February 2020 #ENSO update: mind reading — @NOAA

From NOAA (Emily Becker):

The tropical Pacific is warmer than average, but it doesn’t meet El Niño criteria. Forecasters estimate about a 60% chance that ENSO-neutral conditions will continue through the spring, with a 50% chance of neutral through the summer. (ENSO = El Niño/Southern Oscillation, the whole ocean/atmosphere El Niño/La Niña system.)

If you’ve been paying close attention to the sea surface temperatures, you may have noticed that the Oceanic Niño Index, the three-month-average temperature anomaly in the Niño3.4 region, has now been above the El Niño threshold for two consecutive three-month periods, October–December and November–January. (Anomaly = departure from the long-term average.)

January 2020 sea surface temperature departure from the 1981-2010 average. Image from Data Snapshots on Climate.gov.

The forecast team considered the situation carefully and concluded that the current warmer Pacific Ocean doesn’t reflect El Niño conditions. Also, right now the most likely outcome (60% probability) through the spring is that ENSO will remain in neutral. Perhaps you’re wondering what we were thinking about when we developed our forecasts this month…

You read my mind

Have you ever wondered about the thought process of the ENSO forecaster? I hope so, because today I’ll take you into the mind of one! Well, into the mind of yours truly, since I’m not actually psychic. But, during our team discussions, one can get a pretty good picture of what the ten or so of us are all focusing on. Most of us have been studying the tropical Pacific, looking for clues about ENSO, for years—decades, in some cases—and we still find it interesting and full of surprises.

The first question on my mind each month is about the current conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Do we meet the first criterion for El Niño conditions, as illustrated in our diagnostic flow chart?

Summary of decision process in determining El Niño conditions. NOAA Climate.gov drawing by Glen Becker and Fiona Martin.

The Climate Prediction Center publishes a helpful weekly update on ENSO-related conditions in the ocean and atmosphere. First, I’ll check the Niño3.4 Index, the sea surface temperature in our primary ENSO-monitoring region—it’s been at or above the El Niño threshold (0.5°C above the long-term mean) for the past few months, so we pass the first box.

Then, to answer the question in the second box, “Think it’ll stay above the threshold for the next several months?” I’ll start with the climate model forecasts. Currently, most of these models are around the threshold for the next few months, but then the anomalies gradually shrink as we go into the spring. To add to the picture of the future of sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific, I’ll check on the temperature of the water under the surface of the tropical Pacific.

Area-averaged upper-ocean heat content anomaly (°C) in the equatorial Pacific (5°N-5°S, 180º-100ºW). The heat content anomaly is computed as the departure from the 1981-2010 base period pentad (5-day) means. Heat content increased has been elevated for the last few months. Climate.gov figure from CPC data.

It’s been above average lately, meaning there’s a source of warmth to supply the surface. It’s not hugely elevated, though—for example, during the weak El Niño last February, the subsurface temperature anomaly was twice as large. Overall, we’re leaning “no” on the second box of the flowchart.

Head in the clouds

Then I’m on to examining the atmospheric conditions, asking if there are any patterns in the winds or rain that suggest the atmosphere is responding to changes in the ocean surface temperature. Typically, air rises over the very warm water of the far western Pacific, around Indonesia, travels to the east high up in the atmosphere, descends in the eastern Pacific, and travels back west near the surface. This is the Walker circulation, as elegantly discussed by Tom lo these many moons ago.

Generalized Walker Circulation (December-February) during ENSO-neutral conditions. Convection associated with rising branches of the Walker Circulation is found over the Maritime continent, northern South America, and eastern Africa. NOAA Climate.gov drawing by Fiona Martin.

To look for changes in the Walker circulation over the past month, I’ll examine the near-surface winds, which were blowing more west-to-east than normal in the western tropical Pacific over the past four weeks. Also, there was a bit more rain than average in the central Pacific. Both of these things can be consistent with El Niño conditions. However, the upper level winds were also more west-to-east than average in the eastern Pacific, which does not match up with El Niño conditions.

Other important measurements of the Walker circulation are the Southern Oscillation Index and the Equatorial Southern Oscillation Index, both of which were close to zero over the past month. Overall, it’s more likely that the near-surface winds and rain patterns were influenced by short-term weather variability recently, not the seasonal pattern that defines ENSO.

Brain waves

What else might contribute to warmer-than-average surface water in the tropical Pacific? Global warming and climate change due to human emissions of greenhouse gases is always on our minds, of course. The average temperature of the Niño3.4 region has increased by more than 0.5°C since 1950.

Temperature in the Niño3.4 region (5°S – 5°N latitude, 170°W – 120°W longitude) since 1950, using ERSSTv5 data. A 12-point running average has been applied to the monthly temperatures. Orange line shows the 1950 – 2020 trend. Climate.gov graphic from CPC data.

When computing Niño3.4 anomalies, we use an averaging period of the most recent 30-year period, updated every five years, to adjust to some of this warming trend. Right now, that averaging period is 1986–2015. Next year, we’ll update to 1991–2020. I’m running out of space to get into the hows and whys of this, but Climate.gov has a nice description here. Overall, though, the climate is warming rapidly, and that can have some effect on ENSO, particularly when we are getting close to updating the averaging period.

I’ll think about it and get back to you

If you’re in an ENSO state of mind, you know we’re on your wavelength! We’re always closely monitoring the tropical Pacific and keeping you updated and informed.

The latest “E-Newsletter” is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:


Utah State University’s Center for Colorado River Studies has released a new white paper on new approaches and tools to manage the Colorado River for an uncertain future. The paper includes
recommendations for revisions to the guidelines for managing Lakes Powell and Mead, and the authors invite feedback.

Heron wading in the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

2020 #UTleg: More money sought for ailing Utah Lake, drying Great Salt Lake — The Deseret News

Sunset from the western shore of Antelope Island State Park, Great Salt Lake, Utah, United States.. Sunset viewed from White Rock Bay, on the western shore of Antelope Island. Carrington Island is visible in the distance. By Ccmdav – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2032320

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

A pair of funding requests before a Utah legislative subcommittee aim to boost coordination and research efforts when it comes to the health of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake.

Efforts to help the Great Salt Lake are multifaceted, with multiple state entities involved, as well as an advisory council, research groups, advocates and universities…

Barlow said $110,000 for a full-time state coordinator for the Great Salt Lake will further bolster Utah’s efforts to help the lake and its ecosystem.

The Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western hemisphere and the eighth-largest terminal lake in the world, reached record low levels in recent years and faces more diversions from its tributaries in the future. One study put the economic value of lake at $1.3 billion, but its role in atmospheric chemistry — such as lake effect snow and air pollution — is just now beginning to be understood…

One thing that is certain, however, as the Great Salt Lake continues to dry, it stands out as a major contributor of dust-born pollution.

Utah Lake. CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=192542

For the Utah Lake, which is hit seasonally each year with harmful algal blooms, Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, is seeking $100,000 to amplify efforts to mitigate those blooms.

The onset of cyanobacteria, or the blue-green algae, can sicken animals and humans due their toxins.

The lake, the third-largest freshwater lake in the United States west of the Mississippi, is a recreation hot spot for many along the Wasatch Front. It is home to the endangered June sucker fish, which exist nowhere else and can live to be 40 years old, according to the Utah Lake Commission.

It is also home to five public boat harbors and/or marinas.

Stratton said the appropriation would amplify studies already underway probing the algae issue on the lake and specifically help a three-year project that will begin this year by the Timpanogos Special Service District. That district treats wastewater of 10 cities in northern Utah County, which is discharged into the lake afterward.

#Colorado Ag #Water Alliance: Water Quality and Your Farm’s Bottom Line – Brush, Colorado, February 24, 2020

Click here for all the inside skinny and register.

Cash-strapped farms are growing a new crop: #Solar panels — Grist #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

NREL researcher Jordan Macknick and Michael Lehan discuss solar panel orientation and spacing. The project is seeking to improve the environmental compatibility and mutual benefits of solar development with agriculture and native landscapes. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

From Grist (Maria Gallucci):

The Kominek family farm is a green expanse of hay and alfalfa in northern Colorado. The family has planted and raked crops for half a century, but as yields declined over recent years, the farm began losing money. In late 2017, Byron Kominek went looking for more profitable alternatives, including installing solar panels and selling electricity to the utility. But Boulder County’s land-use codes made it difficult to use their 24 acres for anything but farming.

So the Komineks found a compromise: a solar array with plants growing beneath, between, and around rows of photovoltaic panels.

Construction is slated to begin this spring on a 1.2-megawatt solar array on the Kominek farm. Some 3,300 solar panels will rest on 6-foot and 8-foot-high stilts, providing shade for crops like tomatoes, peppers, kale, and beans on a five-acre plot. Pasture grasses and beehive boxes are planned for the perimeter…

If successful, the project could serve as a model for other cash-strapped farmers, by transforming underperforming fields into potentially money-making hubs of clean energy and fresh food.

Xcel Energy, the state’s biggest utility, has agreed to pay for each kilowatt-hour delivered from the Kominek’s solar array to the grid. Their neighbors can buy into the project, too. Participants invest in a percentage of the array, then receive credits on their monthly utility bills. Their investment also helps defray some of the farmers’ upfront construction costs.

The vegetables will be sold through a community farm-share program, which allows neighbors to invest in the project in exchange for boxes of produce.

This marriage of agriculture and solar photovoltaics — known by the awkward name “agrivoltaics” — is an emerging niche within the broader solar power industry.

In the United States, less than 5 megawatts’ worth of solar arrays have crops planted beneath them, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL. That’s barely a speck of the country’s 71,300 megawatts of installed solar capacity. The farm-plus-solar sector is relatively bigger in Japan, where the concept first emerged over a decade ago. Hundreds of projects now exist, including a 35-megawatt solar array that hovers over fields of ginseng, herbs, and coriander.

Proponents say that this approach could allow for widespread renewable energy development without displacing much-needed land for food. Recent studies suggest that it could lead to more efficient energy and crop production by creating a cooler, moister microclimate.

In a recent test in Arizona, scientists compared crops planted under solar panels with those grown in direct sunlight. They found that total fruit production for red chiltepin peppers was three times higher on the plots under the panels, and cherry tomatoes doubled production. Some of these plants used significantly less irrigation water, in part because the shaded soil retained more moisture. Solar panels placed with plants were also substantially cooler during the day — and therefore operated more efficiently — than the usual ground-mounted arrays, according to the study last year by NREL and the Universities of Arizona and Maryland.

A project in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, delivered similarly promising results. Early field tests showed that Swiss chard, broccoli, and similar vegetables produced about 60 percent more volume compared to plants beneath a full sun.

Screenshot from Jack’s Solar Garden website February 18, 2020. Click on the image to visit the website and sign up to purchase solar energy.

Kominek’s project, called Jack’s Solar Garden, will provide more opportunities to study agrivoltaics. NREL, in nearby Golden, Colorado, plans to track how plants and panels perform together in Boulder County’s hot, dry climate. “If the structures help keep in moisture, and we have less evaporation, we’ll need less water to grow the same amount or even more [crops],” said Jordan Macknick, the lead energy-water-land analyst for NREL.

Macknick leads NREL’s low-impact solar initiative along with biologist Brenda Beatty. Since 2015, researchers have developed more than 25 sites around the country that combine solar panels with food crops, native vegetation, or pollinator-friendly plants.

Jack’s Solar Garden will be the biggest of the group and the first to include all three types. NREL is also adding solar projects in Puerto Rico, including one on a coffee plantation and another one on pasture lands for cattle.

“We’re really just at the very beginning of understanding the benefits of agrivoltaics and what they could mean not only for the energy sector but also for the agricultural sector,” Macknick said.

China connected the world’s largest floating solar power plant in central Anhui province to its power grid in early June 2017. The solar farm will generate electricity for 15,000 homes. Photo via Science.HowStuffWorks.com

Agrivoltaics, also called “solar sharing,” first took off in Japan in 2004, after an engineer, Akira Nagashima, developed a stilted steel structure that raises panels 10-feet high. Available land is scarce in Japan, a country with ambitious targets for developing renewable energy. (Not coincidentally, floating solar arrays — which sit atop irrigation ponds and reservoirs — also got their start in Japan, in 2007.) Recently, Nagashima has begun studying how shade-intolerant crops might fare beneath solar arrays. His research team recently found that corn yields slightly improved in a solar-sharing system.

Beyond research sites, however, pairing corn and other cash crops with solar may present significant challenges. On existing plots, smaller tractors can navigate the narrow spaces between rows of panels. But combine harvesters and other industrial equipment are too wide and bulky to fit through the gaps. Most crops grown beneath panels must be picked by hand. The work is manageable at the scale of a community garden, but it can be grueling, back-breaking work at an industrial scale. Farmers are developing machines to pick strawberries, melons, and tomatoes, which also might bump against the panels.

For farms big and small, a lack of rural infrastructure remains a “key impediment” to boosting adoption of agrivoltaics, said Chad Higgins, an associate professor of biological and ecological engineering at Oregon State University. Power lines and electrical equipment might not be equipped to handle the addition of solar power. Roads and communications networks likewise might need to be expanded to support far-flung operations, he said.

Still, if farmers and engineers can address such hurdles, the potential for agrivoltaics is immense, given how much of the planet’s land is devoted to agriculture.

2020 #OgallalaAquifer Summit in Amarillo, #TX, March 31 – April 1, 2020 — The #Kansas #Water Office

Here’s the release from the Kansas Water Office (Katie Patterson-Ingels, Amy Kremen):

8-State Conversation to Highlight Actions & Programs Benefitting the Aquifer, Ag, and Ogallala communities

The 2020 Ogallala Aquifer Summit will take place in Amarillo, Texas, from March 31 to April 1, bringing together water management leaders from all eight Ogallala region states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota and Wyoming. The dynamic, interactive event will focus on encouraging exchange among participants about innovative programs and effective approaches being implemented to address the region’s significant water-related challenges.

“Tackling Tough Questions,” is the theme of the event. Workshops and speakers share and compare responses to questions such as: “What is the value of groundwater to current and future generations” and “how do locally-led actions aimed at addressing water challenges have larger-scale impact?”

“The summit provides a unique opportunity to strengthen collaborations among a diverse range of water-focused stakeholders,” said summit co-chair Meagan Schipanski, an associate professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at CSU. “Exploring where we have common vision and identifying innovative concepts or practices already being implemented can catalyze additional actions with potential to benefit the aquifer and Ogallala region communities over the short- and long-term.”

Schipanski co-directs the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) with Colorado Water Center director and summit co-chair Reagan Waskom, who is also a faculty member in Soil and Crop Sciences. The Ogallala Water CAP, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has a multi-disciplinary team of 70 people based at 10 institutions in 6 Ogallala-region states, engaged in collaborative research and outreach aimed at sustaining agriculture and ecosystems in the region.

Some Ogallala Water CAP research and outreach results will be shared at the 2020 Ogallala Summit. The Ogallala Water CAP has led the coordination of this event, in partnership with colleagues at Texas A&M AgriLife, the Kansas Water Office, and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service-funded Ogallala Aquifer Program, with additional support provided by many other individuals and organizations from the eight Ogallala states.

The 2020 Summit will highlight several activities and outcomes inspired by or expanded as a result of the 2018 Ogallala Summit. Participants will include producers, irrigation company and commodity group representatives, students and academics, local and state policy makers, groundwater management district leaders, crop consultants, agricultural lenders, state and federal agency staff, and others, including new and returning summit participants.

“Water conservation technologies are helpful, and we need more of them, but human decision-making is the real key to conserving the Ogallala,” said Brent Auvermann, Center Director at Texas A&M AgriLife Research – Amarillo. “The emergence of voluntary associations among agricultural water users to reduce ground water use is an encouraging step, and we need to learn from those associations’ experiences with regard to what works, and what doesn’t, and what possibilities exist that don’t require expanding the regulatory state.”

The summit will take place over two half-days, starting at 11:00 a.m. Central Time on Tuesday, March 31 and concluding the next day on Wednesday, April 1 at 2:30 p.m. The event includes a casual evening social on the evening of March 31 that will feature screening of a portion of the film “Rising Water,” by Nebraska filmmaker Becky McMillen, followed by a panel discussion on effective agricultural water-related communications.

Visit the 2020 Ogallala summit webpage to see a detailed agenda, lodging info, and to access online registration. Pre-registration is required, and space is limited. The registration deadline is Saturday, March 21 at midnight Central Time.

This event is open to credentialed members of the media. Please RSVP to Katie.ingels@kwo.ks.gov or amy.kremen@colostate.edu.

Ogallala Aquifer. This map shows changes in Ogallala water levels from the period before the aquifer was tapped to 2015. Declining levels appear in red and orange, and rising levels appear in shades of blue. The darker the color, the greater the change. Gray indicates no significant change. Although water levels have actually risen in some areas, especially Nebraska, water levels are mostly in decline, namely from Kansas southward. Image credit: National Climate Assessment 2018