California drought is to blame : Sequoias threatened


Photo credit: Nature World News

Giant Sequoias face environmental stress from extreme drought conditions and wildfires in California. (Photo : Flickr: Matthew Fern)

California Drought: Giant Sequoias Threatened By Water Shortages and Wildfires


By Samantha Mathewson

Giant Sequoias, native to California’s Sierra Nevada, are some of the largest and oldest living things on earth. Some are over 3,000 years old and are nearly 300 feet tall. These large trees can suck up approximately of 800 gallons of water a day, noted Koren Nydick, a National Park Service ecologist and part of the research team focused on the treasured trees. But recently, researchers have witness an increased amount of brown dead patches scatter throughout this historic forest, and they believe the record-long, widespread California drought is to blame.


In an attempt to better manage these forests and control loss, scientists analyzed trees that seem most vulnerable, collecting samples from both healthy and decaying trees. They examined these trees using field surveys and overhead images taken from a plane operated by the Carnegie Airborne Observatory. In combining the data, researchers hope to identify patterns of drought stress that could be used to prevent potential die-off.

Read the full article: Nature World News

Drought- or flood-resistant crops to make agriculture in California more resilient

Photo credit: Yahoo News

Sprinklers and lettuce in Salinas, California


Scientists Are Trying to Save Salad From the Drought

By Tove Danovich

For the last four years, California has been dreaming of water. Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a state of emergency in 2014, followed by a mandatory water reduction of 25 percent in urban areas. But the water saved by digging up lawns and installing new shower heads hasn’t helped farmers, who have let an estimated 540,000 acres of land go fallow, resulting in a total economic loss of $2.7 billion, according to a report by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Even if El Niño shows up as predicted, it’s not a long-term solution for many crops. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently published a report showing that combined global temperature in July was the highest in 136 years of recorded data. And a wet winter doesn’t mean the drought will end. So rather than praying for rain, scientists have started work on a number of drought- or flood-resistant crops that will hopefully make agriculture in California (and beyond) more resilient.

Though many of the drought-tolerant varieties under development are commodity crops such as rice, wheat, or corn, the high water content of the delicate vegetables grown up and down California makes their fate iffier during water shortages. A USDA research project based in California is attempting to develop a drought-resistant variety of lettuce. At about 96 percent water, the green has one of the highest water-content levels of any type of fruit or vegetable. Renee Erikson, a plant research geneticist working on the breeding program, said the crop was of particular interest because California produces 72 percent of head lettuce and 85 percent of leaf lettuce grown in the United States.

Read the full article: Yahoo News

Drought in California

Photo credit: Nature World News

Aqueducts in California, one of which is pictured here, are being pumped to combat the state’s current drought. The amount being pumped is causing an increased rate of subsidence in surrounding areas. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Drought Conditions in California are Causing Severe Subsidence

By Samantha Mathewson

As California continues pumping groundwater to combat the historic drought they are facing, land in the San Joaquin Valley is sinking at an increased rate of 2 inches more per month. The California Department of Water Resources released a NASA report illustrating their findings.

“Because of increased pumping, groundwater levels are reaching record lows — up to 100 feet (30 meters) lower than previous records,” Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said in a statement. “As extensive groundwater pumping continues, the land is sinking more rapidly and this puts nearby infrastructure at greater risk of costly damage.”

NASA compared satellite images taken of Earth’s surface over time to discover this increased rate of subsidence.Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) observations from satellite and aircraft platforms have been used over the past few years to produce maps of subsidence with approximately centimeter-level accuracy. Using multiple scenes, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) were able to produce time histories and profiles of subsidence at selected locations to show the variation over time.

Read the full article: Nature World News

The impact of climate change on groundwater supply

Photo credit: Nature World News

Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada has decreased due to climate change. Because snow is an important source of groundwater recharge, scientists are monitoring it and releasing information on their findings. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

California and Drought: Sierra Nevada Groundwater Sources at Risk

By Samantha Mathewson

In and out of California’s drought, the Sierra Nevada’s snowpack plays a crucial role in groundwater recharge.

“The lower than historically normal snowfall in recent years is one environmental factor that has contributed to the current drought in California,” Ryan Webb, Ph.D. student in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado State University, said in a statement.

With that in mind, Webb and other researchers set out to better understand the impact that climate change has on groundwater supply. They observed changes in soil wetting and drying that occur as snow melts in snowy, mountainous regions. They did this by examining subsurface water content levels in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in soil that remains wet and unfrozen beneath winter snowpacks in this region, the statement said.

Read the full text: Nature World News

California isn’t the only state grappling with drought

Photo credit: Takepart

Bales of hay sit on a family farm near Logan, Kansas. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

The Drought Is Bigger Than California: New Relief Money Will Go to 8 Dry States


California isn’t the only state grappling with dry weather and a farming sector thirsty for more water.

The United States Department of Agriculture announced $21 million to support sustainable farming practices on Tuesday to help mitigate the impacts of the dry spell. In addition to California, which has been hogging the water-scarcity headlines ever since Gov. Jerry Brown announced mandatory water-use reductions, seven states are experiencing exceptional or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

USDA is making the funds available to farmers in those states: California, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. Funded through the 2014 farm bill, the new cash will go toward helping farmers invest in various water-conservation measures, including irrigation upgrades, watering facilities for livestock, changes in grazing systems, and more. In most cases, USDA will cover half of the required costs, with the farm’s owner making up the difference.

From a sustainability standpoint, two farming systems covered by the relief funding are most interesting: the introduction of cover crops and conversion to no-till practices, both of which help increase soil fertility and water retention.

Planting seeds in fields littered with the dead, decomposing remnants of last year’s crops—organic material that would otherwise be tilled under, hence “no-till”—has been on the rise over the past 15 years. In 2009, according to a USDA Economic Research Service report, 35.5 percent of farmland planted in the top eight crops grown in the U.S. were no-till operations. As the old plant material breaks down, it feeds the soil; the dry material covering what would otherwise be bare dirt keeps erosion down and, like mulch, helps the soil retain water.

Read the full article: Takepart

Drought and bark beetle invasion in California

Photo credit: LA Times

Dying trees – U.S. Forest Service

Drought kills 12 million trees in California’s national forests


  • At least 12 million trees have died in California’s forest due to drought
  • Four years of drought have had a severe effect on California’s forests
  • Millions of trees continue to die in California due to drought and bark beetle invasion

Rangers in the San Bernardino National Forest call them “red trees.”

Instead of the typical deep green color, large swaths of pine trees now don hues of death, their dehydrated needles turning brown and burnt-red because of the state’s worsening drought.

“Unlike back East, where you have fall colors, here it’s because the trees are dying,” said John Miller, a spokesman for the San Bernardino National Forest.

Years of extremely dry conditions are taking a heavy toll on forest lands across California and heightening the fire risk as summer approaches.

“The situation is incendiary,” William Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told The Times recently. “The national forest is stressed out.”

A new study by the U.S. Forest Service tried to assess the scope of the problem. Researchers estimated that the drought has killed off at least 12.5 million trees in California’s national forests during the drought.

The scientists expect the die-off to continue. “It is almost certain that millions more trees will die over the course of the upcoming summer as the drought situation continues and becomes ever more long term,” said biologist Jeffrey Moore, acting regional aerial survey program manager for the U.S. Forest Service.

Read the full story: LA Times


Groundwater depletion in California

Photo credit: Scientific American

In California, groundwater deposits are getting saltier as cities and farms extract more water than is replenished naturally, allowing ocean water into the porous aquifers.
Credit: Wonderlane/Flickr

California Farmers Confront Ominous Groundwater Shortage

Drought and saltier aquifers pose threats to the biggest farming state in the U.S.

By Debra Kahn and ClimateWire

California’s perpetual problem of groundwater depletion has gotten so dire that people are actually working to solve it.

In California, groundwater deposits are getting saltier as cities and farms extract more water than is replenished naturally, allowing ocean water into the porous aquifers. One of the worst areas for it is the Pajaro Valley, a small farming community near Santa Cruz. In a state that has long touted itself as the nation’s No. 1 agricultural producer, the seawater has worked its way into groundwater deposits roughly 3 miles inland from the coast.

Water experts and state officials were in a conference room at the corporate headquarters of massive berry grower Driscoll’s in Watsonville last week to discuss the issue and try to amplify it.

“The state of California has to deal with groundwater, or we’re going to ruin this state,” said Miles Reiter, CEO of Driscoll’s, which has operations in six states as well as Argentina, Canada, Chile and Mexico.

Driscoll’s executives are uncommonly frank about the hard realities California is faced with because they are unavoidable in the Pajaro Valley, which gets more than 90 percent of its water from groundwater.

Some farmers in the valley are already at the point where their groundwater water is too saline to use.

Read the full article: Scientific American

Could desalination be the answer to California’s drought?

Photo credit: Phys.Org.

As parts of the state become drier, scientists are looking at ways to turn seawater into drinkable water.

New desalination technology could answer state drought woes


Desalination has made headlines in recent months as a possible solution to the state’s water shortage. But in addition to being expensive, its byproduct—salty brine—can harm marine life once it’s reintroduced into the ocean.

A team of researchers from Humboldt State University and the University of Southern California is hoping to address those concerns with a new process called Reverse Osmosis-Pressure Retarded Osmosis (RO-PRO).

They recently received a $600,000 grant from the California Department of Water Resources to develop a portable, prototype RO-PRO system in Samoa, Calif.—which could lower the cost of desalination and reduce its impact on the environment.

“The high cost and environmental impact of desalination are major issues preventing it from becoming a reliable, drought-resistant water supply,” said Andrea Achilli, an Environmental Resources Engineering professor at Humboldt State, who holds a patent on the technology with researchers from the University of Southern California and Colorado School of Mines. “What our system does is address those problems head on.”

Desalination plants typically use , a process that pushes saltwater through a membrane to create purified, drinking water. But in addition to being costly, and energy-intensive, reverse osmosis can negatively impact the environment.

Read the full article: Phys.-Org.

Small tree and bush growth at much higher density

Photo credit: Pixabay

Del Puerto Canyon, California

Drought, fire management and land use changes have led to denser forests in California

by Bob Yirka


In analyzing the data, the researchers found that large tree density is lower in the more recent years than early last century, for all parts of the state, with some declines as high as 50 percent. In their place are small tree and brush growth, which they found has a much higher density than a hundred years ago. They also noted that over the same period, California has grown drier, as many studies have confirmed. It is the increased water stress, the team suggests, that is at least partly responsible for the change in tree densities. Another factor is fire management. In the past, before people arrived, fires, generally due to lightening strikes would start, and burn thousands of acres before dying natural deaths. That would allow for new growth, which would eventually lead to tall tree growth. Now, whenever a fire starts, it is put out as quickly as possible to protect homes and businesses in the area. The result is highly with dry small —the perfect conditions for fires to start and spread very quickly. The researchers also found that oak trees have grown more numerous while pine populations have declined—another result of the drier climate.

The study suggests that California forest managers are likely to be facing some tough decisions in the years ahead as the planet heats up and the state becomes drier.

Read the full article: Phys Org

There’s no doubt what’s behind the drought: climate change

Photo credit: Pixabay

Coachella Valley, California

No Doubt It’s A Climate-Change Drought, Scientists Say

by Jeff McMahon


The scientists had gathered in part because a recent study from NOAA has been interpreted to suggest the drought derives from the natural variability of the climate. But these three scientists say that interpretation derives from NOAA’s focus on only one aspect of the drought—mean rainfall. When you look at the drought as an extreme event, they said, and when you look at its probability of recurring, and when you look at not only rainfall but also temperature and evaporation, there’s no doubt what’s behind the drought.

“One of the things that is certainly making it worse is climate change,” Overpeck said. “If we really want to tackle the water problem in the west we need to tackle the climate change problem.”

Overpeck and Stanford Professor Noah Diffenbaugh said the NOAA study is sound but does not consider all of the factors that reveal the influence of anthropogenic climate change.

“I agree that all of these studies that in some cases appear at first glance to be conflicting are good science, but they all have their own focus. But one of the reasons we’re doing this press event today is that we’re trying to give you the big picture.”

To see the big picture, one has to look beyond mean rainfall, at other places climate signals may be recorded, the scientists said. For example, high temperatures worsen droughts by causing moisture to evaporate more quickly.

Read the full article: Forbes

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