Natural Resources Conservation Service

Point Pleasant, WV, United States

Natural Resources Conservation Service

Point Pleasant, WV, United States

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News Article | May 22, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

Transmission lines may be eyesores for most people but for songbirds, the forest around them might just be critical habitat. A team of researchers want to see if these birds are populating land cleared along the route of a powerline—as well as areas that have been recently logged—in New Hampshire and Maine. In other parts of the country, the shrubby habitat of these younger forests have been found to offer much-needed protection for the birds from predators, as well as a steady diet of insects and fruit. One of the researchers says these habitats are "incredibly important" for the songbirds in those parts of northern New England. "Our goal is to get a better understanding for how these habitats function in our landscape," said Matt Tarr, a wildlife specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. Tarr and his colleagues will catch the songbirds in mist nests starting later this month, band them and then track them over the next two years. They will be focused on 24 transmission line rights of way and 12 areas that been logged in southeastern New Hampshire and southern Maine. Tarr said there are as many as 40 species of songbirds that nest in young forests and another group that nest in mature forests. "However, there is growing evidence suggesting that after their birds finish their nesting and the young leave the nest, they leave mature forests and come into the young forest to complete their development." The nearly $250,000 study is being funded by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service as well as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's New England Forests and Rivers Fund. A contributor to the New England fund is the utility Eversource, which has proposed the Northern Pass energy transmission project that has sparked criticism from property owners, tourism officials and others. Northern Pass entails building a 192-mile electricity transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield, New Hampshire, carrying enough Hydro-Quebec energy to southern New England markets to power about a 1.1 million homes. Tarr said the study isn't about finding an upside to transmission lines but rather trying to determine how birds use the forests that emerge after a project is built. "It helps us understand how transmission lines function in providing that habitat on the landscape," he said. The information they get could be critical to policymakers as they work to create more young forests for birds as well as other species like cottontail rabbits in New England. "Do they have positive effects or do they have negative effects?" he said. "We might find these rights of way aren't used as we think they are for mature forest birds. That would be important for us to know."


News Article | May 21, 2017
Site: phys.org

A team of researchers want to see if these birds are populating land cleared along the route of a powerline—as well as areas that have been recently logged—in New Hampshire and Maine. In other parts of the country, the shrubby habitat of these younger forests have been found to offer much-needed protection for the birds from predators, as well as a steady diet of insects and fruit. One of the researchers says these habitats are "incredibly important" for the songbirds in those parts of northern New England. "Our goal is to get a better understanding for how these habitats function in our landscape," said Matt Tarr, a wildlife specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. Tarr and his colleagues will catch the songbirds in mist nests starting later this month, band them and then track them over the next two years. They will be focused on 24 transmission line rights of way and 12 areas that been logged in southeastern New Hampshire and southern Maine. Tarr said there are as many as 40 species of songbirds that nest in young forests and another group that nest in mature forests. "However, there is growing evidence suggesting that after their birds finish their nesting and the young leave the nest, they leave mature forests and come into the young forest to complete their development." The nearly $250,000 study is being funded by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service as well as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's New England Forests and Rivers Fund. A contributor to the New England fund is the utility Eversource, which has proposed the Northern Pass energy transmission project that has sparked criticism from property owners, tourism officials and others. Northern Pass entails building a 192-mile electricity transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield, New Hampshire, carrying enough Hydro-Quebec energy to southern New England markets to power about a 1.1 million homes. Tarr said the study isn't about finding an upside to transmission lines but rather trying to determine how birds use the forests that emerge after a project is built. "It helps us understand how transmission lines function in providing that habitat on the landscape," he said. The information they get could be critical to policymakers as they work to create more young forests for birds as well as other species like cottontail rabbits in New England. "Do they have positive effects or do they have negative effects?" he said. "We might find these rights of way aren't used as we think they are for mature forest birds. That would be important for us to know." Explore further: Scientists use DNA analysis to prevent extinction of only native rabbit in Maine and New Hampshire


News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: www.washingtonpost.com

In late 2014, a whistleblower scientist rocked the Agriculture Department with a charge that it retaliated against him because his research found that a popular and lucrative farm pesticide might harm pollinators such as bees. The issue died down when the scientist, Jonathan Lundgren, withdrew his case to contemplate whether to make it broader, and because his superiors continued to penalize him for infractions that other scientists committed without discipline. Now a recent survey of the Agriculture Department’s scientists by the agency’s inspector general has brought it back to the forefront. According to the survey’s findings, nearly 10 percent said their research has been tampered with or altered by superiors “for reasons other than technical merit,” possibly because of political considerations. [Was a USDA scientist muzzled because of his bee research?] Questions were submitted by the inspector general to more than 2,000 scientists in four branches of the department — the Agricultural Research Service, Forest Service, Economic Research Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service. The intent was to gauge their understanding of its Scientific Integrity Policy, which allowed them to complain if they felt their work was compromised. Nearly 40 percent didn’t bother to take the survey, according to findings released April 13. Of those who did, more than half said they didn’t know how to file a complaint and some said they didn’t do so because they feared retaliation. “You do not need to have many cases to create a strong chilling effect, and the current science climate inside USDA is quite nippy,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which represented Lundgren. The USDA has said it doesn’t retaliate against any employee, and disputed Lundgren’s claim that he was targeted to suppress his science. Lundgren had been with the agency 11 years, ran his own lab with a staff and wrote a well-regarded book on predator insects, but his career began to fall apart when he published research that cautioned against the use of pesticides approved by the agency. In a Washington Post Magazine story about his case, Lundgren said he thought his downfall started in 2012 when he published findings in the Journal of Pest Science indicating that a popular class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, don’t improve soybean yields. He followed that the next year with a paper that said a new pest treatment called RNAi pesticides should trigger a new means of risk assessment. After the research drew national interest and a report on NPR, Lundgren said he was hauled into the office of a superior who told him for the first time that he shouldn’t talk to the media. After speaking to another news outlet about another research paper months later, Lundgren was suspended for unruly office behavior when he pretended to hump a chair. [A whistleblower withdrew his complaint against the USDA — to make it even stronger] Later he was docked for filing an unsigned travel request and rushing off to an event. Other Agriculture Department scientists contacted by The Washington Post said they had done worse, such as not filing a travel request at all, and not faced a penalty. In the survey, 85 percent of the 1,300 scientists who responded said the Scientific Integrity Policy established to protect their work didn’t benefit them, or offered no opinion. Nearly 20 percent said they didn’t know the policy existed. A few scientists submitted unflattering comments about the agency’s attempt at integrity. “The SIP is kind of a nicety with no real meaning,” one said. “It has done nothing about the lack of scientific integrity exhibited by my station director,” another said. The SIP seems “designed to protect the agency only, not a code for individual scientists interacting with other scientists,” yet another said. The comments were anonymous. “Nothing has really changed,” another comment said, “because the SIP still provides managers with the ability to stop communication of anything they want. The wording has changed and sounds better, but reality has not changed.” Other scientists saw the policy in a more positive light. “My agency was doing a fairly good job already. My work was not directly changed by SIP. However, SIP is indirectly beneficial in supporting a climate of scientific integrity.” Another said: “The policy makes it clear that as a senior scientist, I am speaking from the facts of science and not opinion.”


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation launched a national cover crop initiative today during a special press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The $6.6 million research initiative, made possible by a $2.2 million grant from FFAR, will promote soil health through the development and adoption of new cover crops across the United States. “The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is committed to improving the nation’s soil health, which is essential to ensuring a productive and sustainable future for food and agriculture,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., executive director of FFAR. “We look forward to working with the Noble Foundation and a talented team of researchers to develop better-than-ever, soil health-promoting cover crops that will contribute to thriving farms across the United States.” Cover crop is a term applied to a number of plant species that farmers, ranchers and landowners may plant to help manage soil erosion and fertility, preserve moisture content, and control weeds and diseases. “Cover crops play a significant role in sustainable agriculture practices,” said Bill Buckner, Noble Foundation president and chief executive officer. “The Noble Foundation has been a leader in developing forages (grazeable plants for livestock) and new cover crop varieties since the 1950s. It’s only fitting to help further research advancement in this area at the national level, which is made possible through the FFAR grant and our team of collaborators.” The initiative will bring together many collaborators, including representatives from the seed industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), three land grant universities, and an existing Legume Cover Crop Breeding Team, comprising another six land grant universities, ARS sites and a producer network. The focus of the initiative will be to identify cover crop species with the greatest potential to improve soil health and evaluate such species over a broad geography within three groups: small grains (wheat, rye, oat and triticale), annual legumes (hairy vetch, winter peas and clovers), and brassicas (turnips, radishes, kale and mustards). “The majority of cover crops are forages,” said Twain Butler, Ph.D., Noble Foundation research agronomist, who will serve as the project manager. “We will work with seed companies, a broad network of researchers and producers, and other evaluation sites to assess, evaluate and develop a broad solution to impact agriculture and soil health across a significant portion of the United States. Our goal is simple: to get new cover crop solutions into the hands of those who use them or will be using them.” The project is not limited to traditional breeding and evaluation. Engaging both producers and industry, researchers will also seek to identify and introduce key traits that can improve crop performance and soil enhancement. Additionally, scientists at the Noble Foundation will utilize advanced breeding techniques – which have traditionally been limited in application to high-value, row crops – to bring new and value-added characteristics to cover crops. “The American Seed Trade Association and its member companies look forward to supporting this important effort to bring together nationwide screening and evaluation of cover crops with advanced plant breeding tools,” said Andrew LaVigne, ASTA president and chief executive officer. “This initiative is a key step in helping foster the next generation of cover crop innovation.” Field trials will be conducted at five strategic sites to assist with cover crop evaluations: Maryland for the northeast, North Carolina for the southeast, Oklahoma for the Southern Plains, Nebraska for the Northern Plains and Missouri for the Midwest. “These sites have experience in cover crop evaluation and will allow us to effectively screen each species and variety for its effectiveness, its role with other crop mixes, and its range of adaptation,” Butler said. “These sites will also illustrate the use and effectiveness of cover crops for the purpose of sharing our findings with regional agricultural producers.” Short-term goals of the research are to identify the best cover crop species and varieties currently available through evaluation and screening, promote them to farmers and ranchers, and increase effective options within the marketplace. “Each collaborator has past and current research on cover crops,” Butler said. “This research complements existing efforts and allows us to focus more on improving soil health with cover crops. We also want to know what the agriculture industry and producers need so we can match those needs with our capabilities to produce better varieties. One variety won’t fit everyone; we’re here to better meet their needs.” Researchers will share results from this project with the public through national meetings and peer-reviewed publications. Certain outcomes, including molecular markers, will be made available through publication and publicly accessible databases.


News Article | June 21, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has awarded a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) in the amount of $900,000 to The Climate Trust to launch the Environmental Price Assurance Facility (EPAF). The EPAF will help spur development of agriculture and forestry conservation projects by reducing the risks associated with the future value of environmental credits. Many conservation projects have the opportunity to generate environmental credits to recognize their environmental benefits. Carbon credits, for example, are awarded as a result of a specific project or action implemented to avoid, sequester or displace greenhouse gas emissions. The uncertain value of future environmental credits diminishes the ability of markets to mobilize much-needed capital to build conservation projects so they can generate verified benefits. Investors and lenders have been known to discount the future value of environmental credits based on perceived risk that credit value could fall to zero. Given this perceived risk, insufficient capital is being invested into sectors that have the opportunity to generate environmental credits and provide verifiable conservation benefits. To overcome this uncertainty and make environmental markets financeable, The Climate Trust will launch the Environmental Price Assurance Facility. The EPAF brings the World Bank’s successful Pilot Auction Facility model for international offsets to benefit conservation in the U.S. The EPAF will auction put option contracts to U.S. projects that generate environmental credits. These contracts guarantee a minimum value for future credits—assuring projects, investors, and lenders that environmental markets have real value. By providing a credit enhancement that guarantees a minimum value for future environmental credits, the EPAF will lower the risk and therefore the cost of capital to build conservation projects. “As a nonprofit with two decades of experience managing carbon funds, The Climate Trust is ideally positioned to adopt this model for landowners, project developers and investors building conservation projects in the U.S.,” said Peter Weisberg, Senior Portfolio Manager for The Climate Trust. “This is an ambitious project that has potential for massive impact and we’re excited to get started.” “The Conservation Innovation Grant program helps partners harness science and technology to develop tools farmers and ranchers can use right now to put conservation on the ground,” said Ron Alvarado, NRCS state conservationist for Oregon. “We’re excited about The Climate Trust’s innovative strategy to spur adoption of conservation practices using a market-based approach.” Nationwide, NRCS is investing in 33 CIG projects valued at more than $22.6 million to drive public and private sector innovation in natural resource conservation. Projects for this fiscal year focus on conservation finance and pay-for-success models to stimulate conservation adoption; data analytics for natural resources; water management technologies and approaches; and historically underserved farmers ranchers and private forest landowners. Read and download the full list of this fiscal year’s selected projects or view the list through our interactive map. CIG is funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The maximum grant is $2 million per project, and the length of time for project completion is three years. The CIG projects are designed to engage EQIP-eligible producers in on-the-ground conservation activities that speed up the transfer and adoption of innovative conservation technologies and approaches. The NRCS uses CIG to work with other public and private entities to accelerate transfer and adoption of promising technologies and approaches to address some of the nation’s most pressing natural resource concerns. About Natural Resources Conservation Service: NRCS works in partnership with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners across the country to help boost agricultural productivity and protect natural resources through voluntary conservation. | http://www.or.nrcs.usda.gov | @NRCS_Oregon About The Climate Trust: 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 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 | 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 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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