Warm and mostly dry for Colorado.
From The Colorado Sun (Trish Zornio):
For decades scientists have tried to make people care about climate change. We present cogent arguments with perfectly graphed facts and figures. We hold lectures, write articles and point out extreme weather phenomena.
Despite clear data, only six in 10 American adults think climate change might impact them personally, and one third still doesn’t acknowledge human-caused climate change at all.
From a neuroscience perspective, it’s not entirely surprising. Climate change is the perfect challenge for human beings. Our brains are best wired for imminent threats, not ones in the future. Especially when our present-day actions have little to no immediate repercussions — or worse, when our bad behavior is reinforced — it’s particularly challenging to make changes.
Take gas-powered vehicles for example. At least two thirds of Americans recognize these are bad for the environment, yet most continue to use them — even many policy leaders and activists who could otherwise afford to switch. Why the contradiction?
It’s not strictly economics or infrastructure, although these certainly contribute. A large part is arguably due to there being no immediate punishment to driving these vehicles and, rather, they usually offer us a reward by getting us where we need to go. Psychologically, there’s little to inspire immediate change, and even those who want electric vehicles are faced with perceived punishments such as higher upfront costs.
In this light, facts and figures can rarely compete with such reinforcements. Other than strict regulations — which we should also implement for this reason — what else might help?
One possibility may be to increase the perceived urgency through messaging that makes the topic more relatable on a daily basis. While it’s highly accurate to discuss extreme weather events or long-term impacts to steel bridges, these can sometimes feel like more conceptual topics rather than everyday, personal implications.
On the other hand, tackling climate change by featuring the effects on popular topics such as food could help spur interest on a more regular basis. For example:
In 25 to 30 years, cacao production may be extinct. In eight years, major chocolate companies already expect deficits of an estimated 4.4 billion pounds. This stems from changes in cacao growing environments, specifically evapotranspiration, and chocolatiers have been investing billions in bioengineering hoping to save their products. In this context, it’s almost like every time you drive a gas-powered car you kill a Kit Kat bar.
Industry leaders project that up to half of the lands currently producing the best coffee beans could be inactive by 2050. In some regions, that number could be as high as 88%. This is in part due to a disease called “stem rust” that increases with climate change. As one small coffee farmer put it, “Climate change is good … if you sell rust.”
Wine grapes are incredibly sensitive to changes in climate, making even small changes seem big. Vintners are attempting to overcome the challenges with relocation and growing season strategies, but unfortunately, some vineyards have already been lost due to extreme wildfires, heat exposure or severe drought.
Hopefully you’re ready to switch to gluten-free pasta, or are at least prepared to pay 50% more for the real deal, because shortages of durum wheat are already happening due to extreme droughts. Other staples like corn, beans and rice are also being affected.
Thanks to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the oceans, a process called ocean acidification is threatening a wide range of species harvested as culinary delights including scallops, oysters, lobsters and many fish.
National Public Radio clearly has a social scientist writing their headlines. In a 2018 article titled, “Climate Change Could Mean Less Maple Syrup For Your Pancakes” the news outlet encapsulated the argument in a nutshell: It might take 80 years for the full effects to be felt, but your kid’s breakfast might one day be drier than ever.
It’s the perfect time of year with pumpkin spice everything. But climate change is costing you precious time. In data analyzed from 1952 to 2011, researchers found that every season except for summer was shrinking. Autumn lost nearly a week during that time, with an average loss of one day per decade and growing.
Certainly, shortages or extinctions of popular foods are merely one effect of a rapidly changing climate. However, focus on popular topics may resonate more strongly than messages of extreme weather thanks to the emotional relationship we have with them.
For political reasons, we may not ever be able to convince the remaining one third of Americans that human-caused climate change is a fact, but creating an increased sense of urgency in the Americans who do may help expedite political will for changes in policy.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
Here’s the release from Leiden University:
The widely used pesticide thiacloprid can cause a large-scale decline in freshwater insects. This was discovered by researchers from the Living Lab in Leiden. For three months they counted the flying insects in the 36 ditches of the lab. Their research appeared in PNAS.
In the ditches of the Living Lab, Henrik Barmentlo and his colleagues exposed freshwater insects to different concentrations of thiacloprid. This substance belongs to the neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used group of insecticides. ‘We used realistic concentrations,’ says Barmentlo. They correspond to concentrations we actually measure in the surface water.
Dramatic decline in all species
That neonicotinoids can be harmful to many insects had already been proven. But there was no conclusive evidence that these insecticides are at least partly responsible for the large-scale insect decline.
Therefore, in a unique experiment, the researchers caught no less than 55,574 insects that flew out of the lab’s 36 thiacloprid-contaminated ditches over a period of three months. Afterwards, they identified all specimens. They compared the results with nine control ditches, without added thiacloprid. Barmentlo: ‘We saw dramatic declines in all the species groups studied, such as dragonflies, beetles and caddisflies. Both in absolute numbers and in total biomass. In the most extreme scenario, the diversity of the most species-rich group, the dance flies, even dropped to a single species.’
Consequences for the whole ecosystem
And that while all these insects have an important role in their ecosystem. For example, they serve as food for many insect-eating bird species. Previously, other researchers had already discovered that these bird species occur in lower numbers when there are more neonicotinoids in the water. Barmentlo: ‘So it is quite possible that these bird species suffer from a lack of insects, or in other words: food.’
Barmentlo calls the results alarming. ‘Given the urgency of the large-scale decline in insects, we think the mass use of these insecticides should be reconsidered. In the EU, the use of thiacloprid was banned last year, but not yet in other parts of the world. In order to protect freshwater insects and all the life that depends on them, we must stop using these neonicotinoides as soon as possible.’
S. Henrik Barmentlo, Maarten Schrama, Geert R. de Snoo, Peter M. van Bodegom, Andre van Nieuwenhuiȷzen, Martina G. Vijver; Experimental evidence for neonicotinoid driven decline in aquatic emerging insects, PNAS, 2021 Vol. 118, No. 44.
From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):
Moving water from mountain reservoirs to household taps is never easy. For the next several months, Denver Water will be doing it with the equivalent of one hand tied behind its back.
A series of major maintenance and construction projects will require Denver Water to, essentially, shut down the entire north side of its collection, delivery and treatment system, and rely wholly on the southern end to supply 1.5 million people with water as the utility heads into the colder seasons.
The work has required a Colorado Ballet level of choreography to move water around the system months in advance in preparation for a rare set of circumstances.
“Shifting all that water here and there, it’s a lot to keep straight, a lot to think about, a lot to juggle,” said Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water. “And it all comes on top of watching the weather to see what it might — or might not — bring us as far as precipitation.”
Denver Water is conducting several projects that required the utility to turn off the spigot on its north side supply system late this summer. Those include:
Replacing a massive grate at the bottom of Gross Dam that prevents heavy debris from finding its way into the pipes and valves that calibrate water releases at the base of the dam. The project is so complex it requires specially trained diving crews working hundreds of feet under the reservoir surface. Replacing concrete at the Moffat Canal near the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel. The freeze-thaw cycle at 9,200 feet has taken a toll and allowed for water to seep underneath concrete and create the potential for damaging erosion. Repairing deteriorated concrete within the Moffat Tunnel caused by years of scour within the tunnel. Replacing key structures at Ralston Reservoir along Highway 93 near Golden. The work to replace equipment that regulates the way water is carried through the dam will allow for safer operation of reservoir releases. Replacing that equipment requires draining the reservoir. A project to connect the emerging Northwater Treatment Plant to Denver Water’s distribution system. This work, the overarching reason for shutting down north side flows, also requires taking the existing Moffat Treatment Plant offline for modifications related to the Northwater connections.
All that north side work means Denver Water will have to rely almost fully on supplies from its southern end that gather water from the South Platte River as well as from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County.
This north side shutdown is even more complicated than the maneuverings required in the summer of 2020, when Denver Water had to undertake big shifts in how it moved water through its system due to repair work that closed the Roberts Tunnel for two months, closing off access to water from Dillon Reservoir.
That orchestration was hard enough. Planning for the current shutdown began months ago when engineers decided to coordinate several projects to contain the treatment and delivery disruptions to a single fall and winter cycle.
“Doing it this way made the most sense,” explained Jennifer Gelmini, a senior engineer at Denver Water who is coordinating the projects. “We realized we were going to have a long outage for the work needed for the Northwater plant connections and Moffat modifications and looked at how we could take advantage of this big shutdown and what other projects could fit into that timeframe.”
That plan made it critical to maintain as much water as possible in Dillon Reservoir to help with supplies in the late summer and fall, while also keeping levels high at Cheesman and Marston reservoirs so they can be relied on over the upcoming winter months.
Anglers and Sunday drivers may have noticed big flows in the North Fork of the South Platte River, too, in late summer, as the utility moved more water than usual from Dillon, through the Roberts Tunnel under the Continental Divide and into the North Fork. At times, late summer flows reached 450 cubic feet per second, compared to a more typical September flow of one-third that volume.
“We’ve been setting the stage on this for months,” Elder said. “Taking the north end out of the equation means we have to set up our southern end for all the heavy lifting for nearly an eight-month span. It’s a highly unusual and tricky undertaking.”
Ralston Reservoir near Golden must be drained completely to replace the outlet works at the base of the earthen dam. That reservoir holds nearly 11,000 acre-feet and will be out of commission until the beginning of runoff season in April 2022, creating a dramatic gap in Denver Water’s typical water delivery and treatment pattern.
Because the 84-year-old Moffat Treatment Plant also will be offline for that period, all the water treatment needs are pushed to the utility’s Marston and Foothills plants in the southwest side of the region.
Further complicating such an extended dance: Denver Water this summer had to release large volumes of water from two West Slope reservoirs (Williams Fork and Wolford Mountain) to make up for a water debt it owed on the other side of the Continental Divide.
While those releases weren’t tied to the projects on the north end, it was another factor water managers had to keep in mind as they ensured Denver Water met all its many obligations, both to its customers and to agreements related to Colorado River flows.
“This year has been unusual,” Elder said. “No year is ever the same in water supply, but between a pretty dry winter, then a wet spring and early summer, followed by another dry stretch as we try to set the system up for these construction projects, there were a lot of details to sweat.”
The good news: Come spring, a lot of key projects will be wrapped up, and water managers will once again have more flexibility to manage water between its north and south systems.
Just in time for spring runoff season.
From Colorado Politics (Sarah Jensen):
The soil beneath our feet has the power to be one of the greatest solutions to climate change, and local farmers in Colorado are harnessing it.
That’s right, the earth’s soil currently holds 2,500 gigatons of carbon , which is three times the amount that is in the atmosphere. However, conventional agriculture methods deplete the soil of the nutrients needed to sequester carbon, leading to a net release of carbon into the atmosphere. This is because conventional agriculture relies on pesticides, fertilizers, tilling and monocrops that degrade the soil and reduce its ability to hold carbon.
Our traditional agricultural system contributes to climate change, but there is hope coming from some local farmers in Colorado who are implementing sustainable techniques known as regenerative agriculture. This type of farming helps maximize a farm’s ability to sequester carbon by focusing on rebuilding the health of the soil, maximizing its water capacity and increasing the nutrient density of the crops. These techniques use the power of photosynthesis to pull carbon out of the air and could potentially sequester 1.85 gigatons of carbon per year — equal to the annual emissions from the global transportation sector.
To support healthy soils using regenerative agriculture, farmers use cover crops, crop rotations, and intercrops. The use of cover crops in the off-season helps to keep weeds at bay without the use of pesticides and adds nutrients to the soil when the land is not being used for crops. Crop rotation ensures the nutrients in the soil stay balanced because different plants provide and use different nutrients in the soil. And, intercrops allow the farmer to plant crops within and between other crops, which can help keep weeds under control and reduce the use of resources on the farm. Regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to managing the land, and farmers are continuing to find new, innovative ways to implement these methods.
Our Denver branch of the American Conservation Coalition has worked with two local farms — The Urban Farm and Cottonwood Farm — paving the way for regenerative agriculture in Colorado. These farmers are dedicated to sustainable practices, but the high up-front costs of switching from conventional to regenerative agriculture is still a significant obstacle. Farmers have to sacrifice a high crop yield in the beginning of this transition, and that is just not a viable option for most farmers who depend on their crop yield each year to sustain them financially.
The Urban Farm relies on volunteers to help soften the blow of these costs because the farmer can only afford to pay for one employee on the small farm. Cottonwood Farms chooses not to use volunteers because they need specialists, and volunteers can result in a net loss for their farm if the job is not done right. Both farms stay resilient in the face of these challenges because they are committed to a brighter agricultural future. Still, this industry needs more support if it is going to become commonplace.
Farmers who are switching over to regenerative agriculture need economic incentives to do so. The initial years after the switch can be difficult, and farmers cannot expect to receive their average yield as they restore the health of their soil. To support these farmers, we need to continue to find places in the market to provide an incentive for regenerative practices.
In Colorado, a few local governments have implemented a program called Restore Colorado that offers an optional 1% fee at participating restaurants that goes into a fund to support farmers that are making the switch. In addition, Cottonwood Farms received a grant from Boulder County that helped them buy tractors that support their regenerative agriculture methods. On a national level, the Growing Climate Solutions Act will create a market for sequestered carbon for farmers that are using regenerative agriculture. The farmers can sell their sequestered carbon to emitters that want to offset their emissions.
Farmers are taking the initiative to protect our environment despite their challenges, and we need to support them. I’m attending COP26 as a climate activist this year, and I plan to use my voice to advocate for natural climate solutions such as regenerative agriculture that I see right in my own back yard.
Sarah Jensen is a master’s student at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the branch leader of the American Conservation Coalition’s (ACC) Denver branch.
Click here to read the paper (C. Dionisio Pérez-Blanco, Adam Loch, Frank Ward, Chris Perry, and David Adamson). Here’s the abstract:
A zombie idea is one that has been repeatedly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should have died, but clings to life for reasons that are difficult to understand without further investigation. The perception that investments in modern irrigation systems automatically save water constitutes a zombie idea. On face value, most would accept that modernizing irrigation systems makes sense: agriculture represents 70% of global water withdrawals while physical irrigation efficiencies range between 25-50% worldwide—that is, most of the water entering the irrigation system never makes it to the targeted crop. However, the impacts of modern irrigation systems are complex, and as we show, usually have the opposite effect to that intended through altered cropping and water application decisions by farmers that aggravate water scarcity. This paper investigates how this zombie idea forms; why it persists, even when proven wrong by scientific evidence; and how to overcome it.
From The Colorado Sun (Mark Jaffe):
The mobile observatory is manned by 100 scientists who hope to show how the West can get a better handle on where and when water will be available
Eight white shipping containers, instruments spouting from the tops of some and a generator humming away in another, sit in the East River valley, on the outskirts of this mountain town, pulling data out of the air.
The containers, a “mobile atmospheric observatory,” will gather bits of information over the next two years about the winds and clouds and rain and snow and heat and cold above the silvery and serpentine waterway as it slides past the gray granite dome of Gothic Mountain on its way to the Colorado River.
“It is like a satellite, but on the ground looking up,” said Heath Powers, who oversees the atmospheric observatory program operated by the U.S. Department of Energy. “It’s a traveling scientific carnival.”
Traveling, indeed. The last assignment for the observatory, now in the old mining town of Gothic, 9 miles north of Crested Butte, was on the deck of a German research vessel icebound in the Arctic…
The observatory, while in demand all over the world, is the centerpiece in an unprecedented effort to understand how — and how much — water moves from the sky to the rivers of the West. Three separate teams, nearly 100 scientists in all, are in the East River valley studying every facet of the question.
The researchers are employing an equally large array of instruments, from balloons to drones to aircraft to multiple kinds of radar to cloud chambers and flux sensors to stream gauges and rain buckets.
The goal is to better understand the “water story” so that water managers across the West can, from year to year, have a better handle on how much water will be available.
The Western United States has always relied on water resources that come from these rugged mountain systems,” said Dan Feldman, the principal researcher for the project using the mobile observatory.
Those systems, however, are not well understood, hobbling forecasting. “We know the list of physical, chemical and biological processes that affect water,” Feldman said. “The question is how do they fit together?”
It is more than just a theoretical question. As the climate changes, and the world gets warmer, the Rocky Mountain snowpack, which provides 75% of the water for the Colorado River Basin, has already declined by a fifth in the past 30 years and by 2050 the flow of the river, supplying water to 40 million people, could drop by as much as 20%…
And so, Feldman is leading a group of scientists in the Surface Integrated Atmosphere Laboratory project (SAIL), while Gijs de Boer, is heading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Study of Precipitation, the Lower Atmosphere and Surface for Hydrometeorology (SPLASH).
Both are seeking to better understand the atmospheric dynamics — clouds and rain, wind and snow…
Can studying a single, small watershed — with measurements from the size of raindrops to the amount of water finding its way deep into bedrock — tell the tale for the 1,450-mile-long Colorado River and its 246,000-square-mile basin?
“The East River shares characteristics with the vast majority of headwaters in the Rocky Mountains,” Williams said. “What we are learning in the East River will be translatable to other mountain systems.”
The switch was flipped on at DOE’s mobile observatory Sept. 1 and it will gather data through the next seven seasons…
Overseeing the operation is John Bilberry, 43, the lead project manager for SAIL. “I run the circus,” he said. Bilberry was with the mobile observatory in the Arctic (he had to hitch a ride on a Russian icebreaker to get there) and got stranded onboard by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic…
SAIL, which is being run under the auspices of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has deployed about 50 different instruments, some on the roofs or inside the shipping containers, some on valley hillsides.
The project also releases weather balloons twice a day and has a larger tethered balloon with an array of instruments that will be trucked around the watershed.
Those devices will gather detailed data on eight elements that affect the water cycle: the fine particles floating in the air called aerosols, clouds, rain and snow and the winds that drive them, sunlight, thermal energy and temperatures.
The total sky imager is tracking the horizontal distribution of clouds, microwave radiometers are measuring the water content of those clouds, doppler lidar radar is gauging the direction and speed of the wind, and a nephelometer is measuring the behavior of aerosols…
Other instruments will log ozone levels, the water content of falling snow, how much snowpack is lost to evaporation (known as sublimation) and the surface energy balance — heat coming in from the sun and that radiating back into the air.
Every hour a bank of computers, linked to the sensors, collects all the data and uploads it to the internet for use by SAIL and researchers around the world. “It is a virtual machine,” Bilberry said…
Fitting the data into a big picture will be a challenge as the behavior of any one element can be complex.
Aerosols, for example, can, in the form of soot, warm the air, while sulfate aerosols can cool it. Dust covering the snowpack leads to a quicker melt. Aerosols create the nucleus around which moisture in the air forms rain and snow. Too little aerosol, no rain, too much and the moisture is disbursed and again there is no rain or snow, until it builds up and leads to really heavy downpours or snows.
“Aerosols have all these different effects that they are exerting on these mountainous watersheds,” Feldman said. “Aerosols are impacting the way water is delivered downstream.”
While SAIL efforts are centered in Gothic, NOAA’s SPLASH gear will be arrayed over more than 10 miles and will be focused on gathering data to help improve the administration’s forecasting tools.
These include the Unified Forecast System, which makes up to 14-day forecasts, the Rapid Refresh Forecast System, which provides hourly updates, and the National Water Model, which predicts stream flows.
“SPLASH was born out of a desire to build upon SAIL and tune things to be more specific to NOAA needs,” said de Boer, a University of Colorado researcher who works at NOAA. “That has turned into a very significant investment from NOAA.”
The project is being led by NOAA’s Physical Science Laboratory in Boulder and CU, in collaboration with about a dozen other institutions, including Colorado State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Among SPLASH’s installations will be a 33-foot tower to measure winds, turbulence, radiation and temperatures. It will also deploy three drones to measure things such as soil moisture and snow reflectivity…
Some water near Gothic has been underground for 2,000 years
On a late summer morning, the SFA’s Williams was up on Snodgrass Mountain drilling a deep well into the mountaintop — SAIL’s white shipping containers could be glimpsed down below.
Granite dust billowed from the hole as the drill pounded away searching for groundwater.
Williams, a Berkeley Laboratory geologist, has drilled wells across the East River valley — into the shale beneath Aspen forests, the loose landslide deposits of Alpine meadows and hard granite of conifer forests — in search of groundwater.
That mixture of granite, shale and soils from mountainside erosion, and the spruce, aspen and evergreen forests, along with Alpine meadow sitting atop them, is a terrain widely shared by Rocky Mountain watersheds…
Williams’ wells have hit groundwater 15 to 20 feet below the surface, but in the well atop Snodgrass Mountain they found no water even at 300 feet. A dry hole. Williams lowered a borehole camera and found only fractures with seepage. Still, they are being monitored. “All data is useful data,” he said.
Once the water is found in a well, sensors are lowered to measure the soil moisture content at different depths. Samples are also taken for geochemical analysis, such as water dating. Some of the groundwater SFA has found has been down there for as long as 2,000 years.
Williams’ team of 55 scientists, buttressed by collaborators at universities around the country, is trying to write the last chapter in the mountain water story, how a mountainous watershed retains and releases water and how much actually gets to the river.
SFA researchers are trying to measure every drop from tree top to bedrock, down to the role microbes play…
Among the questions Watershed Function is trying to answer is how much of the precipitation is lost to trees and plants sucking it up. In one experiment flux meters have been attached to trees to chart the water flowing from roots to leaves and out as water vapor.
Another question is how much water ends up in aquifers and how long does it stay there? While snowpack runoff feeds the river in the spring, by late summer more than 50% of the East River’s flow is coming from ground water, Williams said.
All the SFA data is also being put up on the internet — so far 69 data sets containing millions of data points — although not by the hour.
Data for modeling for everything from next week’s weather to climate change
The tools for understanding the massive amounts of data being collected by the three projects are computer models that aim to reflect everything from how much water flows in a stream, to next week’s weather, to the future impact of climate change on the world.
The models, however, are vulnerable in two ways. First, they are based on assumptions about how the world works — how much water vegetation absorbs or how snow gathers on mountainsides — and then they are only as good as the data they crunch…
“There is a critical linkage between measurement and modeling,” Williams said. “The models need to be informed by the data being collected, to show they are anchored in reality.”
“It is data gathering not for the sake of data gathering, but to assure that our predictive models are as accurate as possible,” he said. Scientists call it “ground truthing.”
The data can aid in refining the assumptions and algorithms that run the model. “They can help improve our knowledge of the chemistry and physics of how the world works,” said Alejandro Flores, associate professor of geoscience at University of Idaho and a SAIL researcher focused on models.
Mountains have been particularly difficult to model…
SPLASH, de Boer said, is seeking a better understanding of the “physics of key processes,” such as sublimation of snow, snow crystals and rain-on-snow events, that govern how much water ends up in the river…
Those data and insights will be used to evaluate the performance of the Weather Service forecasting and other NOAA models.
Ultimately, the data and knowledge of chemical, biological and physical processes gleaned from the East River could inform the Earth Systems Models that project the world’s climate…
And it is not just a question of what happens in the West. Between 60% and 90% of the world’s water comes from mountainous watersheds. “Mountain environments are important and they are changing rapidly,” Flores said. “This is an important part of the world and it is important to focus on it.”