20 Aug 2013:
Google ‘Street View’ Will
Document Changes to World's Coral Reefs
Marine biologists are teaming up with Google to photograph detailed 360-degree panoramas of coral reefs around the globe. Using technology similar to
Google’s Street View feature, users will be able to survey coral reefs much like they might scope out a city block. The project, Google Street View Oceans
, has already surveyed a 150-kilometer stretch of the Great Barrier Reef and is now working on reefs in the Caribbean
. "Only 1 percent of humanity has ever dived on a coral reef, and by making the experience easily accessible the survey will help alert millions of people around the world to the plight of coral reefs," said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia who is leading the survey. Image recognition software will log the distribution and abundance of marine organisms, and the researchers hope "citizen scientists" viewing the reefs will help assess other key measures of reef health.
19 Aug 2013:
Future Flood Losses
Could Increase Ten Times by 2050
The rapid growth of the world’s coastal cities, coupled with sea level rise and land subsidence, could mean that flood losses in major metropolitan areas could rise from
$6 billion in 2005 to more than $60 billion in 2050
, according to a new study. Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change
, researchers said sea level increases of 8 to 16 inches by 2050 could cause $60 billion to $63 billion in damages in 136 of the world’s coastal cities.
That figure assumes the cities will undertake some flood control measures. Cities whose infrastructure and buildings are now most at risk — including New York; New Orleans; Miami; Guangzhou, China; and Osaka, Japan — will be joined in four decades by other rapidly growing cities,
such as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
16 Aug 2013:
Ecuador Abandons Moratorium
On Oil Drilling in Biodiverse Yasuni Park
The Ecuadorian government has abandoned its moratorium on oil drilling in Yasuni National Park
as a proposal to protect the park with the help of international donations fell apart. In a nationally televised speech, President Rafael Correa blamed the failure of the ambitious conservation plan on a lack of funds, saying that a UN-administered trust fund had raised only $13 million of the $3.6 billion target. Located in eastern Ecuador, where the Amazon basin ascends into the Andes, Yasuni is home to an unprecedented number of animal and plant species
. According to a 2010 study
, one section of the park held at least 200 species of mammals, 247 amphibian and reptile species, and 550 species of birds. But Yasuni also sits atop an estimated 1 billion barrels of oil. Correa had said Ecuador would forego oil income and protect the park if foreign donors would contribute billions of dollars to compensate for the loss of oil revenue.
15 Aug 2013:
Plants in U.S. Southwest
Moving Higher as the Climate Warms
Numerous plant species on a mountain in the southwestern U.S. are migrating to higher elevations
as the climate gets warmer and drier, according to a new
University of Arizona
An alligator juniper on Mount Lemmon
study. After comparing the results of a recent survey of 27 plants found on Mount Lemmon, a 9,157-foot peak near Tucson, Ariz., with a similar survey conducted in 1963, researchers at the University of Arizona found that three-quarters of the plants have shifted their range “significantly” upslope in the last five decades. In some cases, researchers found that the plants had moved upward by as much as 1,000 feet, into a much narrower elevation range than where the plants existed in the early 1960s. Writing in the journal Ecology and Evolution
, the researchers note that the lowermost boundary for 15 of the species has shifted upslope.
Interview: Scientists, Aid Experts
Prepare for a Warmer Future
Harvard University recently sponsored a conference that brought together two groups — climate scientists and humanitarian relief workers — that will undoubtedly be collaborating more closely in the future
as natural disasters intensify in a warming world. The woman who was instrumental in opening a dialogue between these two factions was Jennifer Leaning
, the director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights
at the Harvard School of Public Health. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Leaning says the meeting underscored the huge challenges the aid community will face in a world of more extreme weather and rising seas. But at this point, she says, climate science cannot offer the specific predictions about timing or locations of climate upheaval that the aid community is seeking. “The humanitarians found that the questions they were asking were not the ones that the climate scientists were prepared to answer,” says Leaning. Read the interview
14 Aug 2013:
Bears Using Wildlife Corridors
In Canadian Park, Genetic Tests Show
Genetic testing has revealed that bears in Canada’s Banff National Park routinely cross the bridges and underpasses along the Trans-Canada Highway
, evidence that the ecological corridors provide safe
A grizzly passes through a Banff underpass
passage along a busy roadway that otherwise threatens to fragment wildlife habitat
. Using 420 wire snag “hair traps” and 497 rub trees at 20 crossings to collect hair from passing bears, researchers from Montana State University determined that 15 individual grizzly bears and 17 individual black bears used the passages over a three-year period. According to researchers, those accounted for about 20 percent of the park’s bear populations, suggesting the passageways are providing enough connectivity to maintain a healthy ecosystem for bears and other large mammals. Twenty-five passages were installed in the 1990s
when the government widened a highway that includes a 100-mile stretch bisecting Banff.
13 Aug 2013:
Too Many Urban Beehives
May Do More Harm Than Good, Experts Say
A surge in urban beekeeping may be doing more harm than good to honeybee populations
, according to UK scientists. As the number of rooftop hives increases in cities worldwide
— including London, where there are
A Berlin beekeeper
now 10 hives per square kilometer — two researchers from the University of Sussex warn that too many hives can be detrimental. Writing in The Biologist
, the magazine of the Society of Biology, they suggest that inexperienced beekeepers can create conditions in which there isn’t enough food for their insects. “If there are too many colonies in an area, then the food supply will be insufficient,” Francis Ratnieks, a professor at the university’s Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, told the BBC. “This will mean that colonies do not thrive, and may also affect other species that also visit flowers.”
12 Aug 2013:
Live Video Stream Provides
Rare Glimpse of Deepsea Marine World
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this month is streaming online a live video feed from the deep-sea canyons off the northeastern U.S. coast
, offering a real-time glimpse of
the marine diversity on the ocean floor. In a 36-day expedition launched last month
, NOAA researchers are using a remote-controlled vehicle tethered to the research ship Okeanos Explorer
to capture video footage of rare marine creatures, deep coral communities, and cold vents, or seeps, from largely unexplored U.S. waters. NOAA is employing a remotely operated vehicle, known as Deep Discoverer
, and a sophisticated camera sled to explore and broadcast video — accompanied by real-time narration from scientists — from depths of up to 6,000 meters, or nearly 20,000 feet. The project will continue until August 17.
09 Aug 2013:
Mapping of Monarch Butterfly
Migration Yields Clues About Decline
A comprehensive mapping of the North American migration patterns of the iconic monarch butterfly
could help preserve a species threatened by loss of habitat and food sources
, a team of international
A monarch butterfly
researchers says. In a study conducted across 17 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, from southern Texas to Alberta, biologists from Canada, the U.S., and Australia tracked the northward migration of the monarchs, documenting five generations in a single breeding season. By analyzing a chemical signature found on the adult butterflies’ wings that reveals their specific birthplace, scientists were able to track the different generations of butterflies as they migrated north to the U.S. Midwest, from which many butterflies then traveled to Alberta. According to Tyler Flockhart, a Ph. D. student at the University of Guelph in Canada and lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B
, the decline in milkweed and a surge in genetically modified crops might be affecting monarch survival.
08 Aug 2013:
Conventional Hybrids Better
For Climate than EVs in Most U.S. States
Conventional gas-powered hybrid vehicles are still better for the climate than all-electric cars in most U.S. states, in part because these states still rely heavily on fossil fuels to produce electricity, according to a new report
. In 39 states, high-efficiency hybrids, such as the
Toyota Prius, produce fewer carbon emissions during their lifecycle than the least-polluting electric cars, an analysis by Climate Central found. Although an increased reliance on cleaner energy sources in some parts of the country doubled the number of states (32) where driving electric cars would be more environmentally friendly, that advantage disappeared when analysts also considered the high emissions associated with building the batteries and other components for the EVs. In 11 states, the best all-electric cars are better for the environment than gas-powered hybrids, even when manufacturing is taken into account. In 26 states, plug-in hybrid cars are the most climate-friendly vehicles, the analysis found.
07 Aug 2013:
Mimicking Cactus Design,
Scientists Devise Oil Spill Cleanup Method
Chinese researchers have developed a method of removing oil from polluted water using tiny barbed spikes that mimic the natural design of a cactus
The cactus opuntia microdasys
Writing in the journal Nature Communications
, the Beijing-based researchers describe how arrays of tiny copper spikes, similar to the cone-shaped spikes of a type of cactus known as Opuntia microdasys
, are able to collect micron-sized oil droplets that might otherwise be difficult to remove from water. The copper spikes are extremely thin at their point but get wider as they get closer to the base, creating a pressure difference that pulls droplets of oil toward the artificial skin-like surface. The oil then coalesces at the base of the cone, which can then be removed from the water. “Each conical needle in the array is a little oil collection device,” said Lei Jiang, lead author of the report. In tests, the researchers found that the needle arrays were able to remove about 99 percent of oil content from water, suggesting that the design could lead to new methods of cleaning up oil spills.
06 Aug 2013:
Timelapse Map Illustrates
Steep Growth of U.S. Wind Energy
The U.S. installed more than 13 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity in 2012, nearly doubling the amount of wind power installations added in 2011 and pushing the
total capacity connected to the grid nationally to 60 gigawatts, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy
(DOE). That capacity represents enough electricity to power 15 million homes annually, officials say, adding that for the first time wind energy has become the top source of new electricity generation in the U.S. To coincide with the report, the DOE published an interactive map
illustrating the steep growth in wind projects nationwide, particularly in the last decade. The map shows that until the mid-1990s, only a few dozen wind projects existed, all in California. But by 2000, projects started appearing in states nationwide, particularly in Texas and Iowa. In the past two decades the number of wind energy projects has increased from 49 to 815, the DOE said.
05 Aug 2013:
New Deep-Rooted Rice
Shows Greater Resistance to Drought
Japanese scientists say they have developed a rice plant with deeper roots
that could yield a more drought-resistant variety of rice. Writing in the journal Nature Genetics
, a team of scientists describes the discovery of gene that causes a rice strain known as Kinandang Patong, grown in the dry upland of the Philippines, to send longer roots into the soil, allowing the plant to extract water from deeper soil layers. After splicing the gene with a commonly grown rice strain, called IR64, the scientists found that the maximum root depths were more than twice those of the typical plants. After exposing both strains to moderate and severe drought conditions, the researchers found that yields of the standard variety fell significantly in moderate drought conditions and collapsed altogether in severe drought, while the modified strains were not affected by moderate drought and yields declined only 30 percent in severe drought.
02 Aug 2013:
Prolonged Heat Wave Leaves
Russian Arctic Vulnerable to Wildfires
An enduring high-pressure weather system over the Russian Arctic has led to a prolonged heat wave, creating conditions for another surge in wildfires
a year after a particularly extreme wildfire season. NASA
scientists say that a so-called “blocking high” system — in which rain-bearing systems are blocked from moving west to east — has caused temperatures to reach 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) in the northern city of Norlisk, where daily highs in July typically average 61 degrees F (16 degrees C). Using satellite data, NASA produced a map that vividly depicts the land surface temperature anomalies in the region during the week of July 20-27, with temperatures soaring as high as 37 degrees F above normal. A separate satellite image shows smoke billowing from several fires burning in one of the areas, in the Khanty-Mansiyskiy and Yamal-Nenetskiy districts. According to scientists, the Siberian fires are burning in areas far north of where summer wildfires typically occur.
01 Aug 2013:
Whales Shown to Flee
From Mid-Frequency Military Sonar
Two new studies show that the use of military sonar can provoke whales to flee
, providing evidence that the naval operations may be a factor in mass strandings of whales and dolphins worldwide. According to one study
A blue whale
most marine mammal strandings related to naval sonar exercises involve beaked whales, a notoriously shy species that responds to noise levels well below those used by the U.S. Navy. Scientists believe the beaked whales may interpret the sonar noises as the sounds of killer whales. A separate study
found that even mid-frequency sonar affected the behavior of blue whales, the largest animals on earth, especially during feeding. After exposing tagged blue whales to simulated military sonar and other mid-frequency sounds, the animals often ceased feeding, increased swimming speeds, and traveled away from the sound. “Noise pollution threatens vulnerable populations, driving them away from areas important to their survival, and at worst injuring or even causing the deaths of some whales and dolphins,” Sarah Dolman of the non-profit group Whale and Dolphin Conservation told the Guardian
31 Jul 2013:
Desert Tree Plantings
Could Lower Atmospheric CO2 Levels
The large-scale planting of jatropha trees in the world’s arid regions could help reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide
, a new study says. Using computer models and data from plantations in Egypt, India, and
Madagascar, a team of German scientists calculated that plantations of the durable, scrubby jatropha — which can also be used as a biofuel — could capture 17 to 25 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare annually. Jatropha is particularly suited for so-called “carbon farming” because it can grow in hot, dry regions where the soil is unsuitable for food crops, according to the study, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics
. In addition, the researchers estimate that there are about 1 billion hectares of “unused and marginal” land suitable for cultivating such tree plantations. Since jatropha trees do require some water, the authors suggest they should be planted near coastal regions where desalinated seawater could be accessible.
In Vermont Boat Project, A New
Model for Carbon-Free Shipping
A new sailing barge was launched last month that its backers hope will soon be in the vanguard of a new carbon-neutral shipping alternative. The Vermont Sail Freight Project
hopes to prove that carbon-neutral boats
Vermont Sail Freight Project
The Ceres will haul produce to New York.
can be a viable shipping method for the 21st century, connecting small-scale farmers in Vermont and upstate New York with customers along the Hudson River south to New York City — all while reducing the substantial greenhouse gas emissions that come from conventional shipping of produce by trucks. If all goes as planned, the 39-foot Ceres sailing vessel will this fall begin its 300-mile voyage to New York, delivering pre-ordered produce to customers along the route. This project is one of a growing number of efforts to revive sail-powered transport in connection with sustainable agriculture in the U.S. and Europe. Read more
30 Jul 2013:
Return of Yellowstone Wolves
Triggers Surge in Grizzly's Prized Berries
The reintroduction of wolves at Yellowstone National Park has caused a cascade of ecological effects that has led to the regrowth of berries
, an important food source for the park’s grizzly bears, scientists say. Writing in the
Journal of Animal Ecology
Yellowstone National Park
Grizzly bear at Yellowstone Park
, scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Washington report that the percentage of fruit found in bear scat has nearly doubled during the month of August in recent years. According to researchers, this reflects a recovery of berry bushes triggered in large part by the wolves, which have reduced overbrowsing by the park’s elk herds. The removal of wolves for most of the 20th century triggered the demise of the park’s young aspen and willow trees, as well as berry-producing shrubs, scientists say. According to the report, berries may be so important to the health of bear populations that their recovery could mean a lifting of the species’ “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act
29 Jul 2013:
Wired Honeybees Show
Harmful Impacts of Pesticides on Navigation
Using tiny radar antennae glued to the backs of honeybees, European scientists have found that bees exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides were more likely to become disoriented
and separated from their hives.
Honeybee wired with radar antennae
After attaching the small transponders to 200 bees, including some that were fed pesticide-laced syrup, scientists discovered that the exposed bees had difficulty navigating and were unable to retrace the path back to their hives. “We find the control bees are just fantastic — they use their landscape and their vector memory and they do fine,” Randolf Menzel, an insect neurobiologist at the Free University in Berlin, told the London Telegraph
. “The treated bees, depending on the doses of the substance, are more confused.” The findings appear to support a theory that neonicotinoids make bees more vulnerable to pathogens and could be a factor in so-called “colony collapse disorder,” a phenomenon that has decimated honeybee populations
in recent years.
26 Jul 2013:
Parched New Mexico Reservoir
Reveals Effects of Prolonged Drought
A pair of satellite images released by NASA this week
shows the effects of a severe drought on New Mexico’s largest reservoir, where water levels are at their lowest
levels in four decades. Earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that Elephant Butte reservoir in southern New Mexico was holding about 65,057 acre-feet of water, only 3 percent of its capacity of 2.2 million acre-feet, largely as a result of prolonged drought conditions and unusually low spring snowmelt from nearby mountains. That represents the lowest water levels in the reservoir since 1972. From the mid-1980s to 2000 the reservoir was nearly filled to capacity, as illustrated in a 1994 satellite image, top, released by NASA. The reservoir, fed by the Rio Grande, provides water for about 90,000 acres of agricultural land and about half the city of El Paso, Tex.
25 Jul 2013:
Mapping of Oil Palm Genome
Could Boost Productivity of Key Crop
Scientists say they have identified the gene responsible for the yield of oil palm crops, a discovery that could boost the productivity of the world’s top source of
vegetable oil and help reduce the size of oil palm plantations in the world’s tropical regions. Writing in the journal Nature
, Malaysian and U.S. researchers describe the mapping of the genome of the oil palm, whose products are used in everything from food to cosmetics to biofuels. According to the scientists, the so-called “shell gene” controls “how the thickness of its shell correlates to fruit size and oil yield
.” The fruit of the African palm oil tree comes in three varieties
: a thick-shelled dura, a shell-less pisifera, and a thin-shelled tenera, which produces a greater oil yield. According to scientists, the shell gene plays a key role in a mutation that produces the more commercially productive tenera variety.
24 Jul 2013:
European Investment Bank
Will Not Finance Most Coal Power Stations
The European Investment Bank (EIB), the main lending arm of the European Union, has decided to stop financing most coal-fired power plants
, part of an effort to help the 28-nation bloc meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2030. The EIB says that new and refurbished coal-fired power stations will be ineligible for funding unless they emit less than 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, a standard that traditional coal power plants would be unable to meet. Power stations that burn coal would only be able to meet the standards if they also produce heat for municipal or commercial heating systems or burned biomass. The EIB says it plans to further tighten its emissions standards for coal- and natural gas-fired power plants in the future.
Interview: Leaving Our Descendants
A Whopping Increase in Sea Levels
Last week, a group of scientists led by Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research released a paper
that made a stark forecast:
For every 1 degree Celsius of temperature increase, the world will eventually experience a 2.3-meter increase in sea level. That means that should carbon emissions continue to rise at or near current rates, and temperatures soar 4 to 5 degrees C in the next century or two, the world could well experience sea level increases of many meters — dozens of feet — in the centuries and millennia to come. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Levermann discusses how he and his colleagues reached their conclusions, how much disruption such large sea level increases might cause, and why we need to ponder the effect of our actions on future generations. “Society needs to decide about how much damage it wants to do in the future and how much damage future generations can actually cope with,” he says.
Read the interview
23 Jul 2013:
Booming Cashmere Market
Is Threatening Snow Leopards, Study Says
A surging global market for cashmere is pushing several iconic species, including the snow leopard and wild yak, toward the margins of survival in remote regions where wool-producing goats are raised, according to a new
A snow leopard in the mountains of Central Asia
study. Demand for the luxurious wool, which has spurred a multibillion-dollar industry, has encouraged herders in Asia to drastically increase their livestock, which are devouring a growing share of the grass that had previously been eaten by antelope, wild asses, and their predators. In an analysis conducted in Mongolia, India, and China’s Tibetan Plateau, a team of researchers concluded that 95 percent of forage is now consumed by domestic animals, leaving just 5 percent for wild species, the Guardian reports
. In addition, the researchers noted a rise in the killing of leopards and wolves by herders following predator attacks on livestock, as well as the transfer of disease from livestock to wild animals. “Rather than serving as symbols of success, these species will become victims of fashion,” the researchers write in the journal Conservation Biology
22 Jul 2013:
‘Demand Response’ Programs
Saved Crucial Electricity During Heat Wave
As electricity producers struggled to supply power during last week’s heat wave along the U.S. East Coast, so-called “demand response” programs — which enable utilities to remotely reduce power usage in participating businesses and homes — were vital in avoiding blackouts
, utility officials said. The Wall Street Journal
reports that as electricity usage in New York state set a record on Friday, demand response programs produced energy savings equivalent to the output of two large power plants, just as the state was running dangerously low on power. Demand response programs enable utilities to dim lights, turn down air conditioners, and delay freezer-defrost cycles in the freezer cases of stores. Participating businesses and individuals get credits on their utility bills. Numerous states have demand response programs, and federal officials say these programs are capable of cutting peak U.S. electricity demand by 72,000 megawatts, or 9.2 percent.
19 Jul 2013:
European Fish Stocks
Show Signs of Recovery, Study Says
A major assessment of fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic Ocean shows that many species are recovering and are now being fished sustainably.
The surprising findings, reported in the journal Current Biology,
are based on data from government research institutes that collected millions of measurements of fish, both at sea and in markets. The study showed that for the first time in decades the majority of fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic are recovering, thanks to reforms instituted by individual nations and the European Union in 2002. This good news comes amid widespread criticism of EU fisheries policies
, which recently have undergone further reform. “We should be aware that low fishing pressure needs to be maintained until stocks recover,” said researcher Robin Cook of the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. “This is only the first step. Now we need to see numbers increase as a result of continued low fishing pressure.”
18 Jul 2013:
Malaysian Borneo Plundered
As 80 Percent of Rainforests Are Logged
The first comprehensive, satellite-based assessment of industrial logging practices in Malaysian Borneo has shown that more than 80 percent of the region’s forests have been heavily impacted by logging
. Reporting in the journal PLOS One
, researchers from Australia,
New Guinea, and the U.S. say that Malaysian Borneo — which just 30 years ago was considered one of the wildest places on Earth — now has been eaten away by 226,000 miles of roads that have enabled companies to legally and illegally log most of the territory, which consists of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. At best, only 17,500 square miles of forest ecosystems remain intact, the study said. “The extent of logging in Sabah and Sarawak documented in our work is breathtaking,” said study co-author Phil Shearman of the University of Papua New Guinea.
17 Jul 2013:
New App Identifies Species
By Recordings of Their Vocalizations
A new app is enabling scientists and the public to automatically identify frogs, birds, insects, monkeys, and other animals by recording their vocalizations.
Scientists at the University of Puerto Rico have created a system called the Automated Remote Biodiversity Monitoring Network (ARBIMON) that enables them to place inexpensive, solar-powered technology in the field and record the sounds of creatures that are often difficult to see or locate in their natural environment. The devices, which include I-Pods, can make 144 one-minute recordings per day and transmit them to a base station miles away. Using the ARBIMON system
, scientists have already made more than 1 million recordings in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Arizona, Costa Rica, and Brazil that can be listened to online. Researchers say the new system will greatly enhance their ability to do field research and to monitor the presence and activity patterns of species.
16 Jul 2013:
Russia Blocks Plans to Create
Massive Marine Reserve in Antarctica
Russian officials have blocked plans to establish the world’s largest marine reserve
in the waters off Antarctica, citing concerns that it would restrict their
John B. Weller/The Pew Charitable Trusts
Ross Sea pack ice
fishing interests in the region, according to news reports. The plan, which was proposed by the U.S. and New Zealand, would have protected a total of 2.3 million square miles in the Ross Sea, a deep, high-latitude body of water in the Southern Ocean. But during a meeting of the 25-member Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, Russia questioned whether the organization had the legal right to create such a haven. A key sticking point for the Russians was the potential loss of the fishery for krill, a shrimp-like creature that is a critical food source for penguins, seabirds, seals, and whales, but is netted for use in Omega-3 dietary supplements.
15 Jul 2013:
Map Shows Possible Link
Between Warmer Springs and Large Fires
An interactive tool produced by the group Climate Central illustrates how rising temperatures and reduced snowpack in the western U.S. have corresponded with an increase in wildfires
in recent decades. Based on
federal wildfire data from 1970 to 2012, the graphic shows how large fires in some western states — including Arizona, Colorado, and Idaho — have doubled or even tripled in four decades, a period when the average spring and summer temperatures in 11 states increased by more than 1.5 degrees F. According to the Climate Central analysis, Arizona has experienced the highest average increase in spring temperatures, about 1 degree F, which has likely been a key factor in the steep increase in fires covering more than 1,000 acres. Another key factor has been the decrease in mountain snowpack. During several seasons, unusually low amounts of spring snow caused extended droughts that helped drive more big fires.