Archive for the ‘nature and the environment’ Category

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracks changes in the environment and has released the Arctic Report Card: Update for 2012. Based on multiple observations, the report finds “strong evidence of widespread, sustained change driving Arctic environmental system into new state,” and highlights the following:

“Record low snow extent and low sea ice extent occurred in June and September, respectively.”

“Growing season length is increasing along with tundra greenness and above-ground biomass. Below the tundra, record high permafrost temperatures occurred in northernmost Alaska. Duration of melting was the longest observed yet on the Greenland ice sheet, and a rare, nearly ice sheet-wide melt event occurred in July.”

“Massive phytoplankton blooms below summer sea ice suggest previous estimates of ocean primary productivity might be ten times too low. Arctic fox is close to extinction in Fennoscandia and vulnerable to further changes in the lemming cycle and the encroaching Red fox.”

“Severe weather events included extreme cold and snowfall in Eurasia, and two major storms with deep central pressure and strong winds offshore of western and northern Alaska.”

This year also marks the first time that there has been less than 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles) of sea ice since satellite observations began in 1979. Visualization here.

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note: hat tip to Ellie Elliott (@EllieElliottFDL) at Firedoglake.com for turning my attention to this beautiful piece.

US Drought Monitor August 14, 2012 001
US Drought Monitor August 16, 2012 photo by Crane-Station on flickr

Link to map and summary.

The US Drought Monitor map for August 14, 2012 was published at 8:30 Am today, August 16, 2012 and is pictured above. Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina (the Southeast) have shown some improvement due to rain, with Alabama no longer experiencing exceptional drought. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states received enough rain that things did not get any worse, according to the map. The South and Southern Plains states Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana experienced deterioration in conditions, with “large swaths of exceptional drought” added this week in Oklahoma. Rain alleviated some of the drought in the Midwest and Northern Plains states, including “central Iowa, across northern and central Illinois and Indiana, and into western Ohio and southern Michigan,” as well as North and South Dakota. However, the summary states, ” Exceptional Drought (D4) expanded in the western and central parts of Nebraska and through central and eastern Kansas and into western and central Missouri.” In the West, extreme and exceptional drought expanded in Colorado. Idaho is also dry.

CNN published this video four days ago, nicely explaining the drought impact to the mighty Mississippi River and the shipping industry:

Updated impact to the US corn and soybean agricultural belt is summarized as follows (from drought map link above):

As of last week, 87% of the U.S. corn crop, 85% of soybeans, 63% of hay, and 72% of cattle areas were experiencing drought. Over half of the corn and soybean areas are experiencing Extreme (D3) to Exceptional (D4) Drought. This has led to both reduced yields and earlier harvests.

We live in the Ohio River Valley in Kentucky at the border where the Ohio divides Kentucky from Southern Illinois that is an area of exceptional drought. Even though people cheered at the first rain a few days ago, that first rain after a drought is kind of like water drops to a hot stove: pfssssst. We will need several soaking rains. This morning I took a walk and put water and food out for the few birds that are out. The only other animal I noticed was a lizard. He did not want to be photographed, so I took these photos:

(Note: Click to enlarge any of the flickr photos in this post)

Drought corn

Drought creek

Drought creek bed

Given the dearth of corn these days, there is concern among folks we have spoken with out and around, that the ethanol requirement is cutting into the already dwindling livestock feed supply. On the shortage of hay, I had a sad conversation with a neighbor who has riding horses. She said that when she attended her last riding club, she learned that some horse owners are selling their horses (I assume for slaughter but I was too stunned to ask) because there is not enough food. I have a family member who owns horses in Indiana, who is not showing or otherwise exercising horses, in an effort to reduce the stress of increased energy requirements on the horses.

In other odd news, low water levels in reservoirs, called “water drawdown” is associated with increased methane emissions, according to this WSU- Vancouver study and covered in this TPM article. It stands to reason that drought can lead to low water levels in reservoirs like the one you see in this article. What to do with all that methane? Well, landfill methane is being used to power prison generators, according to this article.

Speaking of landfills, as you know, we try to keep good things from going to the landfill by retrieving food from dumpsters. We were stunned to find the other day, of all things, corn, in a dumpster. We reasoned that some of the sweet corn must be coming from irrigated gardens somewhere, because there is not any corn growing around here.

The State of the Climate Report is here.

WeatherDem’s latest analysis titled, NASA & NOAA: July 2012 Was 12th, 4th Warmest On Record, is here.

A wildlife impact article by Jim Low titled, Drought affecting Missouri fish, wildlife, forests, is here.

The Department of Defense “purchases approximately 94 million pounds of beef, 64 million pounds of pork, and 500,000 pounds of lamb annually.” They are looking to increase purchases due to the increase in drought-related slaughtered meat, and their statement is here.

Drought conditions and heat are connected to incidents of West Nile Virus, as this article, titled, “Ohio health officials confirm 9th case of West Nile virus, mosquitoes test positive statewide,” explains.

CDC’s 2012 West Nile Update August 14 page is here.

More photos:

Iowa:

20120813-OSEC-DK-97897
Iowa corn photo by USDAgov, creative commons, flickr with summary:

President Barack Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the McIntosh family farm in Missouri Valley, Iowa, on Monday, August 13, 2012 to view the drought stricken crops. The federal government has already taken some steps to ease farmers whose crops are growing poorly this summer, and the administration plans to spend close to $200 million on livestock, officials announced earlier in the day. The Department of Defense is encouraging vendors to buy meat to ease the crisis. USDA photo by Dave Kosling.

Colorado:

20120721-NRCS-LSC-0001
Photo by USDAgov on flickr

Aerial views of drought affected Colorado farm lands, 69 miles east of Denver, Colorado on Saturday, July 21, 2012. Green areas are irrigated, the yellow areas are dryland wheat crops. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

beautiful work by Sean Stiegemeier

The direct link for description and comments is here.

US Drought Monitor August 2, 2012

http://www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

The current US Drought Monitor map was published today, and is pictured and linked above.

All but four Chicago-area counties in the US state of Illinois are disaster counties. Illinois has 102 counties. In short, Illinois, and I mean the whole of this giant Midwest state, is a government-listed, aid eligible disaster area. Illinois is, in pertinent part a leading US producer of corn, soybeans and swine, with 76,000 farms covering 28 million acres amounting to nearly eighty percent of Illinois total land acreage. The Illinois Department of Agriculture summarizes:

How does agriculture benefit Illinois’ economy?

Marketing of Illinois’ agricultural commodities generates more than $9 billion annually. Corn accounts for nearly 40 percent of that total. Marketing of soybeans contributes about one-third, with the combined marketings of livestock, dairy and poultry generating about 23 percent.

Billions more dollars flow into the state’s economy from ag-related industries, such as farm machinery manufacturing, agricultural real estate, and production and sale of value-added food products. Rural Illinois benefits principally from agricultural production, while agricultural processing and manufacturing strengthen urban economies.

How are Illinois’ agricultural commodities used?

With more than 950 food manufacturing companies, Illinois is well-equipped to turn the state’s crops and livestock into food and industrial products. Food processing is the state’s number-one manufacturing activity, adding almost $13.4 billion annually to the value of Illinois’ raw agricultural commodities.

http://www.agr.state.il.us/about/agfacts.html

I include this information about Illinois as one way of understanding the immensity and severity of our current drought situation. This post is just an update, really, because the stories rolling in on a daily basis are each stand-alone amazing stories. There is no way to overstate this issue, and the weather predictions are consistently grim. There are only so many words I can drag from my vocabulary to describe this. I could talk about the strange stuff for a minute: there are no birds out during the days anymore. We have no clear idea how the birds are making it or where they go. Birds are very, I think, intuitive about the environment as a whole. This is bizarre but true. Before the drought hit, I spent a night on the couch downstairs and no, we weren’t arguing because we are, quite frankly, too damn old to argue with each other. Whatever. Anyway, I was on the couch and the birds all woke me with very loud chirping, in the middle of the night. They continued all through the night. Never seen anything like it, so, I called my mother. She said, and she was right, “The birds know. They know something is wrong.”

Hate to rat-a-tat-tat-tat you guys, in true machine gun fashion but here is some of it. Today, our neighbor, Indiana, a quarter of the whole state, joined us in the extra-special category of drought called “Exceptional Drought.” Animals in Indiana are walking around the place, eating leaves and things that animals have never before eaten. Our exceptional drought, in Western Kentucky is really strange because we are a lowland area, surrounded by major rivers like the Missouri, The Ohio, The Tennessee and very close The Mississippi rivers. I got stuck in the mud one time because I did not have a good grasp of the water in the ground and I stupidly parked our truck by the side of the road to rescue a squirrel. While I was picking up the squirrel, the truck was visibly and dramatically sinking into the mud right in front of me. It sunk to the axle, and some locals swung by with a truck to assess, educate, then get back in their truck to drive to their place to get the Hije-Dije-Fanoidenheeden rope thing to pull the idiots that are not from here, out of the mud. The idea that water would ever be an issue in this lush river town was unthinkable. People here, BTW are just such good people, lost everything, never complain. This election season, I think the Passing Public will seek to elect Somebody Who Notices and Cares, preferably with some kind of a synapse connected in his whole damn head.

The current people in charge argue about this non-issue or that one, while fifty percent of America stands in a burned up cornfield. Who we gonna kill with what today is totally and utterly disconnected from a really obvious and meaningful issue that impacts, this time, Big Agriculture. People are sick and tired of hearing this other stuff. There is a real issue at hand here at home in our own food supply, and you watch, for example, the future unknown but guaranteed public health issue. Currently, CDC reports an outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, and CDC is focusing, right now on the infant population because this is a very serious and often fatal respiratory illness for the infants. This is stuff nobody reports in the news because news it not really even news anymore, but 18 states are listed with CDC, with Wisconsin in the lead:

http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/outbreaks.html

Sorry for the digression there. I am reaching my posted words speed limit, but I would like to turn attention for a moment to our Mississippi River. The Mississippi River is the third longest river in North America, and it is used for shipping. This river is now so dangerously low that in some places, only one narrow, one-way lane is allowed. Any job on a towboat on the Mississippi is now dangerous. It is very difficult for a towboat captain to navigate one of these things in shallow water. At one point, I read where something like seven hundred towboats were lined up and waiting. There have been a number of reported groundings. Even more amazing is that, the US Army Corps of Engineers Dredges the Mississippi, just to keep shipping lanes open. The Mighty Mississippi currently sits at a near-record low level.

Here is a description:

“It looks like a coastline out there,” said Reynold Minsky, president of the 5th Louisiana Levee District board. “There are more beaches on the river than there are in Florida.”


http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-08-02/mississippi-river-drought/56694018/1

I do not yet see a numbers prediction on how much money the shipping industry stands to lose this season due to slowed boat movement, but the big picture here is that we are talking about the United States Heartland.

The direct link to this spectacular film by Tom Lowe is here. Please take a moment to visit the link and view Tom Lowe’s comments and description.