Sunday, September 25, 2011

Good News, Bad News

One of the drawbacks of working in an environmental field and paying attention to the news in these fields, is that you don't often come into contact with much in the way of good news.

In the last few weeks, the Franklin's Bumblebee (Bombus franklini) was suggested for listing as an endangered species, though it may already be extinct.  If you happen to live in its range (Northern California and Southwestern Oregon, including urban areas) keep your eyes peeled for them.  None have been officially documented since 2006.

Image from the USFWS
Also recently, the Arctic sea ice may have reached a new record minimum. 
Reports on this are slightly conflicting, with a German research group stating (not the best translation, but totally readable) that this year is a new record low, and the US National Snow and Ice Data Center stating this is the second lowest extent.  Likely the two, slightly conflicting, findings will be ironed out in the near future, once the NSIDC release their more detailed analysis in October. But the trend of thinning ice and shrinking area is undeniable.  Another record was set in July this year, according to NOAA

It's difficult to say how this will ultimately impact the global climate, if the trend doesn't reverse itself (something that seems unlikely, but is possible). But there will be almost certainly be an impact, as reflective sea ice is replaced by sunlight-absorbing open water, dramatically altering the energy budget of the top of the world. 

One bit of news on the positive side: the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) re-introduction program seems to be doing well, and recently marked its 30 year anniversary.  Because the ecosystem of the American plains evolved with black-footed ferrets as part of it, returning the ferrets will do a little bit of work in returning parts of the prairie to a more natural, balanced state.  This is only a small piece of the puzzle, of course.  Much of the land that makes up the Great Plains is still missing natural fire cycles, bison, and nomadic hunter-gatherers (as the people who lived on the plains shaped that ecosystem long before the arrival of Europeans).  Not to mention that it has been inundated with non-native plants that we will never be able to remove.  

But I'll take a small victory any day. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Nature is a remarkable thing.

In particular, it is much more resilient than we sometimes think, and responds to things we do to it in subtle and surprising ways.  This is one of the themes, for me, of Urban Ecology.  People like to think of cities as completely unnatural, but they are often full of life earning an existence in every crack, open space, basement, and rooftop.

Sometimes, though, nature just responds to our bad behavior with beauty.
Take Glass Beach:

(image by photoscot, all rights reserved.)

These are the remains of untold glass objects chucked off a cliff and down into the sea near Fort Bragg, in California.  There was, apparently much more garbage as well, since cleaned up.  But the ocean took all that glass for itself, and made new stones from it, to pebble the beach with, and something beautiful and unexpected is the result.

You can seem more images, and read a bit more here.

(tip' o the hat to Meredith Yayanos for the link)