Warming Trends: Tracking Bird Migration in the Night Sky, Plus the Olympic Mountains’ Rapidly Shrinking Glaciers and a Podcast Focused on Florida’s Polluted Environment


There is a bird flag over a town near you

Spring bird migration in the United States is ramping up quickly. Nearly 2 million birds flew over Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located, on Thursday evening. About 270,000 birds passed by in Cook County, Illinois, home of Chicago. And about 90,000 birds ventured over Denver, Colorado.

Most birds migrate under cover of night, meaning keen birdwatchers can’t see the plume of air travelers that fill the sky as they head north to breed in late April through May.

But a new tool helps illustrate just how important this nightly migration really is. The migration dashboard, created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and several partners, uses radar data collected from weather stations to count how many birds have passed through each county in the US, with counts updated each morning for the night before .

“You can see how many birds are flying, the direction and speed they’re flying, the altitude they’re flying at,” said Andrew Farnsworth, a senior research fellow at the Cornell lab. “It changes the game when it comes to thinking about how to inform people about all kinds of migration measures and the magnitudes at a much more local level than we’ve ever been able to.”

The hyperlocal data will be available for the first time this spring due to recent advances in machine learning and cloud computing, Farnsworth said.

He hopes this tool will get more people excited about the biannual migration and potentially encourage more people to adopt bird-friendly behaviors, like turning off disorienting lights during the main migration. Additionally, he said, the tool can be used by scientists to dig deeper into migration patterns across space and time, especially as those patterns change with a warming climate.

“How do birds adapt to this? How are they developing these patterns to deal with climate change? And how can they keep up with really fast changes or not?” said Farnsworth. “There’s some really basic information there that’s good for science to understand.”


A Double Whammy of Melting for the Olympic Mountain Glaciers

More than 250 glaciers currently covering the Olympic Mountains in western Washington state could be gone by 2070 as the climate warms, new research shows. The region’s glaciers, most of which are in Olympic National Park, have already lost more than half their volume since 1900, with most of the loss occurring in the last 40 years.

Researchers from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia used historical imagery, aerial and satellite photos, and climate models to assess the past, present, and future of glaciers, which are vital water reservoirs to mitigate drought in the West.

Typically, glaciers melt in summer when temperatures are warm and grow in winter as snow accumulates, keeping the vast ice flows relatively stable over time. But the researchers found that climate change will not only increase summer temperatures, resulting in faster melting, but will also increase winter temperatures, resulting in less snow and more rain, which doesn’t help glacier growth.

“So it’s sort of a double whammy for the Olympics to not be as nourished in the winter and to suffer increasing losses in the summer during the meltdown,” said the study’s lead author Andrew Fountain, a professor of geology and geography at Portland State University . “So the glaciers are retreating quickly.”

Although climate change is threatening glaciers around the world, the Olympic glaciers are particularly vulnerable because they are at much lower elevations than other glaciers, such as those in Mount Rainier National Park southwest of Seattle.

The only real solution to slowing the melt is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale, Fountain said.

“What happens to glaciers at the Olympics is what will happen elsewhere in the US, and it will certainly happen to glaciers worldwide,” he said. “Sure, this is a study of a small part of the glacier regime, but it’s symbolic of what’s happening elsewhere.”


A podcast about Florida’s “Self-Inflicted Wound”, aka its Surroundings

A boat captain, a surfer, a mermaid and a snakebite survivor are among the guests of a new podcast exploring Florida’s endangered environment.

On a weekly interview-style show entitled “The Nature of Florida,” journalist and filmmaker Oscar Corral dives into a conversation with an environmentally conscious guest each episode to discuss the Sunshine State’s threatened natural resources and how what can be done to protect them.

Inside Climate News recently spoke to Corral about the podcast. This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.

Her experience is mainly in documentary film. Why did you decide to create a podcast?

After putting out a documentary, I’ve noticed that after about a year, the enthusiasm wanes and loses a bit of momentum. And so I thought, well, what’s the best way to keep the environmental awareness momentum going and let people know what’s happening on the planet? I figured the best way to do that would be to start a podcast on environmental issues. As far as I know, there is no such thing in Florida. There are a few who talk about wildlife and bits and pieces here and there, but environmental issues, like topical, current issues and the political issues behind them, there’s nothing quite like it. So that’s what I did.

Why is Florida an important and interesting place to talk about environmental issues?

There are a lot of problems in Florida, as there are in many places, but it’s really, really noticeable in Florida because Florida is known for its beaches and hot springs. But many times in the last decade you’ve seen the utter uninhabitability, you can’t even use some of the water bodies in Florida because they’re so polluted with blue-green algae or nutrients. So it is something that is vividly visible. It smells bad, it looks bad, you can’t swim in it. And then it has a negative impact on the state’s largest industry, tourism. And so for Florida, environmental issues like this self-inflicted wound are its primary economic engine. It’s really frustrating. And so the podcast tries to talk about these issues and why they are not being addressed and how we are addressing them.

Will your podcast cover climate change?

Yes, climate change is definitely a topic that we explore in several of our interviews because Florida is extremely vulnerable to climate change. We are a low-lying state and we are vulnerable to sea level rise. And indeed, we’re already seeing the impact in parts of Florida, including some of our most popular tourist destinations like Miami Beach. So yes, climate change is definitely part of it.

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Helping companies to log their carbon emissions

In his earlier career as a climate change impact modeler at the University of Oxford, Kristian Rönn recognized that the only way to curb CO2 emissions was for emitters to start counting their greenhouse gases.

“The dominant narrative is still that we consumers can solve the climate problem,” Rönn said. “This is essentially a narrative invented by Big Oil to shift the blame onto consumers. But at the end of the day, it’s the companies that need to decarbonize.”

For this reason, Rönn left science and founded Normative, a carbon accounting company that helps companies track emissions throughout their supply chain and advises them on how to aim for a smaller carbon footprint.

The latest product that Normative offers is its Carbon Glossary, a collection of common terms used in the carbon accounting universe to help companies navigate the “jungle of jargon” that Rönn says goes along with tackling emissions . Terms in the glossary include greenwashing, offsetting and carbon sequestration.

Demand from shareholders and new laws in Europe and the US are driving more and more companies to use carbon accounting services, Rönn said.

“Whenever we’re talking to a client who doesn’t know the latest, we can always refer to the glossary,” he said. “We can use the tool ourselves as we work with companies and try to spread the net-zero gospel, if you will.”