Massachusetts butterflies advance

 A recent article in Biological Conservation (Polgar et al. 2013) uses reports of first sightings of several species in the Lycaenidae butterfly family to examine whether these species are showing any response to the warming temperatures New England has seen in the past century.  The team used citizen science data from 1986-2009, as well as museum records covering the years 1893-1985. 

There are many points of interest in this study.  The most obvious is that the 10 species (in groups called elfins and hairstreaks) do in fact show clear evidence that the rising temperatures are related to earlier and earlier appearance of these insects.  For each degree C of warming, the species appeared from one to 5 days earlier (depending on the species).

But the story has interesting complications.  First, people tend to be on the lookout for signs of insect activity more intensively during the early part of the season, so the researchers found that the most complete data over time are available for about the first 20% of the "emergence season."  People who are tracking the behavior of some species of plant, insect, bird, or amphibian, should bear this in mind, and try to continue their data collection throughout the period of the phenological phase they are observing.

Second, the data for about half of the study species show some variation in New England depending on the location.  For example, the paper notes that elfins, which appear earlier, tend to emerge later in inland Massachusetts than along the coast — probably because the cold lasts longer away from the seacoast. By contrast, the hairstreaks, coming later, encounter inland temps that have warmed faster than the coast, and they emerge sooner inland.  This kind of variation according to small-scale geography is turning out to be a very interesting area of research, in the effort to understand the impacts of climate change on animals and plants (and we will soon report on some other recent work in that line).

Finally, the paper is interesting because by now, there has been a fair amount of research on the phenology of several groups of organisms in New England — plants, birds, bees, and some butterflies (We described an earlier paper on butterflies on this site last September:  "Massachusetts butterflies weigh in"). All the organisms that are most responsive to local conditions — insects, plants, and some but not all bird species— are telling essentially the same story, but in each case, the biology and biogeography of these organisms introduces interesting variations and puzzles, whose answers remain to be worked out or confirmed.

March 15, 2013

Believe it or not, renewable technology is sufficient to meet our needs.

Grid parity reached in Italy WITHOUT subsidies.

Open software platform to bring down energy costs.

Improvements to efficiency could effectively double U.S. energy productivity.

New world record in efficiency for thin-film solar cells.

KLM airlines starts adding used cooking oil to their jet fuel mix.

Iowa and South Dakota approach 25% energy production from wind.

Negative feedback potential: Glacier melt may fertilize plankton growth, cause increased uptake of CO2

Wind now a larger energy source than nuclear in China.

U.S added 147MW of geothermal energy in 2012

Efforts to implement safe, clean nuclear power underway around the world.

Plan developed to power the state of New York with a combination of wind, solar, and geothermal energy.

Cost of renewable power still falling.

Analysis indicates wind turbines may last longer at higher efficiency than commonly thought.

London commits $1billion to new bicycle infrastructure.

Carbon tax gaining some traction.

Breakthrough in development of graphene has big implications for renewable power.

February 12, 2013

Solar could meet all the world's electricity needs using less than 1% of the world's land

Americans continue to embrace and push for clean energy

Chile undergoing massive solar boom

Global Foraminifera population growing as acidity and temperatures rise - may act to replace other forms of calcium carbonate generation, and help stabilize ocean chemistry

More weather in the headlines means more people accept the reality of climate change

Civil engineering study of Toronto finds that cities can reduce their net contribution to greenhouse gas levels by 70%

Planting trees may not reverse climate change, but doing so will help mitigate the impacts of global warming at a local level 

Sea urchins point to a possible advance in carbon capture and sequestration

Advances in energy storage

U.S. emissions lowest since 1994, and part of it is due to the rise of renewable energy

Changing approaches to agriculture: Deserts and salt water into sustainable farms

January 15, 2013

Study shows real possibility for effecting the severity of warming if concrete action is taken

California rebate system, designed to encourage speedy action, has funded more than one gigawatt of solar development

New wind power capacity could beat out natural gas and coal in the U.S. for 2012U.S. plug-in vehicle sales tripled in 2012

Texas grid operator says the grid can handle an increase in electric cars, no problem

Possible advance in fusion power

Concentrated solar power with a six-hour storage capacity can lower peak net loads when the sun isn't shiningMIT engineers develop material that can generate electricity from water vapor

Research into increasing photovoltaic cell efficiency

Advances in CO2 capture capability

December 20, 2012

First flexible, fibre-optic solar cell developed - can be woven into clothes

 Chicago skyscrapers go green, slash energy costs

Grid could run on 99.9% renewable energy by 2030

DOE offers 28 million in grants for U.S. offshore wind projects

Strategy developed to use older model water heaters to absorb excess power from renewable grid

Used electric vehicle batteries could be adapted for use in home energy storage

Bangladesh installs one million home solar systems

Yale study indicates Americans are becoming more active in dealing with climate change

System developed to generate electricity from water mains

Solar company delivers large gains for investors

30 megawatts of wave power planned on Mexican coast