December 1, 2016

New Study by University of Vermont : Climate Change Could Outpace EPA Lake Champlain Protections

New research by University of Vermont suggests that Lake Champlain may be more susceptible to damage from climate change than was previously understood—and that, therefore, the rules created by the EPA to protect the lake may be inadequate to prevent algae blooms and water quality problems as the region gets hotter and wetter.

“This paper provides very clear evidence that the lake could be far more sensitive to climate change than is captured by the current approach of the EPA,” said University of Vermont professor Asim Zia, the lead author of the new study. “We may need more interventions—and this may have national significance for how the agency creates regulations.”

 The research was published November 17 in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

More than modest

The study, led by a team of ten scientists from UVM and one from Dartmouth College, used a powerful set of computer models that link the behavior of social and ecological systems. Their results show that accelerating climate change could easily outpace the EPA’s land-use management policies aimed at reducing the inflow of pollution from agricultural runoff, parking lots, deforestation, cow manure, lawn fertilizer, pet waste, streambank erosion—and other sources of excess phosphorus that cause toxic algae and lake health problems.
The EPA’s modeling to prepare its rules under what’s called the TMDL, for “total maximum daily load,” concluded that “any increases in the phosphorus loads to the lake due to the climate change are likely to be modest (i.e. 15%),” the agency writes. But the eleven scientists, within the Vermont EPSCoR program at UVM, who led the new modeling were concerned that this approach might underestimate the range of likely outcomes in a warmer future.  
UVM professor Chris Koliba, a co-author and social scientist on the new study observed that, “there have been extensive efforts by federal regulators, the State of Vermont, and many other stakeholders to try to remediate and improve water quality in our watersheds. These should be honored. The message of our research is not to demean that work, but to say that in the long run protecting the lake is going to take a lot more than what's being proposed right now.”

Limited options

The new lake model, with support from the National Science Foundation, integrates a much larger assembly of possible global climate change models and greenhouse gas pathways than the current TMDL approach used in its modeling. And the Vermont scientists delved deeply into the indirect and interactive effects of land use changes, “legacy phosphorus” that’s been piling up for decades in the sediment at the bottom of the lake, and other factors. From this, they created a set of forecasts for what might happen to Lake Champlain over the next few decades out to 2040—including changes in water quality, temperature, and the severity of algae blooms.  Their result: a much more dramatic range of possible outcomes—and greater uncertainty—than those assumed in the EPA’s approach.
In several of the plausible hotter and wetter scenarios that the model considers, a cascading set of problems could lead to phosphorous pollution levels in segments of Lake Champlain that “drastically limit land management options to maintain water quality,” the team wrote—especially in shallow bays like Missisquoi Bay that was the focus of the new study. In the long run, the risk of underestimating the impacts of climate change could lead to what the scientists call “intractable eutrophic conditions”—a permanent change in the lake that leads to self-perpetuating algae blooms, lost fisheries, and poor water quality.

New tool

The new integrated assessment model created by the NSF-funded team under the science leadership of Asim Zia provides a powerful tool that goes far beyond understanding Lake Champlain.
By connecting sub-models—of human behavior and land use, watershed dynamics, global climate models “downscaled” to the local region, and the hydrology of the lake itself—the overall model links together “the behavior of the watershed, lake, people and climate,” said Judith Van Houten, UVM professor of biology, director of Vermont EPSCoR, and co-author on the new study. This provides “a way forward to pull back the veil that often surrounds effects of climate change,” she says.
“Integrating these models is an enormous achievement that will be exportable across the US and be of practical use to many states and countries as they try to develop policies in the face of climate change,” she said. It can allow lake and land managers to test scenarios that draw in a huge range of time scales and types of interactions, ranging from water chemistry to air temperature to land use policies.
Only by solving this kind of model-of-many-models problem, “as we have done,” Van Houten said, could a tool be created that has predictive power for decades ahead, “allowing stakeholders to test their ideas,” she says, and even “describing the health of the lake out to the turn of the century.”
UVM hydrologist Arne Bomblies, a co-author on the study, noted that, “We show through this modeling work the importance of a more comprehensive consideration of climate change impact mechanisms to achieve water quality goals, and the need to adequately address climate change uncertainty.”
 “Lake Champlain’s future is sensitive to climate change,” Bomblies said, “and similar challenges are faced by other impaired waters throughout the United States.”

From University of Vermont. Original written by Joshua E. Brown.

May 23, 2014

For 'greener' control measures Termite genome shows roadmap

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A team of international researchers has sequenced the genome of the Nevada dampwood termite, providing an inside look into the biology of the social insect and uncovering new genetic targets for pest control.
Michael Scharf, a Purdue University professor of entomology who participated in the collaborative study, said the genome could help researchers develop control strategies that are more specific than the broad-spectrum chemicals conventionally used to treat termite infestations.
"The termite genome reveals many unique genetic targets that can be disrupted for better termite control," said Scharf, who is the O. Wayne Rollins/Orkin Chair in Molecular Physiology and Urban Entomology. "Depending on which gene or protein that is targeted, we could disrupt termites' neurological processes, molting, digestive factors or cuticle formation. We're just limited by our imagination."

May 20, 2014

Shrub growth decreases as winter temperatures fluctuate up

Many have assumed that warmer winters as a result of climate change would increase the growth of trees and shrubs because the growing season would be longer. But shrubs achieve less yearly growth when cold winter temperatures are interrupted by temperatures warm enough to trigger growth.
“When winter temperatures fluctuate between being cold and warm enough for growth, plants deplete their resources trying to photosynthesize and end the winter with fewer reserves than they initially had. In the summer they have to play catch up,” said Melanie Harsch, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher in biology and applied mathematics. She is lead author of a paper on the subject recently published in PLOS One.

Southern plants do better than Northern locals With climate changing

Can plants and animals evolve to keep pace with climate change? A study published May 19 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that for at least one widely-studied plant, the European climate is changing fast enough that strains from Southern Europe already grow better in the north than established local varieties.
Small and fast-growing, Arabidopsis thaliana is widely used as the “lab mouse” of plant biology. The plant grows in Europe from Spain to Scandinavia and because Arabidopsis is so well-studied, there is a reference collection of seeds derived from wild stocks across its native range. Originally collected from 20 to 50 years ago, these plants have since been maintained under controlled conditions in the seed bank.

February 8, 2014

Newly Discovered Receptors in Plants Help Them Recover from Environmental Changes, Pests, and Plant Wounds, MU Study Shows

Discovery could lead to herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides that naturally work with plants to make them stronger

COLUMBIA, Mo. – ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the main energy source inside a cell and is considered to be the high energy molecule that drives all life processes in animals and humans. Outside the cell, membrane receptors that attract ATP drive muscle control, neurotransmission, inflammation and development.  Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found the same receptor in plants and believe it to be a vital component in the way plants respond to dangers, including pests, environmental changes and plant wounds. This discovery could lead to herbicides, fertilizers and insect repellants that naturally work with plants to make them stronger.

May 24, 2013

More emphasis needed on recycling and reuse of Li-ion batteries

The discovery of potential environmental and human health effects from disposal of millions of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries each year has led scientists to recommend stronger government policies to encourage recovery, recycling and reuse of lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery materials. That's the conclusion of a new paper in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Oladele A. Ogunseitan and colleagues point out that Li-ion batteries have become mainstays for powering everything from smart phones to components in new jetliners, with global sales approaching $8 billion annually. They realized that the short life span (2-4 years) of Li-ion batteries in portable electronic devices would make a huge contribution to the electronic waste problem, which already is the fastest growing form of solid waste. So they decided to see whether potentially toxic materials leach out and become a health and environmental threat after disposal.
Using standardized leaching tests, hazard assessment models and other methods for evaluating hazardous waste, the scientists showed that Li-ion batteries from cell phones would meet federal government definitions of hazardous waste because of lead content. California standards would classify them as hazardous due to cobalt, copper and nickel content. "These findings support the need for stronger government policy at the local, national, and international levels to encourage recovery, recycling, and reuse of lithium battery materials," their report states.