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Feb 22, 2017, 09:41 AM
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 on: Feb 20, 2017, 06:32 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Expect to see more emergencies like Oroville Dam in a hotter world

Scientists predicted decades ago that climate change would add stress to water management systems like Oroville Dam

Dana Nuccitelli
Monday 20 February 2017 11.00 GMT

The evacuation of nearly 200,000 people near Oroville Dam is the kind of event that makes climate change personal. A co-worker of mine was forced out of his home for several days by the emergency evacuation, and another friend was visiting Lake Oroville and happened to leave 15 minutes before the evacuation order was issued.

Like many extreme events, the Oroville emergency is a combination of natural weather likely intensified by climate change. California regularly sees “atmospheric rivers” that deluge the state with rainfall, but in a hotter world, scientists anticipate that they’ll be amplified by an increase in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.

Northern California is in the midst of its wettest rainy season on record – twice as wet as the 20th century average, and 35% wetter than the previous record year. It proved to be almost too much for America’s tallest dam to handle. Water managers were forced to use Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway for the first time ever, which then began to erode, posing the threat of a failure and catastrophic flooding of nearby towns.

While studies haven’t yet connected this extreme wetness to climate change (there are still several months remaining in California’s rainy season), what we’re seeing is consistent with climate scientists’ expectations of a hotter world.

Dams in the United States were built 50 years ago, on average. Since then, the Earth’s surface temperature has warmed about 0.75°C, and there’s now more than 5% more water vapor in the atmosphere as a result, which intensifies storms. With hotter temperatures, more precipitation falls as rain and less as snow, and California’s Sierra snowpack also melts earlier in the year. Climate change stresses California’s water infrastructure through all of these mechanisms.

Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute has been researching the impact of climate change on the water cycle since the 1986, when his dissertation was the first research to conclude that the Sierra snowpack would be at risk due to rising temperatures from global warming. He also found that this would lead to increased winter runoff and flood risks, which is exactly what we’re now seeing. As Gleick told me:

    Our infrastructure was designed for yesterday’s climate, not today’s or tomorrow’s. We know the climate is changing and we need to be prepared.

Gleick warned 30 years ago that this increased runoff would add stress to California’s water infrastructure, also noting that in a hotter world, more precipitation would fall as rain and less as snow.

    California will get the worst of all possible worlds – more flooding in the winter, less available water in the summer.

Gleick’s words now seem prescient. Research has shown that conditions that create both wet years and hot dry years in California are becoming more frequent. California’s intensely wet 2017 is a prime example of weather whiplash, as the state is just now emerging from a 5-year drought that was its most intense in more than 1200 years.

Studies have found that global warming intensified that drought by about 15–35% through factors like increased evaporation and water demand, pushing it into the realm of record-shattering intensity. As Gleick recently wrote, extreme weather is battering California:

    We already see fundamental changes in storm frequency and intensity, increases in the size and duration of droughts and rainfall events, disappearing snow packs, growing agricultural water demands with rising temperatures, and more.

    We cannot afford the luxury of pretending climate change isn’t real, and we cannot afford to ignore the risks to our water infrastructure posed by these changes. Any investment in infrastructure must take climate change into account through smart flexible design, integration of better weather-forecasting and modeling tools, and adoption of new standards for facility construction and operation.

Environmental groups warned the state about Oroville Dam in 2005, noting that in an intensely wet year like we’ve seen in 2017, its emergency spillway could erode, and thus should be coated with concrete. State agencies concluded that the cost of this project couldn’t be justified given the low probability of such a wet season, but climate change increases the likelihood and intensity of extreme precipitation events. The environmental groups were proven right.

These are some of the many hidden costs of climate change. Intense droughts and floods exert extra stress on aging water management systems, farms, and other infrastructure. Lives are put in danger, as my friends’ were. On the other side of the world, Australia is in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave, with temperatures reaching 44°C (111°F), 12°C (22°F) above normal. Such dangerous heatwaves are now twice as likely to occur because of human-caused global warming.

It’s becoming more and more difficult to deny the reality and dangerous consequences of human-caused climate change, and more costly to do so.

 on: Feb 20, 2017, 06:30 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
'The wild west of wind': Republicans push Texas as unlikely green energy leader

The most oil-rich and fracking-friendly of states has found itself with the improbable status of being a national leader in a wind energy boom

by Tom Dart in Sweetwater, Texas, and Oliver Milman in New York
Monday 20 February 2017 08.01 GMT

Living in New York and Washington, Greg Wortham heard all the grand talk about green energy from liberal politicians. Then he returned to the place where he grew up, a small town that embraced wind power so warmly that within a couple of years of the first turbine turning, it had some of the biggest farms on the planet.

Yet Wortham is not from California, Oregon or New England, but a deeply conservative sector of Texas on the edge of the Permian Basin, one of the most bountiful oil and gas patches in the world.

The welcome sign that greets motorists as they arrive in Sweetwater along Interstate 20, a three-hour drive west of Dallas, is not in the shape of an oil derrick or pumpjack, though: it’s a wind turbine blade bearing the town’s motto, “Life is sweet in Texas”.

For ranchers facing ruin until major international companies planted forests of 300ft-tall turbines among their crops and cattle, the wind boom has provided regular income that has allowed them to maintain their land and keep it in the family.

For Texas, this most Republican-dominated, oil-rich and fracking-friendly of states has found itself with the improbable status of being a national leader in this growing form of renewable energy.

Texas has 11,592 turbines and an installed wind capacity of 20,321 megawatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association: three times as much capacity as the next state, Iowa. (California is third.) For the 12-month period ending in October last year, wind provided 12.68% of Texas’s electricity production – equivalent to powering 5.7 million homes.

Four of the eleven largest wind farms in the world are in the region around Sweetwater, a friendly, part-historic, part-decrepit town of about 11,000 people that is home to so many serpents that every spring it holds a gory rattlesnake roundup.

The county’s tax base has soared from roughly $400m in 2000 to about $3bn today, as a result of a dramatic investment in wind that began in earnest under the governorships of two stalwart Republicans, George W Bush and Rick Perry.

Texas is just one of the Republican-leaning states that dominate wind energy in the US – the top three producers by percentage of state electricity supply are Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas. Like Texas, these states all voted for Donald Trump, who has made clear his dislike of clean energy such as solar and wind. “To begin with, the whole push for renewable energy is being driven by the wrong motivation, the mistaken belief that global climate change is being caused by carbon emissions,” the president wrote in his 2015 book Crippled America. “ If you don’t buy that – and I don’t – then what we have is really just an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves.”

At a campaign rally in August, Trump added that wind energy “kills all your birds. All your birds, killed. You know, the environmentalists never talk about that”.

But while the president and many Republicans in Congress have been disdainful of renewable energy and dismissive of climate change, support for wind in conservative areas has been quietly noted. In 2015, Congress extended a tax credit for wind production until 2020. With many rural communities feeling the benefits of wind energy, it’s unlikely that Trump would find much backing if he attempted to pull away this support.

“New York City’s one of those regions that wants to be green but doesn’t want to see green,” meaning they want the benefits of green energy without having to look at unattractive wind turbines or solar panels, Wortham said. He was sipping water at a table in a lumber yard turned country music bar in a speck on the map called Roscoe, where big acts can attract crowds greater than the population of 1,300.

Dust danced in through the open door; outside, goods trains barrelled past every few minutes, horns blaring, and a stiff breeze ruffled a couple of flags on a pole outside. In the middle distance, blades swooshed clockwise in a thicket of white wind turbines, as trucks arrived to disgorge their loads at the 24-hour cotton gin.

Roscoe was formerly home to the world’s largest wind farm. It was beautifully, promisingly, sunny: the locals are eying solar panels as the next big thing.

“You don’t want to see power lines, wind turbines and solar panels,” Wortham said.

But in west Texas, already scarred by oil and gas activity, the new infrastructure was mostly welcomed for its potential to help desperate farmers at the mercy of droughts and floods, and the boom-and-bust cycles of the oil industry. And create jobs: according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind turbine technician is by far the nation’s fastest-growing occupation.

“It has vast space and people who own the land see the value of using the land,” said Carsten Westergaard, a professor at the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University.

    Wind came at the right time and fit the mentality of folks that wanted green but in our mind we’re not a green region
    Carl Childers

The Sweetwater region has an average wind speed of over 23mph, space, access to infrastructure and an experienced energy workforce, and is close enough to major population centres to make transmission of the electricity economically viable. One negative: the area is at its windiest at night, when electricity demand is lower.

In south Texas, though, the wind blows strongly in the afternoon, around the time when demand peaks. Wind power is set to flourish along the Gulf Coast – though since it is more densely populated, with more tourists and wildlife, objections have been stronger along aesthetic, conservation and quality-of-life grounds.

After leasing their land to an energy company with the means to build a wind farm – an average one might cost $350-500m for 125 turbines – a rancher in Sweetwater can expect to receive about $10,000 per turbine per year; potentially twice that figure for a newer, more powerful machine.

“The margin of profitability per acre before the wind turbines was minimal – minimal,” said Johnny Ussery, a 61-year-old rancher whose family traditionally farmed wheat, cattle and cotton. “I’ve talked to many people about it and I truly believe the only way to hang on to the land was to be able to make it profitable.”

    Wind is where oil and gas was in Texas in 1914, 1920. No laws have really yet been created … it’s just the wild frontier
    Rod Wetsel

Carl Childers, a Roscoe rancher, property developer and retired teacher, has family roots going back more than a hundred years. He has six turbines in his cotton fields and said he has just signed a contract for a battery storage facility on his property. “It was a marriage of love eventually,” he said. “This is a little bit of a guaranteed bonus to help pay the taxes and necessary things.”

Wortham’s eclectic career has encompassed public relations for the now-defunct Houston Oilers American football team and a stint as mayor of Sweetwater. Now he helps energy clients develop business plans.

“Wind came at exactly the right time and it fit the mentality of a lot of the folks that wanted green but in our own mind we’re not a green region,” he said. “A lot of people were environmentalists or they wouldn’t have held land, been stewards of land for a hundred years in the family. So they all cared but they didn’t know how to activate that.”

But in a corrosively partisan political climate, the benefits of clean energy have to be framed carefully. As Perry’s national ambitions grew – he was a Republican presidential hopeful for the 2012 and 2016 elections - he seemed less and less keen to trumpet Texas’s results in a policy area more associated with Democrats.

“You don’t stand up around here and say, ‘yee haw, I’m green!’” said Wortham. “If you’re for environmental you talk about energy security, national security, good business. What we all know and can sort of secret handshake to each other, the ‘we save the earth’ kind of stuff – we can’t say that out loud because it defeats the whole thing.”

The state spent about $7bn on transmission projects under an initiative known as CREZ.

Another key factor in the growth of Texas’ wind industry is that this most independent-minded of states, unlike any other of the lower 48, has its own electric grid, minimising federal influence.

“Texas is still the wild west of wind, sort of like the old prospecting days,” said Rod Wetsel, a Sweetwater attorney whose great-great grandparents settled in the town in the 1880s. “You can come out here, stick your stake in the ground, go get the leases from the land owners, you have no permitting – there’s no regulatory agency that controls wind, other than the public utility commission, which really just controls the grid system.”

Wetsel is a trim 64-year-old who wears a bow tie and a wristband with the slogan “go green”. His office’s shelves are adorned with high school football memorabilia and a silver model turbine. Ornate saddles stand on each side of his desk, though his usual mode of transport is his BMW.

He advised a local rancher on one of the earliest wind deals, in 1999, and reinvented himself as a wind specialist as demand soared. Now he also teaches wind law at the University of Texas in Austin, where several green energy companies are headquartered.

“Wind is where oil and gas was in Texas in about 1914, 1920. No laws have really yet been created, there’s no regulation, there’s no governmental agencies, it’s just the wild frontier,” Wetsel said. “All of a sudden, Sweetwater’s the wind capital of the world.”

Louis Brooks and his family hold in excess of 18,000 acres – an area larger than Manhattan. The son of a world champion rodeo cowboy, Brooks steered his pick-up truck across his gently undulating land one day last week, sporting a “California Chrome” cap – the name of the now-retired, Kentucky Derby-winning racehorse in which he owns a small stake.

To make ends meet, he has tried cattle, wheat, even a horse insurance business. He was a late convert to turbines; 78 of them now dot his property. “I’m not a big person for change. I’m kind of old-fashioned in a lot of ways,” he said. “I don’t say I love them but I like them a lot. It’s just been a godsend. We’ve been able to take better care of our country.”

Cattle grazed on a mesa a couple of hundred metres away as the wind picked up, creating a soft whistle amid the thrum, thrum, thrum of the rotating blades. “I never thought that wind would pay more than oil,” he said. “That noise they make – it’s kind of like a cash register.”

 on: Feb 20, 2017, 06:26 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Images of new bleaching on Great Barrier Reef heighten fears of coral death

Exclusive: Coral bleaching found near Palm Island as unusually warm waters are expected off eastern Australia, with areas hit in last year’s event in mortal danger

Elle Hunt
Sunday 19 February 2017 19.00 GMT

The embattled Great Barrier Reef could face yet more severe coral bleaching in the coming month, with areas badly hit by last year’s event at risk of death.

Images taken by local divers last week and shared exclusively with the Guardian by the Australian Marine Conservation Society show newly bleached corals discovered near Palm Island.

Most of the Great Barrier Reef has been placed on red alert for coral bleaching for the coming month by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Its satellite thermal maps have projected unusually warm waters off eastern Australia after an extreme heatwave just over a week ago saw land temperatures reach above 47C in parts of the country.

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, sea surface temperatures from Cape Tribulation to Townsville have been up to 2C higher than normal for the time of year for more than a month.

The NOAA Coral Reef Watch’s forecast for the next four weeks has placed an even higher level alert on parts of the far northern, northern and central reef, indicating mortality is likely.

Corals south of Cairns, in the Whitsundays and parts of the far northern reef that were badly hit by last year’s mass bleaching event are at fatal risk.

Imogen Zethoven, the Great Barrier Reef’s campaign director for the AMCS, said the projections for the next four weeks, plus evidence of new coral bleaching, were “extremely concerning”.

The bleaching that occurred over eight to nine months of last year was the worst-ever on record for the Great Barrier Reef, with as much as 85% of coral between Cape York and Lizard Island dying. Twenty-two per cent of corals over the entire reef are dead.

Zethoven pointed to projections by NOAA that severe bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef would occur annually by 2043 if nothing was done to reduce emissions.

“The reef will be gone before annual severe bleaching,” she said. “It won’t survive even biennial bleaching.”

The $1bn reef fund announced by the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in June last year was a “cynical rebadging exercise” undercut by its support for fossil fuel initiatives such as Adani’s Carmicheal coalmine “that will spell catastrophe for the reef”, Zethoven said.

“There’s no doubt about that anymore,” she said. “They know what they are doing and they should come clean with the Australian public that they have no interest in the long-term survival of the Great Barrier Reef.

“To the average person on the street, that’s what it looks like. And if the government thinks that’s not the case, they’re out of touch.”

In December last year the government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund granted Adani “conditional approval” to $1bn loan for its Carmicheal coalmine and rail project in central Queensland, which could produce 60m tons of coal annually for 60 years.

Warmer ocean temperatures brought about by climate change is a key factor in coral bleaching. Polling suggests that more than two-thirds of Australians believe the reef’s condition should be declared a national emergency.

Zethoven said the government had made “a very deliberate decision to go down the coal road”, despite it jeopardising the reef’s future prospects as well as the 70,000 jobs in regional Queensland that depend on it.

John Rumney, a diving operator based in Port Douglas, said the “commercial advantage” to saving the reef went beyond jobs. Much of coastal Queensland was “majorly invested” in reef tourism, he said.
According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, sea surface temperatures from Cape Tribulation to Townsville have been up to 2C higher than normal for the time of year

The federal government’s measures to save the reef were hypocrisy and lip service, he said, when it was simultaneously “actively supporting the cause of the cancer – the worst cause”.

“It’s immoral that those of us who are making our living from a healthy environment are paying taxes to subsidise infrastructure that’s going to cause climate change in a major way for the next 50 years,” he said. “If this all goes ahead, we’re basically dooming our tourism industry.”

Rumney said he had seen new and extensive bleaching of corals from Cairns to Townsville.

“There are definite large areas of mortality. It’s just the next depressing moment. Before, the reef has bleached and recovered but now we’re talking about how often is it bleaching and what percentage is left.”

Areas that suffered in last year’s event were now less resilient and there seemed to be less coral strong enough to spawn.

Climate change-induced mass bleaching increasingly resembled a catastrophe the reef would be unable to recover from, he said.

“It’s weaker, just like humans,” Rumney said. “If you’re already down and out with a cold or cancer, you’re less resilient – the next thing that comes along is going to knock you back more.

“It’s the continual onslaught that will eventually kill the reef.”

 on: Feb 20, 2017, 06:22 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
'Science for the people': researchers challenge Pig Trump outside US conference

Scientists rally in Boston amid alarm over president’s views and fears for the future of the EPA, as ecologist likens current struggle to Galileo’s

Hannah Devlin in Boston and Alan Yuhas in San Francisco
Sunday 19 February 2017 22.37 GMT

Hundreds of scientists rallied in Boston on Sunday to protest what they call the “direct attack” of Donald Trump and Republicans on research, scientific institutions and facts themselves, as a community reckons, and argues, with a new era of American politics.

Gathering in Boston’s Copley Square, outside the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), several scientists gave speeches to a crowd holding signs shaped like beakers and reading “Stand up for science”. The speeches reflected a sea change in the culture of many labs and universities, where many researchers long maintained that good scientific work could speak for itself.

At the AAAS conference, scientists this week have discussed political activism, the psychology of “fake news” , and how to protect climate science from hostile governments. But a rift has opened up in the community between those in favor and those opposed to rallies focused on science, including a March for Science planned across multiple cities in April.

Professor Jim Gates, the eminent string theorist and former adviser to Barack Obama, told journalists that the march appeared to lack an end goal – a prerequisite for political action – and would simply be perceived as “science against Trump”.

“At least as far as I can detect, there is no theory of action behind this,” he said. “This bothers me tremendously.

“I don’t understand how the organisers of this march can guard against provocateurs, quite frankly,” he added. “I don’t think they’re ready for that, I don’t think they’re considering that kind of danger. To have science represented as this political force I think is just extraordinarily dangerous.”

Others urged the protesters on, including Rush Holt, the CEO of AAAS, said that his organization would work with other US societies to “make the march a success”.

“It’s the first time in my 50-year career that I have seen people speaking up for science at large,” he said. “I’ve seen for or against nuclear power or whatever. This is an unusual phenomenon.”

Astrid Caldas, a climate scientist and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the rally showed that “scientists who are usually happy in the corner of their labs are speaking”.

“I think that scientists are realizing that they have to use their voice, as scientists, in self-defense.”

Dr Jacquelyn Gill, an ecologist at the University of Maine, was one of the speakers Sunday, and is tentatively considering whether to run for Congress in 2018.

“A lot of scientists are realizing that the institutions that fund and support and science in this country – science for everyone, publicly funded and transparent – those institutions are under direct attack,” she told the Guardian.

Trump, she said, “not only doesn’t value our institutions, he doesn’t seem to value evidence-based decision making at all. That is alarming to us.”

The president’s views about science – he has variously called global warming a “hoax” and pledged to “unlock the mysteries of space” – is not the only concern on the scientists’ minds. “I’m concerned that we’re going to lose the EPA. I’m concerned that we’re going to lose regulations that have a direct impact on human health, like automobile emissions,” Gill said. “People will get sicker. People will die because of a lack of environmental regulation and medical research.”

Beka Economopoulos, one of the rally’s organizers and a co-founder of the Natural History Museum, a mobile exhibition, said that scientists could no longer truly avoid politics. “That ship has sailed,” she said, noting that researchers have a long history protesting, for instance against nuclear proliferation in the 1970s.

“It’s not just about scientists, it’s about science,” she said. “Communities are going to bear the brunt of the impacts of these attacks on science in the public interest.”

Gill also stressed that the nascent movement wanted to stress “science for the people, by the people and for the people”.

Arguments about “trimming the fat” of budgets, she said, did not stand up to scrutiny, considering that the government’s science and medical research funding makes up a tiny percentage of the federal budget.

“That money has got one of the best returns on investment you could possibly hope for,” she said. “The real stakeholders are the citizens that stand to gain or lose the most if the institutions are weakened.”

Another organizer, Emily Southard, said that the rally and the march in Washington, were meant to help “demystify what scientists do”.

She defended “science that delivers clean, safe drinking water to our faucets, science that’s being taken for granted – and that’s the science that’s being taken under attack.”

Economopoulos used the Environmental Protection Agency as an example, criticizing its newly confirmed head, who repeatedly sued the agency in favor of corporations as Oklahoma attorney general . “We have a sort of fox in the henhouse situation here with Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, an agency that he has sued 14 times,” she said.

Gill also said that researchers needed to do more to take control of their image, noting the ways scientists had been politicized by lawmakers in debates over climate science. “Throwing more information or more data doesn’t really change minds, whether it’s climate change or vaccines,” she said. “Empathy trumps fact when it comes to people’s minds.”

Such disputes were nothing new, she said: “Science and religion clashes go back to Darwin and Galileo and Copernicus.”

Caldas said that she hoped scientists would continue organize at local levels. “The federal government may not be on board, but local government works hardest with people who see these problems at their doorsteps, and they cannot deny it.”

Members of Congress facing re-election, she said, were already starting to feel pressure from constituents about climate change. “The stakes are really high but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”


Pig Trump is copying the Bush censorship playbook. Scientists aren't standing for it

The Pig Trump Administration keeps trying to go after scientists, and being forced to retreat

Dana Nuccitelli
Tuesday 31 January 2017 11.00 GMT

As President George W. Bush said, “Fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. Fool me ... You can’t get fooled again!”

During the his Administration, political appointees censored climate science reports from government agencies, and mostly got away with it by gagging the scientists. A survey found that nearly half of 1,600 government scientists at seven agencies ranging from NASA to the EPA had been warned against using terms like “global warming” in reports or speeches, throughout Bush’s eight-year presidency.

Unaccustomed to being strong-armed by their own administrators, some government scientists reacted with what former US Climate Change Science Program senior associate Rick Piltz called “an anticipatory kind of self-censorship.” As a result, the Bush Administration’s efforts to smother scientific findings concerning global warming in government reports were remarkably effective.

Perhaps assuming those tactics would work again, the Trump Administration has copied the Bush scientific censorship playbook. They issued de facto gag orders to government science agencies like the EPA and USDA, ordered that the EPA take down its climate webpage, and have mandated that any studies or data from EPA scientists must undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public.

However, the Trump Administration is quickly realizing that scientists learned from the Bush scandal. This time around they’re not trying to appease the political appointees by staying quiet and allowing the censorship to happen.

We saw an early indication that the Bush tactics won’t succeed in 2017 when the Trump transition team launched an inquisition into Department of Energy employees working on climate change. The department refused to provide the requested list, and in the face of public and media outrage, the Trump team retreated. Around the same time, climate scientists held a ‘rally to stand up for science’ in San Francisco, fearing that the new administration would bully and censor scientists.

Nevertheless, the Trump Administration ignored those warning signs and continued to follow the Bush climate science censorship playbook. It hasn’t worked.

Reacting to the deletion of some National Parks Service tweets of climate change facts, a number of “resistance” Twitter accounts ostensibly run by government scientists have been created. Most recently, the Trump Administration had ordered that the EPA delete its climate webpage, but again in the face of public and media outrage has retreated.

This time around, government scientists have been quick to blow the whistle against political censorship of science, either by contacting congressional offices or journalists. Whistleblowers can contact Guardian journalists securely and anonymously by following these instructions.

Scientists are even becoming proactive. Following on the tremendous success of the Women’s March on Trump’s first full day as President, a group is organizing a March for Science sometime in March 2017.
Scientists are right to feel threatened

It’s possible that reactions to these Trump Administration moves are overblown - that they’re simply the result of a clumsy transition period and weren’t meant to signal a permanent censorship of science. But Trump has given scientists every reason to feel threatened.

For example, he appointed Myron Ebell to lead his EPA transition team - an oil and coal-funded enemy of science who wants to gut the agency. That team also included David Schnare and Chris Horner, who have spent much of their careers harassing and intimidating climate scientists. Here’s what the transition team had to say about how the EPA currently uses science:

    EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science ... EPA has greatly increased its science manipulation.

Trump himself has described what the EPA does as “a disgrace.” He then nominated Scott Pruitt to head the agency - a man who has sued the EPA 14 times on behalf of polluters. For his science advisor, Trump is rumored to be considering two climate science deniers. He’s now appointed another climate science denier to lead the NOAA transition.

Who you gonna trust?

The head of the House [Anti-]Science, Space, and Technology Committee Lamar Smith suggested that for accurate information we should rely not on scientists or the media, but solely on Donald Trump.

Donald Trump recently said “I have a running war with the media,” but in reality his war is with facts, and since evidence and facts are the currency of science, scientists fear that he’ll also wage a war on science.

A war on science is a war he’s guaranteed to lose. Trump can deny the science, silence the scientists, censor their reports, even fire them from government agencies - but that won’t stop the Earth from heating and its climate from changing at a dangerous rate. At best he would survive a four or eight-year term, leave the planet a worse place for future generations, and be seen as a villain in the history books.

But it looks as though scientists and journalists aren’t going to let that happen without a fight, and kudos to them for standing up to the anti-science bullies on behalf of the planet and future generations. We’ll all have to do our parts to protect science and hold the administration accountable to facts and truth for the next four years.

 on: Feb 20, 2017, 06:10 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
‘Planet Earth II’: A Lizard’s Great Escape

FEB. 20 2017
NY Times   

The most memorable screen performance of 2016 won’t be recognized at the Oscars in a couple weeks. For one thing, it appeared on television. For another, it was given by an iguana.

Actually, describing a young marine iguana’s capture and improbable escape from scores of racer snakes as a “performance” slights the stakes of this scene from the nature documentary “Planet Earth II,” which arrived in Britain in November and makes its American debut Saturday, Feb. 18, on BBC America. The sequence was at once a life-or-death flight, a waking nightmare and a slithery metaphor, the riot of snakes descending inexorably like so many demons of 2016 — deaths of icons, appalling international tragedies, the emotional body blows of a punishing presidential campaign. That baby lizard was all of us and, in the end, against all odds, we survived the onslaught.

Iguana vs Snakes - Planet Earth II Video by BBC Earth: [See where to stream other nature documentaries at Watching, The New York Times’s TV and movie recommendation site.]

“It ticks a lot of boxes in the human consciousness,” said Richard Wollocombe, one of the camera operators who captured it. “It is nightmare that turns into a fairy tale.”

Released as a promotion for the British premiere of the six-part series, the clip became a viral sensation, with internet wags transposing new soundtracks, from N.F.L. reports to “Yakety Sax.” The popularity presaged blockbuster ratings in Britain: The show was seen by 30 million people — nearly half the country — making it one of the biggest natural-history hits since “Planet Earth,” its landmark predecessor from 2006.

But its high meme factor is only one way the little lizard’s Great Escape exemplifies how things have changed in the decade since the original “Planet Earth.” The clip offers a multidimensional lesson in the tactics — some fascinating, some slightly dodgy — filmmakers use these days to stand out in a genre that, “like all of television, has become much more competitive,” said Tom Hugh-Jones, the series producer, who also worked on the first “Planet Earth.”

“You’re trying to capture new and younger audiences,” he said. “You have to try every trick to hook them in and engage them.”

Waiting for a New Story

The iguana sequence shows an annual ritual on Fernandina, one of the Galápagos Islands. Marine iguanas — named for their defining swimming ability — hatch from buried eggs and must immediately traverse a stretch of beach thick with predators, in this case scores of hungry racer snakes. In this scene, one plucky iguana was set upon by a swarm of snakes, only to miraculously wriggle free and scrabble up the surrounding rocks, serpents nipping fruitlessly at its heels.

The scene was a product of patience and the intense pressure to film “things that have never been seen,” Mr. Wollocombe said.

The challenge was to translate astounding but chaotic behavior into footage that was as spectacular onscreen as it was in person. Then, after many trips over three years — the filmmakers shooting and waiting from dawn to dusk — a lizard evaded certain death.

“People have seen pretty much every corner of the earth covered by natural history series,” Mr. Hugh-Jones said. “So you need to find a new way to tell the story.”

Getting Intimate
Planet Earth II: Official Extended Trailer - BBC Earth Video by BBC Earth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8aFcHFu8QM

Like its predecessor, “Planet Earth II” was an enormous undertaking, involving some 2,089 shooting days in 40 countries. David Attenborough, 90, returned to narrate. (The American version of “Planet Earth,” shown on Discovery, was narrated by Sigourney Weaver.)

Unlike the original, though, which specialized in awesome spectacle shot at a remove, “Planet Earth II” seeks to close the distance between viewer and animal.

The goal was to pair the spectacle with an intimacy that made the animals characters rather than just subjects for observation. The innovation is partly technological. Nimbler mobile cameras allowed operators to move smoothly through environments, creating a more immersive experience and letting viewers “get down on the animals’ level.” Mr. Hugh-Jones said.

The lizard chase, for example, was captured both by Mr. Wollocombe’s long lens, and a mobile Movi camera used to track the dashing iguanas. Elsewhere, drones whip viewers through jungles and other previously forbidding landscapes. Advances in lowlight filming allowed for night sequences, like the ones showing leopards prowling in Mumbai after dark.

The other key component is stagecraft. The producers used tension-amping slow motion and a pulse-pounding score, and varied the lengths and perspective of shots for maximum suspense. They also varied iguanas.

The sequence is built around a master shot of the star lizard’s escape, but the producers acknowledge that shots of different animals were used to build a composite scene.

Other acceptable but not totally faithfully presented footage involved a camera strapped to a golden eagle that was later revealed to be a trained bird, and other animals, like the lemurs in Madagascar, who were used to humans after being studied by scientists, which allowed for closer filming.

Aside from rules about not mistreating animals or inventing an event, the ethics of how wildlife filmmakers represent what they’re depicting are largely uncodified. (Writers like Chris Palmer, a documentarian and professor, have called for a code of conduct.)

As for “Planet Earth II,” Mr. Hugh-Jones said, “the principle is an accurate portrayal of the wilderness.”
When Tweeters Attack

The eagle-cam revelation sparked a backlash online, one of several incidents that demonstrated how for all the promotional benefits of viral videos, social media is a double-edged sword. Viewers also complained about reused avalanche footage from the original “Planet Earth”; added sound effects; and the brutality depicted in the series, particularly surrounding sexual violence among snow leopards.

More sober criticism came from commentators like Martin Hughes-Games, who chastised the film in The Guardian for promoting an irresponsibly sunny outlook for the world’s declining species.

The filmmakers bristle at such charges. Blockbuster nature series “break through the noise and make a real difference to people’s conscience,” Mr. Wollocombe said.

Ultimately all the chatter was a measure of the impact “Planet Earth II” made in Britain, something the producers hope to replicate here.

“It’s almost as if people can only get that excited about a wildlife film every 10 years or so,” Mr. Hugh-Jones said. “I feel lucky to have that once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

 on: Feb 20, 2017, 06:04 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
TransCanada refiles Keystone XL application in Nebraska, the next anti-pipeline battleground

Native groups say they'll mobilize against the Keystone XL like they did with the Dakota Access pipeline. But Nebraska landowners are at the forefront of legal challenges.

David Iaconangelo
CS Monitor
February 20 2017 —Oil developer TransCanada has refiled its application to route the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska, the company said on Thursday, putting back on track a project rejected by then-President Barack Obama, that President Trump has promised to revive.

The application may open up a new front in efforts to block the massive pipelines that have become conspicuous symbols of fossil-fuel clout. So far, though, the first line of opposition seems likely to come through the courts, even as indigenous groups vow to mount the same sort of protests that won a temporary stoppage of the Dakota Access pipeline, a sister project.

Bold Nebraska, an opposition group, is planning a multi-pronged approach. It will launch a letter-writing campaign aimed at persuading the Nebraska Public Service Commission, an elected panel with four Republicans and one Democrat, to reject the pipeline.

Bold Nebraska says any oil spills could pollute the Ogallala Aquifer, a water source that is vital to several midwestern states, in addition to other environmental damage. But it will mount its legal challenge on eminent-domain grounds, headed by a group of some 82 landowners who refuse to let the pipeline run through their property.

“We’re going to fight this through the courts, on property rights,” said Jane Kleeb, who directs an umbrella group that includes Bold Nebraska, told Nebraska radio station KTIC in January.
Keystone XL: 5 basic things you should know

"It's a very frightening prospect that a foreign corporation can use eminent domain against landowners for their private gain," Ms. Kleeb told the AP.

TransCanada said in a statement on Thursday that it expected the review to conclude this year, calling the NPSC process “the clearest path to achieving route certainty for the project in Nebraska." The Commission typically responds to applications within seven months, or they can choose to postpone a decision for up to a year.

But Bold is confident that its legal actions will slow down the state-level approval process – despite Mr. Trump’s claims of having already “approved” the project.

“We still have very strong state rights in our country,” Kleeb said. “There is still a long eminent domain hearing process as well as a pipeline routing process. So you are looking at at least two years before they even get a permit in Nebraska.”

If approved and constructed, the Keystone XL would run from the Canadian province of Alberta through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, where it would connect with an existing pipeline to transport some 830,000 daily barrels of crude to Texas refineries. And a 2014 State Department review estimated that the project would create about 42,000 jobs nationwide and bring about $2 billion in direct and indirect earnings for workers .

The Obama administration rejected the project in 2015, saying it would not make "a meaningful long-term contribution" to the economy, lower gas prices for consumers, or help the nation transfer toward clean energy.

But prior to that decision, as the New Republic explained earlier that year, landowners were at the forefront of Nebraskan opposition, and managed to slow the process considerably, setting up the federal action that sidelined it:

    In 2012, the state legislature passed a law granting the governor authority to approve the route and bypassing Nebraska's Public Service Commission. A four-justice majority of the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in January that the legislation violated the state constitution, but didn’t get the supermajority (five judges) to strike down the law—thereby preserving TransCanada’s plans. But landowners are still fighting TransCanada’s use of eminent domain on constitutional grounds, and in February a county court issued a temporary injunction halting TransCanada from acquiring land.

In addition, Native groups voiced frustration over what they see as a lack of adequate consultation over a project that crosses their lands. And following Trump’s January executive actions that revived both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, many Dakota protestors said that they would mobilize to stop construction of the Keystone XL.

“We will be setting up camps in very strategic locations along the KXL route," Dallas Goldtooth, campaign organizer with Indigenous Environmental Network, told InsideClimate News. "We will fight Trump tooth and nail to ensure that this pipeline is not built."

 on: Feb 20, 2017, 06:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
A thousand day-old chicks abandoned in Peterborough field

RSPCA believes baby chickens came from commercial producer but were dumped by a third party
Abandoned baby chicks in Peterborough field
Press Association
20 February 2017 13.55 GMT

About 1,000 day-old chicks have been abandoned in a field. RSPCA inspectors said members of the public made the discovery of the newly hatched chickens in a field in Crowland, near Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire on Friday.

Many of the chicks are believed to be in good health, although some had died while others had to be put down due to their injuries, the animal welfare charity said.

It is believed the chicks came from a commercial chick producer and may have been abandoned by a third party. The producer is fully cooperating and assisting the RSPCA with their investigations.

RSPCA inspector Justin Stubbs said: “I have never seen anything like it, it was just a sea of yellow. And the noise was unbelievable.

“The chicks are only about a day old and are really tiny and quite delicate. Some of the birds were dead or dying when we arrived so some, sadly, had to be humanely put to sleep. Thankfully, most of the chicks did not appear to be suffering.

“The breeder came to the scene to collect the surviving birds and take them back to their unit. These tiny birds wouldn’t have survived long out on their own at such a young age and in such unpredictable weather conditions. For someone to dump these vulnerable chicks is unbelievable.”

 on: Feb 20, 2017, 05:55 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
How much are trees feeling the heat of climate change?

Previous models suggested trees would emit exponentially more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through respiration as global warming heats up. But a new study shifts those predictions.   

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer
CS Monitor

Rising temperatures might not stress trees as much as previously thought. And that means they may continue to be efficient at scrubbing carbon from the atmosphere, even as the planet warms.

As a result, some equations in our climate models will likely have to be tweaked.

Forests are known for being massive carbon warehouses, drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Most of that carbon remains locked in trees' roots, trunks, branches, and leaves but a bit of it is emitted back into the atmosphere through a process called respiration.

Previous models had suggested that respiration in trees would increase exponentially as the planet heats up, thus feeding even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and increasing global warming further. But new research suggests that feedback loop won't be as dramatically affected by rising temperatures.

The researchers estimated that, without acclimation, exposure to temperatures 3.4 degrees Celsius (6.12 degrees Fahrenheit) above ambient temperatures would prompt the plants to emit 23 percent more carbon dioxide over a period of three to five years. But when using heat lamps on trees in a forest and measuring the emissions, they found that leaf respiration increased by just 5 percent, according to new research published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

"Plants are flexible and responsive and can adjust their physiology in the face of these changes," study co-author Rebecca Montgomery tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview. "It's not perfect, but it's a ray of hope, a positive result that we really have been overestimating this respiration signal in the carbon cycle."

Previous estimates had been based on short-term studies and didn't give time for the plants to adjust to the rising temperatures. Much like a first-time runner would breathe heavier in a race than someone who had trained for marathons, this new long-term study shows how trees can acclimate to the new conditions over time.

Respiration is the process by which living cells metabolize sugars. Plants "eat" through photosynthesis, absorbing carbon dioxide in the process as they create sugars. Then, they metabolize those sugars in respiration by combining them with oxygen and that gives them energy to grow. But that process also releases carbon dioxide.

But the same amount of carbon that goes in does not come out. "Right now their net impact is one of a sink, which means they're taking in more carbon than they're giving off," Dr. Montgomery explains. "But the worry is that, as the climate warms, respiration may change faster than photosynthesis."

And that would mean forests would be less powerful in mitigating climate change.

The previous studies not only focused on the immediate impact of increased temperatures on plants but also were conducted in laboratory conditions. This new study was conducted out in the wilderness. The researchers shone heat lamps down on newly planted trees, buried heaters in the soil and measured how the plants reacted to the stress of warming in their natural environment.

Melanie Harsch, an ecologist at the University of Washington who was not part of this study, says the team's methods make for a more realistic study of "how plants will respond to climate warming."

And the new results "help us to build more realistic and more effective models" of how climate change will impact the environment, Dr. Harsch tells the Monitor.

"Changes are happening and they are going to happen," she says. "This helps us to plan and deal with the impacts of climate change in a more robust way. Our current models are only as good as the underlying data. And this improves the underlying data."

But, says Anne Kelly, an ecologist with the US Geological Survey who was also not part of the study, this may be only part of the picture. The study focused on boreal forests.

"I would be very cautious about applying their results to all kinds of forests everywhere," Dr. Kelly says. Other forests have very different climatic conditions and may see more or less precipitation, and these other factors could affect how readily the trees acclimate to global warming.

But "Boreal forests are one of the biggest biomes in the world and they store an incredible amount of carbon and they're projected to store a lot more carbon with warming. This study shows that they may be able to store that much more than we ever expected," she tells the Monitor.

"This, for once, is a bit of good news," Steven Running, a forest ecologist at the University of Montana who was not involved in this study tells the Monitor. "It shows that the system will continue to adapt as fast as it can and it will probably adapt in some additional ways like this that we're not expecting."

But, cautions Montgomery, this study doesn't mean we can let our carbon dioxide emissions run rampant because the trees will clean up the mess.

Although "we really have been overestimating this respiration signal in the carbon cycle," she says. "They're still emitting more" carbon dioxide than they would without the increasing temperatures.

 on: Feb 20, 2017, 05:53 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
China's forest conservation program shows proof of success

China's forest conservation programs show a decade of improvement in tree cover.  Globally, deforestation continues, but at a slowing pace.   

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer
CS Monitor

China appears to have turned the corner on deforestation.

Beijing implemented a forest conservation program in 1998. And we now have proof that it's working.

Logging and clear cutting shrank China's forests for decades, but from 2000 to 2010, the nation saw a net gain in tree cover, according to new data.

A team of scientists studied the nation's forests using satellite images, eyeing where tree cover expanded and decreased. Over the decade they saw significant recovery in about 1.6 percent of China's territory, while 0.38 percent continued to lose tree cover. Their findings are reported in a paper published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

"Before there was widespread deforestation," study author Andrés Viña of Michigan State University's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview. "Now that has stopped and there is a net gain in forest cover."

Forests harbor immense biodiversity, prevent soil erosion, and act as carbon sinks – scrubbing the atmosphere of carbon dioxide.

Trees grow by taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away in their roots, trunks, limbs and leaves until they die and decompose, when the carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Currently, elevated carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are heating up the planet. Forests are key, natural tools in mitigating climate change.

But forests have lost some 319 million acres, an area just larger than South Africa, over the past quarter century. Conservation programs like the one in China are starting to turn those trends around.
China's conservation program

For decades, Chinese forests were ravaged by the timber industry and clear cutting to convert areas to farmland. Biodiversity was lost, and flooding and soil erosion became significant issues without these trees to maintain the balance in the ecosystem.

There was catastrophic fallout. Losses from flash flooding in the summer of 1998 alone reached $20 billion. In response, Beijing instituted the Natural Forest Conservation Program (NFCP).

The NFCP targeted sensitive regions that had been significantly degraded over the previous five decades, such as regions around the headwaters and other upstream portions of major rivers. A significant part of the NFCP has been extensive bans on logging in natural forests, instead shifting towards other timber sources.

From 1998 to 2000, the government had already invested over $2 billion in the conservation program. By the turn of the century, timber harvests from China's natural forests had been reduced from 32 million cubic meters (42 million cubic yards) in 1997 to 23 million cubic meters (30 million cubic yards) in 1999.

But that didn't mean China's thriving manufacturing industry was just going without timber. The nation now sees significant timber imports from places like Vietnam, Madagascar, and Russia, Dr. Viña says. "We think that success in reducing deforestation in China is basically being transferred into deforestation in other regions," he says.

"Over the long-term, sustainable forest management in China is important for forests in the rest of the world," says Robert Tansey, senior advisor for external affairs and policy in Northeast Asia and Greater China at The Nature Conservancy, who was not part of the study.

A global issue

"When it comes down to climate and carbon sequestration, these are global problems," Kevin Griffin, an ecologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who was not part of this study, tells the Monitor in a phone interview.

But this study just looked at China's success in forest conservation. Dr. Griffin says, "When you analyze them on national levels, you have to be mindful of the fact that savings in one country might mean a loss in another one."

Viña agrees, "In this globalized world we need to go beyond national analysis. Now we have to go into international, cross-boundary analysis."

Worldwide, the picture is less optimistic. Forest cover in many regions is still shrinking. 

Although global deforestation has yet to reverse course, reports do suggest it is slowing. In fact, global deforestation rates have been cut in half since 1990, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA). In the 1990s, an average of 0.18 percent of the world's forests were lost each year, but from 2010 to 2015, that average loss dropped to 0.08 percent.

"It is encouraging to see that net deforestation is decreasing and that some countries in all regions are showing impressive progress. Among others, they include Brazil, Chile, China, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Turkey, Uruguay, and Viet Nam," FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said in a press release in 2015.

And with decreasing deforestation, that means more carbon storage. The FAO also reported that carbon emissions from forests decreased by 25 percent from 2001 to 2015.

Big picture or whole picture?

Narrowing in on one nation isn't the only limitation to this new study of China's forests, Griffin says. Satellite images can examine overall tree cover, but the picture is a lot more complex than simply counting trees and net forest mass. Different tree species and different types of forests can sequester more or less carbon or provide habitats for a different set of plants and animals, he says. And they might not be just the same as the degraded forests they're replacing.

For example, a recent study, published in the journal Science, shows that an expansion of forests towards dark green conifers in Europe has increased, rather than mitigated global warming. The findings challenge the widespread view that planting more trees helps human efforts to slow the Earth’s rising temperatures. Apparently, not all trees have the same mitigating effect, reported the Monitor.

Although satellite imagery is "a really great tool to apply to a global problem" and the net increase in forest cover is a step in the right direction, the issue of regrowth is more complex than just simple snapshots, Griffin says.

But generally, "knowing the status of our forests is super important," he says. "The forest provides an immense number of ecosystem services, everything from clean water and oxygen to habitat and biodiversity."

Mr. Tansey says, "Nature serves people's needs.

 on: Feb 20, 2017, 05:49 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Did monkeys cross the ocean to North America?

Scientists have unearthed monkey teeth that could significantly change the animals' migration history.

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer
CS Monitor   

Scientists have long thought that monkeys first ventured from South America into North America no earlier than about 4 million years ago, when the two continents merged. But seven teeth unearthed in Panama may change that story.

These monkey teeth were discovered encased in 21-million-year-old rocks. This suggests that the primates accomplished the impossible, crossing the more than 100 miles of ocean that separated South America from North America at the time.

These prehistoric monkeys, which probably looked like today's capuchin monkeys, are the only mammals known to cross this watery boundary so early, says Jonathan Bloch. Dr. Bloch, the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, is the lead author of a paper announcing this find, which was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Today the two American continents are connected by the Isthmus of Panama, the strip of land that separates the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. But around 21 million years ago, Panama was just a peninsula extending off of North America, with the Central American Seaway separating the two continents.

That body of water was thought insurmountable for animal migrations, until now. So how could monkeys have crossed such a barrier?

It's unlikely that they swam, Bloch says. Instead, they likely rafted over to Panama on a mat of vegetation.

"When there are events like hurricanes or major earthquakes or tsunamis, vegetation and clumps of dirt can get washed off the shore. Animals can come along with it," explains Siobhán Cooke, a paleobiologist at Northeastern Illinois University who was not part of this study.

"Monkeys are pretty good dispersers," Dr. Cooke tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview, and some monkeys have made it to live on islands. "It isn't surprising that they were able to disperse to North America," she says.

Scientists think this wasn't the first time monkeys rafted across seawater.

Monkeys are thought to have evolved in Africa, so "one of the big mysteries in studying monkey evolution has always been how did monkeys get to South America," Bloch tells the Monitor. Similar monkeys to the South American ones emerged in the fossil record about 40 million years ago in northern Africa. Then, between 34 and 37 million years ago, they somehow made their way to South America.

But monkeys don't appear in the fossil record on any other continents at the time, so they must have taken a direct route. The vegetation raft hypothesis emerged to explain that trek.

Once in South America, the monkeys dispersed across the region and established themselves as a separate lineage: platyrrhines, or New World monkeys.

"Platyrrhines are a very important part of modern ecosystems in South America today," Bloch says. Today's population includes squirrel monkeys and howler monkeys. In central America today, you can find capuchins, or "organ grinder" monkeys.

Monkeys were thought to have spread from the once-island continent of South America north into central America as part of the Great American Biotic Interchange, which followed the creation of the Isthmus of Panama. During that time many animals migrated across the newly formed land bridge both north and south.

Opossums, armadillos, and porcupines are thought to have entered North America over the Isthmus of Panama at the time. Deer, cats, raccoons, bears, and other animals migrated south.

Any migration was thought impossible before this event. But this new find "indicates that there was dispersal between the two continental landmasses prior to the complete formation of the Isthmus of Panama," Cooke says. "It changes the story of dispersal across that region."

As scientists are discussing New World monkey evolution, North America is never mentioned before a few million years ago, says Bloch. But "now we know that North America plays a role in the evolution of monkeys."

And it's not just any monkey, he says. "It's well-nested within the family tree of living platyrrhines."

The morphology of these teeth suggest that they belong to a monkey that was closely related to the squirrel monkeys and capuchin monkeys still alive today. Bloch and his colleagues named the new species Panamacebus transitus.

Not only can this new find shed light on monkey migration, but it also can say something about our own evolutionary history, says Cooke.

"These are organisms that are closely related to us," she says. "They're part of our lineage. We are primates after all. This helps us learn a little bit more about what our cousins were doing, where they were, and what their evolutionary history involved."

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