By Aaron Teasdale
"How much moon do we have tonight?" I yelled to my friend Greg, trying to make myself heard over the sounds of wind and surging water. The sun was sinking toward the mountains all too quickly and our float-in campsite lay somewhere down the river's bends in darkening forest.
Greg shrugged. He had no clue of the moon's cycle either, which showed just how tragically pasty and over-civilized we'd turned. Our days had become filled with computer screens, not forest scenes; our nights capped with ceilings, not stars. All of which made this journey on standup paddleboards so sweet—or at least we hoped it would be sweet, if the pesky headwind would let up before we had to risk disfiguring ourselves while navigating boulder-strewn waters by headlamp and whatever light the moon might spare.
We were dancing with Montana's Blackfoot River, its sinuous current wending us through the mountains, canyons and pine-studded pastures of the Rocky Mountains. We'd come to test our paddleboarding skills and experience the waters of one of my favorite books, Norman Maclean's "A River Runs Through It," a majestic paean to fishing, family and "the magic current of the world.
In Maclean's youth the Blackfoot ran pure, cold and thick with trout. But mining, logging and ranching wore away at the river's 1.5-million-acre watershed, and the river suffered. Water quality deteriorated, trout populations plummeted, and by the 1980s the Blackfoot had become yet another American river despoiled.
Then something remarkable happened. In 1993 local ranchers and conservationists, led by Trout Unlimited, banded together in a partnership with state and federal wildlife agencies to do something about it. Their effort, known as the Blackfoot Challenge, grew into a multi-decade, watershed-scale restoration effort. Mines were reclaimed, tributaries restored, riparian areas revegetated. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the valley's residents, who turned the Blackfoot Challenge into a landowner-led nonprofit group, the Blackfoot's wounds healed.
Today, its waters once again run clear and cold. Trout are abundant. Grizzlies are back roaming its banks. A shining example of community-based restoration, the Blackfoot stands as one of the American West's great conservation success stories.
Greg and I had been building our standup paddleboarding skills on the lower river near Missoula, but now we wanted to see the whole thing. Succumbing to a fit of living-room ambition—beers in hand, maps spread out—we decided to cover 80 miles of the Blackfoot in only two and a half days. We knew the trip had never been done, at least in the last century, for reasons that will soon become clear. With lightweight camping gear lashed to our boards and float-in campsites reserved, our brilliant plan would end with us paddling triumphantly, heroically even, into Missoula.
Never mind that it was unclear we could paddle that far and that fast. We hoped the river's magic current would deliver.
As the sun set that first night, the elusive moon stayed hidden, but the wind finally abated and we beached at our reserved campsite just as the last light leaked from the sky. The next morning, we jumped right back on the river, and its snow- and spring-fed waters swiftly carried us through golden ranchland into canyons of ancient stone. Rising to the north were the verdant pyramids of the Swan Range and the Bob Marshall wilderness complex, one of the largest roadless areas in the lower 48.
As we paddled onward, life revealed itself everywhere. Osprey surveyed from treetops. Explosions of swallows filled the air. In a dizzying display of fertility, a merganser passed with no fewer than 40 chicks in tow.
The day flowed on, and the world became a study in color and texture. The river was a rippling, blue ribbon laced with shimmering, silvery willows; rosemary-green cottonwood leaves flashed in the breeze; pine-clad mountains and terra cotta cliffs rose to touch the porcelain blue and white dome of the sky.
Somewhere along the way, the world beyond the riverbanks ceased to exist. I began to understand Maclean when he wrote, "I sat there and forgot and forgot, until what remained was the river that went by and I who watched … Eventually the watcher joined the river, and there was only one of us."
We joined the river in other ways, too, as we hurled through rapids that sometimes sent us headlong into frigid, frothing water. But the mid-June sun was warm and our spirits were high. We even found the early-cycle waxing moon, a pearl boomerang arcing overhead.
As dusk settled over the mountains, salmon flies swarmed the air and I covered my mouth to avoid inhaling them. Birds with the opposite intent dove from all directions, mouths agape. Hungry trout leapt from the water to feast on the river's bounty.
Sleep came easy that second night at another river-side camp beneath a spectacle of stars. The night was clear and we needed no rainfly. We also needed no alarm. Warblers, thrushes, sandpipers and more woke us with a symphony. I raised my head and smiled at the sight of the Blackfoot purling past.
We were sleeping along the river, spending our days on the river, swimming in the river, drinking the river. Never had I felt so connected to water.
The last day of our journey began in a quiet canyon between soaring walls of precambrian rock. We floated past beaver lodges and shoreline trees crowned with eagle nests. We still had 33 miles to paddle, and as we drew closer to Missoula our muscles ached. After seeing only a handful of other parties our first two days, the river got busy. First, fisherman appeared, then college kids in inner tubes—Missoula's summer "tube hatch."
The canyon walls opened and long, straight logs appeared helter-skelter on the banks. The largest lumber mill west of Chicago once stood here. Over a century ago, the Bonner sawmill supplied timber for the railroads leading the march of civilization across the young nation.
We passed beneath the roar of Interstate 90 and another river, the Clark Fork of the Columbia, approached on our left. Just below its confluence with the Blackfoot was the site of Milltown Dam, built in 1908. It powered the nearby sawmill, blocked migrating fish (and paddlers), and accumulated toxic sediments in its reservoir from upriver mining in Butte. A $100 million, eight-year removal and restoration process was completed in 2014, when the river was finally opened to paddlers for the first time in over a century. Greg and I celebrated the return of the confluence and a wild and free Blackfoot with cheers and our paddles raised.
Okay, I'll admit that our paddle-raising may have been metaphorical. After three days of nonstop paddling we barely had the energy to high-five. A beatific vision kept us moving: a few short miles downriver, the literary and fly- fishing haven of Missoula promised some of civilization's finer benefits—brick-oven pizza and locally brewed ale.
As our last river miles slipped by, I thought of one of my favorite Maclean passages, from his story "USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky," a companion piece to "A River Runs Through It": "Life every now and then becomes literature—not for long, of course, but long enough to be what we best remember, and often enough so that what we eventually come to mean by life are those moments when life, instead of going sideways, backwards, forward, or nowhere at all, lines out straight, tense and inevitable, with a complication, climax, and, given some luck, a purgation, as if life had been made and not happened."
Then Greg and I were pulling our boards onto shore, summoning newfound energy for a vigorous high-five, and stumbling up to the deck of a white linen restaurant, where we were surely the most fragrant customers present. After 80 miles of standing on top of water, I swore I could feel the earth swaying beneath my feet, even though we were now on land.
In this Anthropocene era—in which we've paved, dammed, and tilled the world, in which extinction rates rise and politics seem to grow ever uglier—Greg and I found hope in the growing movement to restore and rewild the natural world. Dams can be removed, rivers restored, wildlife revived. Nature heals remarkably well when we let it. Better still, when wild nature is near our cities, connective veins of wilderness can strengthen ecosystems and grant people nearby places to go deep and rediscover our own inner wildness—even if only for a couple of days. Heal nature and we heal ourselves.
Greg and I—our souls replenished by water and birdsong—raised cold pints of ale and toasted the Blackfoot. We need this river, like we need all wild and free rivers of the world, to show us the moon again and turn our lives to literature.
Follow in the Writer's Paddle Strokes
Where: the Blackfoot River starts near the Continental Divide in the mountains south of Glacier National Park and flows for 132 miles through Western Montana before joining the Clark Fork of the Columbia River near Missoula.
Getting There: Missoula has the nearest airport and Highway 200 is your access road for the Blackfoot. There are many public put-ins and take-outs, though the river pulls away from the highway for extended stretches that require travel by remote dirt roads. Only experienced paddlers should attempt the Blackfoot.
Best Time to Visit: The Blackfoot is suitable for paddling from May through September. May and the first half of June is high water and for experts only. July is the ideal month—the water is warm and still deep enough to cover the river's many boulders, but not so high that swims are perilous. After July, paddling the Blackfoot can be like pinball as you navigate through boulder fields. Fishing is excellent all summer and fall as soon as high water subsides.
Camping: A scattering of campgrounds are available along the river, but the best sites are the five Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks float-in sites accessible only to paddlers. They can be reserved in advance by calling the FWP office at (406) 542-5564.
Pro Tips: While sections of the river can be paddled by beginners, the many class I-III rapids make the Blackfoot more suitable for intermediates and above. Paddleboards and other paddle-powered watercraft can be rented at The Trailhead or Strongwater in Missoula.
Additional Reading: "A River Runs Through It" (University of Chicago Press, 1976), Norman Maclean. "Paddling Montana" (Falcon Publishing, 2008), Hank and Carol Fischer.
Reposed with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Independence Day weekend is a busy time for coastal communities as people flock to the beaches to soak up the sun during the summer holiday. This year is different. Some of the country's most popular beach destinations in Florida and California have decided to close their beaches to stop the surge in coronavirus cases.
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For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.
What Is PTSD?<p><a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">PTSD</a> can occur when someone is exposed to extreme exposure traumatic experience. Typically, the trauma involves a threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Along with war veterans, it happens to refugees; to victims of gun violence, rape and other physical assaults; and to survivors of car accidents and natural disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes.</p><p>PTSD can also happen by witnessing trauma or its aftermath, often the case with <a href="https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd" target="_blank">first responders</a> and <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-many-faces-anxiety-and-trauma/202006/invisible-wounds-the-frontline-heroes" target="_blank">front-line workers</a>.</p><p>All this adds up to tens of millions of Americans. Up to 30% of combat veterans and first responders, and 8% of civilians, <a href="https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/epidemiology.asp" target="_blank">fulfill the diagnostic criteria for PTSD</a>. And that criteria is not easily met: symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive trauma memories, difficulty sleeping, avoidance of reminders of trauma, negative emotions, and what we call "hyperarousal symptoms."</p>
Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
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By Jeff Berardelli
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
A Conundrum Emerges<p>Over the past year, the CMIP6 collection of models being reviewed threw researchers an unexpected curveball: a significant number of the climate model runs showed substantially more global warming than previous model versions had projected. If accurate, the international climate goals would be nearly impossible to achieve, and there would be significantly more extreme impacts worldwide.</p><p>A foundational experiment in every report addresses "sensitivity": If you double levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) that were in the air before the Industrial Revolution, how much warming do the models show? This doubling is not expected for a few more decades, but it is a quick way to communicate the critical role of greenhouse gases in changing the climate.</p><p>The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35% since the 1800s because of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, global temperatures have already increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.</p><p>In the first IPCC assessment report, published in 1990, the answer to that question about the impact of doubling carbon dioxide gave a fairly wide range of results – between 2.7-8 degrees F of global warming. Since then, four more assessments issued six to seven years apart reached nearly the exact same conclusion on sensitivity.</p><p>But that sensitivity may, for the first time, change significantly in next year's assessment. Why? Because starting last year, numerous models in the CMIP6 collection displayed even bigger spikes in temperature upon doubling of CO2 concentrations. We're in serious trouble if the climate sensitivity falls in the mid or upper range of the previous assessments. But if the new, higher estimates are correct, the impacts on civilization would be catastrophic.</p>
In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
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