A Patchwork of Imagery Hints at the Hidden Complexity of the American Prairie
By Clara Chaisson
Photographer Terry Evans has been piecing together prairies for more than 40 years.
After she first encountered the plant life growing in these iconic midwestern habitats in 1978, Evans memorized their "names like poems": the silverleaf scurfpea, a dark-violet wildflower; the prickly pink catclaw sensitive briar; the white orchid known as nodding lady's tresses; and green antelopehorn, a milkweed that serves as a nursery to monarch butterflies. "I felt embarrassed when I came across one whose name I'd forgotten or hadn't yet learned," Evans said. "It was like slighting a friend."
Today Evans is continuing her education by breaking down these grassland ecosystems into their component parts. Each large-scale image from her new series, Ancient Prairies, is made up of a patchwork of individual photographs hinting at the ecological complexity that underlies the prairie landscape.
Terry Evans's Ancient Prairies project
Landscape photography was not part of Evans's original plan during her years at the University of Kansas, where she received a BFA in painting. For years the Missouri-born artist drew inspiration from the relationships between people. But a decade after Evans graduated, a friend asked her to capture some images of a virgin prairie not far from Evans's home in Salinas, Kansas. She agreed, and the friendly favor forever changed the trajectory of her career.
"Suddenly I began to see the ground," Evans wrote of the experience. "The realization came that I could stand in one spot and look at the ground for at least an hour and still not see everything happening at my feet ... There was a whole cosmology there, and that was fascinating to me."
The artist's depictions of prairies have traveled far beyond the habitat's natural range in the middle of our continent. Her work has brought the American prairie to the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and more.
Terry Evans's Ancient Prairies project
Even when people are not directly in the frame, Evans's photography still captures the kinds of intricate human relationships that originally caught her eye as an artist — only instead of studying how people interact with each other, she now explores how people engage with the land.
Each composite image in Ancient Prairies takes Evans about a month to complete. At the outset, the artist has no idea what the composition will ultimately look like. She draws on her education as a painter to structure the piece.
Only 1 to 4 percent of the tallgrass prairie that once covered 170 million acres of North America still exists today; settlers plowed the vast majority to make way for the eventual vast monocultures of wheat and corn. While pockets of native prairie remain, Evans said they "would not exist without human care." Some, like her first love, Fent's Prairie, thrive as a result of intensive preservation efforts. Others have been painstakingly restored with prescribed burns, invasive species removal and native plantings.
Terry Evans's Ancient Prairies project
Evans's interest in humanity's influence on the environment has also led her to industrial landscapes. Working alongside writer Elizabeth Farnsworth earlier this decade, she documented activists fighting to ban petcoke on the Southeast Side of Chicago, the city where she now lives and works. But after spending years working on projects such as Petcoke vs. Grassroots, Fractured: North Dakota's Oil Boom and Steel Work, Evans said, "I started having this longing to see some undisturbed prairie again . . . Beauty matters for our spirit."
When she returned to Fent's Prairie, though, she found that something had changed within her. "I was no longer satisfied with making single images," Evans said. "It seemed like there's so much rich information and wisdom in an untouched or restored ecosystem."
Terry Evans's Ancient Prairies project
The name of the series, Ancient Prairies, isn't intended to consign its subject matter to the past. "It's not about nostalgia, and they're not a eulogy of something that's gone," Evans said. "Rather, they're a celebration of life that can still inform us. We need these places as an archive of what an undisturbed ecosystem looks like."
Five images from Ancient Prairies are featured in the winter issue of Orion magazine.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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