Sunday, June 10, 2012

Inecol 9 day 5, and the flight home

Friday was the last day of Intecol 9. Idecided  to not attend the talks, since I was busy packing and working on a manuscript. The flight from Orlando to Warsaw via Frankfurt went fine, and I brought with me a lot of good memories from the conference. When I finally went to bed, I had been awake for 36 hours. In 8 days we are moving from Warsaw to Sweden, although I will fly down to Warsaw for meetings.

Intecol 9 day 4, when all hell broke loose

Thursday was showtime for me, but the day started with a plenary talk by climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf. He went through what many already know, that the warming that has occurred already had its theoretical explanation laid out more than hundred years ago, and that the warming that has occurred was predicted before it happened. He compared the current situation to the last IPCC report, and the conclusion is that the last report underestimated the rate of the melt of th arctic sea ice, as well as the rate of the sea level rise, which has gone from a linear increase, to an accelerating increase. This led to questions from the audience about the North Carolina bill, that forces planning for sea level rise in North Carolina, to be made after a linear increase. Rahmstorf answered that he just came from a meeting in North Carolina were one of the bills founders was present, and he could only say that the North Carolina bill basically makes it illegal for planners to take reality into account. Sea level has gone from increasing with 1 mm per year to now increasing with 3 mm per year.

Then came Tom Armstrong who talked about what the U.S. Is doing to combat climate change. He pointed out that the cost of climate related damages is increasing in the U.S. It would turn out that one person in the audience would lash out at Armstrong later.

Rebecca Rooney talked about the environmental cost of "Ethical oil" as Canada likes to call its tar-sand oil. This is a topic that really interests me since it is insane amounts of peatlands that are destroyed, which makes the oil more polluting than any other oil on the planet. I was however the next one to speak after Rooney, so my concentration was partly on her presentation, and partly on my presentation.

My talk went perfect, and I received questions about the level of water level increase, and if peat-production can be used as a functional trait. The water level increased wit ca 20+ cm (Hedberg et. al 2012, Biological Conservation), and peat production can be a trait. The simplest way is a binary trait (yes for plants that produce peat, no for plants that don´t produce peat). Another option is a discrete scale with grades for how good plants are at producing peat.

After me Kevin Hedge presented a really nice biomimicry for cleaning water. It is floating islands with thousands of small pores that mimic the water-cleaning effect of wetlands. The thousands of small pores create a huge surface area that bacterias that bind Phosphorous, Copper, Zink, Nitrogen and ammoniac bind to. Vegetation can be planted on the islands, and they have made some very decorative islands for some customers were making the harbor environment more beautiful was a part-goal. When plants are added, the nutrient removal increases with 50%. The number of islands and the size can be adjusted after how polluted the water is. Currently 4400 Floating Treatment Wetlands ( as they call them) have been installed.

After the lunch I had a great tweetup with Jeff Trullick from the US Army Corps of Engineers who was tweeting with the hashtag #Intecol9 just like I did. We had a good talk about the gas-exploration going on in the. U.S, as well as the protection of the rivers that create the majestic waterfalls along the Maryland fall line.

In the afternoon I sat and listened to Tomasz Okrusko from the Agricultural University of Warsaw who talked about the ecosystem services provided by European wetlands. After him Ed Maltby from the U.K. talked about the way wetland ecosystem services are now identified in the U.K. And how there has been a trend from seeing wetlands as purely a nature conservation issue, to taking into account their huge functional importance.

Then Edward Richards went up on stage and all hell broke loose. I had already thought of leaving. Edwards title "The challenge of steady coastal law in the time of rising oceans" was of course interesting, but I was tired, and wanted to get a paper submitted before a 12 hour flight the next day. I did not plan to stay, but what can I say? When someone starts a presentation by saying that his title could just as well have been "The highway to hell" you react. When the same person goes on to say that "people are going to die and wetlands will disappear, unless scientists stand up", then you´re stuck. He mocked how the plenary speaker Armstrong talked about how the government cares about climate change, and said that the only department that takes climate change seriously is the department of National Security, because they have to look at the reality, of for example the consequence to national security in a situation where most of Bangladesh's population emigrate to other countries. He was particularly angry about what he saw as the madness in how people in New Orleans seam to believe that it is a human right for them to be able to live were they always have lived, despite that the land is sinking (1 m within 100 years), and that the sea level is rising at the same time. This is done by the government financing an unsustainable levee system according to Richards. A 1 m sea level increase would force everybody to move 40 miles inland, because Louisiana is flat, very flat. Currently sediments are dropped outside the Louisiana coast, where they according to Richards only can create some patchy marsh vegetation. The best place to dump the sediment would according to him be be in the area were the poorest people live in New Orleans,  and that lies 8 feet below sea level, then we might be able to accomplish something he said. He added that this idea is however not very popular with the people living there, and if you say that they have to move, you will be called a racist, just because you don't think that the people living there deserves to drown first. He stated that "We look at the dutch, but there wouldn't bee any dutch if Europe had hurricanes." "Some of you are working with trying to get others to reduce their carbon footprint. I applaud you, but it is not going to work. There is not going to be a global agreement in the coming 50, perhaps even 100 years, so we are pretty much set for this time period."

He finished with saying, "I have three minutes left, but I am going to stop here for questions, because I could go on an rant about this for days. It would be like Castro and the Polit bureau.

Ok, let's make one thing clear. Edwards is not a wetland scientist, but he is a professor in law, who has been entrusted by the government on issues relating to National Security, and working as a professor in Louisiana he is familiar with the situation in New Orleans, and holds classes in coastal law. Together with this he has an undergraduate degree in biology. Most people probably agree with him that there is very little signs of progress when it comes to an international binding agreement to limit the release of greenhouse gases.

I ran into Richards during the coffee break, and thanked him for a very humorous and interesting presentation. Oh well, he said, I don't think I changed anything, but when the next hurricane comes I will at least be able to say, "I told you so".

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Intecol 9, Day 3

The third day of Intecol 9 had two good key-note presentations. Richard Beifuss from the International Crane foundation spoke about his experience from wetland conservation in the Zambezi river basin. He mentioned that the threats to wetlands in Africa in general and the Zambezi region as well is hydropower, biofuel production and shrimp production. At the same time poverty is a big problem and power generation is needed to lift the region out of poverty. Temperature trends for southern Africa are on the upper parts of the climate models, and the Zambezi basin has among the worst outlooks in the world with an expected 26-40 % water loss. Beifuss stated that he is an optimist. Communities are advocating for wetland ecosystem services and research and monitoring capacity is being build up.

Lynn Scarlet spoke about challenges of shared governance for coastal and wetlands management. Hurricane Ike caused 20 billion USD in coastal damages along the Gulf Coast, and the response of such an event demands effective shared governance for success. Many of the challenges the world faces, such as climate change and biodiversity loss transcends political jurisdictions. Most of all, collaborative shared government saves money.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Intecol 9, Day 2

Dr. Brij Gopal spoke about the experiences from Wetland conservation in India. He pointed out that human dependence on wetlands has been highest in the tropical and subtropical regions, and that wetland restoration for waterfowl, although a recent trend in Europe and the U.S. occurred already in the 10th century. Sri Lanka has more than 10 000 human made water reservoirs that can be seen as artificial wetlands. In India wetlands first became known as a nuisance to human health during the British colonization. He voiced criticism against how the Ramsar convention is followed, since countries who have signed the convention has pledged to also conserve wetlands that they have not listed as Ramsar sites, and this is not occurring.

Dr. Karin Kattenring had an interesting presentation about the problem of a European genotype of Phragmites australis that has become invasive in the U.S., although Phragmites australis is indeed a problem in European wetlands as well. Genetic analysis shows that the species although capable of spreading clonaly is spreading sexually at their site. They have found that the viability of the seeds is linked to cross fertilization, and they are now attempting a conservation strategy by spraying Glycophosphate (The thing in Roundup) on Phragmites australis to reduce the population, and thereby the genetic diversity, which should make the seeds less viable. Personally the idea of spraying Glycophosphate in a wetland is not very appealing to me, but there are indeed culture differences between Europe and the. U.S. when it comes to conservation and restoration (we don´t get to play with flame throwers for example). Dr. Kattering told about that she introduced Phragmites australis into a wetland for an important experiment, and brought down a lot of laughter when she added. “Yes, I admit, we did introduce Phragmites australis into a wetland, and I don´t always sleep very well when I think about it.”

Dr. Chris Joyce spoke about the effects of rewetting as a part of the E.U. agri-environmental schemes, and his groups results show that sedges benefited from rewetting, and that the change in hydrology had a much higher influence than management regime.

Dr. David Growing and Professor Norbert Hölzel both presented information about restoration of wet grasslands, were Growings experience showed that restorations should be done several years in a row to avoid to high founder effects which sounds logical. Hölzel was of a different opinion as he presented results that showed that seeds that don´t germinate the first year after top-soil removal with subsequent hay-transfer often germinate the following years. A discussion about the invasiveness about top-soil removal followed, since it is not very common in the U.S. It should be said though, that in sites were the nitrogen level, the phosphorous level and the unwanted seed bank is high, and the water table is to low, then top-soil removal is a good way to restore both wet grasslands and fens. Compared to rewetting it also releases far less methane emission as Lukasz Kozub´s poster at this conference showed. It is however a method that is invasive (you do not conserve the soil), and expensive. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Intecol 9 Arriving, pre-conference trip and day 1

After 12 hours on the plane I had reached Orlando, and was ready for the 1 hour line at the US Custom and Border control. Clearly there has been a change, because compared to previous times, the staff were very welcoming, and not the “How dare you stand in line and create so much work for me”-attitude that has been the previous experience. Someone clearly told them that they are the face of the nation, and they listened.

The following day was the pre-conference trip, and I was heading to Wekiwa springs for canoeing on the spring run. Alligators, turtles, Leather-fern, alligator lily and a splashing otter were seen, although I never saw the alligator, but I take the other peoples word for it. After the pre-conference trip I put up my colleagues poster that I am presenting in his absence. It is at board 166 and has attracted some attention at least.

Today was the first day of the Intecol 9 conference, and 1400 people are attending from what I have heard. It started with welcoming speeches by among others the Florida Senator Bob Graham, who got a spontaneous applaud from the 1400 scientists when he said that cutting funding for the environment is not the way out of the economic crisis. He also commented on the denial of climate change and evolution that has been heard from other politicians. He said that “I will give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are not so stupid that they don´t know that it is a fact, but that they deny it for political convenience. “

When the parallel presentations started it was a constant running from room to room, if one wanted to hear the presentations that sounded interesting. This is dependent on that everybody in all rooms follow the time limit, and most of the time it worked very well. Information I picked up the first day.

Qianxin Lin showed how Juncus is much more sensitive to oil exposure than Spartina is, and this was demonstrated both by monitoring the effect of the Deep-water Horizon oil spill, and experimental testing of oil exposure of the two plants at various concentrations of oil.

Micaleila Desotelle spoke about a major oil-sand spill from a pipeline that transports tar-sand oil. It occurred in Michigan right after the Deep-water Horizon oil spill, and therefore got limited media coverage. Birds, turtles, mammals and vegetation were affected.

Sylvie de Blois presented information on how climate models can predict very accurately the current distribution of wetland species in Quebec, but not the distribution of abundance. The models show that species will shift their range 2 degrees (300 km) north somewhere between 2071 and 2100.

Among the posters there was one comment on a poster by Cimon-Morin et al. that I found interesting. The poster presented information regarding how to use ecosystem services for wetland conservation planning in remote areas. They conclude that the economic value of ecosystem services decrease the further away a site is from populated areas, but at the same time the regulating functions (e.g. high biodiversity) increases, which raises the question of the value of evaluating ecosystem services in this way.

There were plenty of more that was presented, but these are my highlights of day 1. 
On Thursday 11:20 is my presentation about using Functional Diversity analysis to analyze environmental constraints in restoration.