By Kiley Kroh
As California enters its third consecutive dry winter, with no sign of moisture on the horizon, fears are growing over increased wildfire activity, agricultural losses and additional stress placed on already strained water supplies.
The city of Los Angeles has received only 3.6 inches of rain this year—far below its average of 14.91 inches, USA Today reported. And San Francisco is experiencing its driest year since record keeping began in 1849. As of November, the city had only received 3.95 inches of rain since the year began.
The state is enduring its driest year on record and while a drought emergency has not yet been officially declared, the U.S. National Drought Monitor shows that as of Dec. 24, nearly the entire state is gripped by severe to extreme drought conditions.
The portion of the state currently hit hardest by drought includes the Central Valley, a prime agricultural area, and “a lack of rain and snow this winter could bring catastrophic losses to California agriculture, as water allotments are slashed by state agencies,” USA Today reported.
The lack of precipitation is also extending what’s been a devastating wildfire season in California. According to AccuWeather, fire season usually tapers off in the fall and December marks the beginning of the wet season, which usually extends through March. This year, however, looks to be different.
“It will remain dry through February and probably early March in California,” Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok said. “It’s possible that a system or two could reach the state, but not enough to put a dent in the drought.”
As a result, wildfire risk remains high. Mid-December’s Big Sur Fire scorched through more than 900 acres and destroyed dozens of homes before it was contained.
“The cause of the blaze is under investigation, but there was little doubt among firefighters that the rare December inferno is a manifestation of an exceedingly dry year,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Like much of California, the area is experiencing its driest calendar year on record. “Big Sur has received just half an inch of rain since the seasonal calendar began in July, according to the National Weather Service. The area normally receives nearly eight inches by this time.”
The prolonged drought also poses a serious risk to the state’s water supply. Due to a string of warm, dry winters and the declining snowpack that they bring, many of the state’s northern reservoirs have been stuck at precariously low levels this year, some dwindling to just one-third or one-half capacity.
“Going forward, continued dry conditions will not build the snowpack critically needed for this year’s water supplies,” the California Department of Water Resources posted on its website this week.
Citing the the abnormal late fire season activity and very low soil moisture, the agency said Gov. Brown (D-CA) had formed an Interagency Drought Task Force to assess conditions, allocations and whether a declaration of statewide drought was needed. In recent weeks, several state and federal lawmakers have written to Gov. Brown and President Obama asking them to declare a drought emergency and federal disaster in the state.
“This is going to be a very challenging water year for California and a potentially catastrophic year for the Central Valley in particular,” Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Costa (D-CA) wrote.
Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.