Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ants Adapt to Rapid Rise in Temperatures

Ants sometimes resemble humans in their organization of social structure and the way they form colonies similar to our cities. Scientists at Indiana State University are conducting tests to determine how ants are able to withstand temperatures up to 2o degrees warmer than normal conditions. It seems that the leaf cutter ants of Sao Paulo are the most imprevious to heat, and can withstand high temps for much longer than their rural relatives. The study hopes to shed light on ways humans may be able to cope with the ever increasing dangers of urban heat islands, where temperatures rise to abnormally high levels due to the heat absorption of concrete and buildings.
Full article

Dr. Brian Fisher, Entomologist

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting Brian Fisher, an expert on Ants. How funny it is that I'd just read the article about the leaf cutter ants of Sao Paulo!
I first learned of Brian's work a few years back when he curated an exhibit at the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It was a comprehensive collection of live ant colonies, including a colony army ants so fierce they can bring down animals larger than humans. I must admit, I never looked at ants the same afterwards. They are truly worth looking at closely, with their diverse adaptations that make each one unique, and leave you to wonder how we could all come from the same planet.
Brian is currently working on a book and has collaborated on a website with maps, articles and photographs on ants. He has written more articles on ants than I can count, available to download from the California Academy of Sciences. He also is working on survey where people can catalogue their finds to create a map on the different species found in the Bay Area. Brian admitted he loves his work so much he wants everyone to share his information, but recently someone stole some information on the web and claimed it as their own. Brian has to date discovered over 800 species of ants in his explorations. And he's a nice guy, so if you use any of his work, make sure you give him the credit and link back to him so he can continue the research!

Check out AntWeb

Friday, April 27, 2007

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature

Animals have invented everything first, including the wheel.
Author Janine Benyus takes us on a journey into the world of nature and science and follows the research of biomimicry. Humans created porcelain, pretty neat invention- an incredibly strong and durable material that requires heat to strengthen. Abalone have done better-their shells are stronger than porcelain, created right next to their bodies, at conditions conducive to life.
Snails grow their structures, without using toxic substances, without cutting away unused pieces, and without waste. As they grow, so does their home. How can we do that?
Scientists are asking these questions, and many are finding surprising results. A group in Idaho have cloned mussel proteins to make a super glue that works under water. Others from the University of Leads have produced a cane for the blind using ultrasonic signals just like bats.
By learning how animals solve problems, we can learn to life on earth sustainably, safely, without compromising the health of ourselves or other species.
As I read Janine's book, I walked around for days marvelling at all the desings of nature I could see. It made me want to do some work like this myself.

Go to Janine's website

Biomimicry Institute

Humans love to engineer our world, so much that we've discovered ways of altering our entire planet. But how have other animals managed to supply all the necessities of life without the benefit of our spectacular technologies inventions? That's the challenge set forth by the folks at the Biomimicry Institute in Montana: to find ways of bringing nature's solutions into the world of humans, for a world more inhabitable to us all.
The Institute currently holds lectures and workshops for architects and engineers, classes for children, college courses at universities, and soon they'll have a 2 year degree program. They're also developing their own version of an X prize for biomimicry, and a database where professionals can find solutions from nature to solve their own design challenges.
I'm excited because I've been accepted into the program, and next month will be attending a week long course called Biologists at the Design Table. It's a series for biologists, naturalists and ecologists (like me) to teach them how to use their knowledge to assist engineers, architects and designers in their work. This is perfect for a girl like me, who can identify the botanical name and habitat of just about every plant she sees, yet has a hard time relating that as anything but useless trivia to anyone else! We'll be out in the fresh air of Montana, playing and learning, and you'll be missing my blog, since I'll be far from a port (I hope).

Go to the Biomimicry Institute Homepage

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

California Faces Drought Year

The verdict is out- the lack of winter rain this year has left county reservoirs at lows not seen since the 1992 drought. Southern California saw the least amount as rainfall fell at 50% below normal in some counties. Many of Northern California's reservoirs are reporting normal levels after experiencing unusually high amounts of rain last year, but officials say there are still reasons to conserve. It is unknown for certain if we could face more severe drought in the future as climates shift. With the dry summer, the entire Northwest Coast will most likely face greater risk of fire in open space and forests.
Landscapes account for 70-80% of residential water used in the state, so water restrictions may be likely.
for KQED Podcast

So How Important is Water Conservation?

So what are the facts about water use in the United States, and why is it so important to find ways to conserve water?
I'm working on a project right now where I need to refamiliarize myself with the LEED standards for landscape. According to my latest LEED manual, Americans withdraw approximately 340 billion gallons of fresh water per day from rivers, streams and reservoirs. Wow, that's a lot of toilet flushes! In addition to surface sources, water is drawn from aquifers. In some parts of the US, the drain on aquifers have drawn water levels 100 feet lower in the ground. A very small amount of water is actually returned to the natural sources, creating a deficit every year of 3,700 billion gallons. Yes, that's 3,700 billion. As water tables get lower, finding water becomes more difficult, for humans and local forests, farms, and watersheds.
Landscaping accounts for 30% of water consumed in the US, (with some places like California using as much as 80% for their yards.)
The Energy Policy Act of 1992 mandated that water-conserving plumbing fixtures be installed to reduce water use in residential and commercial buildings. The amount of water used in agriculture has also decreased since the 50's, when water conservation policies began to be developed.
According to LEED, further steps to reduce water demands can save 30% or more each year.
Recycled water can be used for landscape irrigation, flushing toilets, custodial purposes and building systems. Capturing rainwater from the roof can also be used for these purposes.
Savings can reach thousands per year, resulting in almost immediate payback for water conservation infrastructure. As the cost of water increases (it already has gasoline beat) the savings return will also increase.
Don't know about LEED but want to know more? Check out their website!
American Rainwater Catchment Systems
Greywater Systems, Compost Toilets, Rain Collection
The Irrigation Association

A Case for Grey Water

For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, grey water is classified in Wikipedia as water that has passed through the home and down the drain, minus the toilet water.
New Mexico and Arizona are among the states who have welcomed the use of grey water for landscape irrigation, so long as participants register their systems and agree to follow guidelines. New Mexico lead the way after a ten year study of illegal systems by a grassroots group seeking to gain GW's legal approval. The study found no serious health risks to humans when GW was used properly.
Never seen a grey water system? Well, neither have I. Many municipalities and even states have bans on using greywater, some of these bans date back to when sanitation issues were of the most concern. With modern technology, these greywater systems are completely safe, but it takes time to change the laws. I hope that will all change soon, as landscapes account for 70-80% of residential water used. It makes sense to recycle our water, and so far the biggest obstacle seems to be the cost to get all the proper permits.

for a database of Greywater safety, guidelines and legislation by state and regions
check out Rana Creek, a company who uses grey water on many projects

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

SFWater Makes Nice with Bad Pet Owners

SF Public Utilities asks us this week to clean up after our pets. Nice start, but they could say a lot more. Pet feces don't just stink- they're an ecological disaster. So far they've been linked to the sudden collapse of the once-recovering populations of sea otters off the Pacific. I have a feeling the effects are not limited to sea otters, however. When you stop to think that there are 120,000 dogs in the city of San Francisco alone, and each dog poops at least once a day, well...thats a whole lot of shit.
Don't let your efforts to improve your local environment slip by pretending not to see when Sebbie or Sage or Fido poop in the ivy. You too make a difference.
for SFWater doggie request
NWF Green Pet report
Wikipedia on Sea Otters

EPA's Committment to the Planet

“[The EPA’s] action was therefore arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” -U.S Supreme Court
In this week's Land Online from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), we get a pretty picture of the history of the EPA and their continued committment to protecting the environment. That's funny- I thought the EPA was created to do just that!
Surprise, Surprise. It takes states of Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington; the cities of the District of Columbia, Baltimore, New York City; and a dozen environmental groups to push the EPA into regulating carbon. In a 5-4 Supreme Court decision on April 2, the EPA is indeed responsible for regulating carbon as part of the Clean Air Act (CAA). Up until now they have denied any responsibility for it, claiming that it was not a part of the initial CAA so therefore they have no jurisdiction to regulate it.
But the victory for pro-environment groups was short-lived, as days later Bush undermined the court ruling by stating that no regulation can harm economic growth.
"The president still doesn't get it," responded House Speaker, Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Global warming will have a much more detrimental effect on growth than he could ever imagine.
Listen to Barbara Boxer's interview with Air America's Ecotalk
the truth will out blog report

Sunday, April 22, 2007

How has climate change effected you?

"Normally, by January 1, I'd have had several opportunities to cross-country ski right here in my own neighbourhood.
Instead, I've killed several mosquitoes found flitting around in my house!"

It seems this year we all have a story of how the weather surprised us. With Californians enjoying the winter and its lack of rain this winter to folks in the Midwest being pounded by late winter snow, the stories keep coming in. The US isn't alone. It seems what we have seen so far of global warming has been more of a global shifting, with some areas of the world seeing far colder temperatures while other seeing far warmer. The BBC asked readers from around the world to share thier stories, and compiled a database with the most relevant tales.
for full article at BBC

White House hands more than 100 top environmental posts to representatives of polluting industries

Even Vanity Fair has jumped on the Green bandwagon, with May's edition sporting a big section on the topic. Writer Robert Kennedy JR points out a fact that may keep the wheels of change from getting a foothold- the bureacracy continues.
Spinning the revolving door between government and business as never before, the White House has handed more than 100 top environmental posts to representatives of polluting industries. The author provides a biographical sampler–and describes a devastating rollback of three decades of progress.

see full story