A World Without Bees? Here’s What Happens If Bees Go Extinct: Assessing our chances of survival without the prodigious pollinator — NRDC #ActOnClimate

Bad for bees, bad for people? @bberwyn photo.

Click the link to read the article on the NRDC website (Brian Palmer):

There was more bad news on the honeybee front last week. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that honeybee losses in managed colonies—the kind that beekeepers rent out to farmers—hit 42 percent this year.

That number grabbed most of the headlines, but there was more troublesome data below the fold. The magic number in beekeeping is 18.7 percent. Population losses below that level are sustainable; lose any more, though, and the colony is heading toward zero. A startling two-thirds of beekeepers in the USDA survey reported losses above the threshold, suggesting that the pollination industry is in trouble.

For the first time, the USDA reported more losses in summer than winter. Experts can’t explain the reversal—especially since the colony collapse disorder epidemic that peaked several years ago seems to have abated. The summer losses may have a single, unknown cause, or a group of known and intensifying causes, such as pesticides or mites.

Today the White House followed the USDA’s report with its long-awaited plan to help maintain and grow the pollinator population, including building pollinator gardens near federal buildings and restoring government-owned lands in ways that support bees. It’s a good first step.

Albert Einstein is sometimes quoted as saying, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” It’s highly unlikely that Einstein said that. For one thing, there’s no evidence of him saying it. For another, the statement is hyperbolic and wrong (and Einstein was rarely wrong). But there is a kernel of truth in the famous misquote.

Bees and Agriculture

Bees and humans have been through a lot together. People began keeping bees as early as 20,000 BCE, according to the late and eminent melittologist Eva Crane. (Yes, someone who studies bees is a melittologist.) To put that length of time into perspective, the average global temperature 22,000 years ago was more than 35 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than today, and ice sheets covered large parts of North America. Beekeeping probably predates the dawn of agriculture, which occurred about 12,000 years ago, and likely made farming possible.

How important are bees to farming today? If you ask 10 reporters that question, you’ll get 11 answers. Some stories say that bees pollinate more than two-thirds of our most important crops, while others say it’s closer to one-third. A spread of that size indicates a lack of authoritative scholarship on the subject. My review of the literature suggests the same.

The most thorough and informative study came back in 2007, when an international team of agricultural scholars reviewed the importance of animal pollinators, including bees, to farming. Their results could encourage both the alarmists and the minimizers in the world of bee observation. The group found that 87 crops worldwide employ animal pollinators, compared to only 28 that can survive without such assistance. Since honeybees are by consensus the most important animal pollinators, those are scary numbers.

Look at the data differently, though, and it’s clear why the misattributed Einstein quote is a bit of an exaggeration. Approximately 60 percent of the total volume of food grown worldwide does not require animal pollination. Many staple foods, such as wheat, rice, and corn, are among those 28 crops that require no help from bees. They either self-pollinate or get help from the wind. Those foods make up a tremendous proportion of human calorie intake worldwide.

Even among the 87 crops that use animal pollinators, there are varying degrees of how much the plants need them. Only 13 absolutely require animal pollination, while 30 more are “highly dependent” on it. Production of the remaining crops would likely continue without bees with only slightly lower yields.

OK, So Can We Live Without Bees?

The truth is, if honeybees did disappear for good, humans would probably not go extinct (at least not solely for that reason). But our diets would still suffer tremendously. The variety of foods available would diminish, and the cost of certain products would surge. The California Almond Board, for example, has been campaigning to save bees for years. Without bees and their ilk, the group says, almonds “simply wouldn’t exist.” We’d still have coffee without bees, but it would become expensive and rare. The coffee flower is only open for pollination for three or four days. If no insect happens by in that short window, the plant won’t be pollinated.

There are plenty of other examples: apples, avocados, onions, and several types of berries rely heavily on bees for pollination. The disappearance of honeybees, or even a substantial drop in their population, would make those foods scarce. Humanity would survive—but our dinners would get a lot less interesting.

Billionaire #Colorado landowner no longer pursuing Tennessee Pass rail line: Future of #Pueblo-to-Eagle County route tied to controversial proposed #Utah oil train project — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

La Veta Pass — the highest still-operating freight railroad pass on the continent at 9,242 feet — on U.S. Route 160 in southern Colorado. The pass lies on the border between Huerfano County to the east and Costilla County to the west. The elevation is 9,413 feet. The two signs in the picture are parallel to the highway on the south side. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37517201

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (David O. Williams):

MINTURN, Colo. — A billionaire New York developer and Colorado agricultural landowner who launched a full-blown railroad war in his pursuit of Union Pacific’s dormant Tennessee Pass rail line from Pueblo to Eagle County is no longer trying to acquire any part of the approximately 200-mile stretch of tracks.

“Mr. Soloviev has no further interest in purchasing the Tennessee Pass Line; he has instead purchased the San Luis Valley Line,” Colorado Pacific Railroad’s general counsel William Osborn said of Stefan Soloviev, chairman of the Soloviev Group and Crossroads Agriculture — the 26th largest landowner in the U.S. with farming, ranching, and renewable energy in Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas. Crossroads has an estimated 400,000 acres of farmland in production.

Asked if this means Soloviev is no longer pursuing an east-to-west rail connection to move his grain to West Coast ports for transport to Asia, thereby breaking up Union Pacific’s “monopoly stranglehold” on freight transport through Colorado, Osborn said, “I can’t comment on that.”

Soloviev’s Colorado Pacific Railroad, which also owns the Towner Line in southeastern Colorado, previously confirmed that its newly acquired San Luis Rio Grande railroad does not have a westward connection to the nation’s main rail grid.

Soloviev previously offered Union Pacific up to $10 million for the Tennessee Pass Line, which has been dormant but not abandoned since the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific merger in 1997, and said that to get local support he would pay for once-a-day passenger service from Pueblo to Minturn and recreational trails on the rail right-of-way along the Arkansas River.

But he made it clear his primary purpose in pursuing the Tennessee Pass Line, which connects to Union Pacific’s active central corridor line at Dotsero before heading west through Glenwood Canyon, was to move freight, estimating it would cost him $278 million to refurbish just 160 miles of the Tennessee Pass Line.

Photo shows Tennessee Creek near the confluence of the East Fork Arkansas River in winter with snow on the Continental Divide of the Americas. The report evaluates current and emerging snow measurement technologies for the Western United States. Photo: Reclamation

First trains in a quarter century possible

Colorado Pacific may simply be waiting on the results of legal wrangling between Eagle County and several environmental groups suing to overturn federal approval of the Uinta Basin Railway — an 88-mile short line that would connect the oil fields of northeastern Utah to the main rail network and send up to 10, two-mile-long trains a day along the Colorado River into Denver.

Besides arguing that such an increase in oil production would be “fanning the flames” of climate change, Eagle County attorneys say the Uinta Basin Railway would ratchet up pressure on federal rail regulators and railroad companies to reopen the Tennessee Pass Line — a far more direct route to Gulf Coast refineries and one that avoids the Denver metro area altogether.

“It doesn’t necessarily change our position,” Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu said of the news Soloviev is no longer pursuing the Tennessee Pass Line. “Approval of the Uinta Basin proposal makes the TPL line reopening much more viable, whether it is Soloviev or someone else. With or without the TPL line, 350,000 barrels of waxy crude oil running daily within feet of the Colorado River remains a concern for Eagle County.”

Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr said he was not surprised Colorado Pacific is no longer trying to acquire the Tennessee Pass Line: “If Soloviev just wants to use the rail, he doesn’t care who operates it.”

Nor does Scherr think Soloviev’s announced lack of interest decreases the chances of trains for the first time in a quarter century rumbling along the line through Eagle County towns like Minturn, where he was once mayor, and then west through Avon, Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum. 

“No, just because of common carrier rules, I think that that should always be a concern,” Scherr said of federal law that requires railroad operators to carry any and all kinds freight, including some forms of hazardous materials, at reasonable rates.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, in Washington, D.C., heard oral arguments on a petition for review of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s approval of the Uinta Basin Railway. Essentially, Eagle County and the Center for Biological Diversity argue the STB didn’t adequately consider the potential climate, wildfire and oil-spill impacts.

“The oral arguments went well … and long. It’s hard to read the tea leaves from the judges based on their questions, but they clearly knew the issues and had hard questions for all sides,” said Eagle County’s Treu. Oil trains would increase on active tracks along the Colorado River in the northwest corner of the county, while the dormant Tennessee Pass Line runs right along the Eagle River.

A schematic of rail lines in Colorado, including the Tennessee Pass Line between Pueblo and Dotsero in Eagle County. (Colorado Pacific Railroad)

Elected leaders decry oil train project

Union Pacific has an agreement with Texas-based Rio Grande Pacific to pursue a revival of passenger service and “limited freight” along the Tennessee Pass Line from Parkdale, a point just west of the active Royal Gorge Route Railroad, to Sage, a point just east of the mainline connection at Dotsero. Such a route would not connect to the nation’s active rail network.

Rio Grande Pacific, which in Colorado wants to operate on the Tennessee Pass Line as Colorado Midland & Pacific, also is the operator of the proposed Uinta Basin Railway in Utah. A Colorado spokeswoman for Rio Grande Pacific did not return an email requesting comment.

“The Midland group is saying they would just want to do passenger, but the numbers don’t work to restore the track. We’re pretty skeptical about that,” Minturn Mayor Earle Bidez said. “I mean, if they want to do tourist trains, passenger to Leadville and back, it’ll be over and $40 or $50 million to restore track, but I can’t help but think that once they get in, then they’re going say, ‘OK, yeah, we’ve got some agricultural products we want to get through this way,’ and then they’re going to say, ‘OK, we want to get this waxy (crude) stuff coming up this way.’”

Rio Grande Pacific has consistently said it is not interested in the Tennessee Pass Line for moving oil, even trying to get the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to approve its expedited lease on the line with language excluding the transport of oil — something the STB did not allow. The STB has approved the transport of oil that would be the primary purpose of the Uinta Basin Railway.

Asked about the Uinta Basin Railway project, including its potential spillover pressure to reopen the Tennessee Pass Line to avoid a surge in oil trains through the state-owned Moffat Tunnel at Winter Park and down into Denver, Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis, replied: “The governor continues to share a number of the concerns that our Colorado communities and Colorado’s recreation and tourism industry have raised with the proposal. He continues to monitor this issue and evaluate the state’s role given largely federal actions to date.”

Both Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both Democrats, have urged far more environmental scrutiny of the Uinta Basin Railway and the rejection of the project’s request for tax-exempt funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation. So has Polis’ successor in the 2nd Congressional District seat that includes most of Eagle County, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse.

“I think one could certainly make the argument the (Uinta Basin) railway project and the local opposition that has developed and that of course Sen. Bennett and I are articulating at the federal level is perhaps a harbinger of things to come when you think about all of these rail lines across northwest and central Colorado, that, of course, defined our state for a century, in terms of our state’s formation, but now pose some real risks and challenges in terms of our future,” Neguse said at a water event last month in Minturn, a former railroad town in Eagle County off the backside of Vail Mountain.

Colorado’s lease with Union Pacific to operate the state-owned Moffat Tunnel expires in 2025. The Colorado Department of Transportation has previously expressed interest in the state purchasing the Tennessee Pass Line if it were to become available.

The Search for Solutions to #Colorado’s #Water Crisis — 5280.com

River guide John Saunders paddles a boat down the Yampa River in May 2021. Photo via Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the 5280.com website (Nicholas Hunt). Here’s an excerpt:

Study after study has shown that as the climate warms, more and more Centennial State snowmelt is lost through evaporation and other processes before it can find its way into our rivers, streams, and reservoirs. So we’ll need bigger than average snowpacks each winter just to keep reservoir levels and river flows from falling further—and unless everyone gets serious about tackling the climate crisis, that’s simply not going to happen. One recent study from researchers at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory found that Colorado could see a 50 to 60 percent reduction in snow within 60 years. When those same researchers used pattern recognition programs to group subregions of the Colorado River Basin by how each sector will respond to climate change, they found something disturbing: By 2080, much of western Colorado could experience aridity similar to Arizona’s…

What’s even more alarming is that, in many ways, the future is already here. This past June, the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the Colorado River through a network of reservoirs, announced that the seven states in the Colorado River Basin had 60 days to devise a plan to reduce the amount of river water they use annually by two to four million acre feet, as much as a third of the waterway’s annual flow…

Meanwhile, water levels are still dropping and the ripple effects of whatever compromise is reached—or isn’t reached—will be felt far beyond that river basin, including in Denver, which gets much of its water from the Western Slope. There is some cause for hope, however. From new cash crops that aren’t nearly as thirsty to science-fiction-worthy technology for forecasting droughts, there are ways to decrease demand and stretch supply. “You need to have as many tools in your toolbox as possible,” says Greg Fisher, demand planning and efficiency manager at Denver Water. “This is Colorado. Even if you could take the drought and the Colorado River [crisis] out of the equation, we’re still a water-constrained state with a growing population. People need to appreciate what water is for. It’s for life, safety, and health. I think anything beyond that is discretionary, and I don’t know if we’re at the point where we can afford discretionary use.”

Cloud seeding can increase rain and snow, and new techniques may make it a lot more effective – podcast

Cloud seeding can increase rainfall and reduce hail damage to crops, but its use is limited. John Finney Photography/Moment via Getty Images

Daniel Merino, The Conversation and Nehal El-Hadi, The Conversation

When an unexpected rainstorm leaves you soaking wet, it is an annoyance. When a drought leads to fires, crop failures and water shortages, the significance of weather becomes vitally important.

If you could control the weather, would you?

Small amounts of rain can mean the difference between struggle and success. For nearly 80 years, an approach called cloud seeding has, in theory, given people the ability to get more rain and snow from storms and make hailstorms less severe. But only recently have scientists been able to peer into clouds and begin to understand how effective cloud seeding really is.

In this episode of “The Conversation Weekly,” we speak with three researchers about the simple yet murky science of cloud seeding, the economic effects it can have on agriculture, and research that may allow governments to use cloud seeding in more places. Katja Friedrich, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder in the U.S., is a leading researcher on cloud seeding. “When we do cloud seeding, we are looking for clouds that have tiny super-cooled liquid droplets,” she explains. Silver iodide is very similar in structure to an ice crystal. When the droplets touch a particle of silver iodide, “they freeze, then they can start merging with other ice crystals, become snowflakes and fall out of the cloud.”

While the process is fairly straightforward, measuring how effective it is in the real world is not, according to Friedrich. “The problem is that once we modify a cloud, it’s really difficult to say what would’ve happened if you hadn’t cloud-seeded.” It’s hard enough to predict weather without messing with it artificially.

A plane wing with a cylindrical device attached.
Cloud seeding is usually done by planes equipped with devices – like the one attached to the wing of this plane – that spray silver iodide into the atmosphere. Zuckerle/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

In 2017, Friedrich’s research group had a breakthrough in measuring the effect of cloud seeding. “We flew some aircraft, released silver iodide and generated these clouds that were like these six exact lines that were downstream of where the aircraft were seeding,” she says. They then had a second aircraft fly through the clouds. “We could actually quantify how much snow we could produce by two hours of cloud seeding.” That effect, according to research on cloud seeding, is an increase in precipitation of somewhere around 5% to 20% or 30%, depending on conditions.

Measuring the effect on precipitation – whether rain or snow – directly may have taken complex science and a bit of luck, but in places that have been using cloud seeding for long periods of time, the economic benefits are shockingly clear.

Dean Bangsund is a researcher at North Dakota State University who studies the economics of agriculture. “We have a high amount of hail damage in North Dakota,” said Bangsund. For decades, the state government has been using cloud seeding to reduce hail damage, as cloud seeding leads to the formation of more pieces of smaller hail compared to fewer pieces of larger hail. “It doesn’t 100% eliminate hail; it’s designed to soften the impact.”

Every 10 years, the state of North Dakota does an analysis on the economic impacts of the cloud seeding program, measuring both reduction in hail damage and benefits from increased rain. Bangsund led the last report and says that for every dollar spent on the cloud seeding program, “we are looking at something that is anywhere from $8 or $9 in benefit on the really lowest scale, up to probably $20 of impact per acre.” With millions of acres of agricultural fields in the cloud seeding area, that is a massive economic benefit.

Both Freidrich and Bangsund emphasized that cloud seeding, while effective in some cases, cannot be used everywhere. There is also a lot of uncertainty in how much of an effect it has. One way to improve the effectiveness and applicability of cloud seeding is by improving the seed. Linda Zou is a professor of civil infrastructure and environmental engineering at Khalifa University in the United Arab Emirates.

Her work has focused on developing a replacement for silver iodide, and her lab has developed what she calls a nanopowder. “I start with table salt, which is sodium chloride,” says Zou. “This desirable-sized crystal is then coated with a thin nanomaterial layer of titanium dioxide.” When salt gets wet, it melts and forms a droplet that can efficiently merge with other droplets and fall from a cloud. Titanium dioxide attracts water. Put the two together and you get a very effective cloud-seeding material.

From indoor experiments, Zou found that “with the nanopowders, there are 2.9 times the formation of larger-size water droplets.” These nanopowders can also form ice crystals at warmer temperatures and less humidity than silver iodide.

As Zou says, “if the material you are releasing is more reactive and can work in a much wider range of conditions, that means no matter when you decide to use it, the chance of success will be greater.”

This episode was written and produced by Katie Flood. Mend Mariwany is the executive producer of The Conversation Weekly. Eloise Stevens does our sound design, and our theme music is by Neeta Sarl.

You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also subscribe to The Conversation’s free daily email here.

Listen to “The Conversation Weekly” via any of the apps listed above, download it directly via our RSS feed or find out how else to listen here.

Daniel Merino, Associate Science Editor & Co-Host of The Conversation Weekly Podcast, The Conversation and Nehal El-Hadi, Science + Technology Editor & Co-Host of The Conversation Weekly Podcast, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Latest #Colorado river rafting forecast says lots of frothy #water lies ahead — Water Education Colorado @WaterEdCO

Rafters make their way down Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. Colorado’s rivers are expected to be running high after an epic winter. Photo credit: Sara Hertwig via Metropolitan State University of Denver

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Dean Krakel):

Colorado’s bountiful snowpack is beginning to melt, and stream and river flows are rising. If current predictions for spring runoff stay on track this could be the longest stretch of boatable days seen on Colorado’s rivers in over a decade, including a rare opportunity to float southwestern Colorado’s spectacular 240-mile-long Dolores River.

“We haven’t seen this kind of season since 2011,” said Erin Walter, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service based in Grand Junction. “All the basins are doing well.”

The Dolores Basin, in southwestern Colorado, has the highest snowpack in the state, at 254% of average. The Gunnison River Basin stands at 169%, the upper Yampa Basin is at 152%, while the combined Animas, San Miguel, San Juan and Dolores are collectively at 192%. The lowest snowpack numbers are in the South Platte Basin at 98% and the Arkansas Basin at 78%.

“This is definitely one for the record books,” said Kestrel Kunz, of American Whitewater. “As a boater I’m excited. This healthy snowpack is something that everyone can be excited about, regardless of whether you’re a river runner, rancher or restaurant owner.”

With that healthy snowpack and higher water comes danger, especially for beginning boaters. Rivers are faster and colder, the difficulty of rapids increases and there is more debris — like fallen trees — in the water and low bridges to watch out for. “Since the pandemic more people have gotten into river recreation so a large part of the population hasn’t seen these kinds of flows,” said Kunz. “We have to make sure people are accessing the flows and making good decisions about river safety.”

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

One of the epicenters of this season’s higher flows is Almont in the Gunnison River Basin where the East, Taylor and Gunnison rivers come together. The peak flow of the combined rivers may reach a 100-year high, according to the National Weather Service.

“High water is a good problem to have,” said Dirk Schumacher, outfitting manager for Three Rivers Rafting in Almont. “The projections we’re looking at right now, the river’s going to be high. High but not un-runnable. At normal flows, these are very straightforward Class 3 rivers. At higher water … everything just happens a lot faster.”

Schumacher was referring to a river flow rating system in which flows are rated from Class 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest intensity.

Despite the lower snowpack numbers in the Arkansas River Basin, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area park manager Tom Waters is optimistic. “We’re looking at a really good year,” Waters said. “It’s going to be a promising season for rafting and the fishery. I think we’ll see high water but we don’t anticipate really high water or really extended high water. People are already fishing and floating here.”

Dolores River watershed

But it is the southwestern corner of the state, on the Dolores River, that is generating the most excitement, said Andy Neinas of Echo Canyon Outfitters in Canon City.

“The Dolores is a gem among gems,” Neinas said. “But it’s a river that never runs. There hasn’t been a meaningful boating season on the Dolores in 10 years or longer. This year Americans are going to get to see a wonderful resource that has not been available to them.”

How fast or slow the snowpack melts will determine much about the length or brevity of the upcoming boating season. Unusually warm temperatures could send the snowpack rushing downriver all at once creating dangerous conditions and shortening the boating season. Depending on geography, the runoff can begin in early spring, and will have run its course by late summer.

Erin Walter, of the National Weather Service, said a number of variables come in to play, including rain, dust, wind, warm or cold temperatures and soil moisture content.

Dust carried by high winds in April tinted much of Colorado’s snowpack with a distinctive red coloring. “When it collects on snow, dust, being darker, absorbs the solar radiation rather than reflecting it and increases the rate of snow melt. We’ve also had several years of drought and the soil can suck up a lot of that moisture as well,” she said.

Graham Sexstone, research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), says the next 30 days will shape the rest of the rafting season.

“A lot depends on the weather over the next month,” Sexstone said. “Many of the USGS stream monitors are showing high flows already and the snowpack above 11,000 feet hasn’t even started to melt. The real runoff hasn’t begun.”

Dean Krakel is a photographer and writer based in Almont, Colo. He can be reached at dkrakel@gmail.com

The Dolores River, below Slickrock, and above Bedrock. The Dolores River Canyon is included in a proposed National Conservation Area. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism.