Thursday, January 30, 2020

EPA Confirms Support for Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

On Tuesday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to Senator Christopher J. Van Hollen Jr., senator from Maryland and copying all members of congress who represent concerned parties emphasizing the agency’s commitment to protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay (Bay). The agency sent the letter in order to respond to Senator’s threat of litigation and clarify and correct and what the agency called a mischaracterization of the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Director’s recent remarks on the enforceability of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and forestall threatened litigation by .

The question of whether the TMDL itself is enforceable was answered by the Obama Administration in court filings defending the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. In 2016, the Obama Administration told the U.S. Supreme Court that a TMDL is an informational tool that “does not impose any binding implementation requirements on the States,” and that “the Bay TMDL does not directly regulate any sources or require any permits.” The EPA maintains that the Chesapeake Bay Program Director’s comments merely agree with these statements from the prior administration.

The Bay is a unique and important national resource, and EPA stated that the agency is fully committed to the restoration of the Bay. The recent questioning of the commitment of the agency to the cleanup is unfortunate and distracts from the good work that is being done by EPA employees. “Nothing more clearly signifies the EPA’s ongoing commitment and accountability to the restoration of the Bay than our most recent Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) evaluations,” said Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio.

In the evaluations, EPA identified that five of the Bay jurisdictions must do more to achieve their goals. EPA and the Bay jurisdictions, together, have legal authority to ensure the implementation of Bay TMDLs. As has been done since the Bay TMDL was issued, EPA will continue to use their existing authorities under the Clean Water Act which they call “backstop measures” to ensure that all six Bay states and the District of Columbia are accountable for implementing their share of the Bay TMDLs’ nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions.

The TMDL still includes targeted backstops for those jurisdictions that did not meet EPA’s expectations for providing reasonable assurance that they will achieve the necessary pollution reductions. EPA may utilize more stringent controls on permitted sources of pollution, such as wastewater treatment plants, large animal feeding operations and municipal stormwater systems. EPA’s authority come from the Clean Water Act.

Maryland has threatened litigation against the EPA and Pennsylvania, abandoning the consensus that the Bay States partnership is the best way to resolve issues. EPA closes with: “Threatened litigation against EPA will undoubtedly distract from efforts to restore the Bay. The partnerships’ resources are better spent on continued enhancement and implementation of plans that will improve water quality. EPA, with the partnership, is committed to having all practices and controls in place by 2025.”

More information on the Chesapeake Bay Program and the TMDL can be found on EPA’s web site at

Monday, January 27, 2020

Waters of the United States

On January 23, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Army) released their Navigable Waters Protection Rule to define “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). According to the news release the final definition recognizes the relationship between the federal government and states in managing land and water resources. “The EPA’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule respects the primary role of states and tribes in managing their own land and water resources. All states have their own protections for waters within their borders and many already regulate more broadly than the federal government."

Congress, in the Clean Water Act, explicitly directed that the Agencies to protect “navigable waters.” Under the CWA, “the discharge of any pollutant by any person shall be unlawful.” 33 U. S. C. § 1311(a). “The discharge of a pollutant” is defined broadly to include “any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source.” 33 U.S.C. § 1362(12). The Navigable Waters Protection Rule regulates the waters that make up this system and the core tributary systems that provide perennial or intermittent flow into them.

The final rule also details what waters are not subject to federal control, including features that only contain water in direct response to rainfall; groundwater; many ditches, including most farm and roadside ditches; prior converted cropland; farm and stock watering ponds; and waste treatment systems.

The Navigable Waters Protection Rule outlines four clear categories of waters that are considered “waters of the United States:”
  1. Territorial seas and traditional navigable waters (TNWs)
  2. Tributaries and intermittent rivers and streams that contribute surface flow more often than just after a single precipitation event.
  3. Lakes, ponds, and impoundments of jurisdictional waters are jurisdictional where they contribute surface water flow either directly or through channelized nonjurisdictional surface waters, through artificial features, or through natural features.
  4. Wetlands that physically touch other jurisdictional waters are “adjacent wetlands.”
The final rule also outlines what are not “waters of the United States.” These include waterbodies that are not included in the four categories of “waters of the United States” listed above to provide under the Clean Water Act.
  • Groundwater, including groundwater drained through subsurface drainage systems, such as drains in agricultural lands.
  • Ephemeral features, including ephemeral streams, swales, gullies, rills, and pools.
  • Diffuse stormwater run-off and directional sheet flow over upland.
  • Many farm and roadside ditches.
  • Prior converted cropland retains its longstanding exclusion. This exclusion will cease to apply when cropland is abandoned and has reverted to wetlands.
  • Artificially irrigated areas.
  • Artificial lakes and ponds, including water storage reservoirs and farm, irrigation, stock watering, and log cleaning ponds, constructed or excavated in upland or in nonjurisdictional waters.
  • Water-filled depressions constructed or excavated in upland or in non-jurisdictional waters incidental to mining or construction activity, and pits excavated in upland or in non-jurisdictional waters for the purpose of obtaining fill, sand, or gravel.
  • Stormwater control features excavated or constructed to convey, treat, infiltrate, or store stormwater run-off.
  • Groundwater recharge, water reuse, and wastewater recycling structures.
  • Waste treatment systems have been excluded from the definition of “waters of the United States” since 1979.
If you recall back in 2015 Under President Obama the EPA ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.” This rule contained the definition of “waters of the United States” promulgated by the U.S. EPA in 2015, intended to expand protection and regulation under the Clean Water Act to include streams and wetlands and any body of water that the EPA previously needed to determine to be a “significant Nexus” to the “navigable waters of the United States” on a case by case basis. According to that version of the waters of the United States definition included navigable waterways and their tributaries, streams, regardless of their size of frequency of flow, wetlands and open waters in riparian areas and the 100 year floodplains.

The 2015 version of the Water of the United States rule unleashed a torrent of Federal litigation. Thirty-one states, many local governments, and private industry filed suite asserting that the rule unconstitutionally expanded the Clean Water Act’s reach and misapplied several Supreme Court decisions and long standing practice. Various Courts of Appeal challenges had been consolidated before the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, which granted a nationwide wide stay in November 2015.

On October 22, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Army (the agencies) repealed the 2015 Rule and re-codify the regulatory text that existed prior the definition promulgated in 1986/1988. Now that old definition has been replaced with the new Navigable Waters Protection Rule that will go into effect in 60 days from publication in the Federal Register, as long as it is not successfully challenged in court.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Thoughts on My Solar Panels after 10 Years

My relationship with my solar panels has been somewhat disappointing. The experience of having a solar photo voltaic system on the roof has been far from trouble free. I had imagined that solar panels without any moving parts would make free energy from the sun without any problems. However, starting in the second year of ownership I have had an ongoing series of failures of micro inverters, panels or wiring and a series of roof leaks in the last few years as the Black Jack used to seal the racks dried out and failed.

To make it worse, problems with the system have been hard to address because of the difficulty of finding a capable repair company (lots of fledgling firms have gone out of business) and the cause has not always been obvious to whoever was trying to repair the system. There has been a continual stream of problems that all come down to installation (the roof leaks), wiring and Enphase micro inverters. The micro inverters seem to fail with regularly. At the moment I have four panels that are not reporting which Enphase, Concentric and I all attribute to the failure of four micro inverters.

Concentric (and its predecessor firm) has been doing the solar repairs for me for the last few years and I have been happy with their abilities. I called them last summer when I had only two panels not reporting, but the rush for new installations before the reduction in the federal tax credit meant that they were too busy to come out to my house for a repair. After several attempt to try and schedule a repair, I decided to call back in the new year. By January I had four failed Enphase Micro Inverters. Concentric has ordered replacements for me, the last one is still on back order. The Enphase micro inverters have been disappointing in their lack of reliability.

Solar photo voltaic panels themselves have no moving parts so that the operating life of the solar panels is largely determined by the stability of the coating film, the quality of finish and fit of the panels and the proper sealing of the edging and connectors. The wiring, racking systems and inverters are all subject to damage by rain, snow, wind and hail.

Though troublesome, my solar panels still make financial sense. My system is about 10 years old. So, I have suffered by being an early adopter in Virginia. The installer had little experience beyond training and I have suffered the consequences. When I signed the contract to purchase my roof mounted solar system in 2009 the cost per kilowatt for the Sharp panels I bought was about $6,700 plus permits and installation. However, back in 2009 I was able to obtain a state rebate of $12,000 which is no longer available in Virginia. I also used the 30% federal tax credit which was recently stepped down. The net cost of the solar system in 2010 after rebates and tax credits was $32,578.

In addition, there is a property tax exemption in Prince William County (and most counties in Virginia). The exemption is based on the Energy Efficient Buildings Tax Exemption (Code of VA §58.1-3221.2) which allows any county, city, or town to exempt or partially exempt energy efficient buildings from local property taxes. In Prince William County the amount of the exemption is based on the installed cost of solar array. That translated to a savings of $656.82 a year for 5 years.

The largest portion of my return is from something called a SREC, a solar renewable energy credit. A SREC is a credit for each megawatt hours of electricity that is produced, but used elsewhere. SRECs have value only because some states have solar set asides from their Renewable Portfolio Standards, RPS, which require that a portion of energy produced by a utility be produced by renewable power. There are no RPS solar requirements in Virginia, thus no value to SRECs in Virginia today beyond the $10-$15 that a RPS credit is worth.

When I installed my solar panels, my system was eligible to sell SRECs in Pennsylvania and Washington DC and I registered my system in both markets. The Pennsylvania market has since collapsed, but the District of Columbia passed a law in 2011 which made the SRECs quite valuable. The law prevents out-of-state systems from registering after January 31st 2011, but my system was grandfathered. DC is currently the only under-supplied SREC market in the nation that I know of. There ae no large commercial solar farms nor large industrial installations. Thanks to the Washington DC SREC market my solar panels have earned $31,295.39 (after fees but before taxes), dwarfing the just over $11,000 in free energy they have produced. As you can see below the system has been profitable for me.

Enphase Energy has offered a discount on new generation Enphase Modules. Unfortunately, pulling a work permit for changing out all the modules of my solar array would require a new registration number for my system and thus void my grandfathered status in the DC SREC market. I have priced out the various options and find that despite the annoyance and expense of constantly failing Enphase modules, and repairs (at this point I have paid $6,502 in repairs) I am financially much better off waiting for the SRECs to expire in five and a quarter years and replacing the entire system when I have to replace the roof. These days the cost of system has fallen significantly, though there are far fewer incentives.

We’ll see what incentives are available when the SRECs expire. At that time I plan to purchase an integrated ground mounted larger solar system (with 10 KWH DC) with battery storage. I am keeping my eye on the Generac PWRCell System with an integrated solar system and a single system inverter. I have had a good experience with my Generac Generator over the past 13 years and want to see if they bring that kind of experience to the solar and battery storage market.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Carbon Footprint of the Internet

Last Thursday Microsoft Corporation announced that it plans to become “carbon negative” by 2030 and eliminate all emissions it has produce since its founding in 1975. According to Microsoft energy consumption drives their operational carbon footprint. I have only recently given the carbon footprint of the internet any thought, though apparently climate scientists and the Department of Energy is on top of this. 
from Nature 
The internet consumes a large amount of energy and energy emits greenhouse gases. First, the hardware that is the backbone of the internet must be manufactured, transported through distribution channels to reach its final destination. These servers, home computers and smartphones must be housed, powered and cooled using power drawn from the electric grid. Most groups cite the statistic that the internet is responsible for about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions though I could find no recent studies producing that statistic. 

Nonetheless, every time we use a search engine, watch a video, stream a movie or TV show, send an email, look at a picture there is an output of greenhouse gases. Every interaction with the internet requires multiple servers in the vast array of data centers to operate. Every second we are on the internet we are using energy and releasing fractions of grams of carbon dioxide equivalents.

According to datacenterfrontier the U.S. is home to 3 million data centers, or roughly one for every 100 Americans, though a change has been happening in the past few years with the emergence of server virtualization as companies have converted to virtual storage using hyperscale data canters. A large number of these hyperscale data centers are clustered in Loudoun County, Fairfax and increasingly Prince William County Virginia. As of September 2018, Northern Virginia was home to 4.7 million square feet of data center space, representing 955 megawatts of power usage.

The constant and increasing demand for connectivity and cloud based entertainment means ever increasing energy is used by the nation’s data centers, and much of that energy has been non-renewable and contributes to carbon emissions. For now, despite rising demand for data, electricity consumption by the entire information technology ecosystem is staying relatively flat, as increased Internet traffic and data demands are countered by increased efficiencies and the replacement of older facilities by new ultra-efficient centers.

According to the Department of Energy, nearly all server shipment growth since 2010 has occurred in servers destined for large hyperscale data centers, where servers are often configured for maximum productivity and operated at high utilization rates, resulting in fewer servers needed in the hyperscale data centers than would be required to provide the same services in traditional, smaller, data centers. Storage devices are becoming more efficient and increased awareness in data center infrastructure operations has resulted in hyperscale data centers that are often designed to maximum infrastructure efficiency.

The five biggest global companies by market capitalization this year are currently Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook and all are taking steps to use more renewable energy and carbon footprint of their operations. So maybe the Microsoft announcement will become the challenge to the other internet giants to erase their carbon footprints. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Virginia's General Assembly is in Session

Just over a week ago the Virginia General Assembly began its 401st session. The first days are an opportunity for community groups, organizations, lobbyists and individuals to meet with their representatives. In the first days members of the General Assembly received committee assignments.

Don Wells long time Chairman of the Soil and Water legislative committee and Secretary/Treasurer of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts reports: "To give you an idea of the Session after three days the House has introduced 1487 Bills and the Senate has introduced 901 Bills.” The Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts tracks bills that pertain to farming, natural resources, water, stormwater, Chesapeake Bay and any suggested for tracking by the membership.

Most of the bills are still awaiting House or Senate Committee referrals this early in the session. If you recall Governor Northam’s proposed budget for fiscal years 2021 and 2022 includes:
  • $182 million over the two-year period to the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund too reduce polluted runoff from cities, suburbs, and other developed areas;
  • $120 million over the two-year period to help fund wastewater treatment plant upgrades to reduce sediment and nutrient pollution from sewage;
  • $90 million over the next two years to support farm conservation practices through Virginia’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts agricultural cost share program;
  • $14 million over the two-year period for oyster restoration and replenishment;
  • $65 million over the two-year period to AlexRenew and Alexandria to help fund the mandate to prevent raw sewage from polluting the Potomac River in “Combined Sewer Overflows.” The total project is estimated to cost between $370-$555 million. Previously the state funded $25 million.
  • $32 million for the two-year period to increase the budget for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
  • Additional funding to support implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and the Agricultural Stewardship Act, as well as the expansion of riparian buffers and urban tree canopy, and;
  • Virginia would be authorized to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

The bills that relate to these initiatives will be among the ones I follow and update you on.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Protecting Your Home from Termites

In the United States there are four groups of termites: subterranean (including the Formosan termite), drywood, dampwood and powderpost. Subterranean termites "nest" in the soil and from there they can attack structures by building shelter tubes from the soil to the wood in structures. Subterranean termites are native to our DMV Region and cause more of the damage to homes and structures than drywood termites so will be my primary focus here. Termites will attack any material with cellulose, including wood, paper coated wall board, and paper. Termites need water or at least moisture to survive. Wood that is at least 30% water saturated provides enough moisture. Additionally, termites will find free-standing water such as condensation, rain or plumbing leaks and use this moisture as their main source for survival.

Termites have been a part of the ecosystem for thousands of years and aid in the decomposition of wood, freeing the nutrients in the decaying material for reuse by other organisms. Termites rely on eating the cellulose found in wooden structures, furniture, stored food and paper. It is virtually impossible to live anywhere in the United States without confronting termite damage at one point or another. Prevention may be the best approach. No technique, from the traditional, blast it with chemicals to the alternative strategies are 100% effective all the time.

As Virginia Tech says in their “Subterranean Termite Treatment Options” “Today, .. you may call four different pest management companies and receive four completely different treatment recommendations. In most cases the Pest Management Professional (PMP) is only familiar with the treatment used by his or her company.” Ridding an infested house of termites or preventing termite infestation using the lest toxic method requires an integrated pest management approach. The US EPA has developed their Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program (PESP) that recommends an integrated pest management approach for termite control involving the following steps:

Inspection. The inspection should identify conditions favorable to termites and other pests. There are steps a homeowner should take to make a house less ideal for termite invasions to minimize the use of chemicals. Eliminating these conditions, which are mostly moisture-related problems, means repairs to plumbing or drainage systems, alterations to seal crawlspaces from moisture, elimination of water pooling around the house, and leaks in basements or other parts of the house. If inspection did not find any current infestation a termite monitoring program combined with repairing leaks and eliminating moisture will discourage infestation in the long run.

Monitoring. Regular monitoring will help determine the location of any termite damage, its extent, signs of previous and current infestation. Research from the Entomology Department of University of Florida found that properly trained termite dog teams are the most effective termite inspectors. This is not a joke. Termite Dogs can smell termites, through drywall, concrete, paneling and all other building materials. This kind of inspection is useful for someone like me with a basement overflowing with boxes, papers, books and other clutter.

Identification. The next step is to correctly identify the species found on-site. Ant and termites are often confused. Also, if it’s termites, verify that they are subterranean.

Determine treatment plan. If signs of infestation were found, it is necessary to eliminate the infestation and repair the damage. To eliminate the termite infestation, the treatment options are; bating with spot treatment, traditional chemical barriers, and non-repellant chemical treatment.

Chemical repellants were the first chemical treatment and required gallons of chemical to create an unbroken barrier. These chemicals are all pyrethroids which are fast acting never poisons that are highly toxic to termites. These are applied by professionals and require a complete, unbroken barrier of the repellent termiticide to keep termites from coming into the structure. This requires drilling through driveways, garage, and slabs to create a complete and unbroken chemical barrier surrounding a house. Though pyrethroids are relatively inexpensive and last for several years, in the real world it is difficult to inject a perfect barrier without breaks or gaps. The termites are able to detect these termiticide barriers in the soil and avoid lethal contact with them or locate the gap pathways.

More modern chemicals are non-repellent termiticide treatments. These chemicals are not repellant and termites cannot detect them in the soil. Therefore, the termites tunnel into the termiticide while foraging, contact the chemical, and die. The most common are Premise, Termidor and Phantom.
  1. Premise (Bayer Corporation,) contains the active ingredient imidocloprid. Imidocloprid is unique because it not only kills termites that contact a lethal dose, but it also kills them at doses too small to cause immediate death.
  2. Termidor (BASF Corporation) is also a non-repellent termiticide. The active ingredient is fipronil. Fipronil can be transferred from one termite to another through contact and trophallaxis (communal feeding). This allows it to affect more termites than those that contact the chemical directly. According to Virgina Tech Extension test data indicate that fipronil may be effective longer after the initial application than other liquid termiticide products. This is the most long lasting of this group.
  3. Phantom (BASF Corporation) is another non-repellent termiticide. The active ingredient in Phantom is chlorfenapyr. Chlorfenapyr is an insecticide that is not toxic to the insect until it is broken down by enzymes in the insect’s immune system. The termites die because they cannot produce the energy needed to function.

Termite baits consist of paper, cardboard, or other termite food, that is often combined with a slow-acting substance lethal to termites. Termite baits use small amounts of non-repellent insecticide to knock out populations of termites foraging in and around the structure. Some baits may even eradicate entire termite colonies. Regardless of which bait is used, the process is lengthy and four or five times as expensive as chemical treatment.

Sentricon System – The Sentricon system was the first termite baiting system and still the most popular system today. The system was developed in 1995 by Dow AgroSciences and the University of Florida was not initially intended for use in combination with liquid termiticide because at the time, only repellent termiticides were available. Repellent termiticide used in a bait station would defeat the purpose of the bait. Termites would turn away from the station, rendering it useless. However, now that non-repellent termiticides are available, Sentricon is often used in combination with a non-repellent termiticide. My Sentricon system is used with fipronil.

When baits are used with a non-repellent termiticide, the total amount of pesticide applied is small. Regulations prevent the application of barrier termiticides and some other chemicals within 50 feet of water well. Termite baiting requires fewer disruptions within the home and is protective of ground water and drainage systems. Installation and subsequent monitoring of bait stations generally does not even require the technician to come indoors. However, the baiting process can take months, possibly a full year to eliminate infestations. Planning, patience, and persistence are requisites for successfully using termite baits. This is a long term commitment.

Monitoring. After treatment it is essential to continue monitoring for termites. The success of the treatment method needs to be assessed and once elimination of the infestation has been accomplished, monitoring will detect further infestations as early as possible.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A Winter Project to Help Restore the Bay

It’s winter, but not too early to begin planning how you can help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's rivers. You can sign up to participate in Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Grasses for the Masses program. Known by many names, including seaweed, sea grass, weed beds, and submerged aquatic vegetation. These underwater grasses are actually flowering vascular plants, and today their importance to the overall health of the Bay is widely recognized. CBF is working to help meet U.S. EPA mandated 185,000 acres of underwater grasses covering the bottom of the Bay and its tidal tributaries by 2025.

Participants in the Grasses for the Masses program will grow wild celery (Vallisneria americana), a type of underwater grass, in a simple aquiculture grow-out system obtained at a CBF workshop (held in January and February) in their homes for 10-12 weeks.

After the grasses have grown, participants will gather to plant their grasses in select local rivers in May to help restore the Bay. The CBF takes care of obtaining the state permit necessary to plant these grasses, and will provide life vests for children to use while planting the grasses and selecting the proper location for planting. (All children participating in the program must be accompanied by an adult.) In northern Virginia grasses will be planted in Mason Neck State Park on the Potomac River in Fairfax County.

Workshops in Northern Virginia are :

Wednesday, January 22, 2020 ;6-8 pm
Daniels Run Elementary School
3705 Old Lee Highway
Fairfax, VA


Sunday, February 2, 2020 2-4 pm
Alexandria Renew
1800 Limerick Street
Alexandria, VA

You must register for the workshops and though technically the workshops are free, kit rental costs $40. This will be a great family activity for helping the environment with most of the work done in your home. Register for the workshops at this LINK.

According to the CBF, underwater grasses are an important part of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The grasses filter polluted runoff, provide food for waterfowl, and provide essential habitat for blue crabs, juvenile rockfish (striped bass), and other aquatic species. They also help settle out sediment and bind the substrate with their roots. Underwater grasses also take up nitrogen and phosphorus that, in overabundance, reducing dead zones. Finally they provide food for benthic (bottom-dwelling) aquatic life and migrating waterfowl.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Nature's Fish Nurseries full of Micro Plastics

 Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Jonathan Whitney.
Many of the world’s ocean fish spend the first days to weeks of their lives feeding and developing at the ocean surface. Larval fish are the next generation of adult fish that will supply protein and essential nutrients to people around the world. NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Hawaii and an international team of scientists conducted one of the most ambitious studies to date. They wanted to learn where larval fish spend their time and what they eat there.

The team found that surface slicks contained far more larval fish than neighboring surface waters. Surface slicks are naturally occurring, ribbon-like, smooth water zones at the ocean surface. They form when internal ocean waves converge near coastlines. The surface slicks are unusually still and aggregate plankton, which is an important food resource for larval fish.

“We found that surface slicks contained larval fish from a wide range of ocean habitats, from shallow-water coral reefs to the open ocean and down into the deep sea—at no other point during their lives do these fish share an ocean habitat in this way,” said Dr. Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research and co-lead of the study. “Slick nurseries also concentrate lots of planktonic prey, and thereby provide an oasis of food that is critical for larval fish development and survival.”

Unfortunately, the team also discovered that the same ocean processes that aggregated prey for larval fish also concentrated buoyant, passively floating micro plastics. “We were shocked to find that so many of our samples were dominated by plastics,” said Dr. Whitney.

The scientists found that plastics were 126 times more concentrated in surface slicks than in surface water just a couple hundred yards away. There were seven times more plastics than there were larval fish. The majority of the plastics found in the surface slicks were very small (less than 1 mm).
Photo courtesy of David Liittschwager.

Larval fish prefer their prey this size. After dissecting hundreds of larval fish, the researchers discovered that many fish species ingested plastic particles. “We found tiny plastic pieces in the stomachs of commercially targeted pelagic species, including swordfish and mahi-mahi, as well as in coral reef species like triggerfish,” said Dr. Whitney. Plastics were also found in flying fish, which apex predators such as tuna and seabirds eat.

Recent studies have found that adult fish ingest plastic. This is the first study to show that larval coral reef fish and pelagic species are also consuming plastic, as early as days after they are spawned.

“Larval fish are foundational for ecosystem function and represent the future of adult fish populations,” said Dr. Jamison Gove, a research oceanographer for NOAA and co-lead of the study. “The fact that larval fish are surrounded by and ingesting non-nutritious toxin-laden plastics, at their most vulnerable life-history stage, is cause for alarm.”

Researchers are unsure of how harmful plastic ingestion is to larval fish. In adult fish, plastics can cause gut blockage, malnutrition, and toxicant accumulation. Larval fish are highly sensitive to changes in their environment and food. Prey-size plastics could impact development and even reduce survivorship of larval fish that ingest them.

Biodiversity and fisheries production are currently threatened by a variety of human-induced stressors such as climate change, habitat loss, and overfishing. Our research suggests we can likely now add plastic ingestion by larval fish to that list of threats,” said Dr. Gove. However, other scientists believe ocean plastic is not as great a threat to oceans as climate change or overfishing. While it is currently unknown the magnitude of the threat to the oceans, the ubiquitous use of plastic in our modern world and inadequate management of plastic waste has led to increased contamination of freshwater, estuary and marine environments with micro-plastics. Maybe you want to rethink your use of plastic.

The full article can be read at this
Gove JM, Whitney JL, McManus MA, Lecky J, Carvalho FC, Lynch JM, Li J, Neubauer P, Smith KA, Phipps JE, Kobayashi DR, Balagso KB, Contreras EA, Manuel ME, Merrifield MA, Polovina JJ, Asner GP, Maynard JA, Williams GJ. 2019. Prey-size plastics are invading larval fish nurseries. Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Methane Emissions in California

From California and NASA news releases:

An article published in the November issue of the journal Nature reports the findings of the California Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission and NASA study to pinpoint emissions of methane, what they call a climate "super pollutant." The results of the study will be used to help state and local agencies and businesses prioritize investments to reduce emissions and meet California's ambitious goals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and is 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 100-year period. While it does occur naturally, major human-generated sources include landfills, refineries, oil and gas fields, natural gas infrastructure, dairies and wastewater treatment plants. To reduce methane’s impact on the climate, by 2030 California intends to cut overall emissions in the state by 40%t from 2013 levels.

You have to find the methane sources to cut them. So, from August 2016 to October 2018, California Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission partnered with NASA to survey the state. A research team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, flew a plane equipped with the Airborne Visible Infra Red Imaging Spectrometer - Next Generation (AVIRIS-NG) instrument over the state.

This survey was designed to detect the largest releases of methane from point sources, a single component or piece of industrial equipment, such as an oil well; and included nearly 272,000 facilities and infrastructure components. The survey excluded non-point sources, such as small natural gas leaks from millions of homes, because even though they probably have a significant collective impact on atmospheric methane levels, their individual emissions are below the detection levels of the instrument that can detect larger plumes of methane. Studies of non-point sources need to be done at ground level.

Over 550 point sources of methane were identified during the “California Methane Survey,” and according to the data, just 10% of the point sources were found to be responsible for 60% of the total methane emissions detected. Researchers believe that statewide, these relatively few super emitters are responsible for about a third of California’s total methane emissions. Landfills accounted for 41% of point source emissions, manure management accounted for 26% and oil and gas accounted for 26% of the point source emissions.

The most startling finding to scientists and regulators, however, was that less than 0.2% of infrastructure in the state was responsible for 34% of total methane emissions in California. Of the 270 landfills surveyed, only 30 were observed emitting large plumes of methane. Those 30, however, were responsible for 40 % of the total point source emissions detected during the survey. The oil and gas production sector also included large sources of methane. Most were concentrated in the southern San Joaquin Valley, the region that produces more oil than any other in the state. Los Angeles and Ventura Counties were next on the list.

"These findings illustrate the importance of monitoring point sources across multiple sectors of the economy and broad regions, both for improved understanding of methane budgets and to support emission mitigation efforts," said JPL scientist Riley Duren, who led the study.

Preliminary results were shared with the facility operators to make them aware of the need to improve their methane leak detection processes and to institute better controls on methane emissions. Although the survey provides a detailed map of methane emissions in the state, researchers caution that this was the first attempt to estimate emissions for individual methane sources from a large population distributed across a large region over multiple years. Some methane emissions were highly intermittent, others were affected by wind, and some were too small for accurate emission rate estimation.

“This new remote sensing technology addresses the continuing need for detailed, high-quality data about methane,” said California Air Resources Board Chair Mary D. Nichols. “It will help us and the Energy Commission develop the best strategies for capturing this highly potent greenhouse gas.”

The data from the survey and other methane projects can be viewed at an experimental NASA data portal at