January 29, 2015
We are thrilled to announce Great Ecology President & CEO, Dr. Mark S. Laska, is recognized as a Most Admired CEO Award Finalist by the San Diego Business Journal. This annual awards program recognizes outstanding CEO’s in the San Diego region who contribute to the company’s financial success and growth through innovative leadership practices, demonstrate exceptional community involvement and philanthropic contributions, maintain a positive work environment, and empower and inspire others.Leave a comment
January 26, 2015
Great Ecology is proud to be featured in the recent issue of the Green Build & Design Magazine. The article, Ground Swell, highlights the new Corktown Common Waterfront Park, a post-industrial site along the Toronto waterfront. Collaborating with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. Great Ecology supported the restoration of the native habitat and ecology. The project creates wetland and upland wildlife habitats infused with a cultural and ecological public space along the Toronto waterfront.
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January 24, 2015
Marlene Tyner, M.E.S.M.
The New York Times recently urged everyone to pull up their New York, San Diego, and Miami roots and move on over to Portland, Seattle, and Detroit. Why the incitement to mass-migration? Climate change.
In an article published in the journal Nature, climate change researchers concluded that in a warmer future, several American cities will be losers (higher temperatures, drought, sea level rise), and some will be winners (moderate climate, reasonable precipitation, consistent shorelines). Because climate models contain both spatial and temporal variables, they can be mapped. And as a result, the authors found that some parts of the United States will feel the impacts of climate change more than others.
But, before you sell your beachfront Miami home and move to Milwaukee, it might be useful to ask: How accurate are these predictions anyway? To answer that question we need to understand how these predictions were generated and how to interpret them.
General Circulation Models
General Circulation Models (GCMs) are the models used by climate scientists to generate global climate change predictions. There are a ton of these models out there, developed and run at institutions as wide-ranging as the U.S. National Centre for Atmospheric Research, the Russian Institute for Numerical Mathematics, and the Korean Meteorological Administration. In total, approximately 80 GCMs from across the globe were evaluated for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Climate Change 2013 Report.
GCMs attempt to mimic the global climate, a complex system influenced by the way the atmosphere, land, sea-ice, and ocean behave and interrelate. Climate modelers apply basic laws of physics to each individual component of the earth system, and then use those same laws to link all the systems.
Each GCM differs in both the equations used to approximate physical processes in these systems, and how the equations are parameterized, or what values can be plugged into the model. You may see model results reported under different ‘scenarios’ – that just means that they’ve run the models using varying levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to see how the climate will be behave in a world filled with the same or more CO2.
GCMs are run on computers, which read and process data in globe-sized grids. Think of the pixels on photos or your TV screen, but bigger (~40 square miles per cell) and covering the entire world. The various component models are layered on top of each other on this grid, and the computer calculates a target value for each grid cell. If scientists were interested in temperature, for example, they would output the average temperature in each cell across the globe. You can run GCMs multiple times in succession to approximate how temperature might change over time, with each run representing a month, or a year, etc. This works because the models reference back to the previous time step for many of their parameters. The temporal aspect of climate models allows scientists to make temperature and other variable predictions based on various climate starting-points.
That’s partly why GCMs are run under different climate change scenarios. These scenarios represent approximations of variables in the environment that will be different in the future and by how much. The standard today is to use Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs), which describe greenhouse gas concentration trajectories and their effect on how much of the sun’s energy gets trapped between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. A higher RCP indicates a warmer future, with the hottest scenario denoted as RCP8.5 by the IPCC. Running different scenarios allows us to understand what the Earth will look like in the future based on the actions we take today, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
So how robust are climate change model predictions?
One way is to use a data comparison method known as hindcasting. When you hindcast, you’re really matching model projections of past climate variables, such as sea level rise, with observed data (see sea level rise graph). This allows you to see how good your model is at generating the same climate data as what we already observed long ago.
Another way is to run the model multiple times under the same climate scenario(s) to account for any variation in predictions. The figure below shows temperature observations in black, model temperature predictions in yellow, and the average of the model predictions in red. See how close the red average predicted value tracks the observed values in black?
However, while GCMs are great at predicting long-term changes across large areas, they are limited in a few key ways. First, they don’t predict the weather, but instead show long term trends. Like the U.S. stock market, some days might be up and some might be down, but it has experienced an overall increase over the past 100 years. The same is true of CO2 concentrations and temperature. Second, there is a lot of debate over the utility of global climate models to accurately predict regional climate change due to their large spatial scale. When one square contains 40 square miles, you miss a lot of detail. However, there are different models which can facilitate regional climate analysis.
Downscaling to Enhance Regional Climate Models
Regional Climate Models allow scientists to understand the impacts of climate change at higher resolutions over specific regions, and are developed through either dynamical or statistical downscaling. Dynamical downscaling involves running a climate model using a smaller grid size, zooming in on a specific part of the Earth, and interpolating the input data to fit the new grid size. Statistical downscaling uses advanced statistics to predict smaller-scale variation in each larger grid cells using predictor variables (IPCC 2013). However, the researchers of the previously-mentioned Nature article used a novel data aggregation technique that gives a much more local understanding of climate change in a statistically robust manner. This technique could be used to generate city-specific guidelines for land-use planning, real estate development, and an understanding of which natural resources to prioritize for conservation.
So say goodbye to the beach, San Diegans, and head to the Midwest. At least the real estate prices are reasonable.
About the Author:
Marlene Tyner has over 6 years of experience in ecological research and environmental analysis. Her past work includes coastal and near-shore sedimentation modeling, responses of ecosystem processes and communities to climate change, and global habitat modeling under various climate change predictions.
January 17, 2015
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” – George Orwell
What happens when two federally protected species go head to head over habitat and limited natural resources? Who decides which species will be saved and which species will be eliminated? These questions have begun to surface with increasing frequency as federal agencies have been forced to take drastic measures in an attempt to save critically endangered species in the Pacific Northwest.
Historical competition between species is an intrinsic component to evolution. It is a natural process that predates humanity by billions of years, and one that will persist far past human existence. However, certain anthropogenic impacts have had a caustic influence on the rate of species loss, with some estimates ascribing an accelerated rate of extinction at 100 to 1,000 times faster than the rate of species loss before human existence. Faced with these facts, federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), the U.S. Army Core of Engineers (USACE), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), have considered and in some cases piloted programs which systematically kill one federally protected species to protect another.
East Sand Island, Astoria, Oregon – 30,000 hungry cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) have gathered to feast upon the thousands of tiny coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) making the dangerous journey along the Columbia River to the mouth of the Pacific Ocean. Researchers tasked with the protection and management of salmon populations are concerned by the number of fish that never make it to the ocean, and instead end up in the mouths of the voracious cormorants. Scientists have estimated that the bird population on East Sand Island consumes approximately 25 million smolts, or 20% of all juvenile salmon and steelhead swimming down the Columbia River, and each individual cormorant can eat up to 2lbs of fish a day.
The massive population of birds migrated to East Sand Island and other similar locations along river mouths of the Pacific Northwest approximately 15 years ago. Scientists believe the birds settled here due to the rebounding salmon population. Today, in a drastic attempt to save the struggling salmon population, the USACE is considering controlling (primarily through trapping & shooting) the East Sand Island bird/cormorant population by approximately 4,000 birds a year. From 2015-2018, their goal is to eliminate 2/3’s of the local population or all but 5,939 nesting pairs. This initiative has provoked a strong negative response amongst many environmental organizations and conservation groups, who argue that there are better alternatives which would benefit both species. They claim that the emphasis should instead be on the hydroelectric dams and habitat restoration. A representative of the USACE, Joyce Casey, states that the agency has “tried other methods to try to address the consumption problem and they don’t seem to be working,” Some of these methods include hazing or attempting to drive the birds away from the site, but these efforts have repeatedly failed as the birds always return to East Sand Island.
Anthropogenic Impacts to Habitat
Anthropogenic impacts have played a pivotal role in the modification of salmon and cormorant habitats in the Columbia River basin. Hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers were primarily responsible for the decline in the local salmon population as salmon were blocked from their spawning sites and often killed by the dam’s turbines. Conversely, the cormorant habitat was actually improved by dredging activities associated with the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project which significantly reinforced East Sand Island, providing the cormorants an excellent breeding ground and habitat to rear their young. According to a study published by the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) “In the Columbia Basin over one-third of the habitat formerly occupied by salmon is now blocked by dams. Further, dams alter several key characteristics of water, especially temperature, dissolved gases, sediment transport, and the quantity and timing of flow.” Many argue that because the Columbia River dams negatively impacted aquatic wildlife habitat, drastic measures are now necessary to compensate for this species loss.
Blaine Parker a fisheries Biologist for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission who supports the USACE initiative, argues that tax payers who purchase hydroelectric power “have spent hundreds of millions annually to make the ecosystem more fish-friendly,” and they are not inclined to see the fish population rapidly consumed by birds. According to the USACE’s Double-crested Cormorant Management Plan “for some salmonid groups, average double-crested cormorant predation impacts can be similar to or exceed the mortality experienced at a hydropower dam in the Federal Columbia River Power System, and, in some years, can be three to four times higher.”
Federally Protected Species Targeted for Removal
Many groups who oppose the USACE plan made similar arguments in regards to the protection of the Northern Spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), an endangered species endemic to the Pacific Northwest whose existence was threatened due to logging and invasive species. However, similar to the plight of the salmon, the conservation and protection of their habitat alone wasn’t enough, due to an invasion of barred owls (Strix varia) from the East. As a result, the USFWS approved an experiment to shoot the barred owls in an attempt to help the Northern Spotted owl recover. Shortly thereafter, the USFWS was sued by an advocacy group, Friends of the Animals, on the grounds that the Barred owls are a federally protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
The USACE management plan will not be the first time endangered salmon have received preferential treatment over a predator species. In 2012 the National Marine Fisheries Service approved an initiative to trap and/or kill sea lions that were guilty of consuming salmon near the Bonneville Dam in Oregon. A decision which was also challenged in a court of law, this time in an unsuccessful lawsuit filed by the Humane Society.
The questions remain
How do we decide which species needs more protection? How do we balance the competing objectives of different species? Is eliminating one species to save another the only recourse for federal agencies seeking to bring a species back from the brink of extinction? Stay tuned for a follow up blog on New Zealand and Australia’s answer to adopt a mathematical approach to species conservation.
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January 9, 2015
David J. Yozzo, Ph.D.
The occurrence and destructive aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which struck New Jersey’s central/southern coast in 2012, certainly captured the attention of those who live, work and recreate along shorelines. For proponents and practitioners of ecosystem restoration projects, especially coastal wetlands, the effects of Sandy were striking.
While it has been recognized for decades that restored coastal wetlands are subject to adaptive modification as a result of stochastic processes, such as storm events and vessel traffic, the design of these systems has not always benefitted from forecasting the effects of sea level rise (SLR) on tidal flooding regimes and storm events over anticipated project lifetimes (i.e. 50+ years). Resource management agencies and coastal ecologists often question the value of investing considerable time, money and labor into restoring habitats at the dynamic water’s edge – will these ecosystems and the ecological and social benefits they provide persist for sufficient durations given current SLR forecasts? How should current thinking with regard to design elevations, planting schemes, and proximity to adjacent natural and engineered habitats be modified to compensate for SLR impacts, especially within estuaries surrounded by dense residential, industrial, and commercial infrastructure?
The Impacts of Rising Seas
The primary impact of sea level rise on coastal environments and infrastructure is the direct loss of land and habitat from inundation. A secondary impact is the migration of coastal landforms inland (retreat). In an urban setting such as the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, the likelihood of coastal retreat is severely restricted from centuries of shoreline development and re-alignment. An additional impact of climate change and sea level rise is the effect of increased salinity associated with rising coastal waters, ultimately resulting in the conversion of freshwater tidal wetlands to brackish salt marshes in the upper reaches of estuaries.
Presently, the rate of sea level rise in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary (HRE) is approximately 2.7 mm/year, which exceeds the global average of 1.8 mm/year (IPCC, 2014, Needelman et al. 2012). The higher observed average rate of sea-level rise in this region is partially the result of post-glacial rebound. This exacerbates the amount of observed wetland/shoreline subsidence attributed to eustatic sea-level rise (i.e., that brought about by an increase in the volume of the world’s oceans, because of the thermal expansion) (Hartig et al. 2002). Along with increases in mean sea level, storm intensity and frequency are also predicted to increase. A shift in storm intensity towards Polar regions is anticipated under future climate change scenarios, with more frequent and damaging storms expected to occur in the north Atlantic (NWF 2011). These processes are complementary, as an increase in mean sea level will exacerbate the surge effects associated with more intense and frequent coastal storms.
Coastal Resiliency Planning
An important factor that is often ignored in forecasting the response of coastal wetlands to sea level rise is tidal range, which varies considerably along the world’s coastlines. Estuarine and coastal habitats characterized by a micro-tidal regime (tidal range of less than 2 meters) (i.e., the Gulf of Mexico) may experience the greatest effects of sea level rise, as native plant and animal communities are not accustomed to large fluctuations in inundation frequency and depth. In contrast, macro-tidal systems (4+ meter tidal range), such as the Puget Sound region of Washington or estuaries along Maine’s coast, are expected to exhibit a considerable degree of resilience to changes in sea level, as the plant and animal communities present in these systems are adapted to wide fluctuations in tides and current regimes. Meso-tidal estuaries, for example the Hudson–Raritan Estuary, are likely to exhibit a moderate degree of resilience in comparison to micro- or macro-tidal systems (Needelman et al. 2012).
An additional source of uncertainty in attempting to predict the effects of climate change and sea level rise on coastal habitats within the Hudson-Raritan Estuary (and elsewhere) is the occurrence of non-linear response patterns (Needelman et al. 2012). Often, impacts to wetlands and other coastal habitats are not necessarily observed until a disturbance threshold is reached. This may explain the rapid and recent loss of salt marsh islands in Jamaica Bay, New York, a lagoon-type estuary subjected to dredging, coastal development, and wastewater inputs for several decades before exhibiting tangible degradation. Once the impact threshold was reached, perhaps in the late 1990s, the system reached a tipping point, and degradation became readily discernible. In the future, Jamaica Bay will likely continue to experience rapid erosion and/or subsidence of wetlands in the face of rising sea level. In contrast, wetlands associated with a continuous source of sediments from river drainage basins (i.e., Raritan River wetlands) may persist for a much longer duration before reaching disturbance thresholds.
Non-linear responses in coastal systems are not well-studied and future restoration programs in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary would benefit substantially from a better understanding of ecological tipping points and disturbance thresholds, especially with regard to enhancing resiliency in the face of climate change impacts.
The second edition of this two part blog series will provide an overview of ongoing restoration and management initiatives in response to SLR within the Hudson-Raritan Estuary, including living shoreline approaches, managed retreat, and the beneficial use of dredged material in coastal habitat restoration programs.
Hartig, E.K, V. Gornitz, A. Kolker, F. Mushacke, and D. Fallon. 2002. Anthropogenic and climate change impacts on salt marshes of Jamaica Bay, New York City. Wetlands 22:71-89.
IPCC. 2014. Climate Change 2014. Synthesis Report. An Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Needelman, B.A., S. Crooks, C.A. Shumway, J.G. Titus, R.Takacs, and J.E. Hawkes. 2012. Restore-Adapt-Mitigate: Responding to Climate Change Through Coastal Habitat Restoration. B.A. Needelman, J. Benoit, S. Bosak, and C. Lyons (eds.). Restore America’s Estuaries, Washington D.C., pp. 1-63.
NWF 2011. Practical Guidance for Coastal Climate-Smart Conservation Projects in the Northeast: Case Examples for Coastal Impoundments and Living Shorelines. National Wildlife Federation.
About the Author
Dr. David Yozzo is an estuarine ecologist with over 20 years of experience in academics, government, and the private sector. His professional and research expertise includes community ecology of tidal and freshwater wetlands, ecosystem functional assessment, and coastal/freshwater habitat restoration.Leave a comment
January 8, 2015
Great Ecology is honored to be recognized as one of the 2015 Future 50 companies by SmartCEO. This program acknowledges the success of 50 fast-growth, mid-sized companies in the New York region. Based on a three-year average of employee and revenue growth, Great Ecology has made the list with a growth rate of 194% and the creation of 21 new jobs. Founder & CEO, Dr. Mark S. Laska shares, “it is an honor to accept this prestigious award alongside some of the top companies and CEOs in New York.” Dr. Laska is featured in the January/February edition of the SmartCEO publication along with New York’s other award-winning entrepreneurs.
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December 30, 2014
Enjoy the final edition of the Best of 2014 Blog Series. Help us pick this year’s Blog of the Year Winner! Vote for your favorite blog from 2014.
Water Under Your Feet
Alejandro Baladron Julian, M.S.
There is a tremendous amount of mythology and confusion surrounding the sources of groundwater. This may explain why techniques like dowsing, using supernatural abilities to find water below the ground, are still used today instead of the most basic principles of groundwater science.
Trees Provide Evidence for Forensic Scientists
Ioana Petrisor, Ph.D.
Forensic Environmental Scientists are using tree rings to trace and age-date contamination events in order to design remediation strategies.
California’s largest lake, once a booming economy and a flourishing ecosystem, now abandoned and littered with skeletons. Why we must act now to prevent further devastation.
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December 19, 2014
The Best of 2014 Blog series is back with three more of our favorites from the year. Help us decide this year’s winner after part IV is released.
Carbon Offset Credits: Tradeable Market Goods
Marlene Tyner, M.E.S.M.
What are carbon offset credits and why are they so important? Carbon offset credits are a sustainable commodity for modern entrepreneurs, non-profits, corporations, and private land owners looking to make a living out of environmental conservation.
A River Runs Through it, Again
For the first time in decades the Colorado river found its way towards the Gulf thanks to a bi-national agreement between the U.S. and Mexico. Just one pulse of the river could help to jump start riparian ecosystem recovery in the region.
Steppe it up – Solving the Greater Sage-Grouse Controversy
Ashley Tuggle, M.E.M.
The debate over the greater Sage Grouse listing is heating up – With a range stretching across approximately 165 million acres in 11 states, the economic impact of a potential ESA listing for the sage-grouse is staggering.
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December 12, 2014
Part II of this year’s best blogs heats up with the environmental impacts of oil spills, the SITES initiative for Ecological Landscape Design, and America’s several-billion dollar problem, invasive species. At the end of the series we invite you to vote for your favorite blog to be this year’s winner!
Marine Ecosystems Battling Oil Impacts
Ashley Tuggle, M.E.M
Galveston Bay alone, has had an average of 285 oil spills annually since 1998. Ending all oil spills is probably not possible, but designing restoration to try to combat their impacts is.
Setting a New Standard for Ecological Landscape Design
Chris Loftus, RLA, ASLA
The SITES initiative aims to evaluate a landscape’s ability to provide ecosystem services and long term economic benefits, similar to the LEED Certification for sustainable building construction.
Carpe Diem – Seize the Carp
Rick Black, M.S.
Asian Carp are an invasive species that threaten to throttle the Great Lakes ecosystem if allowed to migrate unchecked. So far 13 million pounds carp have been removed from Lake Utah in only 3 years; (An est.18 million pounds of carp remain in the lake).
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December 10, 2014
Nick Buhbe, Great Ecology’s Director of Ecology and one of the ecologists involved in the restoration of Lake San Marcos, summarized the progress of the current data collection efforts at a recent public meeting. The project involves multiple stakeholders and numerous complexities due to a variety of suspected sources, and is heading toward development of a remediation strategy. Mr. Buhbe described the importance of monitoring and the subsequent computer modeling that will help to determine the most effective restoration strategy for the lake: “the modeling effort is the key to understanding what the [nutrient] excess is, and what can be done about it.” This approach toward a long-term strategy was echoed by Laurie Walsh of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, who expressed an appreciation for the investigation and the speed of progress toward a solution.
Read the full U-T San Diego article.Leave a comment