East Coast of Vancouver Island

East Coast of Vancouver Island
Natural Beauty is Worth Preserving

Monday, 13 February 2017

California dam forces 200 000 from homes

The Oroville Dam in northern California continues to give authorities headaches. Last Tuesday a gaping hole appeared in the spillway. It quickly grew to over 300 feet across and the water further eroded the spillway.

The dam operators could not shut down the spillway as rain storms had filled the dam. Water continued to pour down the broken concrete conduit at the rate of 100 000 cubic feet per second. As more of the surrounding hillside became eroded, it was decided to use the emergency spillway. It allows the water to spill over a concrete lip, down the hill and into the Feather River. The emergency route is not paved.

Sunday as the ground below began to erode badly, an evacuation order went out to communities below the dam. With only a few minutes to leave many were unprepared to stay away for long but many jumped into vehicles, creating a major traffic jam. The jam did not clear for hours during which time some ran out of gas and some filling stations ran out of fuel.

500 inmates at a local jail also had to be evacuated.

The rain in the area has held off until at least Wednesday, giving repair crews some time to begin shoring up the spillway. Currently the unpaved, emergency route is not being used. Other crews are preparing giant bags of rocks to dump into the eroded areas.

People remain out of their homes. There was fear that if the mitigation efforts failed, a wall of water 30 feet high would sweep down the valley.

Some may ask why an aging dam would have such a low tech safety backup. According to the Mercury News, others had asked the question over a decade ago. Presentations were made to the federal authorities who would have had to foot the bill for an overhaul. They were dismissed.
Nature has relented for the time being. Another series of rainstorms is expected by Wednesday evening.

Further reading:
Los Angeles Times              

Mercury News             

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Calfornia Dam Uses Emergency Spillway to Control Water

Water flowing over the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam
The massive Oroville Dam in northern California is currently using an emergency spillway to spill excess water from its reservoir after the failure of its concrete lined spillway. Tuesday trouble showed up as the dam operators opened the regular spillway to move excess water more directly into the Feather River. What is normally an impressive flow of water suddenly turned into a turbulent maelstrom halfway down the concrete chute.

Water was shooting out of the concrete pathway and spilling sideways gouging out rocks, dirt and trees.

Workers shut down the spillway to investigate and found that a large hole had opened in the massive chute.

Heavy rains had filled the lake to 98% capacity and more was coming down. If they shut the spillway, the amount that could be released at the base of the dam would not be enough to prevent the lake from overfilling and spill uncontrollably over the top of the 700+ foot dam. So the workers decided to keep the spillway open and hope for the best.

By early Saturday the concrete spillway was badly damaged as the turbulence broke up further pieces of the trackage and water was flowing into the emergency spillway. The emergency spillway is an unpaved part of the hillside. This is the first time in the dam’s history that this has happened.

The 48 year old dam has been declared safe and California officials are not expecting any flooding in the towns downstream.

The Oroville Dam is a major supplier of drinking water, electricity and irrigation water for California’s agriculture industry. Lake Oroville is a popular recreation site.

The repair job won’t be cheap. An initial estimate is at least $200 million will be needed.

Repair to the Feather River is another matter. Direct damage to the river has occurred and a downstream steelhead salmon hatchery may be affected by the turbid water. Steelhead are an endangered species.

More Information:

PBS News Hour            

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Climate change and human health changes are connected

South Florida is already coping with sea level rise.
The World Health Organization has recently published a report showing how the changing climate and health impacts are related. They divided the report into three broad categories: direct health impacts, ecosystem mediated health impacts and deferred and displacement or populations.

While all humans are predicted to face some increased health hazards from the changes, the poor and disenfranchised are expected to pay a greater price for the changes. An unexpected conclusion as I read the report was that females(human) are disproportionately affected by a warming climate. WHO made a distinction between sex – male, female – and gender roles. They opined that while physiology may play a role in the greater number of women dying in an event, the greater factor was the gender roles that women play in many cultures.

In an extreme weather event, women may be required to stay at home until a male family member gives them permission to move to safer ground, clothing may be restrictive and prevent movement in a flood situation, girls in some cultures are not taught to swim as boys often are.

Some of the effects of a warming planet have already been observed. Sea levels are increasing around the world as more of the polar ice is melting faster than it is being replenished. Some increase in sea levels may be attributed to increased use of fresh water sources which finds its way to the oceans as well.

Salt water intrusion into coastal wells and agricultural fields compromises fresh water sources and poisons the agricultural soils.

Countries normally thought of as “have nations” like those in western Europe can also be hit hard when an extreme weather event hits. In 2003 a heatwave claimed 70 000 lives in western Europe.
The “have nations” will face increasing numbers of climate refugees. Millions of people are expected to become homeless over the next 30 years due to climate changes. Even those countries that are somewhat insulated against rising temperatures will find that their traditional food crops will have to change. For instance, wheat is a cool weather crop and does not thrive in hot climates.

The massive displacement of people is also expected to trigger civil unrest. Situations of crowding and poor living conditions give rise to infections and spread of diseases.

For more details on expected changes go to: http://www.who.int/globalchange/environment/en/

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

US Environmental Protection Agency Goes Silent

We all share the planet and it looks like we're all in trouble here
In a swift move by the new regime in Washington DC, many of the agencies that communicate with the public have been silenced. Communicating with the public by news releases or electronic means has now been forbidden.

It is unknown whether this is a temporary move.

The Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) has been ordered to remove its webpage that deals with climate change. The US president had famously denied the global climate warming and mused publicly that it might be a Chinese plot to divert money and wealth from the US.

The silencing of the EPA seems to also encompass research and education among the employees . The following has been taken from the page of the Christian Science Monitor.

"An unnamed source within the EPA said Tuesday that the Trump administration had instructed staffers not to speak with news media or publish press releases or blog posts on social media for the time being. They were also told to avoid publicizing forthcoming conferences and presentations planned for the next two months – an order some say undermines their ability to fulfill their duties."

Before Pres. Trump assumed office, there were rumours circulating among the media that his team was demanding to know which employees were supporting the idea of climate change. The senior administrators refused at that time to comply.

The person nominated to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, from Oklahoma has famously taken action to sue the EPA. Many call him an enemy of the protection agency. He is an outspoken denier of climate change.

Some of the other agencies who have been silenced by the new regime:
·       Department of the Interior (DOI)
·       US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
·       Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Climate Warming Mixing Snow and Common Leopard Territories

These cats may melt away like the Himalayan snows
As the Earth’s climate continues to warm, there will be winners and losers. Animals researchers in Asia have found a troubling change at high altitude. Common leopards have been photographed in what has been exclusive territory of the snow leopard.

Chinese scientists using a camera trap witnessed a female common leopard and her cub and, at a different time, a snow leopard. In the past, the snow leopards had nearly exclusive use of territory above 3 000 metres. Observers in Nepal have reported sightings of the two cats in the same territory.
Snow leopards are listed as endangered with estimated numbers between 3500 and 7000. They are prized by poachers. If the tree line continues upward in elevation, it is feared that the elusive cat will have its territory squeezed and fragmented. They are particularly adapted to the rocky, treeless heights.

Poaching and habitat change threaten the cats directly, but hunting and poaching of prey animals deprive the cats of their food. The leopards sometimes attack and eat domestic animals and earn the ire of the herders who kill the cats to protect their animals.

Mining is increasingly a threat. Snow leopards are shy and elusive, usually steering clear of humans and their activities. Mining activities, especially strip mines are particularly destructive to their habitat.

BBC News         

Snow Leopard Trust            

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

You are what you eat and same goes for bacteria

We are part of the Carbon Cycle
Many of us take soil for granted. Those who live in a city rarely encounter soil except in artificial ways, yet soil microbes are essential to maintain life as we know it on Earth. Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory(U of Chicago) have been studying how soil bacteria utilize various forms of carbon.

The bacteria studied were anaerobic or non-oxygen using bacteria. The anaerobic bacteria were provided with three different types of carbon – glucose, lactate and acetate. Glucose is the most complex of the three. The researchers found that when the soil bacteria were provided with glucose as an energy source, they produced the most complex substances as by products.

This is important because by producing more complex by products a more complex community of microbes could live in the soil, adding further break down products and even more complexity to the soil.

Complex plants, many of which provide food for humans need complex soil to grow well. While artificial nutrients can be added to artificially grown plants, the majority of food crops are grown in soil, outside and dependent on the soil for their nutrition.

 “We’ve illustrated that as microorganisms alter their environment, their environment then affects the type of microorganisms that are there and their activity.” Argonne researcher

Farmers will be facing many challenges as the Earth’s climate changes. Heat or lack of it affects microbial growth. Some farmers have opted to use pesticides and herbicides on their fields inadvertently affecting the microbial communities. With this latest research a little more information is now available about these tiny engineers of the carbon cycle.

Further Reading:

Argonne National Laboratory            

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Giant ice shelf in Antarctic set to travel

Larsen C Ice-Shelf set to depart Antarctica

A massive ice shelf in Antarctica is getting ready to float free from that continent. It has been compared in size to the American state of Rhode Island. It represents about 2300 square miles of ice. It’s a 1000 foot thick slab of ice.

Cracks in the Larsen Ice Shelf first started showing up in 2011, widened in early 2016 and are now about 300 feet wide along a 70 mile stretch. Scientists are unsure when it will break free to drift north and melt, taking months to melt completely. It is not expected to raise the oceans’ level because this portion of the ice shelf was already floating.

Scientists are not in full agreement as to the fate of the ice resting behind the currently collapsing ice. The general consensus is that it is fairly stable and will not quickly follow but scientists thought that when Larsen B collapsed a dozen years ago that the ice behind it would not follow. It did and quickly added to the world’s sea levels.

It is estimated that if the rest of the Larsen C ice formation flows into the Weddell Sea it will raise the sea levels by approximately four inches(9 cm).

As the climate of Earth warms, more of the water locked in the polar regions melts. The best data available pegs the ocean level rise since 1880 at about eight inches on average. This exposes the coast lines to more storm surges and flooding as well as salt incursion into coastal fresh water tables. Millions of people will have their lives impacted by the changing coastlines.

2016 was the hottest, on average, since records were kept. 2015 was the hottest before that.

Further Reading:

Surging Seas