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Dry Farming….What is it?

dryfarm1Dry farming is growing food without irrigation. Dry farmers don’t irrigate their crops ..at least beyond the seedling stage. This is a bit of a generalization as there are several regional and distinct generalizations on this theme. Dry farmers in the mid Atlantic rely on summer rains. Most of the grains from the breadbasket do as well. On the Pacific coast the follow a wet winter and dry summer schedule. dry-farm

To be sure dry farming provides a small percent of the overall food that is grown. With concerns of climate change and the draining of the aquifers practitioners believe this may be the way of the future. The dry farmers of California don’t want any rain in the summer as this would only cause enhanced weed growth. Surface water is of no use to the crops as dry farmed plants have root systems that run deep, sniffing out water that was left months ago. A by product of this is that the roots absorb”terroir”, adding a complexity, and earthiness to a crops flavour profile. dry-farm-3

Many characteristics of dry farmed crops …small size, thick skin, and juicy flesh are also characteristics of their wild relatives. Many dry farmed crops out last regular crops in the root cellar.With dry farming there are hardly any weeds, which amounts to huge labour savings.

 

 

California is wine country so what about the grapes? Dry farmed grapes are thought to wine with more intense flavour. Sugars get to develop in concert with the acids and tannins, as they would in a natural situation. The fruits are smaller, with more concentrated flavours, and a high ratio of skins to fruit.

The thing with irrigated farming is that you set the crop up to receive water on a regular basis, the roots don’t go deep. So without water for a few days the plants can become stressed and even die.

 

There are drawbacks to dry farming. Yields are usually lower and some dry farmed produce like melons must be picked ripe and therefore don’t handle shipping well.

Dry farming …perhaps we will see more of this technique before long.

How garbage patches form in the world’s oceans

bouysA new study out of the University of Miami shows how ocean currents transport floating marine debris,  and explains how garbage patches form in the oceans. Researchers have developed a mathematical model that simulates what small spherical objects would do on the surface of the ocean.

gyre

The model was fed information on wind and currents to simulate the movement of marine debris. The data was then compared to the information from satellite tracked surface bouys. Data from anchored bouys and unanchored bouys were used to see how each accumulated in the five  ocean gyres over a 20 yr period.bouys1

 

The unanchored drifting bouys over time were found at the center of the gyres , where the plastics are mostly found. The anchored drifters that are designed to mimic the motion of the water take a longer amount of time to reach the center areas.

The study takes into account the effects of wind and water induced drag on the objects, found the accumulation of the debris in the subtropical gyres happens to fast to be attributed to the trade winds that meet in these regions. The size and weight of the drifting object must be taken in to consideration to fully explain the accumulation.

Practical application of the mathematical model include tracking ship wrecks, airplane debris, sea ice , and pollution.

 

 

Sea bird die off triggered by warm ocean water

murre The Common Murre, an abundant North Pacific seabird, has been subject to a die off. Last year tens of thousands of these birds washed up on shores from Alaska to California…dead from starvation. Researchers have traced the cause to unusually warm waters that affected the tiny fish they eat. Elevated temperatures in sea water affected wild life in a pair of major marine ecosystems along the west coast of the U.S. and Canada.  murre1                         Tragically common murres are an indicator of a regions health. The die off was most likely caused by the birds not having anything to eat….no fish. The Common murre looks like a thin penguin. They can fly miles in search of schools of their finger length prey, diving on them, and swimming nearly 2 metres under water to capture them. They have a high metabolism and must eat 10-30% of their body mass daily, if not they will use up their fat reserves and drop to a critical threshold for starvation within 3 days. capelin1

The common murres eats capelin, a small forage fish from the smelt family, and juvenile polluck. both these fish were largely missing from the fish surveys conducted in 2015….and the murres paid the price.capelin

It is hard to decide how many birds actually died, but best estimates are up to 500,000, many deaths don’t reach shore. Nearly all the birds found were emaciated. Without enough food to keep up their body mass they consumed their fat and protein, and they could not stay warm.

 

Starting in 2014, the temp in the upper 91 metres of water was 2.5 degrees warmer than normal. This led to a “blob” of warm water. Forage fish feed on zooplankton, and cold water develops the best eating plankton. With the blob of warm water producing low quality food for the capelin and juvenile polluck, the effects were felt up the food chain.

Warm ocean temps also affect the big North Pacific game fish, such as halibut,cod,polluck, and flounder. As the water they live in increases, their metabolism increases and they have to eat more. What do you think these fish eat……that’s right capelin and juvenile polluck. These fish are in direct competition with the sea birds and tend to eat a large amount more of the little fish. murre2

Common murres have 230 cliff colonies in Alaska, all the colonies in the Gulf of Alaska showed widespread breeding failures. The Arctic and Aleutian colonies all bred as normal.

 

The ultimate cause of the die off was the warm waters. The birds died of starvation because there was no food, there was no food because there was no fish, there was no fish because there was not much food for them

Republicans and Coal Mining Near Streams

coal2During the recent American elections Trump said he would revitalize the coal mining industry. The Republicans has begun to dismantle the Obama era environmental regulations by easing restrictions on coal mining.

The Stream Protection Rule, which sought to protect America’s waterways from debris generated by surface mining, has been reversed by a vote in Congress. The Interior Dept. has stated the rule would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest by keeping coal mining debris away from the nearby waters. coal3

The Republican Rep from Ohio, Bill Johnson, sponsored the move to reverse the Rule because he feels the rule was not designed to protect streams, but is in fact an effort to regulate the coal mining industry right out of business. coal4

The Stream Protection Rule which would require companies to restore mined areas to their original physical and ecological state and to monitor for environmental effects, would have made mountain top removal uneconomical….especially with depressed coal prices and competition from natural gas and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

 

coal5The reality is the American coal market is shrinking, with or without new regulations. Utility companies has drastically reduced their reliance on coal. Since 2008, 300 coal fired power plants have shut down, many of them won’t be coming back on line no matter what the policy of the moment will be coming out of Washington.

 

Meanwhile in Charleston, W. Virginia the Keystone Dev. No.2 mine has released debris and chemicals into 2 creeks that run nearby. After intense lobbying from environmental groups the mine was shut down and the operator ordered to restore the site. Now the mine could reopen. Locals state that many rivers in W. Virginia run orange from contamination. They care about miners jobs…but orange is not the color of water.

coal

 

…..and so the Trump era begins.

The Sabatier System…Drinking Water in Space.

sabatier1 Drinking water is one of the most basic elements we need for survival. When planning a trip at sea or in space planners must take fresh water into consideration. Physical space on voyages always comes at a premium, space in space really comes at a premium. So how does the International Space Station and it;s resupply vehicles handle water considerations.

The solution presently at work in the ISS is the Sabatier System that helps minimize the size and weight of life support system. The process by which it works was originally designed by a Nobel prize winning chemist, Paul Sabatier, in the early 1900’s. A catalyst is used that reacts with carbon dioxide and hydrogen- both by products of current life support systems on board the space station – to produce water and methane. This interaction closes the loop in the oxygen and water regeneration cycle. For us simple folks it means the space station can produce it’s own water without having to transport it from Earth.sabatier

The base technology for the Sabatier system has been in development for the past twenty years, the overall hardware production was actually done in the last two years. The system contains a furnace , a compressor, and a condenser/ phase separation system. The real bonus is that the feeds into the system were already on board, all that was required was something to plug into the system….but located in outer space. sabatier-2

The Chief Technologist Jason Crusan states that” Being able to demonstrate innovative new methods to acquire technical capabilities is one of the corner stones the space station can serve for future missions and approaches to those missions.’ Using developing technologies and productive systems enables the station to squeeze every drop from the resources they have, improving their resupply capabilities and frees up storage space. sabatier3

Currently in operation on the station, Sabatier is the final piece of the regenerative environmental control and life support system. Prior to the system the Oxygen Generation System vented excess carbon dioxide and hydrogen overboard. These valuable chemicals are no longer wasted , but used to generate additional water for the space station, while saving space that was once required for water storage that is now used for more science facilities and engineering equipment.

 

Florida Corals Tell of Weather History

 

dry-tortugScientists looking for an oceanic counterpart to tree rings that record past weather have found one in the Dry Tortugas National Park . Corals here contain chemical signals of past water temps.  Coral core evidence shows a 60-85yr long cycle called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) tha that has taken place since the 1730’s, influencing mainland rainfall, droughts,hurricanes, and Gulf Stream flows.

The AMO has a large impact on humans and the economy through it’s influence on rainfall patterns. Climate scientists suspect that the AMO is a natural climate cycle that has existed for more than 1,000 yrs. Until recently most of the evidence of it came from ships at sea, and only went back 150yrs.

Large brain coral, Little Africa reef. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida, USA.

Large brain coral, Little Africa reef. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida, USA.

The Dry Tortugas core samples show several complete AMO cycles going back 278 yrs.  This give climate modelers much new info to work with as they try to understand the past and try to predict future weather. The Dry Tortuga samples accurately track major climate phenomena like the Little Ice Age that ended in the early 1800’s , and the tough Dust Bowl drought of the 1930’s.

tortuga3Dry Torrugas National Park is a group of small remote islands at an important marine cross roads; the Florida Straits. where the gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea flow into the Atlantic Ocean. A large zone of sea water surrounds these islands called the Atlantic Warm Pool, which can heat up to 28.5 Celsius or more. The heat stored here appears to influence rainfall in the Caribbean and parts of North America, and the formation and intensity of hurricanes.tortuga1

The Dry Tortugas also lie near the origin of the Gulf Stream, the current that carries warm seawater north to Greenland, where it chills, descends deep into the water column , then heads back to the equator. This north/south movement is called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation(AMOC), which affects weather in the North Atlantic,and much of Europe. The AMOC has been understood for years, but parts of it like the AMO are only recent discoveries.

 

 

The coral core samples taken from the Dry Tortugas show growth rings that preserve evidence of past weather conditions. While alive corals take up strontium and calcium from seawater in ratios that vary with water temperature. By measuring the ratios in the coral we can reconstruct past sea surface temperatures going back 278 years. coral3

The corals showed that after a cool spell in the 1960’s sea surface temps have risen by .8 degrees Celsius between 1970 and 2012.  They also show two sets of oscillations in sea surface temps: a shorter cycle lasting 28-30 yrs, and a longer cycle of 80-90 yrs, consistent with the AMO.

By looking at the sea surface temps in the Dry Tortugas, climatologists may be able to predict weather changes that would affect the entire North Atlantic basin.

California’s Drought Is Over

 

snow4We have had a look at the intense drought that much of California has been experiencing over the last few years. Recently a series of storms has hit the Golden State, first in the north and now the southern area.

snow1

For the first time in 36 months the US Drought Monitor reports that no area of California is subject to “exceptional drought”. At it’s worst the exceptional drought status covered 2/3 of the state, and as recently as Christmas 2016 , 20% of California was still in the worst of the drought. The improved situation is seen in not just the drought stricken area, but all over as 38% of California is completely clear of dryness. snow3

The record El Nino of 2015/2016, was looked to provide much needed moisture but failed to live up to expectations. This winter a series of moisture rich storms riding atmospheric rivers has done the job.snow2

In a past blog, we looked at the key being getting a good snow pack up in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. An abundance of snow has hit the region with 246″ falling in Central California. The importance of the snow is to replace the water  in the lakes and rivers that drain out to the ocean, until next years snow hits.

As good as this news is there is still drought to be found. It takes time for the recent moisture to recharge the ground water or aquifers. People who are reliant on some wells will have to be patient for the water to arrive and activate their supply.snow

Californians have got used to living in drought conditions and would be wise to continue to be careful in using up the state’s water supply. History tends to repeat itself and so does the weather. Water conservation has become a way of life.