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The Other Mexico Story, Puffins Can Help, and See the Aurora Borealis
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Thursday, April 5th, 2018

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The Colorado River Delta used to be home to lush wetlands; now it cuts through the Sonoran Desert. 
Photo: Peter McBride, National Geographic

Cross-Border Cooperation With Mexico Over Water

If you follow the news, then most of what you have heard over the last few days about our neighbors to the south involves alleged caravans of immigrants spilling into the U.S. and the President's plan to use the military to "defend" the U.S.-Mexico border.   

But the story that doesn't get told nearly enough is one of cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico over the Colorado RiverRight now there are cross-border efforts ongoing to fund the Colorado River Delta’s restoration and ensure water from the River is allotted specifically for environmental use. In a unique public-private partnership, philanthropic organizations and NGOs from both countries are sharing, along with the U.S. and Mexican federal governments, the cost of restoring the Delta -- a 100-mile stretch of the River between the border and the Sea of Cortez, including providing the river water needed for restoration to pass from the U.S. into Mexico.

Pronatura Noroeste, a Mexican NGO, and its partners in the binational Raise the River coalition scored a significant victory in 2017 when the United States and Mexico reached an agreement to increase water security for Colorado River users in both countries. The deal, known as Minute 323, provides at least 210,000 acre-feet of water over nine years for ongoing riparian restoration in the Delta, supporting local economies and improving habitat for vegetation and wildlife that can thrive with even small increases in water supply. 

Why This Matters:  Wars have been fought over precious natural resources like water.  And more conflict over water is likely in the future in areas where climate change and man-made alterations to nature cause places like the Colorado River Delta to go dry.  Cooperation like this between Mexico and the U.S. should be celebrated and replicated.  We hope that all the "fake news" about Mexican immigrant caravans flooding into the U.S. does not spill over and introduce tensions between the two nations in this area of cooperation.

To Go Deeper into the Cross-Border Restoration: Check out the video below from the Walton Family Foundation about the cooperation.  And see this National Geographic article from 2014 that proves more background on the issues -- not to mention their beautiful photos.  

Water in the West: Osvel Hinojosa of Pronatura Noroeste  Video: Walton Family Foundation



Drones Help Scientists Find Raw Materials 

Germany and other countries that have committed to a low-carbon future, are finding themselves short of the raw materials required to manufacture wind turbines and solar panels. As the Guardian noted, in particular, metals such as copper, cobalt, platinum-group metals and rare-earth elements such as indium and germanium are in short supply.

In response, German researchers from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) in Dresden have started using drones equipped with special cameras and sensors and are analyzing the way light bounces off underlying rocks, to discover metal deposits. Each mineral produces its own characteristic light reflection, due to the specific shape and size of its crystals. 

Why This Matters: Using these drones can help protect hillsides from being torn up by mining operations and have a far smaller impact on the environment. The scientists have also shown how these techniques have enabled them to pinpoint rare-earth elements in Finland and Namibia.

Go Deeper: Researchers at Ames Laboratory in Iowa have found that when Gluconobacter (a strain of bacteria that produces acid) is exposed to the natural sugars in corn leaves and corn stalks enabled them to dissolve and extract the rare earth metals from waste materials. This "biological mining" could be a much less environmentally intensive process for extracting rare earth minerals and could also help boost business for Iowa's farmers. 

 Climate Change

Heavy surf crashes a seawall in Avalon, N.J. on March 21, 2018, due to a severe storm. 
Photo: Dale Gerhard, The Press of Atlantic City, via AP
Today's Flood Is Tomorrow's High Tide

A report released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects that sea level rise will cause daily flooding headaches for coastal cities and communities around the country. In the days since the report's release, there has been a wave of stories in local papers from Maine to Miami to Minnesota as the news sinks in. The Washington Post reported that in the last 15 years, the incidence of high-tide flooding in the Mid-Atlantic doubled, and noted that in recent weeks Boston observed its highest and third-highest tides in recorded history as nor’easters battered southern New England. 

According to the report, by the year 2100, “high tide flooding will occur ‘every other day’ (182 days/year) or more often” even under an “intermediate low scenario” in coastal areas along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. This scenario assumes that greenhouse gas emissions are curbed.  But that's the best case scenario.  If we continue to emit greenhouse gasses at today's pace (the "intermediate scenario"), high-tide flooding is forecast to occur 365 days a year.  In MIami, one of the most impacted cities, Ben Kirtman, director of the Cooperative Institute for Marine & Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami, said “We need to recognize that this is going to really challenge Miami, but at the same time we need to start imagining what our city could be like if we design around it.

Why This Matters: The bottom line is that high tide is going to be much, much higher in the future.  Flooding at the frequency NOAA predicts would double, triple and eventually exponentially increase -- these are massive changes over the course of our children's lifetimes.  Reports like NOAA’s are crucial in making sure city planners have the right information before they invest hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money. According to Kitman, this information helps establish “a common language,” which helps planners from Broward to Norfolk to Atlantic City to Kennebunk begin to prepare. 

On a personal note:  The late Margaret Davidson, NOAA's former coastal programs director, was quoted in every news story about the report -- I (Monica) was privileged to work with her and it is great to see her work live on.  



Photo: David Goldman

KY Law Makes It Harder for Coal Miners to Get Black Lung Diagnoses 

As WAMU reported, a new measure signed into law in Kentucky last week would prevent federally-certified radiologists from judging X-rays in state black lung compensation claims, leaving diagnoses of the disease mostly to doctors who typically work for coal companies. The new law requires that only pulmonologists—doctors who specialize in the lungs and respiratory system assess diagnostic black lung X-rays when state black lung claims are filed. Whereas before, radiologists were also able to make black lung diagnoses. 

The primary sponsor of the measure, State Senator Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger) said he “relied on the expertise of those who understand the issue — the industry, coal companies and attorneys" when making his decision to support it. Democratic lawmakers on the other land see this as another move to gut Kentucky's workers' rights and compensation laws. 

Why This Matters: There are only 6 pulmonologists in Kentucky have the federal certification to read black lung X-rays and four of them are routinely hired by coal companies or their insurers, according to NPR's review of federal black lung cases. “I do believe the coal industry is writing this bill to exclude certain doctors that they don’t like,” said Phillip Wheeler, an attorney in Pikeville, Ky., who represents coal miners seeking state black lung benefits.

Go Deeper: Aside from black lung, cancer in coal country also poses a threat to communities. According to new research from the University of Virginia, cancer incidence has declined in most of America since 1969 — but not in rural Appalachia. In rural Appalachian Kentucky, the cancer mortality rate is 36 percent higher than it is for urban, non-Appalachian people in the rest of the country. Aside from exposure to toxins from mining, most experts say the biggest problem is lack of access to medical care for residents of Appalachia — whether it’s preventive screenings or cancer treatment. 



Photo: Kevin Edi/

Puffins Are Helping Scientists Study Ocean Health 

While some scientists use high-tech tools to help them with their research (see the drone story above), some marine biologists are getting help from puffins. As Oceana noted, the seabirds catch fish that would otherwise be hard to study. When parent puffins bring a meal back to nests on land, scientists briefly borrow the fish and examine them, which informs conservation efforts down the line.

The scientists scale hillsides in search of puffin nesting burrows and then reach in and pull out the slimy fish as an easy way to study the size, length, weight and nutritional content of the fish themselves. The process is relatively painless for the birds and the scientists make sure to return most of the fish back to the puffins. 

Why This Matters: Bill Sydeman, the founder of California’s Farallon Institute, explained that "without wild puffins, researchers would have to use boats and nets to catch the same fish species, which would be much more expensive work, and in some cases, just wouldn’t happen." Puffins are helpful to scientists because they hunt for fish upwards of 100 miles around their rocky homes and are quite gentle when they bring them back to their nests (whereas other species of birds swallow their catches). They also feed on over 75 species of fish and plankton and give researchers a good idea of the overall health of the ocean in the surrounding area. 



One Cool (Actually Really Cold) Thing:  Seeing the Northern Lights

It's finally April and we are anxiously anticipating the arrival of spring.  But for those who never tire of winter, The Washington Post's Andrea Sachs posted a great travel story this week about a trek to Alaska to see the northern lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis.  "From roughly late August through mid-April, the skies take on a hallucinogenic cast, the result of sun particles colliding with gases and releasing streamers of green, pink, blue, red and violet. The auroral zone — the staging area for the astronomical show — covers a wide swath of the northern polar region. Interior Alaska, for one, averages 40 to 100 sightings a year. In fact, Fairbanks is so keen on the spectacle that it created a fifth season, the Aurora Season."  It sounds like a great adventure.  We highly recommend you take in the entire article, especially Katherine Frey's gorgeous photos, here.   Enjoy!  

Why This Matters: "Nature does as nature wants."  Dora Redman, owner of Aurora Dora Gallery in Talkeetna, Alaska.  True that.   
Have you ever wondered what causes the northern lights? Here's your chance to find out! 
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