#Drought news (December 8, 2022): Areas of Moderate Drought (D1) were reduced in N.W. #Colorado in response to improving conditions from recent storms and above-normal #snowpack conditions including in the White-Yampa basins

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.

Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

This U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week saw an active storm pattern across much of the Western U.S. as well as another round of isolated heavy rainfall across portions of the South and Southeast. Out West, several rounds of Pacific moisture streamed into the region bringing heavy rains to the lower elevations of the Pacific Coast Ranges and snowfall to the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada, Klamath Mountains, Cascades, northern Great Basin, and the central and northern Rockies. For the multi-day storm event, the heaviest snowfall accumulations were observed in the Sierra Nevada where up to four feet was observed including at the Central Sierra Snow Lab, which reported a 7-day snowfall total of 48.8 inches. Moreover, the storms boosted basin-wide snow water equivalent (SWE) to well above normal levels in the Sierra Nevada drainage basins and basins across the Intermountain West and Pacific Northwest, according to the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) SNOTEL network. Along the Central California coast in the Santa Lucia Range (south of Monterey), 7-day rainfall accumulations ranged from 4 to 11+ inches—helping to reduce longer-term precipitation deficits (past 24 months) that ranged from 8 to 20+ inches after this week’s storms. In the Desert Southwest, locally heavy rainfall was observed in southern Arizona and west-central New Mexico in association with sub-tropical moisture that moved into the region on Saturday with isolated areas receiving 2 to 3+ inches of rain. The rainfall improved soil moisture levels and helped to boost precipitation totals during the past 12-month period to normal to above-normal levels across much of the southern portion of Arizona. In the Northern Plains, light snowfall (2 to 6 inches) was observed in the Dakotas and eastern Montana in addition to the passage of an Arctic front early this week, which dropped temperatures into the single digits in North Dakota. In the Midwest, a wintery mix of rain, freezing rain, and snow impacted southern Wisconsin while light-to-moderate snowfall accumulations (2 to 6 inches) were observed in Minnesota and Upper Peninsula Michigan. In the Interior Deep South, locally heavy showers (2-to-4-inch accumulations) brought some relief to drought-affected areas of northern Alabama and Georgia as well as southeastern Tennessee, and southwestern North Carolina. In the Northeast, light-to-moderate snowfall accumulations (1 to 4 inches) were observed last week with the heaviest accumulations in Upstate New York. In Maine and New Hampshire, strong winds and shower activity (1 to 2 inches) impacted the region last week causing power outages in areas of Maine. In the South and Southeast, locally heavy rainfall was observed across a west-to-east band extending from northern Mississippi to northern Georgia. The storms helped to reduce short-term precipitation deficits (past 30-60 days) in some areas and boosted streamflows and soil moisture to above-normal levels…

High Plains

On this week’s map, improvements were made in northwestern Colorado and Wyoming. In Wyoming, recent storms delivered beneficial snowfall to the Teton and Wind River ranges leading to reduction in areas of Moderate Drought (D1). Moreover, the drainage basins in those ranges, the Snake Headwaters and Upper Green, were reporting SWE percentage of median levels of 129% and 114%, respectively. Additionally, areas of Moderate Drought (D1) were reduced in northwestern Colorado in response to improving conditions from recent storms and above-normal snowpack conditions including in the White-Yampa Basin (122% of median). In Kansas, continued dry conditions led to minor expansion of areas of Extreme Drought (D3) and Exceptional Drought (D4) in western Kansas. Looking at the past 9-month period in the western half of Kansas, precipitation deficits ranged from 3 to 12+ inches. For the week, average temperatures were mainly below normal, with the greatest departures (10 to 15 deg F below normal) observed in North Dakota and north-central Wyoming. In terms of precipitation, the region was generally dry, although some significant mountain snowfall was observed in western Wyoming and in the Rockies of Colorado, while lesser accumulations were reported in areas of the Dakotas…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending December 6, 2022.


Out West, back-to-back storm systems delivered significant rainfall accumulations to the lower elevations of California, Oregon, and Washington as well as heavy mountains snows to the Sierra Nevada, Klamath Mountains, and areas of the Cascades. Moreover, moderate-to-heavy snowfall accumulations were observed in the ranges of the northern Great Basin and the central and northern Rockies. The beneficial rains from the storms led to some minor improvements on the map along the Central Coast of California where rainfall totals exceeded 10 inches in isolated areas of the Santa Lucia Range. Elsewhere in California, no changes were made on the map this week. However, some targeted improvements are likely next week after a more thorough assessment of the impact of the storms in juxtaposition to the significant longer-term precipitation deficits across the state. Nonetheless, California’s snowpack is off to a positive start with the California Cooperative Snow Surveys reporting (12/6) statewide SWE at 171% of normal, with the Northern Sierra at 156%, Central Sierra 160%, and Southern Sierra 203% of normal. In the Southwest, some improvements were made on the map in drought-affected areas in southern Arizona in response to this week’s round of subtropical moisture that delivered locally heavy rains—improving soil moisture and streamflow conditions. In the Intermountain West, improvements were made on the map in areas of Extreme Drought (D3) in central and eastern Nevada as well as in Utah where conditions have improved during the past 6-month period across various indicators including soil moisture, streamflows, shallow groundwater, and precipitation. In southwest Montana, recent snowfall and overall improving conditions on various drought metrics led to removal of areas of Moderate Drought (D1) on the map. For the week, the northern half of the region experienced cooler-than-normal temperatures (2 to 20 deg F below normal) with the greatest departures observed along the northern border with Canada…


In the South, improvements to drought-related conditions were made on the map in areas of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee in response to rainfall over the past 30-day period. Elsewhere, some minor degradations occurred in South Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. Across the western portion of the region, generally dry conditions prevailed, while the eastern half saw rainfall accumulations ranging from 1 to 4+ inches with the highest totals logged in northeastern Mississippi and southern Tennessee. Average temperatures for the week were generally above normal (1 to 10 deg F) with the greatest anomalies observed in the Trans Pecos region of Texas and along the central Gulf Coast Region. In contrast, eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee experienced average temperatures that were near to slightly below normal…

Looking Ahead

The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate-to-heavy precipitation accumulations (including heavy snowfall accumulations) ranging from 2 to 4+ inches (liquid) across much of the Cascades of Oregon and Washington, Klamath Mountains, Coast Ranges of Northern California, and the Sierra Nevada Range-similar to last week’s QPF for the West Coast region. In the Intermountain West, 1-to-2-inch (liquid) accumulations are expected in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, while lesser accumulations are expected in the Wasatch Range of Utah and the ranges of central and northern Idaho. Elsewhere in the conterminous U.S., another round of heavy precipitation accumulations is expected in Arkansas, southern Missouri, northern Mississippi, and eastern portions of Kentucky and Tennessee (3-to-5+-inches liquid). In areas of the Midwest and Northeast, accumulations are expected to be generally <1-inch. The CPC 6-10-day Outlooks call for a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal temperatures for the eastern half of the conterminous U.S. with near-normal temperatures across much of the Plains states, while the Western U.S. is forecasted to be below normal. In terms of precipitation, above-normal precipitation is expected across most of the conterminous U.S. except for western Texas and areas of New Mexico.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending December 6, 2022.

Just for grins here’s a gallery of US Drought Monitor maps for early December for the past few years.

Officials fear ‘complete doomsday scenario’ for drought-stricken #ColoradoRiver — The Washington Post #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Click the link to read the article on The Washington Post website (Joshua Partlow). Here’s an excerpt:

The first sign of serious trouble for the drought-strickenAmerican Southwest could be a whirlpool. It could happen if the surface of Lake Powell, a man-made reservoir along the Colorado River that’s already a quarter of its former size, drops another 38 feet down the concrete face of the 710-footGlen Canyon Dam here. At that point, the surface would be approaching the tops of eightunderwater openings that allow river water to pass through the hydroelectric dam. The normally placid Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir, could suddenly transform into something resembling a funnel, with water circling the openings,the dam’s operators say. If that happens,the massive turbines that generate electricity for 4.5 million people would have to shut down — after nearly 60 years of use —or risk destruction from air bubbles. The only outlet for Colorado River water from the damwould then be a set of smaller, deeper and rarely used bypass tubes with a far more limited ability to pass water downstream to the Grand Canyon and the cities and farms in Arizona, Nevada and California. Such an outcome — known as a “minimum power pool” — was once unfathomable here. Now, the federal government projects that day could come as soon as July.

The back of Glen Canyon Dam circa 1964, not long after the reservoir had begun filling up. Here the water level is above dead pool, meaning water can be released via the river outlets, but it is below minimum power pool, so water cannot yet enter the penstocks to generate electricity. Bureau of Reclamation photo.

Worse, officials warn, is the remote possibility of an even more catastrophic event. That is if the water level falls all the way to the lowest holes, so only small amounts could pass through the dam. Such a scenario — called “dead pool” — would transform Glen Canyon Dam from something that regulates an artery of national importance into a hulking concrete plug corking the Colorado River. Anxiety about such outcomes has worsened this year as a long-running drought has intensified in the Southwest. Reservoirs and groundwater supplies across the region have fallen dramatically, and states and cities have faced restrictions on water use amid dwindling supplies. The Colorado River, which serves roughly 1 in 10 Americans, is the region’s most important waterway.

On the way to such dire outcomes at Lake Powell — which federal officials have begun both planning for and working aggressively to avoid — scientists and dam operators say water temperatures in the Grand Canyon would hit a roller coaster, going frigid overnight and then heating up again, throwing the iconic ecosystem into turmoil. Lake Powell’s surface has already fallen 170 feet. Lucrative industries that attract visitors from around the world — the rainbow trout fishery above Lees Ferry, rafting trips through the Grand Canyon — would be threatened. And eventually the only water escaping to the Colorado River basin’s southern states and Mexico could be what flows into Lake Powell from the north and sloshes over the lip of the dam’s lowest holes.

How lawn replacement can help save the West from #drought — Western Resource Advocates

Xeriscape garden. Photo credit: Western Resource Advocates

Click the link to read the article on the Western Resource Advocates website (Lindsay Rogers):

Did you know that 50% of urban water is used outdoors? Most of this water is used to irrigate “non-functional” turf – meaning the only use is for aesthetics that could be achieved through other, lower water use means. One of the most impactful solutions WRA is driving helps municipalities, homeowners, and other property owners replace unnecessary, thirsty grass and lawns – also called “turf” in policy arenas – with low-water alternatives, such as native grasses and plants, trees, and shrubs.


  • Saves residents money. Lower water use means lower water bills and reducing the likelihood that utilities will need to invest in costly new water projects to meet demand.
  • Supports healthy ecosystems. Native landscaping supports local wildlife, pollinators, and the environment while better reflecting the landscapes around them. They can also reduce urban air pollution from lawn mowing and improve stormwater quality by reducing pesticide and fertilizer applications.
  • Uses less water and keep more water in rivers. Reducing water use at the municipal level takes pressure off our rivers and streams.
  • Increases water security and resilience to climate change. Improving water conservation will help communities adapt to lower water supplies.


The rivers that sustain our communities and environment – from the Colorado to the Rio Grande and the Gunnison to the Gila – are overtaxed due to climate change, multi-year drought, and decades of overuse. Additionally, as flows in the Colorado River and water levels in major Western reservoirs become further depleted – Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the largest reservoirs in the region, are at their lowest levels on record – there is a high likelihood in the coming years that the Colorado River system will collapse, generating a crisis across the West.

This means that local municipalities have a real water security problem. Water demand in communities across the region already outpaces available supply, and this only will get worse as climate change intensifies. WRA is developing and implementing innovative policies and programs that help communities live within their water means while getting rivers back into balance.


While Western states are among the driest in the country, irrigated turf – think lush, green lawns – has been ubiquitous in many communities across the region, from front yards to sprawling office parks to roadway medians. Much of this grass is not used but requires a large amount of water. In fact, non-functional landscape irrigation makes up more than half of water use in the West. In Colorado, where I live, outdoor water use accounts for 38% of all municipal demand each year. Most of this outdoor water use is dedicated to landscaping and irrigated grass. With the growing impacts on the Colorado River, this is water the region cannot afford to waste.

Replacing grass and lawns is a key part of increasing community resilience to climate change, improving water security, and adapting to a present and future with less water. In other words, turning the sprinklers off will help cities keep the taps on. While many municipalities have had success conserving water through strategies such as requiring low-flow toilets and showers and more water-efficient home appliances, further conservation is needed in the urban sector.

Outdoor water conservation is particularly important because, unlike indoor water use, outdoor water is largely consumptive, meaning it evaporates or is used by the plant and cannot be reused down the line. Switching from grass to low-water plants is the next low-hanging fruit that will help municipalities stretch increasingly limited water supplies over the coming decades.

Additionally, one of the best parts about replacing thirsty grass is that anyone can play a role: An individual homeowner, a large business, a city, or an entire state. By swapping a traditional lawn with drought-proof landscaping, we can help save 50% or more in outdoor water use.


As more local communities seek opportunities to replace high-water use grass, WRA is designing, advocating for, and implementing policies and programs to support their efforts. In 2022, WRA helped develop legislation creating the first state-wide turf replacement program in Colorado and advocated for a similar program in Utah. These voluntary programs will ensure every property owner in the state can access financial resources to replace their lawn with drought-tolerant, sustainable alternatives. We’re also supporting municipalities, like the city of Aurora in Colorado, with crafting effective local water-saving ordinances that meet their unique needs, such as banning new golf courses or restricting lawns in new developments. This builds on WRA’s years of work helping municipalities integrate water into land use planning, ensuring that growth and development are efficient and water smart.

The region is moving in the right direction on lawns. A growing number of Western water providers are creating and advocating for programs that encourage their customers to swap underutilized grassy areas for waterwise landscaping. In Colorado, 22 utilities — including Castle Rock and Fort Collins — provide customers with rebates for replacing water-thirsty plants with low- or no-water alternatives. In Utah, more than a dozen municipalities participate in the Flip Your Strip program, which encourages residents to remove park-strip grass in their front yard and replace it with waterwise landscaping. The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), which serves Las Vegas and other areas of the state, has perhaps the most successful lawn replacement program in the country. SNWA’s cash for grass program has saved nearly 467,000 acre-feet of water, which is 167,000 acre-feet more than the amount of Colorado River water that the entire state of Nevada has the right to use each year. SNWA shows that, when implemented at large scale, grass replacement efforts can serve as vital water supply infrastructure — the same as pipes, tanks, and reservoirs.


WRA envisions a future where Western communities showcase beautiful native landscaping reflective of our region that provide all the benefits of grass with a fraction of the water. To be sustainable, communities will need to reflect the water and climate reality we now have, as well as the open spaces that surround them.

Replacing non-functional grass with waterwise landscaping will look different across our states and communities. In Arizona, a grassy highway median could be transformed with saguaros and beargrass. In Colorado, a front lawn could have pops of color with purple gayfeather, yellow rabbitbrush, and blue flax. In New Mexico, orange sunset hyssop and green agave could grow alongside a small, low water buffalo grass lawn in a backyard. Drought-resistant landscaping that occurs naturally in the Western region encompasses an extraordinary range and depth of plants, trees, shrubs, and other flora, from native grasses to fields of wildflowers to large shade trees, that mirror the unique ecosystems of each state.

Turf replacement. Photo credit: Western Resource Advocates

There is still, however, a role for grass in our communities. Playgrounds, parks, sports fields, and reasonably sized backyards all provide valuable benefits and should be prioritized. These types of spaces provide important community functions. Replacing all non-functional grass allows communities to better maintain turf spaces that are meant for all to enjoy. Replacing or reducing the size of lawns creates an opportunity to prioritize limited water for trees. A healthy tree canopy is vital to combat urban heat island, reduce power bills, and shade yards, which further reduces water needs for plants.

When it comes to the impacts of drought and climate change on the Colorado River, replacing lawns and non-functional grass must happen alongside other large-scale conservation efforts, such as boosting use of recycled water and enabling water from retired coal plants to flow back into rivers. Major water users throughout the basin, including agricultural producers, will also need to do their part to reduce use through a variety of temporary and permanent means.


Western communities need to do more – and faster – to improve their water security through expanding turf replacement programs and promoting waterwise landscaping. WRA is instrumental in supporting local governments by:

  • Pushing for additional, local lawn replacement policies and programs while increasing funding for current statewide programs in Colorado and Utah;
  • Partnering with municipalities to develop local ordinances, local codes, and improved land use and water planning to reduce non-functional turfgrass in new development and redevelopment;
  • Partnering with water utilities to develop and expand grass replacement programs;
  • Providing input on state water plans to make sure they include and prioritize grass replacement in urban conservation efforts;
  • And encouraging more waterwise training and certification opportunities for landscape and irrigation professionals.

In addition to doubling down on grass replacement programs and policies across the West, important shifts are needed to ensure success. First, programs need more dedicated funding. Lawn replacement programs, particularly at the municipal level, are incredibly popular but quickly run out of funding. States, municipalities, and water utilities need to set aside adequate funds for these programs so anyone who is interested can participate and programs can scale to maximize their impact. Water providers, city planners, and local elected officials interested in financing programs can find resources in WRA’s white paper: Financing the Future: How to Pay for Turf Replacement in Colorado.

Additionally, landscaping professionals should focus more training and industry knowledge around caring for native and low-water plants, while ensuring there is plant availability to meet growing consumer demand. Although more residents are converting their thirsty lawns to waterwise gardens, we still have a long way to go in transforming our landscapes and we need everyone involved. Increasing financial incentives, providing additional support, and offering educational resources for homeowners and other property owners will go a long way.


In the face of climate change and a growing population, communities across the West must do more to make every drop of water count. Swapping underutilized and high-water-use grass is a key part of the solution with multiple benefits, from increasing water security and reducing water bills to supporting healthy, flowing rivers. States and municipalities must prioritize creating and growing lawn replacement programs in urban areas to improve their climate resilience and protect water users.

If you want to see more waterwise landscaping opportunities in your community, take action! You can contact your local elected officials, like city council members and state representatives, as well as your water utility to tell them you want more lawn replacement programs where you live. You can also help protect rivers while showing your neighbors what a waterwise garden can look like by transforming your own lawn. There are many resources to help you get started, depending on where you live, including:

EPA expects to finish residential cleanup of #Colorado Smelter Superfund Site by spring 2024 — The #Pueblo Chieftain

Colorado Smelter Site and Area Neigborhoods. Credit: EPA

Click the link to read the article on The Pueblo Chietain website (James Bartolo). Here’s an excerpt:

With soil sampling 98% complete at the Colorado Smelter Superfund Site, the Environmental Protection Agency seeks to finish its residential cleanup by spring 2024, if not sooner.

Since 2015, the EPA has conducted outdoor soil and indoor dust samplings of lead and arsenic levels at residences near the former Colorado Smelter. When samples taken from residences show harmful levels of contaminants, the properties are then earmarked for EPA cleanup.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA’s progress on dust sampling has trailed behind its soil sampling efforts. The agency has sampled dust at 73% of the properties it’s targeted in Pueblo’s Bessemer, Eilers and Grove neighborhoods.

As of Oct. 28, about 44% of the 1,833 properties that have received soil sampling have required cleanup, according to the EPA, as have about 36% of the 1,361 dust-sampled properties.

#LaNiña? … Is that you?: #Aridification Watch — @Land_Desk #CRWUA2022 #ENSO

While most of the West remains in some stage of drought, the situation is markedly improved over a year ago—especially in parts of the Southwest—despite the La Niña phenomenon that tends to result in a warmer, drier weather in the southern part of the region. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan P. Thompson):

The meteorological winter has only just begun, and the 2023 water year is a mere two months old, so it’s probably too early to be talking about snowpack and precipitation trends. But I’m going to do it anyway because things are getting kind of interesting. 

As I’ve noted before, La Niña has returned for a third consecutive winter, a rare occurrence. La Niña strengthens the trade winds along the equator, pushing warm Pacific Ocean water away from South America’s west coast, which then causes cool water to upswell to the surface to replace the warmer waters. This pushes the jet stream northward, bringing drier conditions to the Southwest and moisture and cold to the Northwest. 

At least that’s what usually happens. 

So far, though, Western weather hasn’t always followed the rules. What else is new, right? For example: 

  • The snowpack in the Upper Colorado River watershed is currently just above the median for this time of year, and is quite a bit healthier than on this date in 2021 and 2022—also La Niña years. If current trends continue through the winter it should buoy levels at Lake Powell, or at least keep them from declining so rapidly. Currently the reservoir’s surface is at about 3,527 feet above sea level. On the one hand, that’s 14 feet below what it was at this time last year, which is not so great. On the other hand, levels have held fairly steady since late September thanks in part to a wet fall. 
  • Southern Arizona experienced its 16th driest November on record, which fits the La Niña pattern. But it was also the coolest November since 2004, in defiance of the pattern. Go figure. 
  • As if to rub it in, Phoenix, which had a pretty healthy monsoon this summer, just experienced its wettest day in almost a year, receiving .76 inches of rain over a 24-hour period. Tucson, meanwhile, received .69 inches of rain during the first week of December, nearly five times the normal amount for the entire month. 
  • The rains apparently hammered southwestern New Mexico, as well, as streams and rivers there swelled up to levels usually only seen during summer thunderstorms. The Blue River in Clifton, Arizona, shot up from about 20 cubic feet per second to almost 3,500 cfs in a matter of hours, setting a new high for 2022. Also:
  • Meanwhile, the Northwest is cool and wet, just as one would expect during a La Niña year. A scan of SNOTEL stations in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana show some stations have more than twice the usual snowpack for this time of year.

Still, the winter is young, and things could change radically. Last winter started out dry in much of Colorado, for example, leading to the late December Marshall Fire near Boulder that wiped out 1,000 homes. Then some monster storms came, forcing everyone to reassess. Then the dryness returned. This year, forecasters are expecting La Niña to mellow or disappear by early spring, so maybe things will return to normal. Whatever that means.

Sounds of Silence: Extinction Is Erasing the Earth’s Music: Writer Kathleen Dean Moore turns her ear to nature’s sounds and what we’re losing as species disappear — The Revelator

A Marsh wren defending its territory in mid-song at Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds, Marin County, CA. Photo: Doug Greenberg, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Click the link to read the article on The Revelator website (Tara Lohan):

What does a biodiversity crisis sound like? You may need to strain your ears to hear it.

In the past 50 years, America’s bird populations have fallen by a third, and worldwide the average mammal population has dropped 60%, writes acclaimed environmental philosopher and nature writer Kathleen Dean Moore in her new collection of essays, Earth’s Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World

And with all that loss comes an unsettling silence.

“Unless the world acts to stop extinctions, I will write my last nature essay on a planet that is less than half as song-graced and life-drenched as the one where I began to write,” she explains in the book’s preface. “My grandchildren will tear out half the pages in their field guides. They won’t need them.”

Her book uses sound as a reference point to better understand what we stand to lose as extinction rates climb higher. But the essays are also a celebration of the natural world’s chorus and the joy of learning to hear what’s still there.

The essays are also being set to music in a series for Oregon State’s Spring Creek Project that will feature 20 4-minute-long concerts combining live musical performance with excerpts from Earth’s Wild Music.

“I’ve never been so excited about a project in my life,” Moore tells us. “It combines everything I care about with the cause that I believe in more than anything else.”

The Revelator spoke to Moore about the moral stakes of our environmental crisis, what it’s like to find a truly quiet place to listen, and what we lose as wild songs disappear.

You’ve been writing about nature for 50 years. During that time our environmental problems have become graver. Has this changed how you approach your work?

At first I was a celebrant. I believed Mary Oliver when she said, “My work is loving the world … which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.” And that went along fine for years and years, but then it became clear that what I was writing celebrations of were disappearing.

I was right in the midst of an essay on frog song, and bulldozers came and took away the marsh and put in a condominium. I was writing about a bald eagle nest, and the nest — and the tree it was in — burned to the ground in a forest fire. So it was starting to become clear to me that I was going to have to do more than celebrate. I was going to have to demonstrate. I was going to have to protect. I was going to have to defend the natural world.

Why did you decide to focus this collection on sound?

I started thinking about how I could open people’s hearts without breaking them. How I could point to the onrushing extinctions and not force people to turn away in absolute grief. I decided that I was going to have to write in a way that was like a wave — I would lift people and smash them at the same time.

What is it that reaches people without breaking them? What is it that goes straight into people’s hearts? What do they love about the world and will call them to action?

I decided that of all the things I loved about the world, what I loved the most was the music. What I loved the most was the sound. I’ve been writing about this for quite some time, so I had a couple of essays already under my belt, and I couldn’t think of a more wonderful writing assignment for myself then to go outside and listen.

Nature may be getting quieter. But people are getting louder. How is our noise affecting wildlife?

We are deafening. Noise that we create is causing extraordinary harm to the creatures. Think about the pain caused to the whales from the exploratory thudding of those machines that go through the ocean and stamp to try to find oil.

Think about the meadowlarks that lived in the fracking fields and had to endure endless noise of drilling and trucks. And as a result, the songs of the meadowlarks are fractured and abbreviated. They haven’t been able to hear their parents well enough to imitate them.

Many of us may be out of practice at listening. In fact, a lot of folks walk around with earphones on so we can’t hear what’s around us. How do we get better at both listening to and understanding the sounds of nature?

Listening is an art that we should practice because it does two things. It makes us shut up and it makes us open up. We stop listening just to the songs of “me, me, me”. When we set aside our own stories, it opens us up so we can listen to the stories of other beings. It’s a skill of empathy, isn’t it? Listening to other people’s stories and other creatures’ sounds is a way of understanding the world from their point of view. It’s a moral training.

When it comes to understanding what we hear, Rachel Carson, who wrote Silent Spring, and cared so much about bird song, took pains to tell us that it doesn’t matter if we know the names of what we see. That comes later. But the first thing that has to happen is love.

So I’m not so concerned about knowing which bird is calling. I’m surrounded by people who could do that in a majestic way. My husband can identify birds by their call. My neighbor can. I think it’s a beautiful skill that I don’t have.

But I do have the ability to catch a song. To hear it, which isn’t nothing. It can catch my attention and I can seek it out and I can listen to it. Knowing its name — maybe that’s not so important as knowing its tune.

How are people affected by this loss of nature’s song, and what’s the importance of preserving silent places where we can still experience what’s left?

We lose joy. Let’s face it — the sounds of the natural world are beautiful and they make us happy. I think we also lose a connection to the world around us.

In the book, I write about going with acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton to One Square Inch of Silence, a small spot in Olympic National Park [possibly the quietest place in the United States]. It was a wonderful experience. At the time, we were in pouring rain. Nature itself was cacophonous, but we didn’t hear a human sound for 20 minutes, which is the definition in Gordon’s mind of a quiet place.

Gordon now is recording in a jungle somewhere that can only be reached by canoeing down a wild river, because it’s one of the last places on Earth he can find that’s silent.

He’s famous for these recordings called the Dawn Chorus that captured the outpouring of bird song that’s triggered by morning light. But he couldn’t do that anymore, because that music box is broken. We’re in the process of wrecking what we should be treasuring.

It’s hard to find a balance between grief and celebration. But you know, people often ask me, “What can one person do?” And I say, “Stop being one person.”

You don’t have to do it all. Other people are working all around the world on the same causes you believe in. Find them, join up with them. You’ll find your place in the choir.  [Author and teacher] Joanna Macy says to choose what you love and devote yourself to it. That, she says, is enough.

Earth can regulate its own temperature over millennia, new study finds: Scientists have confirmed that a “stabilizing feedback” on 100,000-year timescales keeps global temperatures in check — MIT News

A study by MIT researchers confirms that the planet harbors a “stabilizing feedback” mechanism that acts over hundreds of thousands of years to pull the climate back from the brink, keeping global temperatures within a steady, habitable range. Credits: Image: Christine Daniloff, MIT; NASA

Click the link to read the release on the MIT News website (Jennifer Chu):

The Earth’s climate has undergone some big changes, from global volcanism to planet-cooling ice ages and dramatic shifts in solar radiation. And yet life, for the last 3.7 billion years, has kept on beating.

Now, a study by MIT researchers in Science Advances confirms that the planet harbors a “stabilizing feedback” mechanism that acts over hundreds of thousands of years to pull the climate back from the brink, keeping global temperatures within a steady, habitable range.

Just how does it accomplish this? A likely mechanism is “silicate weathering” — a geological process by which the slow and steady weathering of silicate rocks involves chemical reactions that ultimately draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into ocean sediments, trapping the gas in rocks.

Scientists have long suspected that silicate weathering plays a major role in regulating the Earth’s carbon cycle. The mechanism of silicate weathering could provide a geologically constant force in keeping carbon dioxide — and global temperatures — in check. But there’s never been direct evidence for the continual operation of such a feedback, until now.

The new findings are based on a study of paleoclimate data that record changes in average global temperatures over the last 66 million years. The MIT team applied a mathematical analysis to see whether the data revealed any patterns characteristic of stabilizing phenomena that reined in global temperatures on a  geologic timescale.

They found that indeed there appears to be a consistent pattern in which the Earth’s temperature swings are dampened over timescales of hundreds of thousands of years. The duration of this effect is similar to the timescales over which silicate weathering is predicted to act.

The results are the first to use actual data to confirm the existence of a stabilizing feedback, the mechanism of which is likely silicate weathering. This stabilizing feedback would explain how the Earth has remained habitable through dramatic climate events in the geologic past.

“On the one hand, it’s good because we know that today’s global warming will eventually be canceled out through this stabilizing feedback,” says Constantin Arnscheidt, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). “But on the other hand, it will take hundreds of thousands of years to happen, so not fast enough to solve our present-day issues.”

The study is co-authored by Arnscheidt and Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics at MIT.

Stability in data

Scientists have previously seen hints of a climate-stabilizing effect in the Earth’s carbon cycle: Chemical analyses of ancient rocks have shown that the flux of carbon in and out of Earth’s surface environment has remained relatively balanced, even through dramatic swings in global temperature. Furthermore, models of silicate weathering predict that the process should have some stabilizing effect on the global climate. And finally, the fact of the Earth’s enduring habitability points to some inherent, geologic check on extreme temperature swings.

“You have a planet whose climate was subjected to so many dramatic external changes. Why did life survive all this time? One argument is that we need some sort of stabilizing mechanism to keep temperatures suitable for life,” Arnscheidt says. “But it’s never been demonstrated from data that such a mechanism has consistently controlled Earth’s climate.”

Arnscheidt and Rothman sought to confirm whether a stabilizing feedback has indeed been at work, by looking at data of global temperature fluctuations through geologic history. They worked with a range of global temperature records compiled by other scientists, from the chemical composition of ancient marine fossils and shells, as well as preserved Antarctic ice cores.

“This whole study is only possible because there have been great advances in improving the resolution of these deep-sea temperature records,” Arnscheidt notes. “Now we have data going back 66 million years, with data points at most thousands of years apart.”

Speeding to a stop

To the data, the team applied the mathematical theory of stochastic differential equations, which is commonly used to reveal patterns in widely fluctuating datasets.

“We realized this theory makes predictions for what you would expect Earth’s temperature history to look like if there had been feedbacks acting on certain timescales,” Arnscheidt explains.

Using this approach, the team analyzed the history of average global temperatures over the last 66 million years, considering the entire period over different timescales, such as tens of thousands of years versus hundreds of thousands, to see whether any patterns of stabilizing feedback emerged within each timescale.

“To some extent, it’s like your car is speeding down the street, and when you put on the brakes, you slide for a long time before you stop,” Rothman says. “There’s a timescale over which frictional resistance, or a stabilizing feedback, kicks in, when the system returns to a steady state.”

Without stabilizing feedbacks, fluctuations of global temperature should grow with timescale. But the team’s analysis revealed a regime in which fluctuations did not grow, implying that a stabilizing mechanism reigned in the climate before fluctuations grew too extreme. The timescale for this stabilizing effect — hundreds of thousands of years — coincides with what scientists predict for silicate weathering.

Interestingly, Arnscheidt and Rothman found that on longer timescales, the data did not reveal any stabilizing feedbacks. That is, there doesn’t appear to be any recurring pull-back of global temperatures on timescales longer than a million years. Over these longer timescales, then, what has kept global temperatures in check?

“There’s an idea that chance may have played a major role in determining why, after more than 3 billion years, life still exists,” Rothman offers.

In other words, as the Earth’s temperatures fluctuate over longer stretches, these fluctuations may just happen to be small enough in the geologic sense, to be within a range that a stabilizing feedback, such as silicate weathering, could periodically keep the climate in check, and more to the point, within a habitable zone.

“There are two camps: Some say random chance is a good enough explanation, and others say there must be a stabilizing feedback,” Arnscheidt says. “We’re able to show, directly from data, that the answer is probably somewhere in between. In other words, there was some stabilization, but pure luck likely also played a role in keeping Earth continuously habitable.”

This research was supported, in part, by a MathWorks fellowship and the National Science Foundation.