The Connecticut Shellfish Restoration Guide provides science-based, well-tested techniques to help oyster farmers, state and local officials, academic institutions, and others involved in restoration efforts increase shellfish and fish populations, improve water quality, strengthen coastal habitats, and stabilize shorelines.
One component of the guide is the CT Shellfish Restoration Map Viewer, an online, interactive mapping tool released in 2021. Previously, without a central, comprehensive habitat map to work from, oyster restoration practitioners had insufficient information from which to choose sites effectively, and state and local agencies had a hard time properly evaluating shellfish restoration projects. That led to approval and permit delays, among other problems. The viewer helps users identify the best locations for siting shellfish restoration projects.
DOE’s new Lithium StoryMap lays out the relationship between geothermal energy and lithium while exploring why the DOE is investing in technologies supporting lithium extraction from geothermal brines. Using an easily digestible format, visitors can scroll through the role of lithium in renewable energy today, how the critical material is currently obtained, and why the Salton Sea region of California may prove to be a key domestic source—with a little help from geothermal energy. As lithium demand continues to grow, geothermal energy may soon play a greater role in our lives and in the green economy.
As we build tenfold the number of solar, wind, and clean storage facilities, we must not cause unintended consequences. We cannot negatively impact vulnerable communities or the environment. We must protect clean water supplies, vegetated wetlands, and valuable vistas for future generations.
To ensure we plan correctly and don’t make the same mistakes we did in the past, planners use a concept called Geodesign.
Scientists say we have more robust data about the surface of Mars than the floor of the Great Lakes. A new effort spearheaded by academics and government aims to map the entire Great Lakes lakebed. Experts say the data is crucial to understanding the lakes, particularly as climate change and other threats bring rapid changes.
Fifty years ago, U.S. scientists launched a satellite that dramatically changed how we see the world.
It captured images of Earth’s surface in minute detail, showing how wildfires burned landscapes, how farms erased forests, and many other ways humans were changing the face of the planet.
The first satellite in the Landsat series launched on July 23, 1972. Eight others followed, providing the same views so changes could be tracked over time, but with increasingly powerful instruments. Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 are orbiting the planet today, and NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey are planning a new Landsat mission.
The images and data from these satellites are used to track deforestation and changing landscapes around the world, locate urban heat islands, and understand the impact of new river dams, among many other projects. Often, the results help communities respond to risks that may not be obvious from the ground.
Here are three examples of Landsat in action, from The Conversation’s archive.
Tracking changes in the Amazon
When work began on the Belo Monte Dam project in the Brazilian Amazon in 2015, Indigenous tribes living along the Big Bend of the Xingu River started noticing changes in the river’s flow. The water they relied on for food and transportation was disappearing.
Upstream, a new channel would eventually divert as much as 80% of the water to the hydroelectric dam, bypassing the bend.
The consortium that runs the dam argued that there was no scientific proof that the change in water flow harmed fish.
“As scientists who work with remote sensing, we believe satellite observations can empower populations around the world who face threats to their resources,” Das and his colleagues write.
It’s hot in the city – and even hotter in some neighborhoods
Landsat’s instruments can also measure surface temperatures, allowing scientists to map heat risk street by street within cities as global temperatures rise.
“Cities are generally hotter than surrounding rural areas, but even within cities, some residential neighborhoods get dangerously warmer than others just a few miles away,” writes Daniel P. Johnson, who uses satellites to study the urban heat island effect at Indiana University.
Neighborhoods with more pavement and buildings and fewer trees can be 10 degrees Fahrenheit (5.5 C) or more warmer than leafier neighborhoods, Johnson writes. He found that the hottest neighborhoods tend to be low-income, have majority Black or Hispanic residents and had been subjected to redlining, the discriminatory practice once used to deny loans in racial and ethnic minority communities.
“Within these ‘micro-urban heat islands,’ communities can experience heat wave conditions well before officials declare a heat emergency,” Johnson writes.
Satellites that scan the same areas year after year can be crucial for spotting changes in hard-to-reach regions. They can monitor snow and ice cover, and, along U.S. Atlantic coast, dying wetland forests.
These eerie landscapes of dead, often bleached-white tree trunks have earned the nickname “ghost forests.”
Emily Ury, an ecologist now at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, used Landsat data to spot wetland changes. She then zoomed in with high-resolution images from Google Earth – which includes Landsat images – to confirm that they were ghost forests.
“The results were shocking. We found that more than 10% of forested wetland within the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge [in North Carolina] was lost over the past 35 years. This is federally protected land, with no other human activity that could be killing off the forest,” Ury writes.
As the planet warms and sea levels rise, more salt water is reaching these areas, increasing the amount of salt in the soil of coastal woodlands from Maine to Florida. “Rapid sea level rise seems to be outpacing the ability of these forests to adapt to wetter, saltier conditions,” Ury writes.
For the past decade, researchers in academia and the nonprofit world have had access to increasingly sophisticated information about the Earth’s surface. Now, any commercial or government entity will have access to Earth Engine
“Plant a tree” seems to be the go-to answer to climate change concerns these days. Booking a rental car online recently, I was asked to check a box to plant a tree to offset my car’s anticipated carbon dioxide emissions. In 2020, the governor of my state, Indiana, launched an initiative to plant a million of them within five years, and the state is a quarter of the way there.
The problem is that the fate of carbon stored in trees faces many challenges. Heat waves, logging, pests and wildfires can all destroy trees and release that carbon again. And most measurements of the carbon stored in forests’ woody biomass only extend back a few decades.
I lead the PalEON project, an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation that is working to reconstruct how the amount of carbon stored in U.S. trees ebbed and flowed over the past 10,000 years.
Our new reconstruction reveals in detail how forests in the upper Midwest gained almost a billion tons of carbon over the last 8,000 years, doubling their carbon storage. And then, in the span of just 150 years, almost all of that gain disappeared into the atmosphere.
The results offer lessons for today, particularly about the outsized role that a few tree species, human behavior and a changing climate can play.
How forests gained, then lost, a billion tons of carbon
Our forest story starts 10,000 years ago, after the massive Laurentide ice sheet that once covered a large portion of North America retreated from the upper Midwest – what is now Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the northern edges of Illinois and Indiana. In this early period of natural warming, ice-age forests of needle-leaved trees shrank and were replaced by new tree species slowly spreading northward from southern refuges.
Forest growth rose and fell over the thousands of years that followed as the climate went through warm and cool periods, the frequency and intensity of wildfires changed, and Native American land management strategies shifted.
Previousstudies assumed that the amount of woody biomass – the carbon stored in trees – had been relatively stable over millennia before the industrial era. Instead, we were surprised to find that the Upper Midwest forests had steadily gained carbon for 8,000 years before Euro-American settlers began clearing large swaths of forest.
In much of the region, forests had become dominated by long-lived species that could store a lot of carbon as biomass. Two of those species stand out: American beech and eastern hemlock.
History in a grain of pollen
We know a lot of this thanks to tiny grains of ancient pollen and the Public Land Survey, a collection of highly detailed forest surveys conducted by government contractors in the mid-1800s, shortly before forest clearing took off.
Each year, trees release pollen, and some of that pollen falls into lakes, where it sinks into the mud and fossilizes. Scientists can study fossilized pollen in cross sections of lake bottom sediment to determine how old it is and the types of trees that were growing at the time. If a major fire came through, abrupt changes in the types of pollen in the sediment would give it away.
In a study recently published in the journal Science, Ann Raiho and other PalEON members mapped biomass changes in the Upper Midwest using a sophisticated statistical model based on the fossil pollen found in the sediment from a network of lakes. The Public Land Survey served as a sort of Rosetta Stone. The survey linked vegetation in the 1800s to the fossil pollen samples, allowing us to calibrate pollen levels with the amount of wood biomass.
Lessons from 10,000 years of forest growth and decline
Our maps of past biomass accumulation provide reason for optimism about the capacity of forests to sustainably store carbon for long periods, but also two warnings.
The optimistic take is that when forests dominated by old-growth species like American beech and eastern hemlock expanded, the forests stored large amounts of carbon in woody biomass for millennia. These two species contributed substantial carbon storage, particularly in the moister central and eastern parts of the region.
The first warning is that forests in the drier western part of our study area shrank when the climate became warmer and drier.
The second warning is that progress can quickly slip away. Although the Upper Midwest forests stored almost a billion tons more carbon than they lost over the last 8,000 years, that accumulation went back into the atmosphere over a short period of time as a result of logging and farming. We found the rate of woody biomass decline over the last 150 years was 10 times greater than in any other century in 10,000 years.
So, what does this mean for tree planting efforts today?
If my rental car tree happened to be an American beech, and if it were allowed to mature and propagate an old-growth forest in the Upper Midwest, then future forests could replicate the processes that stored carbon for thousands of years.
But that future presumes that drought, pests and wildfires associated with a rapidly warming climate don’t undo those efforts. A recent study suggested that forests around the world may be losing resilience to climate warming.
The capacity of old-growth trees to store carbon can also be undone by other threats that can be exacerbated by the changing climate. For example, beech bark disease weakens trees, allowing fungus to kill them – and it’s now threatening the Upper Midwest’s beech populations.
Finally, communities will have to balance the value of carbon sequestered in old forests with other priorities.
Google Maps on both iOS and Android has a new Air Quality layer that can be useful when planning your next hike or bike ride in good times, or to plan your escape from smog and smoke in bad.
The new layer displays an Air Quality Index (AQI) overlay directly onto the map grid using government data gathered from agencies like the EPA in the US to show how healthy the air is in general. Better yet, it also presents data collected from PurpleAir’s network of sensors to report hyperlocal conditions at the street level. Clicking on the AQI readings dotted around Google Maps provides more information on the health impact of the air quality, time and source of the last reading, and links to learn more.
In August 2021, as the Caldor Fire burned more than 200,000 acres in northern California, satellites captured the dramatic changes to the landscape in real-time.
That satellite data fed into a new Google tool, called Dynamic World, which recognized that an area once covered by trees had been reduced to shrub and scrub. In the days after the fire, Dynamic World’s color-coded map of the region transformed from green, where trees had grown in large enough numbers to be seen from space, to yellow, indicating a transformation to low scrub, showing the devastating outcome of the natural disaster on the land itself.