Genetics from Germany and a hardy cross with Gunnison River trout seem to be overcoming a nightmarish parasite that causes deadly whirling disease
Through dogged research that called on experts throughout the U.S. and even Europe, the rainbow has staged a remarkable recovery that required years of genetic testing, cross breeding and painstaking reintroduction into Colorado’s waters. Only recently have those efforts shown signs of enduring success against the parasite that nearly destroyed it.
And in large part, it has been developments in the rugged Gunnison River waters, where researchers cultivated a strain of rainbow — dubbed the HXG — that’s both disease-resistant and hardy enough to survive in the wild, that have pushed the effort toward sustainability.
More than 1.3 million of the new fish will be introduced into Colorado’s waterways this summer.
“It’s been an ongoing sort of thing, an evolution of little successes over time,” says George Schisler, chief of aquatic research for CPW and one of the key players in the long-running drama. “Now that we’ve got a lot of these HXGs in production, that’s the tipping point. We’re starting to see more and more little rainbows surviving in the wild.”
To get here, the fish beloved by anglers for its colorful appearance, relative ease to hook and admirable fight, had to overcome a nasty parasite, hungry browns and a whole lot of trial and error…
The department’s electrofishing along a 2-mile stretch of the Colorado near Kremmling in 1993 shocked well over 1,000 fish to the surface. Nehring recalls counting a huge population of wild rainbows from 16 to 24 inches long — but only five under 12 inches.
It was a mystery what happened to the little ones. The results of the count were nothing like they’d seen on that same stretch of river in the early ‘80s, when there were plenty of big rainbows, but most fell in the 9-inch range — evidence that the young ones were thriving.
At the same time, the brown trout population was virtually unchanged over that period. Nehring looked everywhere for possible culprits: water temperature, flow fluctuations during rainbow spawning and egg incubation, pollution, floods. But he could find no factors that seemed to make sense. That stretch of the Colorado seemed to be missing two years’ worth of wild rainbow trout fry — recently hatched fish — with no similar impact on the browns.
When Nehring called in to report the conundrum, his boss wondered if the answer might be something called whirling disease that plagued tiny rainbows but not browns.
“At that time I didn’t even know what whirling disease was,” Nehring says.
Although the life cycle of the parasite — Myxobolus cerebralis — has been understood only since 1984, whirling disease dates its discovery to the late 19th century at a trout farm in Germany. Scientific literature was sparse. In Colorado, a state fish pathologist determined after testing some infected rainbows that there was less than a 5% chance that whirling disease was responsible for the disappearance of the young rainbow population…
Although Nehring sounded the alarm, most fish and wildlife experts didn’t pick up on the damage that whirling disease was doing to the state’s rainbow trout population until years after they’d studied bottom-feeding tubifex worms. The worms, which live in the mud and sediment of river and lake beds, had proved unwitting distributors of the spores that infected young fish and fed on the cartilage that later would mature into bone.
The result is a misshapen skeletal structure, with deformities that include a telltale lateral curvature of the spine. Eventually, inflammation causes nerve malfunction. The result is a rainbow that whirls in endless circles, and either dies of the infection or becomes prey — often to the large population of brown trout. Cutthroat and some other species are vulnerable to the disease, too, but rainbows are particularly susceptible.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor June 2, 2020.
West Drought Monitor June 2, 2020.
Colorado Drought Monitor June 2, 2020.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
This week, dry conditions were common across parts of the central and southern Great Plains, as well as parts of the northern Great Plains, particularly in North Dakota. Dry conditions were also common in much of the Intermountain West. However, above-normal rainfall occurred in eastern Washington, as part of an unusual severe thunderstorm event in Washington and Oregon on Saturday. Near or slightly below normal temperatures were found across much of the central and south-central continental United States, while warmer than normal temperatures (with some locations reaching between 5 and 15 degrees above normal) were common in the western High Plains and the West. Meanwhile, dry conditions also occurred along the northeastern Atlantic Coast. Above-normal rainfall fell in south Texas, central and south Florida, and parts of South Carolina and North Carolina. Moderate, severe, and extreme drought expanded in parts of the southern and central plains where high evaporative demand and paltry precipitation continued. Elsewhere, drought conditions also spread or lessened in parts of the West, where recent precipitation or lack thereof either improved conditions or caused conditions to dry out further. Minor changes in moderate drought were also made east of the Great Plains; for more details on these, please see the regional paragraphs…
Warm and dry weather encapsulates the conditions across most of the High Plains this week, particularly in the western part of the region. Temperatures in the eastern part of the region were generally moderate, but temperatures from 3 to 12 degrees above normal were common in western Kansas, western Nebraska, and in eastern Colorado and Wyoming. Below-normal precipitation occurred in most of South Dakota and North Dakota, and primarily to the west of the U.S. 81 corridor in Kansas and Nebraska. Above-normal rainfall fell in parts of eastern Kansas, and a small area of above-normal rainfall also occurred west-northwest of Omaha, reducing the coverage of abnormal dryness in the Bohemian Alps and Platte River Valley areas of eastern Nebraska. Abnormal dryness expanded through much of central and eastern Wyoming to parts of northwest Nebraska and the Black Hills and Badlands in southwest South Dakota, due to increasing short-term precipitation deficits and, in Wyoming, high evaporative demand over the past month. Moderate drought increased in coverage along and north of the Missouri River in northwest North Dakota, where short-term precipitation deficits continued to build, and surface water shortages were indicated. In southeast Colorado and a small part of adjacent southwest Kansas, extreme drought expanded, as short-term precipitation deficits continued to worsen amid high evaporative demand…
Warmer than normal temperatures were widespread in the West this week, particularly in the Intermountain West area, where temperatures 9 or more degrees above normal were commonplace. Below-normal precipitation in southwest Colorado and in parts of Utah, Wyoming, and Montana led to degradations in conditions. Severe drought increased in coverage in southeast Utah and southwest Colorado, where short- and long-term precipitation deficits continued to build amid high evaporative demand. Short-term precipitation deficits led to an increase in moderate drought coverage in southwest Montana. As mentioned in the High Plains paragraph, large evaporative demand and inadequate precipitation led to the development of widespread abnormal dryness across much of central and eastern Wyoming. Meanwhile, above-normal precipitation in eastern Washington and parts of north-central Oregon, where a localized severe weather event occurred on Saturday, led to improved conditions as precipitation deficits lessened. Also as a result of recent precipitation, extreme drought coverage lessened in southwest Oregon…
Conditions in the South this week varied widely from east to west, leading to primarily improving or unchanged conditions in the eastern part of the region, and degrading conditions in the west. Like the Southeast, most of the South had temperatures this week between 5 degrees above and below normal; however, notable exceptions on the warm end of this occurred in parts of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. Scattered areas of above- and below-normal rainfall dotted the region generally to the east of Interstate 35. Moderate drought slightly increased in coverage in a small area of southern Mississippi, where paltry rainfall occurred this week. Improvement in drought and abnormal dryness areas was common in south Texas and along the Texas Gulf Coast, where rainfall this week was mostly above normal. Areas of moderate and severe long-term drought slightly shifted along the Rio Grande, while otherwise degradation was quite common in West Texas and the Texas Panhandle. Extreme drought developed in the Oklahoma Panhandle, and adjacent areas of the southern and central high plains, where conditions had become extremely dry in the short-term as a result of low precipitation and high evaporative demand. Severe drought was also introduced in a small area northwest of Oklahoma City, where short-term precipitation deficits had worsened…
As of the afternoon of Wednesday, June 3, the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center is forecasting dry weather to continue over the southern Great Plains and the central and southern high plains from June 4 to the evening of June 8. Heavy precipitation is possible from the central Gulf Coast eastward into the Florida Peninsula. Through the evening of June 10, heavy precipitation is also possible in the Mississippi River Valley, as well as eastern portions of Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Some of the forecast rainfall will likely be dependent on the evolution of Atlantic tropical cyclone Cristobal. Please monitor forecasts from your local National Weather Service office and the NWS Weather Prediction Center for rainfall forecasts and for information on possible hydrological impacts from Cristobal. For the latest information on Cristobal, please refer to information and forecasts from the National Hurricane Center. The Climate Prediction Center is forecasting increased chances for warmer than normal temperatures in California and across southern New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and the southeast Atlantic and Gulf Coasts for June 9-13. Meanwhile, near-normal or below-normal temperatures are forecast over much of the rest of the continental U.S. during this period. Increased chances for above-normal precipitation are forecast in the eastern and central United States as well as in the Pacific Northwest, while increased chances for below-normal precipitation are forecast in the High Plains, Texas, Oklahoma, and the Rocky Mountains.
Here’s the one week change map ending June 2, 2020 from the US Drought Monitor.
And, just for grins here are early June US Drought Monitor maps for the past few years.
Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s the summary:
Summary: June 2, 2020
May in the Intermountain West Region saw the beginning of the summer precipitation pattern with the bulk of the precipitation showing up in eastern Colorado and eastern Wyoming. Less precipitation fell in the Upper Colorado River Basin, the rest of Utah and much of Arizona and New Mexico. Northeastern Colorado saw the best precipitation for the month with near normal conditions. Southeastern Colorado though, continued the dry pattern when precipitation should be increasing, which is not great for an already dry area. Western Colorado, most of Utah, and much of Wyoming are also continuing the dry trend.
Not helping the dryness in the IMW was the much above normal temperatures seen in May. Most of the IMW region saw 2-4 degrees warmer than normal and much of western Colorado and eastern Utah seeing 4-6 degrees above normal. There were a few spots with near normal temperatures, which include northeastern Colorado and northeastern Wyoming. The warm temperatures drove up evapotranspiration rates further drying out a region that has little water to give.
It appears streams and rivers in the Upper Colorado River Basin have seen their peak flow with flows starting to drop. The basin saw an overall drop in streamflows, with the number of streamgages seeing above normal flows dropping and the number of gages seeing below normal flows increasing. The three main sites in the basin appear to be peaking now or have peaked with flows in the Colorado and Green River fighting to stay in the normal range. The San Juan River seems to be fighting to stay in the below normal range.
As expected, soil moisture is dropping and vegetation health is mainly in the drought categories.
The outlook for the next week is hopeful for precipitation through Utah and western Colorado, with a nice bullseye in the parched San Juan Mountains. Little to no precipitation is in the forecast for eastern Colorado and most of New Mexico and Arizona. Unfortunately, beyond next week, it looks like the dry trend is back with increased chances of below normal precipitation through the IMW region.
Disturbing reports that Republicans plan to sow fears of climate change solution
Merchants of fear have already been at work, preparing to lather up the masses later this year with disturbing images of hardship and misery. The strategy is to equate job losses with clean air and skies, to link in the public mind the pandemic with strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s as dishonest as the days of May are long.
“This is what a carbon-constrained world looks like,” Michael McKenna, a deputy assistant to Trump on energy and environment issues, told The New York Times.
“If You Like the Pandemic Lockdown, You’re Going to Love the Green New Deal,” warned the Washington Examiner. “Thanks to the pandemic lockdown of society, the public is in a position to judge what the ‘Green New Deal’ revolution would look like,” said the newspaper in an April editorial. “It’s like redoing this global pandemic and economic slump every year.”
What a jarring contrast with what I heard during a webinar conducted in Colorado during early May. Electrical utility executives were asked about what it will take to get to 100% emissions-free generation.
It’s no longer an idle question along the lines of how many angels can dance on a pinhead. The coal plants are rapidly closing down because they’re just too darned expensive to operate. Renewables consistently come in at lower prices. Engineers have figured out how to deal with the intermittency of solar and wind. Utilities believe they can get to 70% and even 80%, perhaps beyond.
Granted, only a few people profess to know how to achieve 100% renewables—yet. Cheap, long-lasting storage has yet to be figured out. Electrical transmission needs to be improved in some areas. Here in the West, the still-Balkanized electrical markets need to be stitched together so that electrons can be moved across states to better match supplies with demands.
This won’t cost body appendages, either. The chief executives predict flat or even declining rates.
Let’s get that straight. Reducing emissions won’t cost more. It might well cost less.
That’s Colorado, sitting on the seam between steady winds of the Great Plains and the sunshine-swathed Southwest. Not every state is so blessed. But the innovators, the engineers, and others, are figuring out things rapidly.
Remember what was said just 15 years ago? You couldn’t run a civilization on windmills! Renewables cost too much. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. You had to burn coal or at least natural gas to keep the lights on and avoid economic collapse. Most preposterous were the ambitions to churn vast mountains to extract kerogen, the vital component of oil shale. This was given serious attention as recently as 2008.
The economics have rapidly turned upside down, and the technology just keeps getting better along with the efficiency of markets.
As detailed in Big Pivots issue No. 10, Colorado utilities are now seriously talking about what it will take to get to 100% emission-free energy. Most of that pathway is defined by lower or at least flattened costs.
Now that same spirit of ingenuity has been turned to redirecting transportation and, more challenging yet, buildings. It will likely be decades before we retrofit our automotive fleet to avoid the carbon emissions and other associated pollution that has made many of our cities borderline unhealthy places to live. Buildings will take longer yet. Few among us trade in our houses every 10 to 15 years.
It’s true that we need to be smarter about our energy. And we are decades away from having answers to the heavy carbon footprint of travel by aircraft.
But run with fright from the challenge? That’s the incipient message I’m hearing from the Republican strategists. These messages are from old and now discredited playbooks of fear. People accuse climate activists of constantly beating the drum of fear, and that’s at least partly accurate. But there’s also a drive to find solutions.
Too bad the contemporary Republican Party dwells in that deep well of fear instead of trying to be a beacon of solutions.
Do you have an opinion you wish to share? Shorter is better, and Colorado is the center of the world but not where the world ends. Write to me: email@example.com.
While a dry April and May hurt western Colorado runoff forecasts, Grand County’s remains above average for this time of year.
According to the Colorado River District, a winter of near-average snowfall withered prematurely and West Slope runoff has suffered.
The hot, dry summer and fall of 2019 set a poor stage for whatever snow was to come because of the dry soil that absorbs snowmelt before the streams can benefit.
“We are now in year 20 of an extended dry period that we should start accepting as the new normal,” Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, said in a news release. “Warmer temperatures, dry soils and disappointing spring and summer moisture are defining how we look at future policies to determine how best to protect Western Colorado water security.”
The Colorado River District did mention that Grand and Summit counties continue to be bright spots for the West Slope water supply.
Snowpack peaked in Grand at above average in mid-April and continues to be above average for this time of year. This is good news as the county’s water feeds the Upper Colorado River and important reservoirs.
The Colorado River is expected to peak this week at Cameo at 12,900 cubic feet per second, aided by upstream reservoir releases to support endangered fish habitat.
Granby and Green Mountain reservoirs are expected to fill, the river district said, while Wolford Mountain Reservoir is already full.
The situation is much different to the west and the south, which have below normal snowpack and seasonal runoff forecasts at half of what is normally expected. Western Colorado contributes about 70% of inflows to Lake Powell, where the runoff forecast has now fallen to 56% of normal.
The river district expects the drought that began in 2000 to continue through 2020.
In the late 1990s, cosmologists made a prediction about how much ordinary matter there should be in the universe. About 5%, they estimated, should be regular stuff with the rest a mixture of dark matter and dark energy. But when cosmologists counted up everything they could see or measure at the time, they came up short. By a lot.
The sum of all the ordinary matter that cosmologists measured only added up to about half of the 5% what was supposed to be in the universe.
This is known as the “missing baryon problem” and for over 20 years, cosmologistslike us looked hard for this matter without success.
Baryon is a classification for types of particles – sort of an umbrella term – that encompasses protons and neutrons, the building blocks of all the ordinary matter in the universe. Everything on the periodic table and pretty much anything that you think of as “stuff” is made of baryons.
Yet while the ink was still drying on the publication, another trio of cosmologists raised a bright red flag. They reported that a direct measure of baryons in our present universe – determined through a census of stars, galaxies, and the gas within and around them – added up to only half of the predicted 5%.
This sparked the missing baryon problem. Provided the law of nature held that matter can be neither created nor destroyed, there were two possible explanations: Either the matter didn’t exist and the math was wrong, or, the matter was out there hiding somewhere.
Astronomers across the globe took up the search and the first clue came a year later from theoretical cosmologists. Their computer simulations predicted that the majority of the missing matter was hiding in a low-density, million-degree hot plasma that permeated the universe. This was termed the “warm-hot intergalactic medium” and nicknamed “the WHIM.” The WHIM, if it existed, would solve the missing baryon problem but at the time there was no way to confirm its existence.
In 2001, another piece of evidence in favor of the WHIM emerged. A second team confirmed the initial prediction of baryons making up 5% of the universe by looking at tiny temperature fluctuations in the universe’s cosmic microwave background – essentially the leftover radiation from the Big Bang. With two separate confirmations of this number, the math had to be right and the WHIM seemed to be the answer. Now cosmologists just had to find this invisible plasma.
Over the past 20 years, we and many other teams of cosmologists and astronomers have brought nearly all of the Earth’s greatest observatories to the hunt. There were some false alarms and tentative detections of warm-hot gas, but one of our teams eventually linked those to gas around galaxies. If the WHIM existed, it was too faint and diffuse to detect.
An unexpected solution in fast radio bursts
In 2007, an entirely unanticipated opportunity appeared. Duncan Lorimer, an astronomer at the University of West Virginia, reported the serendipitous discovery of a cosmological phenomenon known as a fast radio burst (FRB). FRBs are extremely brief, highly energetic pulses of radio emissions. Cosmologists and astronomers still don’t know what creates them, but they seem to come from galaxies far, far away.
As these bursts of radiation traverse the universe and pass through gasses and the theorized WHIM, they undergo something called dispersion.
The initial mysterious cause of these FRBs lasts for less a thousandth of a second and all the wavelengths start out in a tight clump. If someone was lucky enough – or unlucky enough – to be near the spot where an FRB was produced, all the wavelengths would hit them simultaneously.
But when radio waves pass through matter, they are briefly slowed down. The longer the wavelength, the more a radio wave “feels” the matter. Think of it like wind resistance. A bigger car feels more wind resistance than a smaller car.
The “wind resistance” effect on radio waves is incredibly small, but space is big. By the time an FRB has traveled millions or billions of light-years to reach Earth, dispersion has slowed the longer wavelengths so much that they arrive nearly a second later than the shorter wavelengths.
Therein lay the potential of FRBs to weigh the universe’s baryons, an opportunity we recognized on the spot. By measuring the spread of different wavelengths within one FRB, we could calculate exactly how much matter – how many baryons – the radio waves passed through on their way to Earth.
At this point we were so close, but there was one final piece of information we needed. To precisely measure the baryon density, we needed to know where in the sky an FRB came from. If we knew the source galaxy, we would know how far the radio waves traveled. With that and the amount of dispersion they experienced, perhaps we could calculate how much matter they passed through on the way to Earth?
Unfortunately, the telescopes in 2007 weren’t good enough to pinpoint exactly which galaxy – and therefore how far away – an FRB came from.
We knew what information would allow us to solve the problem, now we just had to wait for technology to develop enough to give us that data.
It was 11 years until we were able to place – or localize – our first FRB. In August 2018, our collaborative project called CRAFT began using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope in the outback of Western Australia to look for FRBs. This new telescope – which is run by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO – can watch huge portions of the sky, about 60 times the size of a full Moon, and it can simultaneously detect FRBs and pinpoint where in the sky they come from.
The technology and technique worked. We had measured the dispersion from an FRB and knew where it came from. But we needed to catch a few more of them in order to attain a statistically significant count of the baryons. So we waited and hoped space would send us some more FRBs.
By mid-July 2019, we had detected five more events – enough to perform the first search for the missing matter. Using the dispersion measures of these six FRBs, we were able to make a rough calculation of how much matter the radio waves passed through before reaching earth.
This result, however, is only the first step. We were able to estimate the amount of baryons, but with only six data points, we can’t yet build a comprehensive map of the missing baryons. We have proof the WHIM likely exists and have confirmed how much there is, but we don’t know exactly how it is distributed. It is believed to be part of a vast filamentary network of gas that connects galaxies termed “the cosmic web,” but with about 100 fast radio bursts cosmologists could start building an accurate map of this web.
This article was updated to indicate that Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, operates the new telescope.
“Because humankind and our planet need another way” — Marylyn Waring
In 1953, a group of economists got together to create the Gross Domestic Product: a way to measure everything that involves a market transaction. But GDP doesn’t measure the single biggest contributor to almost every nation’s economy—the unpaid labour performed every day in homes, in families, and by volunteers—and it doesn’t account for the cost of externalities like the environment. In this funny, engaging and enlightening talk, noted economist Dr Marilyn Waring makes a compelling and accessible argument for finding a better way to measure what counts.
Dr Marilyn Waring is a prominent New Zealand economist and feminist, and a leading activist for human rights.
At 23 years old, Marilyn was one of the youngest New Zealanders ever elected to Parliament. She pushed to have marital rape criminalised and threatened to cross the floor to vote with Labour on a nuclear-free New Zealand, precipitating the 1984 snap election.
On leaving Parliament, Marilyn earned a PhD in Political Economy; her research has been influential in establishing the field of feminist economics. She argues for the economic importance of women’s unpaid work and the environment, revealing the serious policy consequences caused by ignoring these when calculating national economic measures such as GDP.
More recently, Marilyn’s work has focused on the inequities of globalisation and the importance of acknowledging women’s work as an international human rights issue. She has undertaken a range of projects dealing with these issues for the United Nations. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx