Archive for February, 2011

A Wet Morning in Late Winter

Friday, February 25th, 2011

     The snowfall of two nights ago showed signs of departing this morning.  

     Despite the thin layer of white spread broadly over ground and fallen leaves, the sun was shining and the air felt mild.  As I stood gazing up into a tree, I realized I was being ‘rained’ on.  Melted snow from the tree’s high branches pattered my head and shoulders and dappled the snow below with little holes. 

     But not all the snow melting in the trees was falling to the ground.  Some of that newly freed water was instead sliding down branches, and then down the tree’s trunk, leaving a glistening path along the wood.  The melted snow’s course down some trees extended down just one side.  Other trees’ trunks were wet all the way around, with water making its way from more branches. 

     These wet trees were striped maples, their trunks very slender and smooth.  The much larger oaks, however, did not appear wet, even though the snowy apron below them was also pocked with holes made by dripping from above.  I imagined that, given the oaks’ greater girth and the extra surface area created by their corrugated bark, any water sliding down an oak  would be absorbed by the bark, leaving no visible wetness.

     Those little maples looked so beautiful this morning! Wet and shining, they sported bright red, healthy-looking buds.  And those buds looked ready!  The smallest and thinnest of the maples were even more red.  Their long, soaked, pencil-thin branches shone deeply red.  From each branch’s base to its budded tip–sometimes a distance of two and a half feet–it was red all the way!

     The snow is melting.   Buds are growing, and branches are reddening.  Can spring be far away?–April Moore 

Melted snow from tree branches dapples the snow below.

Melted snow from tree branches dapples the snow below.

 

a deep red branch of the striped maple

a deep red branch of the striped maple

 

Cooling Your Community

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

     In case you didn’t hear yesterday’s radio program about global warming on which I was a guest, and would like to, you can listen to the hour-long show by clicking http://www.wmra.org/inchive.html

     Even though global warming should be treated by the U.S. Congress as an emergency that requires decisive action, we can forget about anything good coming out of the 112th Congress.  Fortunately, however, many cities and towns around the country are not waiting.  They are right now taking steps to reduce their communities’ global warming emissions.  And, regardless of how much or how little your city, town, or county is doing to this end,  you can help it to do more. 

     I invite you to consider participating in the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities Program, www.coolcities.us.  Started in 2005, Cool Cities is a nationwide network of local volunteers who work with their local leaders to help them put greener policies and practices in place.  Over 1,000 mayors have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and the Cool Counties Climate Stabilization Declaration.  

     By signing up with Cool Cities, you will be connected with others involved in Cool Cities around the country, and in your own community if you are not the first to volunteer!  And if you are the first in your community to volunteer, help is available in the form of a Cool Cities e-newsletter, an action toolkit, a best practices guide, and more.

     Here is a sampling of some achievements that Cool Cities citizen leaders have helped bring about:  

  • Florissant, Missouri, has conducted a greenhouse gas audit on all 10 of its city buildings.  With stimulus funds, the city installed solar panels on its ice rink.  The city has purchased electric vehicles for its fleet. 
  • Seattle, Washington, has launched the “Clean, Green Fleet Plan.”  The Plan included downsizing the city’s fleet, replacing older compact sedans with more fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrid cars, and discouraging the purchase of new SUVs. In addition, new trucks now come equipped with technology that automatically turns off the engine while idling, to avoid unnecessary pollution, fuel consumption, and cost.
  • Asheville, North Carolina, is cutting transportation emissions.  The city’s parking enforcers will use a fleet of electric vehicles, and hybrid cars have been purchased for the city’s overall fleet.  The city is expanding the use of vehicles that use alternative fuels by developing a compressed natural gas (CNG) filling station.   The station will be open to city and consumer vehicles that are fueled by CNG.  Asheville’s newly created Transportation Demand Management office is dedicated to improving public transit and to making carpooling easier for area commuters.–April Moore

An Invitation

Friday, February 18th, 2011

     I invite readers of  www.TheEarthConnection.org to listen to me on the radio this coming Monday, Presidents’ Day.

     I will be one of two guests on VIRGINIA INSIGHT, an hour-long program produced by WMRA, the Harrisonburg, Virginia, NPR station.  The show airs from 3:00-4:00 pm, EST.  You can listen live from anywhere by going to www.wmra.org.  Just click on ‘listen live.’  

     We will be discussing many aspects of climate change, including its impact on Virginia.  The show is call-in, and questions and comments are also taken through Facebook at VIRGINIA INSIGHT. 

     I will be representing the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, and the other guest, Mike Tidwell, is Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.  The host, Tom Graham, will aslo include, for a portion of the program, a global warming denier.      

     Thanks!–April Moore

Whales Return to New York Waters!

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

       What terrific news!  After an absence of almost a century, whales have returned to the waters just off New York and New Jersey.  That’s right, whales!  In the last few years, six species of whale–humpback, fin, right, sei, blue, and mike–have all been spotted in the waters just outside New York Harbor.  

     And whales are not the only marine mammals who have returned to waters near the Big Apple.  Seals and dolphins are also showing up.  Pods of aquatic animals have increased ten-fold off New York City’s coast, reports Tom Paladino, captain of two ferry boats in the area.   “We used to see 10 whales a year,” he says, “but now we see 100.”  Between June and September 2010, says Paladino, “we saw dolphins almost on a daily basis.”   With so many whales, seals, and dolphins in New York City waters, Paladino has launched weekend whale and seal watching tours.  On one recent tour, Paladino says, he spotted 14 seals splashing about near a small island off of Staten Island.

     Many of these animals have become full-time New York residents.  According to Cornell University Professor Christopher Clark, who has studied the animals’ return, 30-50 fin whales now live year-round in the waters just past the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

     So why are whales, seals, and dolphins returning to waters near New York City?  Scientists believe that because these waters are cleaner than they used to be, and because whales and other sea mammals are now off-limits to hunters, these waters are once again attractive to leviathans and their cousins.  “The numbers are far, far more than expected, even for me,” says Clark.  “I’ve been surprised elsewhere in the world, but off New York–yikes!” 

     Clark participated in a study conducted by Cornell and New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation to monitor whale activity off New York’s shores.  When underwater sound equipment was set up in 2008, researchers were surprised to hear 20-minute serenades by humpbacks.  While the federally funded study has been abandoned due to budget cuts,  Clark hopes the good news of the whales’ return will make it possible to raise $1 million to revive the study and to install a sophisticated monitoring system to help boats avoid hitting whales and other large animals in the water.–April Moore

 

 

New York tourists enjoy the whales

New York tourists enjoy the whales

 

 

 


 

Some Thoughts from an Environmentalist

Friday, February 11th, 2011

     I post here a link to an interview with me that appears on the blog Green Technology Forum.  The blog’s creator, Dr. George Elvin,  asked me questions about what led me to become an environmentalist, how I nourish myself through nature, what my website offers visitors, and more.

http://gelvin.squarespace.com/green-technology-forum/2011/2/5/connecting-to-the-earth-with-april-moore.html

     George is the director of Green Technology Forum, an information hub focusing on emerging green technologies in architecture.  George is also a ‘green innovation speaker’ and the founder of Greenlab, a design company that offers green products for the home and office.–April Moore 

The Gene Champion

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

     A few days ago, while hiking up the beautiful Buzzard Rock trail with my friend Kathy, she told me of an amazing account she’d heard on National Public Radio on her way to meet me at the trailhead. 

     It turns out that a tiny, transparent crustacean, daintily named Daphnia, has more genes than any animal scientists have ever studied!  About the size of a grain of rice, Daphnia has about 31,000 genes.  Humans, by comparison, have a mere 23,000 genes.  And fully a third of Daphnia’s genes had been completely unknown to science until recently.  I found it astonishing that such a small creature is more genetically complex than a human or an elephant, or any number of larger animals.  I was curious to learn more, so I did a little reading.

     I learned that its exceptional number of genes allow this freshwater crustacean to do some surprising things!  For instance, when threatened by a predator, Daphnia can grow protective armor.  When a lack of oxygen in the environment causes stress, Daphnia’s hemoglobin-making genes switch on.  Although Daphnia usually reproduces clonally, it can reproduce sexually when harsh environmental conditions favor the benefits of sex.

     When asked why such a tiny animal would need so many genes, Dr. John Colbourne, Associate Director of the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics at Indiana University, replied, “It’s hard to say need more genes because that would mean evolution has a goal.  In this case, it’s obviously found a way to use more genes.”

     With its huge number of genes, Daphnia has an unusual ability to respond to changes in its environment.  Its great flexibility of response is a key reason scientists are so interested in the little crustacean.  In fact, Daphnia seems to be a model organism for a new scientific field–environmental genomics–the study of how the environment and genes interact.  Besides, its small size and great abundance make Daphnia a relatively easy subject for scientists to study.

     The new findings about Daphnia are a result of recent research by more than 400 investigators around the world, as part of the Daphnia Genomic Consortium, which was coordinated by Indiana University’s Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics and by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute.–April Moore 

The information for this piece comes from NPR.org, from rdmag.com, and from sciencemag.org.

 

Daphnia--photo by Paul Hebert, University of Guelph

Daphnia--photo by Paul Hebert, University of Guelph

 

    

The Majestic Plastic Bag

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

     Sometimes we just have to laugh at the state of things.   

     I post here a short, wonderful ‘mockumentary.’  It is funny and incisive, extremely well-done.  Thanks to my friend Nancy for sending it to me. 

     I hope you’ll take a few minutes to view this short video.  Just click here:  The Majestic Plastic Bag.  --April Moore

A Tale of Two Environments

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

     Now and then something surprisingly good comes from something very bad.  I am thinking of two sites where horrific twentieth century events took place.  Now these two sites are world class nature reserves!

     One is the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that has separated North Korea from South Korea since the end of World War II.  The other is Chernobyl, in Ukraine, where the world’s most serious nuclear accident took place in 1986.  Today an international effort is underway to designate the DMZ a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the area surrounding Chernobyl has been called Europe’s largest nature sanctuary. 

WHAT HAPPENED IN KOREA? 

     For 5,000 years before the Korean War, much of the 2.4 mile wide and 155 mile long strip of land that is now the DMZ was farmed.  Then, during the Korean War, the area became a battlefield.  Many landmines still remain in the DMZ.  As part of the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War, this strip of land dividing North and South Korea was sequestered behind barbed wire on both sides.  A ‘buffer’ the two nations use to keep each other at bay, the DMZ has been largely untouched by human activity for more than 50 years.

     Without a human presence, the DMZ has reverted to its natural state.  The west is largely prairie and shrub land, while the east is mountainous, with rich green forests.  There are rivers, wetlands, bogs, estuaries, and more than 1,100 plant species.    Hundreds of bird species and more than 80 fish species live in the DMZ.  The 50+ mammal species there include Asiatic black bears, Eurasian lynxes, and leopards.  Even many endangered species thrive in the DMZ, including red-crowned cranes, white-naped cranes, and black-faced spoonbills.  “Many of the species that disappeared from the rest of Korea are still there,” says Ke Chung Kim, a Penn State scientist, who is urging the two Korean governments to request World Heritage Site status for the DMZ.  

WHAT HAPPENED IN UKRAINE?

     When Chernobyl’s Reactor #4 exploded 25 years ago this spring, hundreds of tons of radioactive material were spewed into the surrounding environment.  All the human residents in an 1,100 square mile area were evacuated.  And while most of the humans have stayed away, the area surrounding the reactor is not the barren wasteland most had anticipated.  Instead, “dense forests have reclaimed farm fields and apartment courtyards,” writes Douglas Birch in The Washington Post.

     When reporter and author of Wormwood Forest:  A Natural History of Chernobyl Mary Mycio first visited Chernobyl in 1996, a decade after the accident, she wore protective gear as she moved through various radioactive ‘hot spots.’  To her amazement, she found wildlife flourishing.  During return visits, Mycio has cataloged birds and mammals that have repopulated the area.  Even in the area closest to the ruined reactor, where radioactive levels are still fairly high, red foxes, grey wolves, moose, river otters, Russian wild boars, and brown hares have all been spotted.

     Mycio and others who have studied the “zone of alienation” of Chernobyl are astonished and heartened to see so much wildlife.  “This stunning natural ecosystem is evidence of the awesome recuperative powers of nature,” says Mycio.  Paradoxically, the area around Chernobyl is home to many more animal species than it was before the accident, when the area was inhabited by people. 

EVERY SILVER LINING HAS A CLOUD

     Despite the wonderful news that these ‘wastelands’ have become fecund sanctuaries for wildlife, the news is not all good.  South Korean development is creeping right up to the barbed wire of the DMZ’s southern edge, threatening the wildness on the fence’s other side.  And North Korean deforestation has caused severe flooding in the zone’s northern part.  Besides, given the recent increase in rancor between the two Koreas, it seems unlikely that they will join together to petition the United Nations for  World Heritage status for their shared natural treasure.

     And while wildlife appears to be flourishing around Chernobyl, scientists are unsure just how the area’s high radiation levels are affecting animals.  One scientist reports that a high proportion of birds he and his colleagues have studied suffer from radiation-induced sickness and genetic damage.  Other scientists report that the disaster has not affected either the diversity or the abundance of many rodent species, including shrews, weasels, and mice.  In any event, scientists agree that more study is needed to understand better how radiation in the environment is affecting wildlife.

WHEN HUMANS GET OUT OF THE WAY

     What I find most fascinating about the flourishing of wildlife in the DMZ and around Chernobyl is the astonishing increase in biodiversity that develops simply because humans get out of the way!  Despite the presence of numerous landmines or high levels of radiation, nature can still thrive, it seems, when we humans quit interfering!  In a way, this is a hopeful message about the resilience of nature, when left alone.  But, in a sense, the message is not especially hopeful, since we humans can’t seem to leave nature alone unless we are forced to for our own safety!–April Moore 

 

 

 

black-faced spoonbills in the DMZ

black-faced spoonbills in the DMZ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

elk running near the former Chernobyl nuclear plant

elk running near the former Chernobyl nuclear plant

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