLab how the melodic movement begins to shift as the calendar reaches the start of the industrial revolution.

“Weird distortions like twinges in a stretched-out cassette tape arrive in the late 1900s as Earth’s energy balance is jolted out of whack,” he writes. “Looking into the future, the music then turns darker and frenetic in the decades post-2017 — the beat and pitch racing, the melody discordant and churning, and the planet’s temperature soaring into an irreversible heat hell.”

Besides the first video, enjoy the following samples of music from two different time periods offered by CMP on Vimeo:

Stephan Crawford, who started the Climate Music Project, explains how he came up with the concept of creating music that can help people experience climate change in an emotional way in an article by Alessandra Potenza in The Verge magazine. The second video on this page provides an idea of how the collaboration works for those involved with the project.

The difference between Erik Ian Walker’s “Climate” and sonifications of data — which certainly have their place — is that you can become immersed in the music, enjoying even the dark parts for their emotional impact. To sample and purchase Erik’s “normal” music go to Bottom Feeder Records’ webpage.

The third video is a promo of the Climate Music Project from two years ago.

Climate Sense: Arctic burns as climate issues gain political attention

It’s next to impossible to keep up with all the new information coming out about climate change, but I thought I would share some new reports that I found interesting.

For the first three months of this year, I provided a weekly report called “Climate Sense.” I am still trying to gauge how often to write these posts or drop them altogether. I am not conducting original reporting; I’m just offering some reading material. Perhaps regular readers of this blog prefer their own news sources. As always, I am open to suggestions.

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Amusing Monday: Dancing in reaction to climate change

When concerns about climate change inspire dancers to burst out with highly emotional dance movements, the audience does not need to be science-minded to feel a little of the weight hanging over our world.

Diana Movius, an environmental anthropologist and climate policy analyst, has been living a second life as a choreographer and director of a dance company in Washington, D.C. She recently revived her 2015 dance production called “Glacier,” which portrays the stages of calamity as ice cracks and melts away.

“The experience will be different for everyone, but my hope is that people come out of watching ‘Glacier’ with a sense of having witnessed something that is being lost, and a sense that [climate change] is something we should try to stop,” Movius told Washington Post reporter Stephanie Williams before the dance’s revival in February.

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Hood Canal blooms again, as biologists assess role of armored plankton

In what is becoming an annual event, portions of Hood Canal have changed colors in recent days, the result of a large bloom of armored plankton called coccolithophores.

Coccolithophore from Hood Canal’s Dabob Bay viewed with scanning electron microscope.
Image: Brian Bill, Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Teri King, a plankton expert with Washington Sea Grant, has been among the first to take notice of the turquoise blooms each year they occur.

“Guess who is back?” Teri wrote in the blog Bivalves for Clean Water. “She showed up June 24 in Dabob Bay and has been shining her Caribbean blueness throughout the bay and spreading south toward Quilcene Bay.”

Yesterday, I noticed a turquoise tinge in Southern Hood Canal from Union up to Belfair, although the color was not as intense as I’ve seen in past years.

The color is the result of light reflecting off elaborate platelets of calcium carbonate, called coccoliths, which form around the single-celled coccolithophores. The species in Hood Canal is typically Emiliania huxleyi.

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Drought continues with fear of fire throughout Western Washington

Severe drought is settling in across most of Western Washington — including Kitsap County — where dry conditions raise the risks of wildfire, and low streamflows could impair salmon spawning this fall.

Western Washington is one of the few places in the country with “severe” drought.
Map: U.S. Drought Monitor, Richard Tinker, U.S. agencies.

Scattered showers and drizzle the past few days have done little to reverse a drying trend as we go into what is normally the driest period of the year, from now through August. As of today, the fire danger is moderate, but warmer weather could increase the risk substantially within a day or two.

The topsy-turvy weather that I observed across the Kitsap Peninsula last quarter (Water Ways, April 2) continued through June. Normally, the southwest corner of the peninsula near Holly receives twice the precipitation as the north end near Hansville. But that didn’t happen last month, when the monthly rainfall total was 0.61 inches in Holly and 0.83 inches in Hansville. Silverdale, about halfway between, received 1.11 inches in June.

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Amusing Monday: Animations find new ways to talk about climate crisis

I’m always looking for new ways to visualize the causes and effects of excessive greenhouse gases and what is happening to the Earth’s climate. A clever new animation depicts the carbon cycle as a clickety-clackety machine that moves the carbon from place to place.

The video, produced by Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, shows how carbon takes on different forms as it moves from the air into plants and animals, becomes embedded deep in the ground and then is turned into fuel at a pace that upsets the natural cycle. (Don’t forget to go full-screen.)

“Humans have thrown the carbon cycle out of adjustment, with increasingly severe consequences for climate, oceans and ecosystems,” states the description below the YouTube video.

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What do people truly believe when it comes to climate change?

Nationwide polls show that more and more people believe that humans are responsible for increasing greenhouse gases and thus altering our climate — including unusual changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels and disruptions in the oceanic food web.

I keep waiting for public opinion to reach a critical mass, so that government officials feel compelled to take serious actions to get climate change under control.

Instead, we see President Trump ordering rollbacks on regulations designed to reduce emissions from coal-fired plants and automobiles. The result will be a greater rate of climate change.

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Amusing Monday: A new hydrothermal vent field discovered off West Coast

The location of an unknown hydrothermal vent system was predicted by researchers studying maps of the seafloor along the Gorda Ridge off the West Coast. Following those leads, a group of underwater explorers looked for and found the shimmering cauldron of superheated water.

The discovery, during this year’s Nautilus Expedition, took place about a week ago in an area about 75 miles offshore of the border between California and Oregon.

As operators dimmed the lights from their remotely operated vehicles, the sounds of excited scientists filled the mother ship’s control room, where observers watched a video screen providing glorious views of the emerging flow (first video on this page).

“It’s like an artist’s rendition of another planet,” tweeted volcanologist Shannon Kobs Nawotniak of Idaho State University, where her team figured out where to look for the vents using high-resolution sonar bathymetry. Researchers named it the Apollo Vent Field in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this year.

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Amusing Monday: World Reef Day calls attention to coral catastrophe

On the first day of June, ocean advocates around the world celebrated the very first World Reef Day. The event got me to thinking a little more about the role of corals in the most productive ecosystems around the world, as well as the coral reefs located in our own backyards here in the Pacific Northwest.

“Our goal was to stimulate a global conversation about reef conservation and the simple things we can do in our own lives to make huge changes,” said Theresa Van Greunen of Aqua-Aston Hospitality, one of the sponsors of World Reef Day.

The event was launched with a special focus on Hawaii, but the issue of conserving critical coral habitats has worldwide appeal, with 5.5 million people pledging to use reef-friendly sunscreen and reduce their usage of single-use plastics that can harm the marine ecosystem, according to a news release from sponsor Raw Elements and another from sponsor Hawaiian Airlines. While there were elements of fun in this new event, I guess it does not fit my normal criteria for “amusing,” so we’ll have to settle for educational.

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