In the remote Southern California desert, the US Army is testing whether it can put some its most advanced cyber tools into the hands of commanders in the field. The pilot project started in August and will wrap up in the next few weeks at Fort Irwin.
Cyber warfare — the use of computer technology to disrupt the enemy’s activities –�is often conducted in air conditioned buildings far from the battle lines. Since last year, the US Army Cyber Command has been sending small teams to work with brigades as they train at Fort Irwin and a few other locations.
The National Training Center, roughly 200 miles northeast of San Diego, is the size of Rhode Island. It is the only Army site large enough to hold live fire exercises for an entire brigade of 5,000 soldiers.
Capt. George Puryear is with Blackhorse, the 11th Armored Calvary Unit, which acts as the opposition force to train the brigades who train at Fort Irwin.
Trainers want the troops to come away with two basic lessons: these are the sort of threats Army Cyber Command can detect; and this is what a potential enemy, like Russia or China, might be able to do in the field.
But commanders are busy. Puryear said they will balk if you load them down with too much technical information.
“Hey, the amount of mental bandwidth I have to commit to this, just isn’t worth it,” he said.
Trainers are tight lipped about their methods. But they will reveal some tactics: during the last couple of training cycles, a cyber team lured a part of a brigade’s leadership into an ambush. Another team blunted a tank assault by jamming the radios.
Standing on top of a wind-blown ridge overlooking one of the mock villages, Brig. Gen. JP McGee, Army Cyber Command deputy commander for Operations, described how part of his small force helped with the battle over one of the villages.
“What you can’t see is the cyber capabilities going inside the networks,” he said. “They’ve been able to take over devices inside that city and exploit them”
The next day, Fort Irwin‘s Commanding Gen. Jeff Broadwater made an impressive entrance on another ridge, by Blackhawk helicopter. He said concentrating on things like cyber warfare is still relatively new for the army. The US spent more than a decade fighting desert wars against opponents who did not have any of these advanced weapons. Until 2013, the national training center at Fort Irwin was mainly readying units to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fort Irwin has since renamed its mock villages to downplay Arabic, instead substituting names that sound eastern European. The focus now is how would the Army fight a near peer competitor, like Russia or China.
Cyber command started the pilot program by sending a few advisers. By May, they were inserting small teams to work directly with the field commander — alerting him to potential threats. In the case of the trainers, they worked with them to attack the brigade operating in the battlefield, or what they call “the box.”
Army Cyber Command is trying to flesh out its mission. The Army recently published the first major update to the field manual for cyber and electronic warfare. It created a new cyber classification for its soldiers. After the pilot project wraps up, later this month, the army will have to assess how much of this technology it wants to move with troops on the front line.
Researchers have found a commonly used pesticide can significantly impair the ability of honey bees to fly. The pesticide is called thiamethoxam and it’s used on crops like corn, soybeans and cotton, along with many vegetable and fruit crops.
James Nieh is a professor of biological sciences at the University of California – San Diego, and an author of a new study.
He says he started wondering whether the pesticide could affect honey bee flight after previous research showed thiamethoxam affected the ability of bees to find their way home successfully.
“So we wondered if it could be that they weren’t being able to get home because they simply weren’t being able to fly very well,” says Nieh.
Nieh says in order to test this in the field, scientists would need to use a tracking technology that doesn’t quite exist yet.
“So we did the next best thing, which is to take it into the lab, and we used an existing technology called a flight mill, which I built and modified to use with honey bees for our particular experiment,” he says.
Simone Tosi is a postdoctoral fellow at UCSD, and the study’s lead author. He says next, they’d like to study other bee behaviors.
“And the impact that other stressors have on them. For example, the locomotor abilities of the bee, so how do they move inside a hive, for example, and when they forage on a flower,” says Tosi.
Earlier this year, the EPA said in a preliminary risk assessment that four pesticides, including thiamethoxam, do not pose significant risks to bee colonies, but some kinds of applications could hurt bees:
The assessments for clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, similar to the preliminary pollinator assessment for imidacloprid showed: most approved uses do not pose significant risks to bee colonies. However, spray applications to a few crops, such as cucumbers, berries, and cotton, may pose risks to bees that come in direct contact with residue. In its preliminary pollinator-only analysis for clothianidin and thiamethoxam, the EPA has proposed a new method for accounting for pesticide exposure that may occur through pollen and nectar.
“I think one thing that the EPA would like to have – and it’s understandable – is what is the effect of these pesticides on whole colonies, not just upon bees in the lab,” says Nieh.
“And I think that’s reasonable, because you want to know what is the actual, realistic effect in the field. However, that is quite challenging for many reasons, including the fact that bees fly over great distances. So when you’re designing experiments to look at the field effect of colonies, you really have to have a vast experiment that covers many square miles.”
Interactions between humans and the environment is a two-way street. Human actions change the environment, and changes to the environment affect human behavior.
David Lopez-Carr, a geographer a the University of California-Santa Barbara, calls it “human environment dynamics.” He studies how climate change impacts food security, crop production and human health, particularly infant mortality.
“Babies and infants are the hardest hit when there is when there are food shortages,” Lopez-Carr told KGOU’s World Views.
During his career, Lopez-Carr has worked in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Lopez-Carr’s research center, the Human-Environment Dynamics lab, has determined that sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world that is most vulnerable to climate change. The region has experienced high population growth density with climatic anomalies, such as high temperatures and decreased precipitation.
Rural areas shoulder the brunt of the burden in Africa. Rain-fed farming is imperative for livelihoods. When there is not enough rain, farmers can’t raise food to feed their families, so they search for alternatives.
“They can migrate. They can try to find off-farm labor. They can maybe have fewer children even. These are all potential responses and they all have potential limitations,” Lopez-Carr said.
Studying this field can be difficult for scholars like Lopez-Carr because every weather anomaly is not necessarily related to climate change. His lab examines climate data that goes back 30 years to make sure a climatic event, a temperature anomaly, is not a random short-term occurrence.
“By doing so we have higher confidence that is part of a longer term global climate change pattern,” Lopez-Carr said.
Space and time add another layer of complexity. An action can occur in one place on the globe that later changes conditions in Africa.
“If you go back to you know the vast majority of human history as hunter-gatherers, our impact on the environment was very intimate and sudden in space and time,” Lopez-Carr said. “The impact was here. The impact is now. Increasingly that’s much more complex. You know, the impact is in a different place and a different time.”
Trade and global business deepen this complex study in today’s advanced economies. Fossil fuels are used to import coffee into Oklahoma, for instance, which damages the environment without a trace to any one individual’s actions.
Lopez-Carr on the harsh impacts of climate change in rural areas
What we didn’t know is where these two forces – the climate side and kind of the human population side – collide most vigorously and it came out in eastern Africa quite a lot. Where you do have the combination, and in sort of pockets in across western Africa, particularly where there are higher rural population densities. So a lot of people essentially on limited farmland that is also undergoing climate change and reduction in precipitation. So for most of the developing world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, most people are farmers and they’re depending directly on rain fed agriculture. So there’s not rain, to survive they have to often migrate. Sometimes they don’t survive and that’s what we’re trying to understand.
Lopez-Carr on studying climate change
Particularly in more advanced economies like here, we are sitting in Oklahoma, and we’re having our breakfast. And the eggs might be local but, you know, other components of that breakfast, especially the coffee, for example certainly isn’t from Oklahoma. So we’re buying products that are coming from all over the world and we’re using fossil fuels for this transportation. And so these impacts are happening in a very complex way over space and time that’s seemingly disconnected to any one individual’s actions and therefore is also very difficult to study scientifically.
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Suzette Grillot: David Lopez-Carr welcome to World Views.
David Lopez-Carr: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.
Grillot: Well David, you had a very impressive career in environmental issues. You’re a professor of geography, but you direct the Human-Environment Dynamics Lab. Can you tell us what you do and that lab is an actual lab and what tells what you do?
Lopez-Carr: Great question. So, you know, I’m trained as a social scientist first, but I as a geographer connect to the physical sciences as well and so environmental change and ecological change. So the sort of questions that I’m interested in pursuing are those that involve how are humans interacting with the environment and the causal arrow goes both ways. You know humans impact the environment. So much of my work is on deforestation in the tropics in Amazon or the Maya rainforest in Guatemala. But then humans also react to environmental change. And so increasingly much of my research looks at the aspect of human environment dynamics, particularly examining climate change and its impacts on food security, crop production, and human health and particularly infant mortality, because babies and infants are the hardest hit when there is when there are food shortages. So these are some of the topics that I deal with.
Lopez-Carr: And I do get this question you know, “To what extent is this a lab right?” So no we’re not like bringing in soil samples, though our colleagues do at our labs next door. You know it’s more like a group where our doctoral students and post-docs convene to work.
Lopez-Carr: I’m also director co-director of the University of California systemwide involving all 10 campuses a center for planetary health. We just launched that center this fall.
Grillot: The key word to me and your lab is really dynamics, given that this dynamic relationship between both humans and the environment. I like how you put that that the causal arrow goes both ways and that they each interact with each other.
Grillot: So it seems to me a very dynamic relationship, but it’s also a very broad relationship. I mean I’ve listed a number of issues that we are concerned with. So how do you work in a field where it is such a broad issue and there are many more right that you could add to this list?
Lopez-Carr: That’s a great question you know and some people do ask me, “Human environment dynamics. You know this can encompass so many things. And how do you how do you focus?”
Lopez-Carr: And so there’s a couple of things I’d like to mention about this. One is that you know to some degree despite this being an area that encompasses so many themes and interactions among themes it’s only in recent years that academics, you know, professors, research human and social systems in an integrated fashion with the environment.
Lopez-Carr: And so because of that, there’s opportunity almost to label one’s self doing these broader themes and because conceptually we are concerned with these broader themes even though of course we’re training students we have to be very very specific.
Lopez-Carr: My own expertise specifically within human environment dynamics is particularly how human populations interact with the environment. So how does population size density distribution, mobility, involved in deforestation for example in the tropics. Similarly how is it involved with where people are most vulnerable to climate change?
Grillot: Where is that happening?
Lopez-Carr: You know pursuing that very question, before we get into the dynamics of how this is happening, and thus how can we prevent it. How can we suggest policies to prevent, you know, problems associated with climate change. You know we asked ourselves a direct question is a geographer Well first thing we do is we make a map and we made a map by taking existing data on climate change by using anomalies in temperature, evapotranspiration and precipitation. So if transportation is basically how well the soils are retaining water which is ultimately the most important thing for crop production. And we link that data with Demographic and Health Surveys. Demographic and Health Surveys are sponsored by the U.N. It’s probably the largest ongoing survey of human populations worldwide to map out where are areas of high population growth density coupled with anomalies in, particularly, you know, high temperatures, sub-Saharan Africa, aridity, you know lack of rainfall, and low level of evapotranspiration. And where we found these hotspots emerge are in sub-Saharan Africa and some patterns we expected and others surprise us. Now we knew that for example the Lake Victoria basin in eastern Africa has a lot of people. So there’s a lot of vulnerability there.
Lopez-Carr: And we know that the Sahel sort of in central western Africa is also experiencing a dramatic climate change and increasing aridity. But what we didn’t know is where these two forces – the climate side and kind of the human population side – collide most vigorously and it came out in eastern Africa quite a lot. Where you do have the combination, and in sort of pockets in across western Africa particularly where there are higher rural population densities. So a lot of people essentially on limited farmland that is also undergoing climate change and reduction in precipitation. So for most of the developing world especially in sub-Saharan Africa most people are farmers and they’re depending directly in rain fed agriculture. So there’s not rain, they either, to survive, they have to often migrate. Sometimes they don’t survive, and that’s what we’re trying to understand.
Grillot: So in sub-Saharan Africa. Let’s just talk about this for a second because obviously that the climate change issue is is you know you’re scientifically studying that you’re able to produce the data you’re undoubtedly looking at the causes of this happening. But what about the consequences? You were getting at that at the end right. Migration. The fact that that you know farmers are having to migrate. People are struggling and suffering but it’s also causing conflict right. Is that one thing that we don’t fully understand is the impact between climate change and desertification or changes in you know rain patterns that sort of thing and the impact on the conflict over the land that we see let’s say in Sudan for example.
Lopez-Carr: Excellent question. And first let me let me talk a bit about the climate change aspect, so that we are confident that our anomalies that we’re observing are actually climate change and not short term short term anomalies, right, that might be random, we use data that goes back at least 30 years. And by doing so we have higher confidence that is part of a longer term global climate change pattern. One. Two, that being the case, just to be clear that doesn’t mean we can say with confidence that in any one specific place where there are climate anomalies, say temperature precipitation anomalies, it is from climate change. And this is the scale issue that makes this complicated so. So again have to be clear we’re pretty confident that at a regional scale what we’re seeing these signals are part of a larger climate change pattern. We have very very high confidence about that. OK. In any one place any one event it’s hard to ascertain that with complete confidence but so. So what happens in sub-Saharan Africa, you have decreased precipitation. And with that households depending on rain fed agriculture essentially you’re cutting off their lifeline. You need water to grow your crops and you know you have they have several options to respond. They can migrate. They can try to find off-farm labor. They can maybe have to have fewer children even. These are all potential responses and they all have potential limitations. And so we often refer to trap populations where there aren’t real migration opportunities and people remain and they do the best they can.
Lopez-Carr: And what we are observing is that with that we do see increased mortality particularly among infants and children who are the most vulnerable to food shortages.
Grillot: I think that thing that you know we talk about the environment so much on the show and elsewhere I mean obviously it’s a huge issue. It’s just making those those causal connections and consequential outcomes visible. you’re putting out information not only so governments can perhaps make better decisions but also so activists and interested individuals can take up that information that you’ve provided that scholarship that scientific research that you’ve provided. And actually you know lobby or or pressure governments to do what we think they need to do. But it’s is it is harder and harder the further you get from you know something that’s causing infant mortality for example to say climate change in sub-Saharan Africa is you know directly linked to infant mortality. That just seems like that’s so hard to make that that so visible that we can actually develop better policies.
Lopez-Carr: This is a very interesting and complex question. One thing that I like to tell people is that these are sort of circumstance in terms of how we’re how we’re seeing the arc of human environment dynamics unfold over time is that if you go back to you know the vast majority of human history as hunter gatherers, our impact on the environment was very intimate and sudden in space and time. The impact was here. The impact is now. Increasingly that’s much more complex. You know the impact is in a different place and a different time. So you know particularly in more advanced economies like here we are sitting in Oklahoma and we’re having our breakfast in the eggs might be local but you know other components of that breakfast especially the coffee for example certainly isn’t from Oklahoma. So we’re buying products that are coming from all over the world and we’re using fossil fuels for this transportation. And so these impacts are happening in a very complex way over space and time that’s seemingly disconnected to any one individual’s actions and therefore is also very difficult to study scientifically.
Grillot: Well and clearly the complexity also it affects how well we can address these things and I can’t have this conversation with you without asking the question now that we are you know into the Trump administration. And it’s been very clear that perspectives on this issue have shifted somewhat from the last administration to this. But in general politicians struggle with this issue and perhaps because it is so complex because it has been politicized but first of all how do you feel about where this administration is going on this issue on environmental issues as we have, for example, a director of an EPA that’s a climate change denier. And then you know where do you find hope. Do you. Where is it that we need to concentrate our attention.
Lopez-Carr: It’s these are challenging times for those of us who are concerned about the impacts of growing populations on limited resources under climate change where we also see conflict arising from these issues.
Lopez-Carr: You know I think in the short term at the federal level, I I’m not particularly optimistic about where things are going. I’ve already sensed from my own work where there’s issues of limitations, consequences potentially, for what we write what we say how we say it. There’s efforts to limit to control information. And any society that wishes to become self-actualized, truly have a functioning democracy, really solve problems that are in the best interests of everyone, we first need an open free press, exchange of information as professors. At major research universities, it’s imperative that we have academic freedom. It’s imperative that we all understand that facts are facts and they are unassailable and we can and should argue over opinions. We should never waste our time arguing over facts. This is something that we should be teaching our children very vigorously in the public schools starting in grade 1.
Grillot: So that’s where we find hope as an early education, educating our children early on.
Lopez-Carr: Absolutely. You know I think we must not allow that budgets shrink for K through 12 education. It’s imperative that we increase the education, particularly around critical thinking skills. And critical thinking skills, you can and will learn from a diverse array of disciplines.
Grillot: Well David thank you so much for being here today. And the latest is going to be an issue we continue to talk about and I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and perspectives and your research with us. Thank you.
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Have you ever walked past an apple tree or berry bush in a public space and wondered what happens to the fruit? Is it safe to pick and eat, or not? Unfortunately, a lot of it goes to waste—getting overripe, falling to the ground and rotting. To the guys behind Fallen Fruit, that waste, existing alongside chronic hunger and poor access to fresh produce in urban spaces, just makes no darn sense.
Los Angeles-based David Burns and Austin Young combined a passion for art and agriculture to create their Fallen Fruit initiative, which puts free, organic produce in public urban spaces. The duo recently celebrated the opening of the Stoneview Nature Center in Culver City, a design collaboration between Fallen Fruit and Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects.
Visitors to the center can pick a literal rainbow of fruit from the trees and enjoy them in cozy seating areas nestled in the groves. A public kitchen is attached to a public herb garden, encouraging healthy cooking, sustainability and community.
“Within the garden itself, we imagined creating social spaces—designed for different types of social interaction—intimate, communal, familial,” Burns and Young wrote in an email to Rewire. “We agreed this project should be about spending time with people in a casual and relaxing way. … We think it’s pretty radical for the County of Los Angeles to build a park specifically designed for people to enjoy relaxing, foraging and sharing.”
The two worked together to answer some questions about Fallen Fruit and the exciting new things they’re growing—literally and metaphorically—in L.A.
Rewire: How did Fallen Fruit get its start?
Fallen Fruit: Fallen Fruit began in 2004 as a response to an open-call for submissions for an art ‘zine called “The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest” published in Los Angeles. The theme of the issue questioned the following: Is it possible to use the agency of activism but without opposition? Or in other words, is it possible to create something that exists that is pro-humanity and pro-culture and pro-world connectedness without needing to be against anything?
We got together and started to explore the possibilities in our own neighborhood of Silverlake (in Los Angeles) and quickly realized there were over 100 fruit trees that existed in public spaces within only a few walkable blocks that were being completely unused. People would drive to the supermarkets and pass by organic lemons, ripe peaches and perfect avocados. So, we wrote a text, took some photos, drew a map and called it Fallen Fruit! The name Fallen Fruit actually comes from Leviticus and it quotes a citation that calls to “not harvest the edges of your fields or vineyards, to leave the fallen fruit for the stranger or the passerby.” It is our collective responsibility to take care of others and this is the foundation of the work of Fallen Fruit.
Rewire: What is it you want to accomplish?
FF: We would like to change the way people think about public space. Fallen Fruit’s collaborations have helped shift public consciousness and change public policy. There is no reason people should be without food in urban areas, except that most cities and counties in the U.S. can only legally plant ornamental, non-edible landscape. A city may plant 1,000 trees in an at-risk neighborhood and not one of them is an apple, pear, peach or plum. That just doesn’t make sense. From the research we have done over 14 years, we believe that cities could be like communal gardens, providing edible public resources that could better utilize open urban spaces for enjoyment and community connectedness. Originally we thought about mapping fruit trees in neighborhoods as a way to invite people to get out of their cars, go by foot, and meet neighbors.
Rewire:What’s your advice for making big ideas happen?
FF: Taking risks, challenging the possibilities of an outcome and learning a project and process along the way … Sometimes it takes several revisions to get a project right before we locate that space between the familiar and the abstracted. We are always interested in the sublime place in-between what you already know and what you didn’t expect. Everyone comes up with great ideas for projects and yet there are a million ways we talk ourselves out of following through with good ideas. The world is hungry for creativity. If we all do things that add value to the world and to humanity, then how can we go wrong?
Rewire: How is the Stoneview Nature Center different from other nature sites or community centers? What makes it uniquely a Fallen Fruit project?
FF: We knew fruit trees would be a big part of our vision of the park. … Public participation and community involvement was always an integral part of the concept for the Stoneview Nature Center civic art work.
We created four public participatory projects to engage with neighbors and guests to foster pride and ownership in the park. During these engagement projects, we are collecting family photos and recording resident’s stories about about the history of neighborhood. We will curate quoted material from story recordings and contributed photographs to create permanent artworks in the community building. We are also collecting kitchen utensils from neighbors to create “Community Chandeliers” in the outside dining areas to symbolize themes about food, cooking and cultural histories.
Fallen Fruit created six fruit tree gardens that represent California histories, arranging them in order of the color spectrum. The garden is essentially a rainbow of fruit gardens that invite a stop along the Park-to-Playa trail, a 13-mile walking trail from Baldwin Hills to the beach. There are two dining spaces, one in the orange grove and one in the avocado grove, a lounge in the lemon grove, a love-seat bench in the pomegranate grotto, and rustic stools with a table in the berry patch. Each grove, grotto and patch provide spaces that allow for different types of group or solo activity. The gardens at Stoneview create places for sharing experiences that are passive and relaxing.
(Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects) designed the community building like a telescope that looks out into the park, but in reverse the building windows frame one of the best views of Los Angeles and Hollywood. Housed within the community building is a state of the art community kitchen. … To encourage the relationship between gardens and cooking, the kitchens are both adjacent to a suite of raised beds for organic herbs and veggies that anyone can use.
Rewire: Your new Endless Orchard initiative is a worldwide public garden, art and history project. Can you explain what it’s all about?
FF: The Endless Orchard invites participants to plant a fruit tree in front of their home, business or school and share it with everyone. We were awarded the prestigious Creative Capital Award for Emerging Fields in 2013. The project will launch to the public on Earth Day this year. The Endless Orchard is a web app (and) mobile app that will allow anyone anywhere in the world to add on in their own way, in their own neighborhood, to expand the project. The Endless Orchard will become a giant, non-contiguous worldwide orchard that is communal resource for sharing. It is easy to create an account and use the maps to mark new fruit trees or find existing fruit trees. Anyone can plant more trees and add them onto the maps as local landmarks. You can share your backyard fruit by putting it in a box, for example, in front of your property and mapping it to share with freshness alerts. You create a user account then connect with other sustainably-minded individuals around you.
Each one of the fruit trees becomes a type of a local landmark that can attach to other media. For example, maybe a group of people in a neighborhood want to publish favorite fig recipes. Or, perhaps there is a story from the person who lives down the street about why they planted that big fig tree everyone knows from long, long ago. That big fig tree story could be recorded on a smartphone then uploaded and tagged to the corresponding tree. The story would last forever creating a legacy of sharing; not only… the exchange of delicious figs, but knowledge of local histories and insight into how people collectively create socially memorable spaces.
We are excited to watch how people engage the app and we hope it will encourage people to take charge of their own neighborhoods, parks, and to convert public space into fruitful, communal new public resources. We envision connecting existing and newly planted public fruit trees, past and present, via the Endless Orchard.
Rewire: What would be your advice to aspiring activists, artists and entrepreneurs?
FF: We think you just need to do it. So many times we have been told by others, or we tell ourselves, that we can’t or won’t or shouldn’t do this or that. We have been told “it’s not art” or whatever. By staying resonant with our beliefs, the project is always evolving and growing organically (excuse the pun).
Maybe the best advice is really committing to whatever you are doing with passion and openness and explore how the work you make manifests naturally. Honor your ideas and don’t listen to your doubtful inner voice. Stay flexible and open to unexpected outcomes.
Jim is an internationally published, award-winning photographer based in Los Angeles. His interest in photography began as a young child, when his father–James Newberry, who founded the photography department at Columbia College Chicago–gave him a camera and taught him how to use it. He later graduated from Columbia, and soon after began shooting assignments for magazines and record labels.
Jim continues to shoot for editorial and commercial clients, as well as shooting fine art photography, especially street pictures.
With a surge of rain over the winter months, scientists at UC Berkeley are on alert for the spread of Sudden Oak Death disease, or SOD. And they need the help of ordinary citizens for research.
SOD has been prevalent recently in Monterey County and experts believe is beginning to spread into San Luis Obispo County.
The invasive pathogen phytophthora ramorum started causing SOD in California’s oak trees during the 1990s. The pathogen spreads to oak trees through water pathways, like streams, rivers, and lakes.
And with the recent rains and flooding throughout California, scientists in Berkeley are saying 2017 is poised to be the most prevalent year in a decade for the spread of the pathogen.
Katie Harrell from the California Forest Pest Council said the data set for the spread of SOD is difficult to track with a small team of people. And that’s why they are recruiting “citizen scientists” all over the state to help track trees that are affected by the disease and holding workshops on how to recognize them.
“So this is really cool because there’s so many more eyes on the ground than any other researcher could possibly do on their own,” Harrell said.
Harrell said so far, there’s no cure for SOD. And the only way to really prevent the pathogen from spreading is to make sure known contaminated water pathways don’t come in contact with uncontaminated water.
“Making sure that no mud or organic material adheres to your shoes or your tires or your equipment,” Harrell said.
Local workshops include:
May 11 at 1:00 p.m., San Luis Obispo County Extension Office, Conference Room, 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo, CA
May 12 at 6:00 p.m., Atascadero Library, Martin Polin Room, 6555 Capistrano Ave. ,Atascadero, CA
Have you ever seen a pic of a pika? They’re the adorable, hamster-sized relatives of rabbits that make their homes at elevations above 7,500 feet. It’s hard to look at these little guys without gushing over how cute they are, which makes them awesome stars for a new episode of “Nature” on PBS.
But it also makes the harsh reality they face even harder to swallow.
These tiny creatures face a hellish future if the effects of climate change continue to worsen, according to Joseph Stewart, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Stewart doesn’t mince words. If temperatures rise above a certain threshold, these animals, built to withstand some of the harshest conditions on Earth, won’t be able to adapt to their sweltering surroundings.
“Pikas become toast.”
New “Nature” episode “Yosemite” focuses on how climate change affects living things in the Yosemite Valley, from the tiny pika to sky-scraping giant sequoias.
One theme runs through the episode like a river rushing along its course: the role water has played in shaping Yosemite Valley, from its early history, to the present, and even looking to the future.
Take giant sequoias, for instance. These trees are gargantuan–the General Sherman Tree is the largest tree by volume in the world. At 275 feet tall, the Sherman Tree’s height is more than 75 percent of the length of a NFL football field. The tree’s diameter at its base is more than 36 feet, larger than the combined heights of six average U.S. women.
The trees’ thirst for water parallels their towering size. Anthony Ambrose, a canopy biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, studies these giants. During the sweltering summer months, just one of these trees guzzles between 500 and 800 gallons of water every day, he said.
The main water source for these trees? Snow melt from the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
“Sequoias are losing foliage at an unprecedented rate—in some cases, more than half of the tree,” according to the “Nature” episode.
Ambrose has been closely tracking the health of about 50 giant sequoias for the past few years as their water supply has dwindled. He has measured the water status and stress level of each tree by collecting and testing leaf samples from the top of the tree and the base of its crown.
“So the measurements that we’ve been getting so far over the last couple of weeks is indicating that they are definitely at stress levels greater than we’ve ever measured in giant sequoias before,” Ambrose said in the film. “This is the first time that I’ve ever been climbing in these trees and actually observed anything that’s noticeable stress.”
While these trees are clearly stressed, “they are doing a lot better than a lot of other species of trees on the landscape.”
Pine, firs and cedars have been hit even harder.
Losing trees by the millions
A U.S. Forest Service aerial survey revealed that more than 100 million California trees are dead, Ambrose said.
Some of these deaths can be attributed to attacks by bark beetles and other insects. Yet even those deaths can be pinned on an insufficient water supply.
Under less parched conditions, the trees “use water to kind of flood out the bark beetles when they start to attack,” Ambrose said.
The beetles and other insects are opportunistic attackers.
“Once the beetles find a weakened, stressed tree, they kind of swarm it and overwhelm its defenses,” Ambrose noted.
Giant sequoias have inborn chemical defenses that many other types of trees lack. Tannins and other chemicals in the bark and wood help them to bolster their defense against harmful insects, according to Ambrose.
Increasing temperatures are really a driving concern for the future,” he said. “Every organism has a (temperature) limit. We don’t know what those limits are in giant sequoias… That’s really a big research question that we need to understand more.”
How cute, furry mammals might survive
Available data does suggest an estimated temperature at which life in the greater Yosemite ecoregion becomes more challenging for pikas, Stewart said.
Stewart and his colleagues surveyed 67 sites that have been home to pikas. The team found that 10 of those sites–or about 15 percent of them–had been abandoned by pikas at the time they were surveyed.
The researchers observed a trend at the 10 sites at which pikas were extricated, or locally extinct. The best predictor for whether pikas were present at a given site was the average summertime temperature there. Pikas were more likely to be absent from sites where the mean summer temperature exceeded 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
That finding is “completely in keeping with what we would expect” because pikas are “primarily active in the summertime,” Stewart said.
Pikas don’t hibernate and they have high metabolic rates. So, these teeny creatures must collect sizable hay piles during warmer months in order to have enough food to munch on during the winter, Stewart said.
For each day of snowpack in the winter, a pika needs about 20 to 35 grams of food in its hay pile, said JohannaVarner, a biologist at Colorado Mesa University and an organizer of citizen scientist pika efforts across the country.
American pikas weigh between 121 and 176 grams and need to eat the equivalent of between 11.4 and 28.9 percent of their body weight each day. But when daytime temperatures rise, pikas adapt by hiding out in their dens during unbearably warm hours. That’s for a good reason–while they are equipped to deal with low temperatures, their defenses against high temperatures are poor.
“They’ve got a very poor ability to shed heat,” partly because they don’t sweat, Stewart said. The fur that covers the bottoms of their feet and the insides of their ears adds to the problem.
Adapt or die
“Pikas are certainly behaviorally plastic,” Stewart said.
This behavioral plasticity allows pikas to adapt the hours at which they collect food so they aren’t active during the hottest times of the day, Stewart said. But this adaptability only works up to a point.
Researchers are uncertain about how well pikas can see at night, but they know that these teeny creatures are more vulnerable to attacks from predators in the dark. Stewart called this “a risky combination.” He noted that there seems to be an increased likelihood of pikas becoming locally extinct at a site if there’s a trend towards those pikas becoming active outside of their normal daytime hours.
It appears that pikas are also changing their body sizes and breeding habits in an attempt to adapt to climate change.
“By being a little bit smaller in size, pikas might be able to cope with increasing temperatures,” Stewart said.
However, when pikas become smaller, they are “less able to cope with the cold, which is sort of their niche.”
When it comes to pika reproduction, there are a few different things happening. In some areas, it appears that young pikas are migrating from high elevation sites to lower elevation sites, but “they don’t seem to be able to reproduce.” Many of these pikas die before making it through one winter season. It also seems that in some areas an “exact opposite pattern” might be occurring where pikas are reproducing at increased rates. A similar effect has been observed in many other organisms—especially species of plants—when they are stressed.
Under stressful conditions, “weird, counterintuitive things happen in terms of species survival and reproductive rates,” Stewart said. Sometimes, when it’s unlikely that a living thing will survive, an instinct kicks in for the organism to reproduce, because that promotes survival of the species as a whole.
The future of Yosemite
At the rate climate change is progressing, some researchers think “it’s extremely likely that high elevation communities are going to collapse all at once,” rather than dying out gradually, species-by-species, Stewart said.
It’s scary, definitely scary,” he said.
The outlook for giant sequoias may be guardedly better. Ambrose emphasized the resilience of the trees he has often climbed.
“Giant sequoias are very tough trees… (but) they do need a lot of water.”
“Yosemite” premieres Wednesday, March 29, on “Nature.” Check your local PBS station’s schedule for broadcast dates and times, or watch online at PBS.org.
Just to the south of where the Pfeiffer Big Sur bridge used to stand, a helicopter sits parked on Highway 1 in front of the Big Sur Deli. A sign of the times in this now isolated part of Big Sur.
It’s been more than a month since the bridge was condemned and an ongoing mudslide blocked the highway to the south. Both disasters have virtually separated the south side of the community from the rest of the world.
But inside the deli, life feels almost normal. Music plays over the sound system and the shelves look freshly stocked. It’s the only place that’s stayed open just south of the bridge.
“We’ve been doing supply runs around the south through Nacimiento,” says Stephen Mayer, who works at the Deli, his family’s store.
That’s Nacimiento Fergusson Road. It’s rugged and remote four hour drive to normally nearby Monterey where Mayer lives. Going home is not part of his daily routine. “Yeah, I sleep on the floor. I have an air mattress, ” says Mayer.
With a replacement bridge not expected to be complete for six months, he’s eager for a new trail around the bridge to open. “Oh it’s going to be very important. I’m going to be hiking in and out every day if I can, just to get back home.”
Mayer and other locals have cars on either side of the downed bridge meaning the trail will bring life, kind of, back to normal.
A sign at the new trailhead just up the road reads “Trail Closed Under Construction”. Waiting for it to open is a test of patience for locals who willingly found ways to hike through the steep and rugged terrain before approaching State Parks about building a formal trail.
“It’s critical. It’s not like we can wait another month or two months or even a week,” says Carissa Chappellet. She’s been organizing locals to help State Parks and the California Conservation Corps build the trail. “I don’t know how to stress this. I mean it’s really personal.”
Everyone on the south side of the bridge has a story of hardship from being isolated for more than a month. “I have actually have a very dear friend, my ex-husband from years ago who has stage 4 cancer who I am his primary care person for. So for a month I’ve been cut off from being able to help him. Luckily I have friends who help him. This is one story,” she says.
There’s also the story of the roughly 40 kids who can’t get to school. For now teachers are being flown in by helicopter. Others who have been able to hang on to their jobs, can’t get to work.
But the trail, while nearly done, is still a construction site. I walked it Monday with John De Luca of California State Parks. We make our way back and forth through switchbacks and several flights of stairs. He says the steep hillside required the trail to be this elaborate.
“There’s really not much footing. You’d be on all fours grabbing on trees and branches to pull yourself up,” says De Luca.
There’s still one retaining wall still needs to be built, and the trail will need some rehab after the recent rains. Once complete, it will be for Big Sur locals only. Expanding access is an ongoing debate.
“It’s still being developed, the trail plan itself. But the intended use is for the immediate needs of the community. Depending on weather and other environmental issues, it may be scheduled during daylight hours only, during best weather conditions,” says De Luca.
For more than a century a cement plant defined the small, coastal community of Davenport. In fact, the town just north of Santa Cruz was built to house its workers. Now seven years after the plant shutdown, residents are again looking to the plant to define their town.
The CEMEX cement plant has always loomed large over Davenport. Today, the shuttered factory is still the first thing you see when you drive in along Highway 1 – beige silos with a maze of rusting ladders and towering pipes. A chain link fence blocks off the entrance. It looks like its own city.
Alverda Orlando, 87, lived in Davenport during the plant’s heyday.
“It got kind of a bad reputation for being dusty, but it also was a wonderful little town to live in,” says Orlando.
It was so dusty that – “When the children went to school there was dust on the sidewalks so therefore they left their footprints,” Orlando says.
She and her longtime friend Bob Piwarzyk co-authored a book about the Davenport cement plant — celebrating its centennial.
Standing together on a rural dirt road that has a clear view of the factory, they reminisce about the plant’s early days.
“It’s a very significant part of our coastal history,” Piwarzyk says.
It opened in 1906 to help rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake. Cement from the plant was also used to construct dry docks at Pearl Harbor and the Panama Canal, and it helped build Davenport.
“The cement made here was used to build the Davenport Jail and the church and the Crocker Hospital and it is kind of a unifying thing. The people who are living in town are working in the cement plant and the product is being used to build buildings here,” says Piwarzyk.
Overtime, the plant modernized and needed fewer workers. Then the economy tanked and the plant closed in 2010.
With the noise and dust gone, Davenport started to change in other ways. Tourists started rolling in to places like Whale City Bakery — a funky cafe located on the edge of Davenport. Stephanie Raugust is co-owner.
“I see it, it has changed. Even these last four or five years… the increase of this traffic,” says Raugust.
Sipping coffee out of a big, blue mug, Rachael Spencer sees it too. She’s lived in the Davenport area for 24 years.
“I can honestly say that when that plant shut down, suddenly Davenport was no longer a funky cement town, it became fashionable,” says Spencer.
As Davenport has taken on this new identity of a tourist town, Spencer wonders –
“How do we maintain Davenport as a charming, wonderful community that serves visitors also, or do we become a visitor town that has a few leftover community people?”
For the answer, Davenport is again looking to the cement plant.
Santa Cruz County is currently developing a restoration and reuse plan. This includes rezoning the 100-plus acre property, which CEMEX still owns. Rezoning will determine how the plant can be repurposed.
Supervisor Ryan Coonerty represents Davenport. “There are many, many ideas out there for what the future use could be. One of the most important things that we know will be a use is public access,” Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty says. He represents Davenport.
Plans include public access to the new expansion of the California Coastal National Monument in Davenport’s backyard. Beyond that it will depend on who buys the property. Coonerty says residents’ ideas range from a research and development facility to an emergency services hub and space for education and art.
He says the end goal is a good tax base, jobs, and something that works for the community.
“That plant was a large taxpayer; it was a huge employer for good blue collar jobs. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to replicate exactly what was there, but I think that there’s an exciting future,” Coonerty says.
Even after the county settles on a plan, CEMEX still has to clean-up the site and sell it. Leaving this town in flux, but forever tied to the cement plant.
Boston-based author Nathalia Holt spent years tracking down and interviewing many of the women who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, performing the mathematical computations that helped send rockets to the moon, Mars and beyond.
Holt talked about her book, “Rise of the Rocket Girls — The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars.”
Holt will speak at the Tucson Festival of Books on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Gallagher Theater in the Student Union. She will be on a panel, “Women Writing about Women in Science,” Sunday at 1 p.m. on the Science City main stage.
The Navajo Nation is arid and vast — nearly 30,000 square miles. Hydrologists struggle to collect much-needed measurements of rainfall there. But now they have help from NASA satellites.
Navajo hydrologists and NASA scientists teamed up to create a the Drought Severity Assessment Tool. It generates maps that compare recent rainfall with historical data, to see if a particular region is unusually dry.
“With that, you’re able to look at drought regimes specific to the Navajo Nation, which previously was not available,” said Vickie Ly, research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in California.
The tool can focus on ecological regions or government boundaries called chapters. Carlee McClellan, Navajo Nation hydrologist, said the nation has “a wide range of desert land to high plateaus, grasslands to mountains. With such a wide diversity, we need a tool that’s able to focus on all areas of the Navajo Nation, so we can hone in on areas that are most affected.”
The new software tool could be used to assess which areas need emergency aid. Currently emergency drought dollars are allocated equally to the nation’s 110 chapters.