Posts Tagged ‘saltwater’

Photo: Francisco Kjolseth/Salt Lake Tribune.
Dropping lake levels on the Great Salt Lake, along the north side of Antelope Island, continue to expose more reef-like structures called microbialites on Wednesday, Jan. 4, but the lake benefited from an epic snowfall this past winter.

Good news/bad news on climate change today. Utah’s Great Salt Lake, in danger of disappearing entirely, got recharged after heavy snow in the mountains this past winter. So what does its future look like now?

As Dan Stillman reported at the Washington Post in April, “Just three months ago, scientists issued a report with a dire warning: Utah’s Great Salt Lake, after decades of drying that had only accelerated in recent years, was on track to disappear in five years. Now a record snowpack, fueled by more than 800 inches of snow during the season in some locations, offers a glimmer of hope for the Western Hemisphere’s largest saltwater lake and an important economic driver for the state.

“The Great Salt Lake reached its record low in November when it dipped to 4,188.6 feet above sea level, having lost more than 70 percent of its water since 1850, according to the report published in January by researchers at Brigham Young University. [However] the lake had risen three feet in a little more than five months, primarily because of snow and rain dumped directly into the lake by a season-long series of water-loaded storms. …

“ ‘While we celebrate our progress, we must continue to prioritize water conservation efforts and make sustainable water management decisions for the future of this vital ecosystem and for water users throughout the basin,’ said Candice Hasenyager, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, in an email.

“This season’s record snowpack promises to push water levels even higher in the coming weeks as warmer temperatures melt the snow and runoff enters the lake. The statewide average snowpack, which is measured by calculating the amount of water contained in the snow, reached 30 inches on Thursday, beating the previous record of 28.8 inches in 1952.

“ ‘This year’s snowpack is nothing short of miraculous. After so many years of drought, this definitely feels like an answer to prayers,’ Brigham Young University ecologist Ben Abbott said in an email. Abbott was the lead author for the January report, which warned of ‘widespread air and water pollution, numerous Endangered Species Act listings, and declines in agriculture, industry, and overall quality of life’ if the lake were to vanish.

“Despite its recent rise, the lake is still six feet below what is considered ‘the minimum acceptable elevation for the lake’s ecological and economic health,’ according to Abbott. … Even if the water level recovers to an ‘acceptable’ level, the longer-term sustainability of the lake will depend on water management decisions and conservation efforts. …

“Historically, management of the Great Salt Lake watershed has prioritized human water usage over the health of the lake, with most of the river and stream water flowing toward the lake diverted for home, business and agricultural use. A February assessment by a team of Utah researchers and state officials found that 67 to 73 percent of the decline in water levels is due to natural and human water use.

“Water levels have been further diminished in recent years by an intense drought, made more likely by climate change, which has only finally started to ease with this winter’s record snowfall. In March 2021, the federal drought monitor showed most of the state in extreme or exceptional drought, the two driest out of five drought categories. In the latest report, [extreme] and exceptional drought have disappeared, with most of the state classified under the two least severe drought categories.

“Reduced inflow of fresh water into the lake results in high salinity levels that have far-reaching consequences including the release of toxic dust, poor air quality, the collapse of food webs and loss of brine shrimp that feed fish and shrimp sold worldwide. …

“More controlled water releases, such as the one coordinated by city and county officials in early March, could not only reduce flood risks this spring but also help restore the lake closer to a healthy water level. Yet regardless of how much improvement comes from spring runoff, Abbott stands by the cuts in water consumption he and his co-authors recommended in their report earlier this year.

“ ‘We’ve got to keep our eye on the conservation ball,’ Abbott said. ‘To replenish Great Salt Lake, we need to reduce our consumptive water use by 30 to 50 percent.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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Illustration: Mark Garrison
“The mouths of the Elwha, Snohomish, and Skagit rivers in Washington State provide important saltwater habitat for beavers, salmon, and other estuarine species,” says the radio show Living on Earth.

One of the main reasons I like writing a blog is that I like to learn new things and to have something interesting to think about. I save up promising links, sometimes just because the headline looks interesting. Later, when I actually work on the post, it’s such a treat to read the whole story!

When I saw that there was such a thing as saltwater beavers, I thought, Really? This is a keeper!

From the radio show Living on Earth: “Until recently, biologists assumed that beavers occupied freshwater ecosystems only. But scientists are now studying beavers living in brackish water and how they help restore degraded estuaries and provide crucial habitat for salmon, waterfowl, and many other species. Journalist Ben Goldfarb speaks with Host Bobby Bascomb.

“BASCOMB: The eager beaver is an extremely effective engineer of its environment. Beaver dams hold back water that can be a nuisance to homeowners, but they create a complex system of ponds and wetlands that are a haven for numerous plant and animal species. …

“Scientists recently discovered that beavers are also happy to live in the brackish mix of fresh and salt water in coastal areas. And just as they help restore freshwater ecosystems, beavers could also hold the key to restoring damaged coastal wetlands. Journalist Ben Goldfarb wrote about saltwater beavers for Hakai Magazine. …

“Ben, how surprised were you to find out that there are saltwater beavers? …

“GOLDFARB: It was definitely surprising. … It’s just really within the last several years, thanks in large part to this guy, Greg Hood, a scientist who works in the Skagit river in Washington, that we’ve begun to understand that [beavers are] living full-time in these intertidal estuaries. …

“BASCOMB: You actually went to visit one of those beaver lodges on this Snohomish river in Puget Sound. Can you describe that? …

“GOLDFARB: It’s kind of this huge saltmarsh that’s scored with these little freshwater channels that freshwater comes down in. But then when the tide comes up twice a day, those freshwater channels are completely submerged, they’re inundated. So it’s this really dynamic ecosystem with the tides are just going in and out all the time. And beavers are actually building in there. So they’ll build these dams that when the tide comes up, the dams are actually completely submerged under water, you could kayak over the top of one of these dams and have no idea that they were beavers building there. And then when the tide goes out again those dams suddenly reemerge. …

[It’s] almost like the beavers are anticipating these tidal fluctuations and are accounting for them in their construction, and in this really sophisticated way. …

“BASCOMB: How do their dams in these intertidal areas affect the ecosystem around them? …

“GOLDFARB: What Greg found is that [these beaver construction sites] are hugely important for juvenile salmon, especially. You know when the tide goes out, those fish would get flushed out into these estuaries where they’re really at risk of being preyed upon by larger fish, by birds. … Baby salmon were three times more abundant in these beaver pools than in other habitat. …

“BASCOMB: Wow. So, they really serve a critical function. I mean, everybody likes salmon, right? The bears, the whales, people. …

“GOLDFARB: We saw this past year just how badly the southern resident killer whales are doing, the orcas in Puget Sound, and they’re essentially starving because there’s just not enough salmon. …

“BASCOMB: It’s all connected. Now, you write about how beaver ponds can help restore degraded coastal wetlands. And there’s clear evidence for that in removal of dams on the Elwha River in Washington State. …

“GOLDFARB: Two enormous dams had basically been there since the ’20s, I think, just trapping enormous amounts of sediment and blocking salmon runs. … A few years ago the government actually bought those dams and — thanks to pressure from native tribes — removed the dams, and opened up this huge amount of spawning habitat for salmon, so now salmon are swimming up river, past the former dam sites.

“[But] the river mouth had been starved of sediment for so long that it basically just flowed straight into the ocean. There was no real estuary there. … Beavers are really going into town in there. And by creating burrows and canals and dams, they’re just creating this amazing habitat complexity. They’re just opening up lots and lots of little spaces for all kinds of salmon and trout and other fish to live in.”

More here.

Photo: Becky Matsubara, Flickr
Because they build dams that shape the very environments in which they live, beavers are a classic example of a “keystone species.”


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Klaus’s dad — who, I am told, is a musician in his spare time — recently wrote about enjoying the post on conducting your own orchestra. He lives in Denmark. I told him I have also posted about Denmark a few times and hope to do so often.

So when SmallerCitiesUnite! tweeted this tidbit on Denmark today, I knew it had to be in the blog.

From The Local: “Swimming in the North Sea just got a bit easier, at least near the northwestern Jutland town of Thy. Denmark opened its first sea pool, also known as a lido, over the weekend in Nørre Vorupør on the coast of the North Sea.

“The 50 square metre open-air pool allows swimmers, divers and kayakers to be in the North Sea without worrying about large waves, dangerous undercurrents or rip tides. …

“ ‘It could lead to investments in summerhouses or rental opportunities,’ Lene Kjeldgaard, the mayor of Thisted council, told Danmarks Radio.

“See a gallery of photos from the pool’s first weekend here.”

More here.

 Photo: Sofus Comer

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Asakiyume put me on to this offer from the nautical museum in Mystic, Connecticut. They have just finished restoring a whaling ship, and the public is invited to apply for the role of stowaway on its first trip.

Now, as we all know, stowaways stow themselves away in secret, against the wishes of the boat’s owners, but the museum has decided to put a new spin on an old concept.

Here’s what the Providence Journal reports: “Mystic Seaport is looking for a stowaway for its restored 19th century whaling ship. Whoever is hired will sail with the Charles W. Morgan ship next summer on visits to ports across New England. The stowaway will receive a stipend and will share the experience through videos and blog posts.

“The museum in Mystic has spent four years restoring the ship that was built in 1841. The Morgan’s last voyage ended in 1921 and is the world’s only surviving wooden whaling ship.

“The ship … will sail with a mission to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the oceans and its species.” More here.

Kind of counterintuitive to use a whaling ship to promote preserving the ocean and its creatures, but I guess no one is going to hunt any whales. Good thing, too. I read Moby You-Know-Who finally in 2010, and I wouldn’t recommend the life aboard ship.

Stowaway entries must be submitted via e-mail to stowaway@mysticseaport.org by 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on February 18, 2014. I like the idea that the stowaway is expected to blog about the trip. S/he just better not be prone to seasickness.

Update 5/11/14: Read here how the whaling ship restoration benefited from special timber stored upright in saltwater at Charlestown Navy Yard in Mass. and rediscovered during the construction of Spaulding Rehab.

Photo: Bob Breidenbach/The Providence Journal
Matthew Barnes of Mystic Seaport examines the billet head on the bow of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan.

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