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Are we at risk of a megadrought in the PNW?

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 12, 2014
Photo: Andy Simonds

Photo: Andy Simonds

One of the caveats I always state when presenting the results of our research on projected climate change impacts on PNW agricultural production is: we don’t yet know if climate change will disrupt our existing regional climate cycles. To date, the climate forecasts for our region indicate a future where climate change amplifies the current cycles – resulting in a future that is warmer and possibly slightly wetter on average, but still keeping the pattern of relatively short-cycling between wet and dry periods. These wet and dry periods rarely last for more than a couple of years. Read more »

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The biggest threat to food security?

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 9, 2014

In a recent interview that covered the gamut of oft-cited threats to agricultural sustainability and food security (drought, food safety, energy disruption, economics, terrorism, chemical pollution, genetic pollution, impacts on pollinators, soil erosion, climate change, etc.), I was asked which threat I thought was the biggest. I was completely stumped. For every threat that came to mind as “the big one” I could come up with at least two arguments why a different threat was bigger. Read more »

Dairy Waste Biorefineries: An Innovative Way to Further Reduce Greenhouse Gases on Dairies in Washington State

Posted by Nicholas Kennedy | September 3, 2014

Washington State, 10th in milk production nationally, is also at the top of the list for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced from dairy cattle. According to the latest statistics by the EPA, in 2012 Washington State ranked 8th in methane (CH4) emissions from dairy manure management and 12th in nitrous oxide (NO) emissions (EPA, 2014). Understanding the effect the dairy industry has on climate change has led the state to leverage its many public research institutions and agencies including the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), Washington State Department of Ecology, and Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources  (WSU CSANR) to help dairy farmers better manage and mitigate GHG emissions on large scale dairies also known as concentrated animals feeding operations (CAFOs). Read more »

Have we drastically underestimated the productive capacity of plants?

Posted by Chad Kruger | August 28, 2014

A new paper published in Environmental Science & Technology (DeLucia et al., 2014) suggests that scientists have drastically underestimated the earth’s theoretical potential to produce biomass – by as much as 2 orders of magnitude! That’s going to take a minute to wrap my mind around.

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The Reactive Nitrogen “Wicked Problem”– critical nutrient, disastrous pollutant

Posted by Craig Frear | August 11, 2014

Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Director of the Purdue University Climate Change Research Center, Dr. Otto Doering, recently gave a keynote speech where he highlighted his definition of Wicked Problems facing the globe and the US.

In brief, he used US struggles regarding affordable health care and the debate regarding the Affordable Health Care Act as a prime example of a Wicked Problem. Regardless where one might stand politically on such an issue, it is clear that the issues of affordable health care and potential policy solutions are of great importance to many, with its tentacles reaching into vast and diverse sectors of our society. No clear consensus on how to solve the problem appears to be present, due to the complexities and interrelationships involved. In particular, solutions can be shown to result in a cascade of unknown consequences, either positive or negative, with individual stakeholders holding a diversity of economic, personal and social viewpoints.  Read more »

Cold + Dry = Winterkill : 2013-14 Winter in Review

Posted by Andrew McGuire | June 18, 2014

Remember last winter? As June warms and temperatures in the 90s are in the forecast, it may be hard to recall, but here in the Columbia Basin, it was dry with a few notable cold spells. That combination of cold and dry can be hard on plants, agricultural and ornamental.

Plants, both annuals and perennials, from wheat to lavender, alfalfa to ziziphus, vary in their ability to survive winter conditions. However, there are three factors that combined to make last winter a “hard winter.” Read more »

Making Farming “Climate Friendly”: What is the impact of nitrous oxide in our region?

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | June 17, 2014

If you are interested in ensuring that farming is climate friendly you are likely to start thinking about nitrous oxide (N2O). Nitrous oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas (298 times as powerful as carbon dioxide, over a 100-year time frame). And nitrous oxide from agricultural soils is the single biggest contributor to agriculture’s direct greenhouse gas emissions, as estimated through inventories of greenhouse gas emissions. In Washington State, it was estimated that nitrous oxide from soils accounted for 46% of direct greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in 2008.1 However, these estimates rely on “default” assumptions about nitrous oxide emissions that were developed from global data – and a review of existing experimental data in our region suggests these defaults may not be appropriate in our region. Read more »

National Climate Assessment

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 19, 2014
Nikki Stephen

Palouse (photo: Nikki Stephen)

The US Global Change Research Program released the Third National Climate Assessment a couple of weeks ago. Unlike some other recent climate report releases (USDA’s Climate Change and Agriculture Report, the Northwest Climate Assessment and the IPCC AR5 Draft Report), this one seemed to have been picked up to a much greater extent by the major national and regional news agencies. In fact, I’ve been interviewed by two separate NPR reporters in the region for my interpretation on what the Assessment means for PNW agriculture. Part of the reason for the media attention likely stems from the much more aggressive promotional messaging – specifically stating that climate change is hurting the economy now (I’ll have more to say on that idea in a future post).

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When engineering a green solution has gone too far…

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 12, 2014

I’ve seen a lot of crazy ideas in the realm of agricultural technology and even toyed with a few crazy ideas myself. Crazy ideas seem to have an appeal in our society that exceeds any rational expectation for the likely success or concern regarding the downside of any given technology. Perhaps this is because people are always looking for the next revolutionary technology like tractors, hybrid seeds, and solar fence electrifiers. Or perhaps it’s because we’re hard-wired to expect technological silver bullets to solve distinctly human problems. In fact, I suspect the reason that our own crazy (and not quite perfect) idea for a household-scale biogas reactor is among the most visited pages on the CSANR website is because it conjures up images of this infamous science fiction idea:

Who wouldn’t want to have that? Read more »

Summer nights are getting hotter faster than summer days. What does it mean for agriculture?

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 8, 2014

Nick Bond, the Washington State Climatologist, pointed out an interesting observation at a meeting I attended last week. For summers from 2000-2010, nighttime temperatures (T-min) in many locations in the Pacific Northwest have shown a strong warming trend while daytime temperatures (T-max) have shown a general cooling trend (Panel 1).   Each circle on the map is scaled based on the station’s temperature trend with red indicating increasing temperature and blue decreasing. This could be part of the reason I’ve had trouble sleeping at night in recent summers – more below!

Panel 1: Summer Min (nighttime) and Max (daytime) Temperatures: 2000-2010;   Source: http://www.climate.washington.edu/trendanalysis/

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