26 Organizations Working to Conserve Seed Biodiversity
By Katie Howell
More than 6,000 plant species have been cultivated for food worldwide, but only nine account for the majority of total crop production, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). FAO finds that crop diversity is continuing to decline across the globe because of unsustainable agricultural practices, industrialization, and increased urbanization.
Collecting and organizing genetic diversity as a conservation strategy emerged in the 1960s and now plays an important role in ensuring the world's collective food security. Seed saving organizations have helped secure over 100,000 seeds during wartime in Syria, preserve 13 million seeds from over 70 species of native trees in the United Kingdom, and contribute to over US$77 million in pastoral agriculture revenue in New Zealand. As the climate crisis continues, seed preservation may also be critical in research and innovation to help farmers adapt to changing conditions.
Seed conservation can occur on-site in farmers' fields or protected areas, referred to as in situ, or in off-site collections, known as ex situ conservation. Ex situ collections represent the most widespread conservation strategy for plant genetics–it includes seeds kept in cold storage, living plants grown in open field seed banks, or tissue, DNA, embryos, or pollen samples stored in vitro. "Such genebank collections provide a means to make unique biodiversity available cheaply, and effectively, for the long-term," according to Crop Trust, a leading organization dedicated to conserving crop biodiversity.
According to FAO, there are more than 1,750 ex situ seed banks across the world – both international and local – that preserve over 7 million samples of seeds, cuttings, or genetic material. To celebrate these efforts, Food Tank has selected 26 seed saving organizations working to promote seed diversity through seed banks, exchange networks, and educational programs.
1. ASEED Europe, Netherlands
Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment, and Diversity (ASEED Europe) aims to achieve social justice and environmental integrity through grassroots organizing, education, and non-violent direct action. Founded in 1991, ASEED Europe organizes international campaigns focused on the decline of biodiversity in agriculture, the availability of seeds, and corporate concentration in the food system. They offer educational materials and training on topics such as seeds, climate change, trade, and food sovereignty.
2. Australian PlantBank, Australia
The Australian PlantBank is the largest native plant conservation seed bank in Australia. Housing over 100 million individual seeds in 10,000 seed collections, it has become one of the world's most biodiverse seed banks. Located in New South Wales, the PlantBank uses seed banking, cryostorage, and tissue culture for conservation, horticulture, restoration, and research efforts. They also offer educational tours to teach visitors about the important conservation work of scientists.
3. Botanical Research Institute of Texas, United States
Founded in 1987, The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT)'s mission is to conserve natural heritage by educating the public about the value of plants. BRIT operates the Conservation Seed Laboratory and Seed Bank as a part of their larger Texas Plant Conservation Program. In 2017, BRIT joined the Center of Plant Conservation (CPC) to help Texas organizations protect and preserve rare and endangered native plants. Through community education programs and workshops, research initiatives, and events, BRIT aims to increase awareness about sustainable stewardship and the importance of plant diversity.
4. Cherokee Nation Seed Bank, United States
The Cherokee Nation Seed Bank is maintained by The Cherokee Nation Heirloom Garden and Native Plant Site. The bank collects rare, native plants from the Cherokee regions. Representing centuries of Cherokee history, the Seed Bank provides an opportunity to continue traditions of ancestors, as well as educate youth about the Cherokee Nation's agricultural past. Seeds may be requested by community members; varieties include heirloom corn, tobacco, and gourds. Additionally, the organization offers educational materials like planting guides to help growers maintain the plants' genetic integrity.
5. Camino Verde, United States & Peru
Camino Verde is a United States-based nonprofit with locations in Concord, Massachusetts and Puerto Maldonado, Peru. Camino Verde's mission is to plant trees and encourage future planting through educational programs and public awareness. From 2007 to 2016, Camino Verde worked to establish a Living Seed Bank of over 400 species of trees. With these seeds, they created a restoration forest center, planting over 25,000 trees whose nurseries now produce over 200,000 seedlings each year. The organization also works with farmers and native communities in the Amazon of Peru to help bring back forests to areas degraded by agriculture, gold mining, and ranching.
6. Crop Trust, Germany
The Crop Trust is an international organization whose mission is to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide. Through its Crop Diversity Endowment Fund, the Crop Trust funds the world's largest genebanks, including the Consultative Group for International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) genebank platform, Svalbard Global Seed Vault, and Seeds for Resilience–a project supporting five seed banks in Sub-Saharan Africa. The organization also works to develop government conservation strategies.
Located in St. Petersburg, the Federal Research Center All-Russian Institute of Plant Genetic Resources, or the Vavilov Research Institute (VRI), was founded in 1921 and has since expanded into 12 research stations throughout Russia. As the world's oldest and largest seed bank, they house a total of 60,000 seed varieties and their herbariums contain some 250,000 cultivated plant specimens and their wild relatives.
8. Hawai'i Public Seed Initiative, United States
The Hawai'i Public Seed Initiative (HPSI) was created by The Kohala Center in 2010 and is funded by the Ceres Trust. The initiative works to identify and save seed varieties best suited for the island's soils and climates. Through community seed networks and workshops, HPSI teaches people to select, grow, harvest, store, and improve seed varieties that can strengthen the state's food security. HPSI holds events to develop seed leaders across the state, including on Hawai'i Island, Kaua'i, O'ahu, Maui, and Moloka'i.
9. Irish Seed Savers, Ireland
The Irish Seeds Savers was founded in 1991 in County Carlow, before moving to Scarriff, Ireland. The organization aims to raise public awareness about the vulnerability of Irish agricultural biodiversity. They provide educational workshops to schools and community groups and aim to facilitate conversations between governments, universities, and gene banks. The Irish Seed Savers maintain a public seed bank with over 600 non-commercially available varieties of heirloom and heritage seeds, including rare vegetables, soft fruit, flowers, grains, potatoes, and apple trees.
10. International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia
Headquartered in Colombia, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is a CGIAR research center focused on promoting agrobiodiversity and sustainable agroecosystems in Africa, Asian, Latin America, and the Caribbean. CIAT conducts crop research with its extensive genebank, which holds the largest global collection of beans, cassava, and tropical forages. CIAT provides seed samples free of charge to any individual or organization anywhere in the world for the purposes of research, breeding, or training.
11. Louisiana Native Plant Initiative, United States
The Louisiana Native Plant Initiative (LNPI) is a multi-agency effort that helps conserve native plants. The National Resource Conservation Service of Louisiana collaborates with their many partners to collect seeds, preserve native varieties, increase flora abundance, and research plant materials for future revegetation projects. The initiative has spearheaded several conservation projects to protect species such as the longleaf pine, switchgrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, smooth cordgrass, eastern gamagrass, and partridge pea.
12. Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, England
The Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst is a world leader in on-site conservation of wild plant species. The majority of the seed collections in the Seed Bank at Wakehurst are curated by the larger Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, a seed conversation network active in over 80 countries around the world. Currently, there are more than 92,500 seed collections in the bank, which represent over 40,000 species.
13. National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Perseveration (NLGRP), United States
Located on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation (NLGRP) is home to one of the world's largest plant and animal gene banks. NLGRP's mission is to support U.S. agriculture in producing high-quality food, feed, and fiber by acquiring, evaluating, preserving, and distributing critical genetic resources. In its plant division, the laboratory manages more than 10,000 plant species in long-term storage and on fields, orchards, and nature reserves.
14. Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, United States
Indigenous Seed Keeper Network (ISKN) is an initiative of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA), a non-profit organization aimed at leveraging resources to support tribal food sovereignty projects. The mission of the Network is to nourish and assist the growing seed sovereignty movement across Turtle Island. ISKN provides educational resources, mentorship training, outreach, and advocacy support on seed policy issues, and organizes convenings to connect communities engaged in this work. Sierra Seeds, a nonprofit sister program to ISKN, also uses mentorship and education to create greater sustainability in food and seed systems by sharing essential practical skills and promoting seed literacy.
15. Native Seeds/SEARCH, United States
Based in Tucson, Arizona, Native Seeds/SEARCH (NS/S) aims to conserve and promote arid-adapted crop diversity in the southwest United States. Since it was founded as a nonprofit organization in 1983, NS/S has established a reputation as a leader in heirloom conservation. Its seed bank holds nearly 2,000 varieties of crops adapted to landscapes extending from southern Colorado to Mexico. These varieties include traditional crops such as corn, beans, and squash used by the Apache, Havasupai, Hopi, Maricopa, Mayo, and many other tribes.
16. Navdanya, India
Navdanya is a research-based initiative founded by Dr. Vandana Shiva, a world-renowned scientist and environmentalist. The organization is a network of seed keepers and organic producers that works across 22 states in India. Navdanya has helped set up over 150 community seed banks over the last 30 years. The organization has conserved and promoted undervalued crops such as millets, pulses, and pseudo-cereals and saved over 4,000 rice varieties. They also conduct research on sustainable farming practices and have provided training to over 750,000 farmers on food and seed sovereignty.
17. New York City Native Plant Conservation Initiative, United States
The New York City Native Plant Conservation Initiative began in 2008 as a partnership between the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. In response to declining native plant populations due to increasing urbanization, the initiative works to maximize long-term conservation of diverse native species. Launched with 34 endangered species, conservation efforts include collecting seeds, preparing and implementing protocols for restoration and management of native plant populations, and raising public awareness of the status of native plants in NYC.
18. Pima County Seed Library, United States
The Seed Library is a collection of open-pollinated and heirloom seeds in Pima County, Arizona. The library works to create local seed stocks that are acclimated to desert climate and support an abundant and genetically diverse landscape. The collection helps to support gardeners and educate community members about how to grow, harvest, and save seeds. Made up of almost 250 types of seeds, varieties include beans, flowers, herbs, melons, and more.
19. Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, United States
The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA) is a nonprofit organization working to create a network of seed growers, distributors, and educators in the Rocky Mountain West region of the United States. Founded in 2014, RMSA emphasizes sharing of seed saving knowledge to preserve and promote the use of regionally adapted crops, herbs, wildflowers, and native grass seeds. To create a more resilient food system, the organization provides seed education resources, runs an online seed school, hosts an international seed festival, operates a regional seed vault, and more.
20. SeedChange, Canada
Formerly USC Canada, SeedChange is working to fight for farmers' rights to fair wages, land, and seeds around the globe. Through partnerships with nonprofits, they support over 30,000 small-scale farmers to restore degraded lands, share seeds, and start businesses. SeedChange projects are rooted in a Seeds of Survival approach, which emphasizes the importance of local seeds and local knowledge. They support about 70 seed banks run by the communities in which they are located, and hundreds of home seed banks cared for by the farmers in their own homes.
21. Seed Savers Exchange, United States
The Seed Savers Exchange is a nonprofit in Winneshiek County, Iowa that focuses on stewarding and sharing a large collection of open-pollinated seed varieties across the U.S. Founded in 1975, the organization works to ensure the preservation of diverse heirloom seeds to guarantee future food security. Today, Seed Savers Exchange has over 20,000 plant varieties and 13,000 members.
22. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, United States
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, located in central Virginia, is focused on seed varieties that grow well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern U.S. Operating as a cooperative, the organization offers 800 varieties of vegetable, herb, flower, grain, and cover crop seeds. Sixty percent of their seed varieties are certified organic and over 60 percent of seeds come from small farmers. Some unique Southern heirlooms they offer include peanuts, okra, naturally colored cotton, butterbeans, and roselle.
23. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway
Opened by the Norwegian government in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the world's largest secure seed storage facility. Also referred to as the doomsday vault, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault holds duplicates of seed samples from other regional, national, and international gene banks to serve as backup storage in case of emergency. Svalbard has the capacity to house 2.25 billion seeds, equaling 500 seeds of 4.5 million crop varieties. The seed vault is run by the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Nordic Gene Resource Centre, and the Global Crop Diversity Trust. It currently holds seeds of more than 4,000 plant species.
24. The Germplasm Bank of Wild Species, China
Created in 2004, The Germplasm Bank of Wild Species has collected over 80,000 seed samples from over 10,000 species of wild plants. The project is operated by the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and includes a seed bank, DNA bank, microbial bank, animal germplasm bank, and seed biology research center. According to one news source, by the end of 2018, the organization's seed storage accounted for one-third of the total wild plant species nationwide, making it the largest in Asia and the second of its kind globally.
25. The World Vegetable Center, Taiwan
The World Vegetable Center was founded in 1971 as the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC). Today, the Center conducts research, builds networks, and carries out training activities to raise awareness of the role of vegetables for improved health and poverty alleviation around the globe. The Center's Genebank is the world's largest vegetable germplasm collection, holding over 61,000 accessions–plant materials collected from different areas–sourced from 155 countries. Since its founding, the Center has distributed more than 600,000 seed samples to researchers in the public and private sectors in at least 180 countries. Their work has led to the release of hundreds of varieties throughout the world, especially in developing countries. The World Vegetable Center Genebank is part of the global germplasm network, Genesys.
26. Vrihi, India
Vrihi, the Sandskrit word for "rice", was founded by ecologist Dr. Debal Deb and is now the largest folk rice seed bank in Eastern India. In 1997, Vrihi began as a partnership of a nationwide folk crop conservation movement between the Centre of Interdisciplinary Studies (CIS) and Dr. Vandana Shiva's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE). Since 2000, Vrihi has been an independent organization, working to promote the cultivation of folk rice varieties and reestablish non-commercial seed exchange.
Correction: A previous version of this article mentioned The Kohula Center. The organization should be spelled The Kohala Center. The article has been corrected to reflect this change.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
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Super-emitters are individual sources such as leaking pipelines, landfills or dairy farms that produce a disproportionate amount of planet-warming emissions, especially methane and carbon dioxide. Carbon Mapper, the non-profit leading the effort, hopes to provide a more targeted guide to reducing emissions by launching special satellites that hunt for sources of climate pollution.
"What we've learned is that decision support systems that focus just at the level of nation states, or countries, are necessary but not sufficient. We really need to get down to the scale of individual facilities, and even individual pieces of equipment, if we're going to have an impact across civil society," Riley Duren, Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona researcher, told BBC News. "Super-emitters are often intermittent but they are also disproportionately responsible for the total emissions. That suggests low-hanging fruit, because if you can identify and fix them you can get a big bang for your buck."
The new project, announced Thursday, is a partnership between multiple entities, including Carbon Mapper, the state of California, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Planet, a company that designs, builds and launches satellites, according to a press release. The project is being implemented in three stages.
The initial stage, which is already complete, involved the initial engineering development. NASA and Planet will work together in the second stage to build two satellites for a 2023 launch. The third phase will launch an entire constellation of satellites starting in 2025.
The satellites will include an imaging spectrometer built by NASA's JPL, NASA explained in a press release. This is a device that can break down visible light into hundreds of colors, providing a unique signature for chemicals such as methane and carbon dioxide. Most imaging spectrometers currently in orbit have larger pixel sizes, making it difficult to locate emission sources that are not always visible from the ground. However, Carbon Mapper spectrometers will have pixels of around 98 square feet, facilitating more detailed pin-pointing.
"This technology enables researchers to identify, study and quantify the strong gas emission sources," JPL Scientist Charles Miller said in the press release.
Once the data is collected, Carbon Mapper will make it available to industry and government actors via an open data portal to help repair leaks.
"These home-grown satellites are a game-changer," California Governor Gavin Newsom said of the project. "They provide California with a powerful, state-of-the-art tool to help us slash emissions of the super-pollutant methane — within our own borders and around the world. That's exactly the kind of dynamic, forward-thinking solution we need now to address the existential crisis of climate change."
By Jenna McGuire
Commonly used herbicides across the U.S. contain highly toxic undisclosed "inert" ingredients that are lethal to bumblebees, according to a new study published Friday in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
The study reviewed several herbicide products and found that most contained glyphosate, an ingredient best recognized from Roundup products and the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. and worldwide.
While the devastating impacts of glyphosate on bee populations are more broadly recognized, the toxicity levels of inert ingredients are less understood because they are not subjected to the same mandatory testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"Pesticides are manufactured and sold as formulations that contain a mixture of compounds, including one or more active ingredients and, potentially, many inert ingredients," explained the Center for Food Safety in a statement. "The inert ingredients are added to pesticides to aid in mixing and to enhance the products' ability to stick to plant leaves, among other purposes."
The study found that these inert substances can be highly toxic and even block bees' breathing capacity, essentially causing them to drown. While researchers found that some of the combinations of inert ingredients had no negative impacts on the bees, one of the herbicide formulations killed 96% of the bees within 24 hours.
According to the abstract of the study:
Bees exhibited 94% mortality with Roundup® Ready‐To‐Use® and 30% mortality with Roundup® ProActive®, over 24 hr. Weedol® did not cause significant mortality, demonstrating that the active ingredient, glyphosate, is not the cause of the mortality. The 96% mortality caused by Roundup® No Glyphosate supports this conclusion.
"This important new study exposes a fatal flaw in how pesticide products are regulated here in the U.S.," said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now the question is, will the Biden administration fix this problem, or will it allow the EPA to continue its past practice of ignoring the real-world harms of pesticides?"
According to the Center for Food Safety, there are currently 1,102 registered formulations that contain the active ingredient glyphosate, each with a proprietary mixture of inert ingredients. In 2017, the group filed a legal petition calling for the EPA to force companies to provide safety data on pesticide formulations that include inert ingredients.
"The EPA must begin requiring tests of every pesticide formulation for bee toxicity, divulge the identity of 'secret' formulation additives so scientists can study them, and prohibit application of Roundup herbicides to flowering plants when bees might be present and killed," said Bill Freese, science director at the Center for Food Safety. "Our legal petition gave the EPA a blueprint for acting on this issue of whole formulations. Now they need to take that blueprint and turn it into action, before it's too late for pollinators."
ATTN @EPA: Undisclosed "inert" ingredients in #pesticide products warrant further scrutiny! ➡️ A new study compared… https://t.co/bdFwXCVHsD— Center 4 Food Safety (@Center 4 Food Safety)1618592343.0
Roundup — also linked to cancer in humans — was originally produced by agrochemical giant Monsanto, which was acquired by the German pharmaceutical and biotech company Bayer in 2018.
The merger of the two companies was condemned by environmentalists and food safety groups who warned it would cultivate the greatest purveyor of genetically modified seeds and toxic pesticides in the world.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
By Ayesha Tandon
New research shows that lake "stratification periods" – a seasonal separation of water into layers – will last longer in a warmer climate.
These longer periods of stratification could have "far-reaching implications" for lake ecosystems, the paper says, and can drive toxic algal blooms, fish die-offs and increased methane emissions.
The study, published in Nature Communications, finds that the average seasonal lake stratification period in the northern hemisphere could last almost two weeks longer by the end of the century, even under a low emission scenario. It finds that stratification could last over a month longer if emissions are extremely high.
If stratification periods continue to lengthen, "we can expect catastrophic changes to some lake ecosystems, which may have irreversible impacts on ecological communities," the lead author of the study tells Carbon Brief.
The study also finds that larger lakes will see more notable changes. For example, the North American Great Lakes, which house "irreplaceable biodiversity" and represent some of the world's largest freshwater ecosystems, are already experiencing "rapid changes" in their stratification periods, according to the study.
As temperatures rise in the spring, many lakes begin the process of "stratification." Warm air heats the surface of the lake, heating the top layer of water, which separates out from the cooler layers of water beneath.
The stratified layers do not mix easily and the greater the temperature difference between the layers, the less mixing there is. Lakes generally stratify between spring and autumn, when hot weather maintains the temperature gradient between warm surface water and colder water deeper down.
Dr Richard Woolway from the European Space Agency is the lead author of the paper, which finds that climate change is driving stratification to begin earlier and end later. He tells Carbon Brief that the impacts of stratification are "widespread and extensive," and that longer periods of stratification could have "irreversible impacts" on ecosystems.
For example, Dr Dominic Vachon – a postdoctoral fellow from the Climate Impacts Research Centre at Umea University, who was not involved in the study – explains that stratification can create a "physical barrier" that makes it harder for dissolved gases and particles to move between the layers of water.
This can prevent the oxygen from the surface of the water from sinking deeper into the lake and can lead to "deoxygenation" in the depths of the water, where oxygen levels are lower and respiration becomes more difficult.
Oxygen depletion can have "fatal consequences for living organisms," according to Dr Bertram Boehrer, a researcher at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, who was not involved in the study.
Lead author Woolway tells Carbon Brief that the decrease in oxygen levels at deeper depths traps fish in the warmer surface waters:
"Fish often migrate to deeper waters during the summer to escape warmer conditions at the surface – for example during a lake heatwave. A decrease in oxygen at depth will mean that fish will have no thermal refuge, as they often can't survive when oxygen concentrations are too low."
This can be very harmful for lake life and can even increase "fish die-off events" the study notes.
However, the impacts of stratification are not limited to fish. The study notes that a shift to earlier stratification in spring can also encourage communities of phytoplankton – a type of algae – to grow sooner, and can put them out of sync with the species that rely on them for food. This is called a "trophic mismatch."
Prof Catherine O'Reilly, a professor of geography, geology and the environment at Illinois State University, who was not involved in the study, adds that longer stratified periods could also "increase the likelihood of harmful algae blooms."
The impact of climate change on lakes also extends beyond ecosystems. Low oxygen levels in lakes can enhance the production of methane, which is "produced in and emitted from lakes at globally significant rates," according to the study.
Woolway explains that higher levels of warming could therefore create a positive climate feedback in lakes, where rising temperatures mean larger planet-warming emissions:
"Low oxygen levels at depth also promotes methane production in lake sediments, which can then be released to the surface either via bubbles or by diffusion, resulting in a positive feedback to climate change."
Onset and Breakup
In the study, the authors determine historical changes in lake stratification periods using long-term observational data from some of the "best-monitored lakes in the world" and daily simulations from a collection of lake models.
They also run simulations of future changes in lake stratification period under three different emission scenarios, to determine how the process could change in the future. The study focuses on lakes in the northern hemisphere.
The figure below shows the average change in lake stratification days between 1900 and 2099, compared to the 1970-1999 average. The plot shows historical measurements (black), and the low emission RCP2.6 (blue), mid emissions RCP6.0 (yellow) and extremely high emissions RCP8.5 (red) scenarios.
Change in lake stratification duration compared to the 1970-1999 average, for historical measurements (black), the low emission RCP2.6 (blue) moderate emissions RCP6.0 (yellow) and extremely high emissions RCP8.5 (red). Credit: Woolway et al (2021).
The plot shows that the average lake stratification period has already lengthened. However, the study adds that some lakes are seeing more significant impacts than others.
For example, Blelham Tarn – the most well-monitored lake in the English Lake District – is now stratifying 24 days earlier and maintaining its stratification for an extra 18 days compared to its 1963-1972 averages, the study finds. Woolway tells Carbon Brief that as a result, the lake is already showing signs of oxygen depletion.
Climate change is increasing average stratification duration in lakes, the findings show, by moving the onset of stratification earlier and pushing the stratification "breakup" later. The table below shows projected changes in the onset, breakup and overall length of lake stratification under different emission scenarios, compared to a 1970-1999 baseline.
The table shows that even under the low emission scenario, the lake stratification period is expected to be 13 days longer by the end of the century. However, in the extremely high emissions scenario, it could be 33 days longer.
The table also shows that stratification onset has changed more significantly than stratification breakup. The reasons why are revealed by looking at the drivers of stratification more closely.
Warmer Weather and Weaker Winds
The timing of stratification onset and breakup in lakes is driven by two main factors – temperature and wind speed.
The impact of temperature on lake stratification is based on the fact that warm water is less dense than cool water, Woolway tells Carbon Brief:
"Warming of the water's surface by increasing air temperature causes the density of water to decrease and likewise results in distinct thermal layers within a lake to form – cooler, denser water settles to the bottom of the lake, while warmer, lighter water forms a layer on top."
This means that, as climate change causes temperatures to rise, lakes will begin to stratify earlier and remain stratified for longer. Lakes in higher altitudes are also likely to see greater changes in stratification, Woolway tells Carbon Brief, because "the prolonging of summer is very apparent in high latitude regions."
The figure below shows the expected increase in stratification duration from lakes in the northern hemisphere under the low (left), mid (center), and high (right) emission scenarios. Deeper colors indicate a larger increase in stratification period.
Expected increase in stratification duration in lakes in the northern hemisphere under the low (left), mid (centre) and high (right) emissions scenarios. Credit: Woolway et al (2021).
The figure shows that the expected impact of climate change on stratification duration becomes more pronounced at more northerly high latitudes.
The second factor is wind speed, Woolway explains:
"Wind speed also affects the timing of stratification onset and breakdown, with stronger winds acting to mix the water column, thus acting against the stratifying effect of increasing air temperature."
According to the study, wind speed is expected to decrease slightly as the planet warms. The authors note that the expected changes in near-surface wind speed are "relatively minor" compared to the likely temperature increase, but they add that it may still cause "substantial" changes in stratification.
The study finds that air temperature is the most important factor behind when a lake will begin to stratify. However, when looking at stratification breakup, it finds that wind speed is a more important driver.
Meanwhile, Vachon says that wind speeds also have implications for methane emissions from lakes. He notes that stratification prevents the methane produced on the bottom of the lake from rising and that, when the stratification period ends, methane is allowed to rise to the surface. However, according to Vachon, the speed of stratification breakup will affect how much methane is released into the atmosphere:
"My work has suggested that the amount of accumulated methane in bottom waters that will be finally emitted is related to how quickly the stratification break-up occurs. For example, a slow and progressive stratification break-up will most likely allow water oxygenation and allow the bacteria to oxidise methane into carbon dioxide. However, a stratification break-up that occurs rapidly – for example after storm events with high wind speed – will allow the accumulated methane to be emitted to the atmosphere more efficiently."
Finally, the study finds that large lakes take longer to stratify in spring and typically remain stratified for longer in the autumn – due to their higher volume of water. For example, the authors highlight the North American Great Lakes, which house "irreplaceable biodiversity" and represent some of the world's largest freshwater ecosystems.
These lakes have been stratifying 3.5 days earlier every decade since 1980, the authors find, and their stratification onset can vary by up to 48 days between some extreme years.
O'Reilly tells Carbon Brief that "it's clear that these changes will be moving lakes into uncharted territory" and adds that the paper "provides a framework for thinking about how much lakes will change under future climate scenarios."
Reposted with permission from Carbon Brief.
By Robert Glennon
Interstate water disputes are as American as apple pie. States often think a neighboring state is using more than its fair share from a river, lake or aquifer that crosses borders.
Currently the U.S. Supreme Court has on its docket a case between Texas, New Mexico and Colorado and another one between Mississippi and Tennessee. The court has already ruled this term on cases pitting Texas against New Mexico and Florida against Georgia.
Climate stresses are raising the stakes. Rising temperatures require farmers to use more water to grow the same amount of crops. Prolonged and severe droughts decrease available supplies. Wildfires are burning hotter and lasting longer. Fires bake the soil, reducing forests' ability to hold water, increasing evaporation from barren land and compromising water supplies.
As a longtime observer of interstate water negotiations, I see a basic problem: In some cases, more water rights exist on paper than as wet water – even before factoring in shortages caused by climate change and other stresses. In my view, states should put at least as much effort into reducing water use as they do into litigation, because there are no guaranteed winners in water lawsuits.
Alabama, pay attention to Supreme Court ruling against Florida in water war #Water #SDG6 https://t.co/wIjdoY6Ccr— Noah J. Sabich (@Noah J. Sabich)1617800452.0
Dry Times in the West
The situation is most urgent in California and the Southwest, which currently face "extreme or exceptional" drought conditions. California's reservoirs are half-empty at the end of the rainy season. The Sierra snowpack sits at 60% of normal. In March 2021, federal and state agencies that oversee California's Central Valley Project and State Water Project – regional water systems that each cover hundreds of miles – issued "remarkably bleak warnings" about cutbacks to farmers' water allocations.
The Colorado River Basin is mired in a drought that began in 2000. Experts disagree as to how long it could last. What's certain is that the "Law of the River" – the body of rules, regulations and laws governing the Colorado River – has allocated more water to the states than the river reliably provides.
The 1922 Colorado River Compact allocated 7.5 million acre-feet (one acre-foot is roughly 325,000 gallons) to California, Nevada and Arizona, and another 7.5 million acre-feet to Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. A treaty with Mexico secured that country 1.5 million acre-feet, for a total of 16.5 million acre-feet. However, estimates based on tree ring analysis have determined that the actual yearly flow of the river over the last 1,200 years is roughly 14.6 million acre-feet.
The inevitable train wreck has not yet happened, for two reasons. First, Lakes Mead and Powell – the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado – can hold a combined 56 million acre-feet, roughly four times the river's annual flow.
But diversions and increased evaporation due to drought are reducing water levels in the reservoirs. As of Dec. 16, 2020, both lakes were less than half full.
Second, the Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – have never used their full allotment. Now, however, they want to use more water. Wyoming has several new dams on the drawing board. So does Colorado, which is also planning a new diversion from the headwaters of the Colorado River to Denver and other cities on the Rocky Mountains' east slope.
Utah Stakes a Claim
The most controversial proposal comes from one of the nation's fastest-growing areas: St. George, Utah, home to approximately 90,000 residents and lots of golf courses. St. George has very high water consumption rates and very low water prices. The city is proposing to augment its water supply with a 140-mile pipeline from Lake Powell, which would carry 86,000 acre-feet per year.
Truth be told, that's not a lot of water, and it would not exceed Utah's unused allocation from the Colorado River. But the six other Colorado River Basin states have protested as though St. George were asking for their firstborn child.
In a joint letter dated Sept. 8, 2020, the other states implored the Interior Department to refrain from issuing a final environmental review of the pipeline until all seven states could "reach consensus regarding legal and operational concerns." The letter explicitly threatened a high "probability of multi-year litigation."
Utah blinked. Having earlier insisted on an expedited pipeline review, the state asked federal officials on Sept. 24, 2020 to delay a decision. But Utah has not given up: In March 2021, Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill creating a Colorado River Authority of Utah, armed with a $9 million legal defense fund, to protect Utah's share of Colorado River water. One observer predicted "huge, huge litigation."
How huge could it be? In 1930, Arizona sued California in an epic battle that did not end until 2006. Arizona prevailed by finally securing a fixed allocation from the water apportioned to California, Nevada and Arizona.
Litigation or Conservation
Before Utah takes the precipitous step of appealing to the Supreme Court under the court's original jurisdiction over disputes between states, it might explore other solutions. Water conservation and reuse make obvious sense in St. George, where per-person water consumption is among the nation's highest.
St. George could emulate its neighbor, Las Vegas, which has paid residents up to $3 per square foot to rip out lawns and replace them with native desert landscaping. In April 2021 Las Vegas went further, asking the Nevada Legislature to outlaw ornamental grass.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates that the Las Vegas metropolitan area has eight square miles of "nonfunctional turf" – grass that no one ever walks on except the person who cuts it. Removing it would reduce the region's water consumption by 15%.
Water rights litigation is fraught with uncertainty. Just ask Florida, which thought it had a strong case that Georgia's water diversions from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin were harming its oyster fishery downstream.
That case extended over 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ended the final chapter in April 2021. The court used a procedural rule that places the burden on plaintiffs to provide "clear and convincing evidence." Florida failed to convince the court, and walked away with nothing.
Robert Glennon is a Regents Professor and Morris K. Udall Professor of Law & Public Policy, University of Arizona.
Disclosure statement: Robert Glennon received funding from the National Science Foundation in the 1990s and 2000s.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
Plugging and capping abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells in Central Appalachia could generate thousands of jobs for the workers and region who stand to lose the most from the industry's inexorable decline.
According to a new report from the Ohio River Valley Institute, just four states (Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky) account for at least 538,000 unplugged abandoned oil and gas wells, though that number is almost certainly low.
The first oil well in the U.S. was drilled in Pennsylvania before the Civil War and the timeline of the region's oil and gas production contributes to its disproportionate number of orphaned wells.
Among other toxic pollution released from orphaned wells, Central Appalachian wells dumped 71,000 metric tons of methane — an extremely potent heat trapping gas — into the atmosphere every year.
The report comes as the Biden administration works to allay worries in a region still tied to the fossil fuel industry.
President Biden's infrastructure plan includes $16 billion for plugging and remediating orphaned oil and gas wells and abandoned mines.
For a deeper dive: