Posts Tagged: Climate Change
Scientific evidence of a warming climate in California and across the globe is clear, but the impacts on ecosystems and agriculture are still difficult to predict.
Sophisticated computer models are used to forecast future climate. Understanding that temperature and precipitation levels will change in the future does not tell the full story: UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers also want real-world experience under those future conditions.
Moreover, some agricultural operations have higher sensitivity to the changes than others. Rangeland forage is particularly sensitive to climate changes since, unlike irrigated agriculture, ranchers rely solely on precipitation. They have no control over how much and when it rains.
“It's tricky business,” said rangeland expert Jeremy James, the director of the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center in Browns Valley. “It's not easy to forecast. We have to address the uncertainty in a realistic manner.”
Discovering climate change impact on rangeland
In order to study different climate projections on rangeland, James and Maggi Kelly, director of the UC ANR Informatics and Global Information Systems special program, have begun development of a research site that will allow scientists to manipulate the temperature and rainfall on sections of rangeland to understand what would happen under predicted weather scenarios.
“We need to know how rangelands will respond when conditions change,” James said. “Will we grow more, but dry out earlier? Will we have more medusahead (an undesirable rangeland weed) or more soft chess (a high quality forage)?”
When complete, 16 shelters on steel tracks will be connected to computer systems and hydraulic motors to move them up or down a research plot. The shelters and other equipment will allow scientists to precisely control the amount of precipitation (or irrigation water) that rains onto the plot. Other systems will give researchers control of air temperature.
“This facility isn't designed for one type of research,” James said. “It is designed to conduct a wide variety of research by scientists over the next several decades. With this setup, we can look at the effect of climate change on soil biological communities, soil carbon, insect communities, plant-insect interactions and oak seedling recruitment.”
The research results from the project should provide ranchers and land managers a better understanding of how climate change may impact agriculture and ecosystem function on rangeland while also providing important information on how to minimize impacts of these changes.
Some aspects of the research facility's development are not covered with funding from the National Science Foundation. The scientists are looking for additional support to complete the project.
For more information, contact James at email@example.com.
Current work underway at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center
The Sierra Foothill REC, a 5,000-acre facility on the Yuba River, has supported research, education and outreach in the Sierra foothills since 1960. Multiple lines of research are being conducted at SFREC. During a recent workshop, scientists from UC Davis, UC Berkeley and UC Cooperative Extension shared a sampling of their work at SFREC.
UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor Dan Macon described a project aimed at helping ranchers make decisions about maintaining a cattle herd when faced with impending drought. Ranchers are reluctant to sell off their cattle even when the near future weather forecast is dire.
“Science tells us you shouldn't feed your way out of a drought,” Macon said. “But you want everything to stay the same. You want to maintain your genetic potential and keep cows that are familiar with the area.”
Working with ranchers, the research project will compare management practices to determine the best way forward when the future looks meteorologically bleak.
“We're assigning cows to a traditional weaning and early weaning groups,” Macon said. “They'll be out on the range from March to early September under different parameters. We're also tying in economics, the value of genetic potential and the value of having cows who know the landscape.”
Research by University of Oregon post doctorate researcher Ashley Shaw is looking into whether compost applied to rangeland will help mitigate climate change by sequestering more carbon, and also benefit forage under drought by increasing the soil's water-holding capacity and improving nutrient delivery.
Preliminary results are promising. A single application of 1/4-inch of compost resulted in forage production that was higher than areas where no amendment was applied and areas that were treated with a chemical fertilizer.
“The biggest impact was under drought shelters,” said Shaw, referring to PVC frames that were covered with plastic during rain events to understand the impact of the treatment under dry conditions. “In the drought plots, the areas where compost was applied are staying green longer.”
A defining research tool at SFREC is a dataset that includes information on monthly rainfall and forage production going back 40 years.
A review of the data shows surprising variations and correlations at the center, where forage production averages 3,000 pounds per acre, but ranges from about 1,000 pounds per acre in 1987, to over 5,000 pounds per acre in 2018, when there was so much growth, “we didn't have enough animals to graze,” James said.
The dataset paints a spectrum of the variation that ranchers across the state must navigate to manage their livestock and rangeland in a way that is profitable and ecologically sound. Research at the Sierra Foothill REC offers invaluable information to help them better understand the ecosystem and make informed decisions.
While scientific reports continue to mount confirming that global climate change is increasing temperatures, causing more frequent weather extremes and raising the sea level in California, UC Cooperative Extension is working to ensure the worst predictions are avoided and California residents and businesses will be able to adapt to the change.
Each year, a diverse group of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources academics and program implementation professionals meet to share and collect the latest climate change experiences, ideas, science and solutions. The team works with farmers across the state to improve production practices and minimize environmental impact, conduct agricultural and natural resources conservation research, and coordinate programs like California Naturalist and UC Master Gardener, which recruit and educate volunteers to reach out to communities statewide to extend research-based information.
Reaching real people
In 2019, extension practitioners explored new approaches to delivery of information and services. For example, the first speaker addressed the way climate change impacts may be viewed through the lens of African-American or First Nation experiences, influenced by poverty, historical trauma and even spirituality.
Theopia Jackson, clinical psychologist at Saybrook University in Oakland, encouraged the team to consider whether assisting Americans navigating the changing climate or suffering the consequences of extreme weather events have “the bandwidth to take in one more helping hand.” Jackson has a long history of providing therapy services, specializing in serving populations coping with chronic illness and complex trauma.
Jackson suggested helpers ask themselves, “Are we inadvertently causing more stress than good? Do I have a sense for what they are already dealing with before bringing something new into the community?”
Jackson said the conversation about climate change in many communities might be more productive focused less on whether climate change exists or not, and instead on how to “join with them around the human experience.”
“If I'm trying to ‘talk them into it,' I need to step back,” Jackson said. “The conversation could be about scarcity or lifestyle. We need to find a way to join and hope they will get it before we've done irreversible damage.”
The careful selection of terminology and approach in climate change conversations was also raised by Dan Sonke, director of sustainable agriculture for Campbell's Soup. The company's primary and best-known product is soup, but it owns other familiar brands, including Pepperidge Farms, Snyder Pretzels, Kettle Chips and Emerald Nuts.
In California, Sonke works closely with farmers producing fresh produce to be used in Campbell's products, particularly processing tomatoes. During his career, he also worked in Campbell's marketing, based on its “corporate purpose.”
“We make real food for real people,” says the Campbell's corporate purpose. “People love that our food fits their real lives, fuels their bodies, and feeds their souls. And they appreciate knowing what goes into our food, and why — so they can feel good about the choices they make, for themselves and their loved ones.”
Sonke was hired to increase the use of sustainable farming practices by the company's producers and help farmers apply for grant funding from the state to implement climate-smart irrigation practices. The company was able to track a 20 percent reduction in water use and document a significant reduction in the emission of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. The program is successful, but isn't driving their farmer communications or soup sales, Sonke said.
“Farmers don't think in terms of climate change, but they respond to what they know,” Sonke said. “Consumers don't respond to climate change adaptation in terms of what products they buy. They respect sustainability, but have no understanding of ‘sustainable agriculture' and ‘carbon sequestration.'”
Growing UCCE climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience programs
UC ANR is working on new ways to reach out to farmers and the public with information on climate change. Six community education specialists have been hired and four more are being recruited to work in counties around the state to help farmers access programs that will help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions on farms and dairies, build resilience to climate change and increase profit.
The Climate-Smart Farming Program is a collaborative effort with the California Department of Food and Agriculture focused on implementing on-farm solutions to improve soil health, nutrient management, irrigation management, on-farm composting and manure management.
The CDFA programs involved are:
- State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program
- Healthy Soils Program
- Alternative Manure Management Program
The new community education specialists are already deployed in Mendocino, Glenn, Yolo, Santa Cruz, Ventura and San Diego counties. The four positions under recruitment will serve Imperial, San Joaquin, Fresno and Kern counties. To get information about these programs, contact:
- Fresno County, UCCE advisor Dan Munk, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Glenn County, UCCE advisor Betsy Karle, email@example.com
- Imperial County, UCCE advisor Oli Bachie, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Kern County, UCCE advisor Brian Marsh, email@example.com
- Mendocino County, UCCE advisor Glenn McGourty, firstname.lastname@example.org
- San Diego County, UCCE advisor Laurent Ahiablame, email@example.com
- San Joaquin County, UCCE advisor Brent Holtz, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Santa Cruz County, UCCE advisor Mark Bolda, email@example.com
- Ventura County, UCCE advisor Ben Faber, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Yolo County, UCCE advisor Morgan Doran, email@example.com
To reach a broad swath of California residents with research-based information on climate change mitigation and adaptation, UC ANR's California Naturalist program is leveraging its well-established partnerships with formal and informal science education institutions across the state to create a legion of climate stewards. At the team meeting, CalNat coordinator Greg Ira announced that the California Naturalist program has hired an academic coordinator to develop curriculum that will allow existing partners to deliver the material as part of the California Naturalist program. The graduates of this California Naturalist course focused on climate change will be encouraged to engage in volunteer service that helps build community resilience to climate change. These include participation in local adaptation planning efforts, community and citizen science projects, or addressing issues of social justice. The coordinator begins Feb. 19.
Renata Brillinger of the California Climate Action Network shared optimistic thoughts about the opportunities for climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience. In terms of politics, she said California leadership has accepted climate change as a settled matter and are supportive of programs to address the issue. At the federal level, it is not easy to talk about climate change, but “that will change,” she assured.
Brillinger said biodiversification of California is an exciting area for climate change adaptation. Research is needed to understand how to shift crop locations for future production, and determine where, for example, water-intensive crops or orchards with chill requirements should be grown. More information is needed, she said, on how healthy soil will relate to climate resilience in agriculture.
“We have to reinvest in extension and Resource Conservation Districts,” Brillinger said.
Other possible climate change outcomes in California may be returning farmland to less-intensive uses, such as grazing. Fallowing land was one way that the agriculture industry coped with the drought of 2011-16, and implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – a direct result of the drought – is estimated to take 1 million acres of farmland out of production. This approach won't be a solution for all farmers and ranchers, said David Lile, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor.
“Ranchers and farmers interested in long-term sustainability, keeping the farm in place, will need help to integrate competing forces,” Lile said. “Economics will not be the only driving force.”
In the California agriculture industry, the climate change discussion is less about whether disruption is coming than it is about how farmers will adapt, reported John Cox in the Bakersfield Californian.
Cox spoke to a Delano farmer who doesn't like debating climate change, but he has thought a lot about how to deal with it.
"As a grower, you just take it as it comes," he said.
"Everybody I know in agriculture says, 'Yes, the climate's changing and adaptation to that climate change is crucial.' So that's not controversial," said Dan Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Center, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources statewide program. "At the same time, that doesn't mean they buy into every public policy proposal for mitigating the climate change."
Climate change is likely to prompt farmers to grow different varieties or different crops.
But even as California agriculture may struggle to adjust to climate change, so will its competitors overseas, Sumner said. The real question is whether the state's farming climate will remain superior in relation to that of other countries producing the same crops, he said.
In the Washington Post, Adrian Higgins reported on the impact of climate change to agriculture across the nation. From Appalachia to North Carolina to California, milder winters are inducing earlier flowering of temperate tree fruits, exposing the blooms to increasingly erratic frost, hail and other adverse weather.
Breeders are working to develop new varieties, said Katherine Jarvis-Shean, a UC Cooperative Extension orchard systems advisor in Yolo County. But new trees typically take two decades of methodical breeding to create, exposing existing varieties to the vagaries of shifting winters and springs.
“The consumer will begin to know it's happening in the coming 10 to 20 years,” Jarvis-Shean said.
A $4.6 million grant to UC Merced and UC Irvine will help UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers develop new tools and methods for California land owners to better manage the state's forests, shrub lands and grasslands.
California's Strategic Growth Council agreed to fund the Innovation Center for Advancing Ecosystem Climate Solutions, a three-year program co-led by UC Merced Professor Roger Bales and UC Irvine Professor Michael Goulden. The money comes through California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work
The goals include reducing wildfire risk, improving long-term carbon sequestration and bolstering resilience in the face of climate change, with an emphasis on California's rural regions and low-income communities.
“Our part of the project is to work with stakeholders and identify areas where we can focus management practices to promote healthy forests, minimize wildfires, improve water security and increase carbon sequestration,” said Toby O'Geen, UC Cooperative Extension soil resource specialist at UC Davis.
“Right now, many of California's forests, shrub lands and grasslands are carbon sources, and we need to change them into carbon sinks,” said Bales, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and distinguished professor of engineering. “Our research will address information bottlenecks to guide decision making, build local capacity for science-based land management and develop methods for translating benefits of land restoration into financing for land restoration.”
California's recent drought, tree die-offs, wildfires and rising temperatures all point to the necessity of improved forest stewardship, Goulden said.
“Officials in the state government and agencies recognize this need, but uncertainty over how to proceed has sometimes slowed progress,” he said.
Most of the work will be conducted by scientists at Merced and Irvine, but collaborators from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Stanford University, San Diego State University and the University of California Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources, as well as state agencies, will play important roles.
“This research will enable UC Cooperative Extension advisors to provide better advice to land managers to reduce the severity of wildfires,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “Severe wildfires are not only releasing greenhouse gases, but polluting the air of many communities, aggravating the health of people in less-affluent, inland areas such as Tulare, Yuba and Mariposa counties.”
At UC Merced, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from two departments — Civil & Environmental Engineering and Management of Complex Systems — will collaborate with UC Cooperative Extension and engage with local stakeholders. The group will study and identify the most-effective land-management practices, in terms of water conservation, forest health, fire resistance and carbon capture.
“We will develop the spatial data and analysis tools to plan landscape restoration, develop local capacity for better managing the state's wildlands in a warming climate, and enumerate the greenhouse gas and other benefits from investments in land management,” Bales said.
Goulden, professor of Earth systems science, said UC Irvine researchers will use a big-data approach to analyze observations collected by satellites since the 1980s to measure the efficacy of thousands of past and ongoing forest treatments, while UC Merced takes a different approach.
“We will work with groups in rural communities to systematically evaluate how well, or poorly, our products can support decision making,” Bales said, “and then develop both implementation pathways and policy recommendations to better and more-quickly implement landscape-restoration and carbon-capture projects across the state.”
Because there are critical gaps in the understanding of carbon cycles, uptake by forests and negative feedback from climate change, this project initiative has been established to develop new knowledge through measurements and modeling. Researchers will synthesize the resulting data to produce actionable information for stakeholders.
Bales and Goulden agreed the Innovation Center will target low-risk, high-yield opportunities to reduce California's greenhouse-gas contributions.
Just a small improvement in management efficiency will have meaningful benefits — on the order of several million metric tons of CO2 per year, Goulden said.
The program will also benefit low-income communities in the state by reducing wildfire risk, which disproportionately impacts poorer areas in California; by maintaining water quantity through better vegetation management; by fostering tourism in disadvantaged locales; and by preparing students in these areas for careers in sustainability and climate resilience.
My name is Valentina Evans, and I am a new volunteer at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. My partners Benjamin Evans, and Zane Petersen have chosen to volunteer with me at the HREC for our senior project at Ukiah High School. A few weeks ago on the twenty-first of December we volunteered to help two researchers, Paulo who studied at UC Santa Cruz, and Wyath, who is still studying at Humboldt State University, to plant acorns from different ecosystems, and analyze how they will adapt to conditions with more water, less water, more sunlight or a lack of sunlight. This study is part of Dr. Blair McLaughin's study from the Zavaleta Lab at UC Santa Cruz.
We started off by digging holes about 1 foot deep and laying a thin square piece of chicken wire at the bottom of the holes to prevent gophers from entering and eating the acorns. We then took a circular strip of chicken wire and placed it on top of the flattened piece at the bottom. With the second strip of chicken wire standing horizontal, we continued by covering the holes with the same dirt we originally dug out. Now with the metal secured in place, Paulo came around and gently placed the acorns inside of the holes. The hands-on experience was extremely fascinating, not to mention peaceful. The view at the top of the hill was breathtaking, and the weather was just perfect. The entire process was tiring, but having had the opportunity to participate in a lab/research project made the whole experience worth it.
Although the project will not produce any data until the acorns sprout, the idea behind the project is captivating. Paulo and Wyath are studying the growth of oak trees from all sorts of climates, locations, and ecosystems. Some of the acorns are from northern California and others from way down in southern California. They will be monitoring the water levels, and amount of sunlight the oak trees will receive, all in hopes to see how the oak trees will adapt to different changes in their environments. Seeing as how I want to major in Biological Sciences in college, this experience was exceptionally informative for me and has taught me how critical patience, effort and time are in order to successfully accomplish a lab and receive the most accurate facts. I am very grateful to have been able to participate in this ongoing project and am looking forward to continuing to be a part of the younger generation who can benefit from having the Hopland Research and Extension Center available to us, to further our knowledge about the environment.