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News Article | February 21, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

This Feb. 17, 2017, photo shows a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft used for a NASA-led experiment called SnowEx, on an airfield at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. Instrument-laden aircraft are surveying the Colorado high country this month as scientists search for better ways to measure how much water is locked up in the world's mountain snows - water that sustains a substantial share of the global population. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) DENVER (AP) — Instrument-laden aircraft are surveying the Colorado high country this month as scientists search for better ways to measure how much water is locked up in the world's mountain snows — water that sustains a substantial share of the global population. A NASA-led experiment called SnowEx is using five aircraft to test 10 sensors that might one day be used to monitor snow from satellites. The goal: Find the ideal combination to overcome multiple obstacles, including how to analyze snow hidden beneath forest canopies. "It would be, I would say, a monumental leap in our ability to forecast water supply if we had this kind of information," said Noah Molotch, a member of the science team for the experiment. One-sixth of the world's population gets most of its fresh water from snow that melts and runs into waterways, said Ed Kim, a NASA researcher and lead scientist for SnowEx. "Right there, it's hugely important for people," he said. Snow has other consequences for society as well, including floods, droughts and even political stability when water is scarce, Kim said. The key to predicting how much water will pour out of mountain snows each spring is a measurement called snow water equivalent. The global average is 30 percent of snow depth, Kim said — 10 inches of snow melts down to 3 inches of water. But a single mountain snowbank contains multiple layers with different snow water equivalents, making measurement difficult. The layers were dropped by successive storms with different moisture contents, and then lingered under different weather conditions before the next storm covered them. A further complication: At times during the winter, some snow melts, so water will flow through the interior of the snowbank, distorting or absorbing signals from remote sensors. No single instrument can overcome all the obstacles. "We have these different sensing techniques. Each one works to a certain degree," Kim said. "What's the optimal combination?" Two SnowEx sensors will measure snow depth: Radar and LIDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging. LIDAR uses laser pulses to measure distance. Four sensors will measure snow density: three other types of radar, plus a passive microwave instrument, which detects how much of the Earth's natural microwave radiation the snow is blocking. A hyperspectral imager and a multispectral imager will measure how much sunlight the snow is reflecting, which helps determine how fast it will melt. Aircraft will take the instruments on multiple passes over two areas in western Colorado, Grand Mesa and Senator Beck Basin. Ground crews will also analyze the snow to verify how accurate the instruments are. One key technology used to predict snow runoff in the American West is the Snow Telemetry Network, or SNOTEL, operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. More than 800 automated SNOTEL ground stations scattered across the West measure the depth and weight of the snow, the temperature and other data and transmit them to a central database. Federal agencies use SNOTEL to produce daily state-by-state reports and maps on how the current snow water equivalent compares to the long-term average. Water utilities, farmers, public safety agencies and wildland firefighters track the updates closely to help predict how much drinking and irrigation water will be available in the spring and whether they will face floods or fire-inducing droughts. SNOTEL collects data from individual points, but the "holy grail of mountain hydrology" is a way to estimate the distribution of snow water equivalent across broad mountain landscapes, said Molotch, who is also director of the University of Colorado's Center for Water, Earth Science and Technology. SnowEx could be a step toward that, he said. Government agencies that forecast the spring runoff say satellite data on snow water equivalent would help them, although they base their predictions on multiple sources of information, including rain, temperature and current river flows. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, one of 13 National Weather Service centers that predict floods or river shortages nationwide, uses some NASA satellite data now, hydrologist Paul Miller said. Satellite images show how much of the region has snow cover and how much dust is on the snow, he said. Dusty snow is darker, so it absorbs more heat and melts faster. Snow water equivalent data from satellites "would be another source of information that we could look toward as guidance," Miller said. "It would definitely be something we would monitor and we would explore." Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/dan%20elliott.


News Article | February 21, 2017
Site: hosted2.ap.org

(AP) — Instrument-laden aircraft are surveying the Colorado high country this month as scientists search for better ways to measure how much water is locked up in the world's mountain snows — water that sustains a substantial share of the global population. A NASA-led experiment called SnowEx is using five aircraft to test 10 sensors that might one day be used to monitor snow from satellites. The goal: Find the ideal combination to overcome multiple obstacles, including how to analyze snow hidden beneath forest canopies. "It would be, I would say, a monumental leap in our ability to forecast water supply if we had this kind of information," said Noah Molotch, a member of the science team for the experiment. One-sixth of the world's population gets most of its fresh water from snow that melts and runs into waterways, said Ed Kim, a NASA researcher and lead scientist for SnowEx. "Right there, it's hugely important for people," he said. Snow has other consequences for society as well, including floods, droughts and even political stability when water is scarce, Kim said. The key to predicting how much water will pour out of mountain snows each spring is a measurement called snow water equivalent. The global average is 30 percent of snow depth, Kim said — 10 inches of snow melts down to 3 inches of water. But a single mountain snowbank contains multiple layers with different snow water equivalents, making measurement difficult. The layers were dropped by successive storms with different moisture contents, and then lingered under different weather conditions before the next storm covered them. A further complication: At times during the winter, some snow melts, so water will flow through the interior of the snowbank, distorting or absorbing signals from remote sensors. No single instrument can overcome all the obstacles. "We have these different sensing techniques. Each one works to a certain degree," Kim said. "What's the optimal combination?" Two SnowEx sensors will measure snow depth: Radar and LIDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging. LIDAR uses laser pulses to measure distance. Four sensors will measure snow density: three other types of radar, plus a passive microwave instrument, which detects how much of the Earth's natural microwave radiation the snow is blocking. A hyperspectral imager and a multispectral imager will measure how much sunlight the snow is reflecting, which helps determine how fast it will melt. Aircraft will take the instruments on multiple passes over two areas in western Colorado, Grand Mesa and Senator Beck Basin. Ground crews will also analyze the snow to verify how accurate the instruments are. One key technology used to predict snow runoff in the American West is the Snow Telemetry Network, or SNOTEL, operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. More than 800 automated SNOTEL ground stations scattered across the West measure the depth and weight of the snow, the temperature and other data and transmit them to a central database. Federal agencies use SNOTEL to produce daily state-by-state reports and maps on how the current snow water equivalent compares to the long-term average. Water utilities, farmers, public safety agencies and wildland firefighters track the updates closely to help predict how much drinking and irrigation water will be available in the spring and whether they will face floods or fire-inducing droughts. SNOTEL collects data from individual points, but the "holy grail of mountain hydrology" is a way to estimate the distribution of snow water equivalent across broad mountain landscapes, said Molotch, who is also director of the University of Colorado's Center for Water, Earth Science and Technology. SnowEx could be a step toward that, he said. Government agencies that forecast the spring runoff say satellite data on snow water equivalent would help them, although they base their predictions on multiple sources of information, including rain, temperature and current river flows. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, one of 13 National Weather Service centers that predict floods or river shortages nationwide, uses some NASA satellite data now, hydrologist Paul Miller said. Satellite images show how much of the region has snow cover and how much dust is on the snow, he said. Dusty snow is darker, so it absorbs more heat and melts faster. Snow water equivalent data from satellites "would be another source of information that we could look toward as guidance," Miller said. "It would definitely be something we would monitor and we would explore." Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/dan%20elliott.


News Article | February 21, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Denver (AP) -- Instrument-laden aircraft are surveying the Colorado high country this month as scientists search for better ways to measure how much water is locked up in the world's mountain snows — water that sustains a substantial share of the global population. A NASA-led experiment called SnowEx is using five aircraft to test 10 sensors that might one day be used to monitor snow from satellites. The goal: Find the ideal combination to overcome multiple obstacles, including how to analyze snow hidden beneath forest canopies. "It would be, I would say, a monumental leap in our ability to forecast water supply if we had this kind of information," said Noah Molotch, a member of the science team for the experiment. One-sixth of the world's population gets most of its fresh water from snow that melts and runs into waterways, said Ed Kim, a NASA researcher and lead scientist for SnowEx. "Right there, it's hugely important for people," he said. Snow has other consequences for society as well, including floods, droughts and even political stability when water is scarce, Kim said. The key to predicting how much water will pour out of mountain snows each spring is a measurement called snow water equivalent. The global average is 30 percent of snow depth, Kim said — 10 inches of snow melts down to 3 inches of water. But a single mountain snowbank contains multiple layers with different snow water equivalents, making measurement difficult. The layers were dropped by successive storms with different moisture contents, and then lingered under different weather conditions before the next storm covered them. A further complication: At times during the winter, some snow melts, so water will flow through the interior of the snowbank, distorting or absorbing signals from remote sensors. No single instrument can overcome all the obstacles. "We have these different sensing techniques. Each one works to a certain degree," Kim said. "What's the optimal combination?" Two SnowEx sensors will measure snow depth: Radar and LIDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging. LIDAR uses laser pulses to measure distance. Four sensors will measure snow density: three other types of radar, plus a passive microwave instrument, which detects how much of the Earth's natural microwave radiation the snow is blocking. A hyperspectral imager and a multispectral imager will measure how much sunlight the snow is reflecting, which helps determine how fast it will melt. Aircraft will take the instruments on multiple passes over two areas in western Colorado, Grand Mesa and Senator Beck Basin. Ground crews will also analyze the snow to verify how accurate the instruments are. One key technology used to predict snow runoff in the American West is the Snow Telemetry Network, or SNOTEL, operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. More than 800 automated SNOTEL ground stations scattered across the West measure the depth and weight of the snow, the temperature and other data and transmit them to a central database. Federal agencies use SNOTEL to produce daily state-by-state reports and maps on how the current snow water equivalent compares to the long-term average. Water utilities, farmers, public safety agencies and wildland firefighters track the updates closely to help predict how much drinking and irrigation water will be available in the spring and whether they will face floods or fire-inducing droughts. SNOTEL collects data from individual points, but the "holy grail of mountain hydrology" is a way to estimate the distribution of snow water equivalent across broad mountain landscapes, said Molotch, who is also director of the University of Colorado's Center for Water, Earth Science and Technology. SnowEx could be a step toward that, he said. Government agencies that forecast the spring runoff say satellite data on snow water equivalent would help them, although they base their predictions on multiple sources of information, including rain, temperature and current river flows. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, one of 13 National Weather Service centers that predict floods or river shortages nationwide, uses some NASA satellite data now, hydrologist Paul Miller said. Satellite images show how much of the region has snow cover and how much dust is on the snow, he said. Dusty snow is darker, so it absorbs more heat and melts faster. Snow water equivalent data from satellites "would be another source of information that we could look toward as guidance," Miller said. "It would definitely be something we would monitor and we would explore." Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/dan%20elliott.


News Article | December 12, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

SAN FRANCISCO--Scientists have found good strategies for curbing the toxic algae blooms that have threatened some of the nation's water supplies. Farmers are willing to adopt these strategies. The American public is willing to help pay for them. A collaboration of universities and government agencies has identified three key agricultural management plans for curtailing harmful algal blooms. They have also identified a looming funding gap for enacting those plans. Researchers announced their first results this week, both at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting and in a special issue of the Journal of Great Lakes Research. Jay Martin, director of the Field to Faucet water quality program at The Ohio State University, leads the unusual project, which maps both the physical causes of toxic algae and the social landscape around the problem. He and his team took as their starting point the recent binational agreement between the United States and Canada to cut phosphorus discharge into Lake Erie by 40 percent. They surveyed farmers and the public and built watershed models to explore different ways to keep phosphorus from reaching the lake, where it feeds toxic algae. "The big question now is, can we reach our goal of 40 percent reduction, and how do we do it?" Martin said. "The hopeful news that we have found is that there are multiple ways to get there, and farmers are already adopting the very same agricultural practices that we found to be most promising. If they can continue to adopt these practices and even accelerate their adoption, we can reach the 40 percent reduction we need to have safe levels of algal blooms in Lake Erie, while preserving agricultural production." The researchers have identified three key farming practices that could reduce algae levels: subsurface application of fertilizer and the use of cover crops and buffer strips. Cover crops are grown in fields that would otherwise go fallow to keep rain from washing phosphorus-laden fertilizer into the lake. Buffer strips are non-crop plants that surround fields and serve the same kind of purpose. In their surveys of farmers in the Lake Erie watershed, the researchers found that 39 percent were already applying fertilizer below the soil surface; 22 percent were already growing cover crops; and 35 percent were already using buffer strips. Each of those numbers, while encouraging, falls at least 20 percent short of where they need to be to reach phosphorus reduction goals, the study found. Also encouraging: researchers found that Ohio residents were willing to help farmers pay for these practices. In the first survey of its kind, they asked residents to put a monetary value on reducing toxic algae in Lake Erie. For example, they asked people how much reducing algae by 10 percent was worth. The answer that came back was quite specific: $150 million. And the answer was consistent, in that when researchers asked about reducing algae by 20 percent or 30 percent, respondents placed a $150 million value on every additional 10 percent. A 20 percent reduction was worth $300 million, and so on. People said they were willing to pay slightly higher food prices, or even a special income tax or sales tax that would benefit farmers to make the changes happen. Reducing algae would likely carry a higher price tag, however: "While it looks like the reduction is possible, it will be a heavy lift," Martin said. In fact, $150 million was the preliminary estimate that Ohio State researchers made in a study with the Nature Conservancy earlier this year--but for annual mitigation of phosphorus runoff in only the most critical areas. That project was led by Stuart Ludsin, an associate professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology and co-director of Ohio State's Aquatic Ecology Laboratory. Still, the payoff for reducing phosphorus goes beyond Lake Erie, Ludsin said. "If done correctly, agricultural conservation practices aimed at improving water quality in Lake Erie can also boost the health of stream-fish communities throughout the watershed," he added. Lake Erie is at the center of toxic algae research today, because it contains 50 percent of all the fish in the Great Lakes, supports a $1.7 billion tourism industry and provides drinking water for 11 million people. But the same problems are beginning to plague areas of the Mississippi Valley and coastal Florida, as well as coastlines around the world. Martin and his team are presenting their findings at the AGU session "New Frontiers in Water Resources: Achieving Water Resource Security in Times of Climate Change, Urbanization, and Agricultural Expansion" co-organized by Noel Aloysius, who is also involved in the study. The session also highlights some of the promising strategies being used elsewhere. Among them: Michele Reba, a hydrologist with USDA, is testing ways for farmers in the Mississippi Valley to capture and reuse their irrigation water, which keeps fertilizer nutrients on the farm. Restoring lost wetlands--or creating new ones--is another strategy that is proving successful in the Florida Everglades. There, William Mitsch, director of Everglades Wetland Research Park at Florida Gulf Coast University, has found that tuning the plant and soil composition of wetlands can nearly eliminate all phosphorus runoff into surrounding waters. In its special issue on Lake Erie, the Journal of Great Lakes Research explores these and other topics, including the roles of sediment, plankton, and climate change in promoting algae. More than a dozen papers are available as open access content online. Co-authors of the AGU presentation include Aloysius, Margaret Kalcic, Robyn S. Wilson and Brian Roe of Ohio State; Donald Scavia of the University of Michigan and Gregory Howard of East Carolina University. The research project on mitigating phosphorus in Lake Erie is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service funded the Ohio State-Nature Conservancy project. Editor's note: for information about the Journal of Great Lakes Research, contact editor Robert Hecky at 204-582-0288 or rhecky@gmail.com.


News Article | November 28, 2016
Site: www.prweb.com

In October, The Climate Trust (The Trust) quietly put ink to paper and executed a milestone contract with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation—securing a $5.5M Program-Related Investment (PRI) to seed their first-of-its-kind carbon investment fund. Climate Trust Capital, an independent firm of the long-standing and mission-driven nonprofit, The Climate Trust, will administer Fund I, which is focused on supporting innovative U.S.-based carbon offset projects in the forestry, grassland conservation, and livestock digesters sectors. Climate Trust Capital’s investment fund was launched earlier this year with backing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG), and an agreement to support the Fund from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Climate Trust Capital released a request for proposals in January to begin the process of building a pipeline of qualified projects—aiming to execute contracts with selected project partners by the end of 2016. With the Packard PRI funding secured, Climate Trust Capital is now ready to invest in Fund I projects. “This partnership between NRCS and The Climate Trust will increase the funding available for conservation on America’s working lands,” said Jason Weller, Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Not only will this partnership deliver innovative conservation finance solutions, but the projects made possible by this new fund will support implementation of USDA’s Building Blocks for Climate Change.” In a role highlighted by The Climate Trust’s leadership, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP provided pro bono legal support to the Fund I launch. “Even with access to PRI funding from Packard, the launching of Fund I would not have been possible without the considerable pro bono legal support of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe,” said Sean Penrith, Executive Director for The Climate Trust. “Procuring this caliber of legal expertise was a game-changer for Climate Trust Capital, as the legal costs associated with starting new funds can be a heavy burden. We couldn’t have asked for a more committed legal partner than Orrick, and we look forward to our continued collaboration as investments are deployed, and our fund becomes a reality.” “Orrick was delighted to be able to assist in a worthwhile and important project,” said Bob Lawrence, Orrick’s Senior Counsel for environmental law. “Climate Trust Capital will help drive the development of innovative technologies that will reduce carbon emissions and expand financing options in the energy sector,” said Lawrence. “We believe that offset projects can be an important and cost effective contributor to the U.S.’ stated climate reduction targets under the historic Paris Agreement,” added Kristen Kleiman, Director of Investments for Climate Trust Capital. “This significant investment from the Packard Foundation, as well as the valuable legal guidance provided by Orrick, will enable Climate Trust Capital to invest in vital offset projects that collectively make for big climate impacts, while leveraging our existing programs to attract private capital and further amplify our impact.” Investments in conservation projects from the $5.5M Fund I vehicle are expected to catalyze the development of four anaerobic digesters, three forestry projects and one grassland conservation program, collectively reducing 978,157 mtCO2e over their ten-year life. From a conservation perspective, this will ensure sustainable management on more than 20,000 acres of land, and greatly improve water and air quality domestically. Based upon its success, Climate Trust Capital plans to scale the carbon investment fund to become a $500M fund with the potential to reduce significant emissions both domestically and abroad. As Climate Trust Capital assembles additional impact investment dollars to scale the investment fund, there are plans to offer further rounds of increased financing for deployment in 2018, allowing for expanded offers of financing to more sectors and developers. “Lenders heavily or completely discount the future revenue conservation projects can generate by selling carbon offsets, significantly reducing the ability of carbon markets to mobilize capital for conservation projects,” said Peter Weisberg, Senior Investment Manager for Climate Trust Capital. “While the market currently undervalues carbon, Climate Trust Capital’s patient finance model was built with the conviction that carbon prices will continue to increase, and aims to unlock that value over a 10-year investment term—meeting an urgent need in the market for upfront conservation finance,” continued Weisberg. Fund I was structured to provide upfront capital to projects in return for partial ownership of the resulting carbon credits. The upfront investment can be used by projects for requisite costs such as construction, development or land acquisition. “The Trust has almost two decades of experience working in domestic carbon markets, and is in a unique position to manage the risks associated with investing in carbon projects through Fund I,” continued Kleiman. “The Trust has structured a portion of their existing $22 million of program funds to guarantee project developers and investors a minimum value for future carbon credits that also caps downside risk. Proceeds from the resale of emission reductions to California compliance and voluntary buyers are anticipated to generate sufficient revenues to provide a market-based rate of return to the fund.” Building upon a legacy of innovation and leadership in the carbon market, The Climate Trust mobilizes conservation finance to maximize environmental returns. We value air, water and soil through the development, purchase and sale of qualified offsets and a relentless investment in people and projects with environmental purpose | http://www.climatetrust.org | @climatetrust | facebook.com/TheClimateTrust


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.latimes.com

One day, gardeners might not just hear the buzz of bees among their flowers, but the whirr of robots, too. Scientists in Japan say they’ve managed to turn an unassuming drone into a remote-controlled pollinator by attaching horsehairs coated with a special, sticky gel to its underbelly. The system, described in the journal Chem, is nowhere near ready to be sent to agricultural fields, but it could help pave the way to developing automated pollination techniques at a time when bee colonies are suffering precipitous declines. In flowering plants, sex often involves a threesome. Flowers looking to get the pollen from their male parts into another bloom’s female parts need an envoy to carry it from one to the other. Those third players are animals known as pollinators — a diverse group of critters that includes bees, butterflies, birds and bats, among others. Animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Chief among those are bees — but many bee populations in the United States have been in steep decline in recent decades, likely due to a combination of factors, including agricultural chemicals, invasive species and climate change. Just last month, the rusty patched bumblebee became the first wild bee in the United States to be listed as an endangered species (although the Trump administration just put a halt on that designation). Thus, the decline of bees isn’t just worrisome because it could disrupt ecosystems, but also because it could disrupt agriculture and the economy. People have been trying to come up with replacement techniques, the study authors say, but none of them are especially effective yet — and some might do more harm than good. “One pollination technique requires the physical transfer of pollen with an artist’s brush or cotton swab from male to female flowers,” the authors wrote. “Unfortunately, this requires much time and effort. Another approach uses a spray machine, such as a gun barrel and pneumatic ejector. However, this machine pollination has a low pollination success rate because it is likely to cause severe denaturing of pollens and flower pistils as a result of strong mechanical contact as the pollens bursts out of the machine.” Scientists have thought about using drones, but they haven’t figured out how to make free-flying robot insects that can rely on their own power source without being attached to a wire. “It’s very tough work,” said senior author Eijiro Miyako, a chemist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan. Miyako’s particular contribution to the field involves a gel, one he’d considered a mistake 10 years before. The scientist had been attempting to make fluids that could be used to conduct electricity, and one attempt left him with a gel that was as sticky as hair wax. Clearly this wouldn’t do, and so Miyako stuck it in a storage cabinet in an uncapped bottle. When it was rediscovered a decade later, it looked exactly the same – the gel hadn’t dried up or degraded at all. “I was so surprised, because it still had a very high viscosity,” Miyako said. The chemist noticed that when dropped, the gel absorbed an impressive amount of dust from the floor. Miyako realized this material could be very useful for picking up pollen grains. He took ants, slathered the ionic gel on some of them and let both the gelled and ungelled insects wander through a box of tulips. Those ants with the gel were far more likely to end up with a dusting of pollen than those that were free of the sticky substance. The next step was to see if this worked with mechanical movers, as well. He and his colleagues chose a four-propeller drone whose retail value was $100, and attached horsehairs to its smooth surface to mimic a bee’s fuzzy body. They coated those horsehairs in the gel, and then maneuvered the drones over Japanese lilies, where they would pick up the pollen from one flower and then deposit the pollen at another bloom, thus fertilizing it. The scientists looked at the hairs under a scanning electron microscope and counted up the pollen grains attached to the surface. They found that the robots whose horsehairs had been coated with the gel had on the order of 10 times more pollen than those hairs that had not been coated with the gel. “A certain amount of practice with remote control of the artificial pollinator is necessary,” the study authors noted. Miyako does not think such drones would replace bees altogether, but could simply help bees with their pollinating duties. “In combination is the best way,” he said. There’s a lot of work to be done before that’s a reality, however. Small drones will need to become more maneuverable and energy efficient, as well as smarter, he said — with better GPS and artificial intelligence, programmed to travel in highly effective search-and-pollinate patterns. Using science to see which countries are following through on Paris climate change goals What makes a frog’s tongue so sticky? The secret is in the spit


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.prnewswire.com

ARDEN HILLS, Minn., Feb. 15, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Land O'Lakes, Inc. announced today that Jason Weller, former chief of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), will join the organization as a senior director of sustainability on Feb. 27, 2017. Jason will join the Land...


News Article | December 21, 2016
Site: www.prnewswire.com

DAVIS, Calif., Dec. 21, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today announced $225 million in funding for 88 partnership projects nationwide.  California captured funding for four projects—three completely within the state and one shared with...


News Article | April 27, 2016
Site: www.rdmag.com

Last summer, the Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone" spanned more than 6,400 square miles, more than three times the size it should have been, according to the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force. Nitrogen runoff from farms along the Mississippi River winds up in the Gulf, feeding algae but depriving other marine life of oxygen when the algae decomposes. The 12 states that border the Mississippi have been mandated to develop nutrient reduction strategies, but one especially effective strategy has not been adopted widely: bioreactors. Bioreactors are passive filtration systems that capitalize on a bacterial process known as denitrification to remove from 25 to 45 percent of the nitrate in water draining from farm fields. Research on and installation of bioreactors has accelerated in the past decade, but University of Illinois assistant professor of water quality Laura Christianson and her colleagues are urging a move past proof-of-concept toward large-scale deployment. "Bioreactors are one of the most effective edge-of-field practices, but until now, they haven't been rolled out on a large scale," Christianson says. Designs vary, but the typical arrangement for a 40- to 80-acre field is a large (100 x 20 foot) pit situated just ahead of where drainage pipes flow into ditches or streams. The pit is filled with carbon-rich organic material: usually wood chips, but sometimes corn cobs, biochar, or other matter. Denitrifying bacteria make their homes in the organic material and utilize its carbon as an energy source to convert nitrate in the water to the harmless nitrogen gas that makes up 78 percent of our atmosphere. A benefit of bioreactors as a nitrogen management strategy is their cost-benefit ratio. Bioreactors can cost approximately $10,000 to install, but cost-sharing is available through the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service for approximately half of that. Importantly, bioreactors typically operate for 10 years before wood chips need to be replaced. "It's a big up-front cost compared to a cover crop, but then you're 'one and done' for 10 years," Christianson notes. Christianson put together a special issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality focusing on bioreactors. Fifteen articles in the issue summarize the state-of-the-art of bioreactor technology, confirming that bioreactors could be an effective part of an integrated approach to nitrate management. According to Christianson and other experts contributing to the special issue, flow rates can significantly affect the efficiency of bioreactors. During low-flow periods, water can be held in bioreactors for too long, setting up conditions for different bacteria that create noxious hydrogen sulfide gas. Likewise, in high-flow periods, water may move through too quickly for efficient nitrogen removal. "Tile drainage systems never flow at a consistent rate," Christianson explains. "Bioreactors have to be designed strategically to optimize retention time and maximize nitrate removal without undesirable byproducts." Temperature and seasonal changes also affect how well bioreactors work. "The critical period for nitrate loss is early spring, before plants are growing and taking up nitrogen," Christianson says. "Snowmelt puts a significant amount of water through a bioreactor, depending on where you are. And because snowmelt and early spring drainage water is cooler, the bacteria aren't as efficient." Christianson and her colleagues are calling for more field-scale research to optimize design for the set of conditions unique to each field. "That's where my interest is for research: coming up with better designs. But on the other side of that coin, we don't want to become so advanced in the design that it becomes really complicated. There's a beauty in the simplicity of a trench full of woodchips," Christianson says. The article introducing the special issue, "Moving denitrifying bioreactors beyond proof of concept: Introduction to the special section," appears in the Journal of Environmental Qualityalong with 14 additional articles on the topic. Christianson co-authored the introductory article with Louis Schipper of the University of Waikato in New Zealand.


News Article | February 10, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

The bees are not all right. Their populations in the United States, as well as worldwide, have rapidly declined in recent years likely due to pesticide use, disease, and climate change. It is unclear what causes one of the factors at play, colony collapse disorder, and how it works, but bees are definitely falling in numbers. Now researchers in Japan are tinkering with insect-sized drones — with horsehairs on their backs and a special gel allowing them to pick up and release pollen grains — that may soon work alongside bees to pollinate plants and improve crop yields. The system is not autonomous, has not been tested outside the laboratory, and nowhere ready to be transported to agricultural missions but could usher in a generation of automated pollination methods in the face of dire bee colony declines. Pollinators play a crucial role in the reproduction of plants. Flowers that look to get pollen from their male parts into another bloom’s female parts need them, usually critters such as bees and butterflies, for transport. The team of Eijiro Miyako from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan used this very principle of cross-pollinated in bees to devise a pollen-transporting drone. With the task requiring much effort and time, the team explored the use of a spray machine, but this yielded low success rate due to the potential severe denaturing of pollens and flower pistils from the “strong mechanical contact as the pollens burst out of the machine,” they wrote. “It’s very tough work,” shared chemist and senior author Miyako, delving on the difficulty of making a free-flying robot insect that can run from its own power source without wire attachments. So he contributed an innovation to the research: a special sticky gel, which coats the horsehair. When the robot flied onto a flower, pollen grains lightly stick to this gel and then rub off on the next flower being targeted. Based on experiments, the 15-gram, 4-centimeter-wide drone managed to cross-pollinate Japanese lilies, with the soft animal hairs not causing any damage on the pistils or stamens once the drone landed on the flowering plants. The team is now eyeing the development of autonomous drones to help farmers out on the fields. The drones will likely require GPS, high-resolution cameras, as well as artificial intelligence to independently make their way to the flowers and land on the correct sports. “[B]ees and drones should be used together,” Miyako said, hoping to help address the problem of declining bee populations with this combination. There is likely a lot of work needed before this comes into fruition, since small drones would have to be made more maneuverable as well as energy-efficient, but this can be a spark of hope for animal pollination, which is necessary to reproduce 90 percent of flowering plants and one-third of human food crops, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service stated. Bees are chief among these pollinators, but they are not in the best place right now. Just last month and for the first time in U.S. history, the rusty patched bumblebee that was so prevalent two decades ago officially became a struggling bunch. The newly designated endangered species, buzzing on the East Coast and a large portion of the Midwest until the 1990s, are found only in scattered groups in 13 states today. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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