California’s six years of drought has left 102 million dead trees across 7.7 million acres of forest in its wake, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced following an aerial survey. If that is not horrendous enough, 62 million trees died in the year 2016 alone—an increase of more than 100 percent compared to 2015.
In the photo below, all the dead trees are grey or orange.
“The scale of die-off in California is unprecedented in our modern history,” Randy Moore, a forester for the U.S. Forest Service, told the Los Angeles Times, adding that trees are dying “at a rate much quicker than we thought.”
“You look across the hillside on a side of the road, and you see a vast landscape of dead trees,” added Adrian Das, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist whose office is located in Sequoia National Park. “It’s pretty startling.”
Most of the dead trees are located in 10 counties in the southern and central Sierra Nevada region.
“Five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to these historic levels of tree die-off,” the USFS said.
Some have raised concerns that the staggering number of dead trees can fuel even bigger and more destructive wildfires in the Golden State.
Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack lamented that not enough resources are being invested into forest health and restoration.
“These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur, and pose a host of threats to life and property across California,” Vilsack said in a statement.
Not only that, researchers from the University of Washington found that large forest die-offs—from drought, heat, beetle infestations or deforestation—can significantly impact global climate patterns and alter vegetation on the other side of the world. The study was published this month in PLOS ONE.
“When trees die in one place, it can be good or bad for plants elsewhere, because it causes changes in one place that can ricochet to shift climate in another place,” said lead author Elizabeth Garcia. “The atmosphere provides the connection.”
In October 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared the state’s unprecedented tree die-off a state of emergency. He formed a Tree Mortality Task Force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees.
However, some experts have suggested leaving the dead trees in the forests. Douglas Bevington, the forest program director for Environment Now, wrote that dead trees are vital to forest ecosystems.
“Dead trees can remain standing for decades or more and a standing dead tree—known as a ‘snag’—provides great habitat for wildlife. Birds and mammals make their homes in openings carved within snags, while wood-boring insects that feed on snags provide the foundation of the food chain for a larger web of forest life, akin to plankton in the ocean,” he wrote.
“From the perspective of the timber industry, a snag in the forest is a waste, so timber companies and the Forest Service have spent decades cutting down snags as quickly as possible,” Bevington continued. “As a result, there is now a significant lack of snags in our forests and this shortage is harming woodpeckers, owls and other forest wildlife. For them, the recent pulse of snag creation is good news.”
Forest Service experts believe that more trees will die in the coming months and years due to root diseases, bark beetle activity or other stress agents. The agency warned that tree deaths are on the rise in northern regions, especially in Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Lassen counties.
The lack of rain and unseasonably high temperatures has added stress to the trees. These factors have made trees increasingly vulnerable to bark beetles infestations and disease.
Inspired by hairy, semiaquatic mammals such as beavers and sea otters, a group of MIT engineers are fabricating fur-like rubbery pelts learn how these mammals stay warm and even dry while diving underwater.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is an independent, coeducational, privately endowed university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Our mission is to advance knowledge; to educate students in science, engineering, and technology; and to tackle the most pressing problems facing the world today. We are a community of hands-on problem-solvers in love with fundamental science and eager to make the world a better place.
The MIT YouTube channel features videos about all types of MIT research, including the robot cheetah, LIGO, gravitational waves, mathematics, and bombardier beetles, as well as videos on origami, time capsules, and other aspects of life and culture on the MIT campus. Our goal is to open the doors of MIT and bring the Institute to the world through video.
This image shows that reprogrammed human neurons grown on 3-D scaffolds (within the white dash line) and then transplanted onto brain tissue (red) extended out (yellow lines) and integrated. Credit: Neal K. Bennett, Moghe Laboratory, Rutgers Biomedical Engineering.
Scientists at Rutgers and Stanford universities have created a new technology that could someday help treat Parkinson’s disease and other devastating brain-related conditions that affect millions of people.
The technology – a major innovation – involves converting adult tissue-derived stem cells into human neurons on 3-D “scaffolds,” or tiny islands, of fibers, said Prabhas V. Moghe, a distinguished professor in the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at Rutgers University.
The scaffolds, loaded with healthy, beneficial neurons that can replace diseased cells, were injected into mouse brains.
“If you can transplant cells in a way that mimics how these cells are already configured in the brain, then you’re one step closer to getting the brain to communicate with the cells that you’re now transplanting,” said Moghe, research director for the School of Engineering/Health Sciences Partnerships at Rutgers. “In this work, we’ve done that by providing cues for neurons to rapidly network in 3-D.”
In their multidisciplinary study, published online today in Nature Communications, a dozen scientists from several Rutgers teams and Stanford discuss the 3-D scaffolds and their potentially widespread benefits.
Neurons, or nerve cells, are critical for human health and functioning. Human brains have about 100 billion neurons, which serve as messengers that transmit signals from the body to the brain and vice versa.
Moghe said a 3-D scaffold, developed by the scientists, consists of tiny polymer fibers. Hundreds of neurons attach to the fibers and branch out, sending their signals. Scaffolds are about 100 micrometers wide – roughly the width of a human hair.
“We take a whole bunch of these islands and then we inject them into the brain of the mouse,” he said. “These neurons that are transplanted into the brain actually survived quite miraculously well. In fact, they survived so much better than the gold standard in the field.”
Indeed, the scaffold technology results in a 100-fold increase in cell survival over other methods, Moghe said.
And that may eventually help people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, and concussions, he said.
These diseases and conditions often arise from the loss of brain cells. Parkinson’s disease, for example, is caused by the loss of brain cells that produce dopamine, a key neurotransmitter. Brain cell loss can lead to trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement; and impaired balance and coordination, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The next step would be to further improve the scaffold biomaterials, allowing scientists to increase the number of implanted neurons in the brain. “The more neurons we can transplant, the more therapeutic benefits you can bring to the disease,” Moghe said. “We want to try to stuff as many neurons as we can in as little space as we can.”
The idea is to “create a very dense circuitry of neurons that is not only highly functioning but also better controlled,” he said, adding that testing of mice with Parkinson’s disease is underway to see if they improve or recover from the illness.
Eventually, with continued progress, the researchers could perform studies in people. Moghe estimated that it would take 10 to 20 years to test the technology in humans.
Developing the scaffold technology and reprogramming the stem cells in the scaffolds was “very hard team work,” he said. “It took many years to get here, so there was a lot of sweat and toil.”
How could that city be upside-down? The city, Chicago, was actually perfectly right-side up.
The long shadows it projected onto nearby Lake Michigan near sunset, however, when seen in reflection, made the buildings appear inverted.
This fascinating, puzzling, yet beautiful image was captured by a photographer in 2014 on an airplane on approach to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The Sun can be seen both above and below the cloud deck, with the later reflected in the calm lake.
As a bonus, if you look really closely — and this is quite a challenge — you can find another airplane in the image, likely also on approach to the same airport.
Below are 10 reservoirs that have dwindled considerably since 2001. The “before” picture for each slide is from September or October 2001, while the “after” picture is from the same month in 2016. Move the slider over each image to see the changes.
1. Lake San Antonio
Lake San Antonio is located in Monterey County (used to cross the border to northern San Luis Obispo County) and covers an area of 8.9 square miles (23 square kilometers). The lake is formed by the San Antonio Dam on the San Antonio River. The dam was completed in 1965 and is 202 feet (62 m) tall.
2. Lake Cachuma
Lake Cachuma is located in central Santa Barbara County, on the Santa Ynez River. The reservoir was created by the construction of Bradbury Dam in 1953, which is 201 ft (61 m) high. At full capacity, Lake Cachuma has a surface area of 5 square miles (13 square kilometers), but it hasn’t reached that since July 2011.
3. San Luis Reservoir
San Luis Reservoir is the 5th largest reservoir in California, approximately 9 miles (14 km) long and 5 miles (8 km) wide. It is located in Merced County, west of Los Banos on State Route 152. The dam that created the reservoir is called San Luis Dam, was completed in 1967 and is the 4th largest embankment dam in the U.S.
The last time the reservoir came close to reaching full capacity was in April 2011, when San Luis Reservoir was 99.3 percent full.
4. New Melones Lake
New Melones Lake is located in the central Sierra Nevada Foothills on the Stanislaus River and has a surface area of 19.6 square miles (51 square kilometers). The reservoir is formed by the New Melones Dam, which is 625 ft (191 m) high.
The water level in the lake has been in an almost continuous decline since July 2011.
5. Lake Berryessa
Lake Berryessa is located in Napa County and was formed by the Monticello Dam, a 304-foot (93 m) concrete arch dam that was completed in 1957. Lake Berryessa hasn’t reached full capacity since April 2006.
6. Trinity Lake
Trinity Lake was formed by Trinity Dam, which was completed in the early 1960s and stands 538 ft (164 m) high. The lake, formed on the Trinity River, is one of the largest reservoirs in California. It came close to reaching full capacity in June 2011, but hasn’t reached average historical levels since June 2013.
7. Lake Casitas
Lake Casitas is located in the Los Padres National Forest of Ventura County. It was created by the construction of Casitas Dam on Coyote Creek, 2 miles (3 km) before it joins the Ventura River. The dam was was completed in 1959 and is 334 ft (102 m) high.
The water level in the lake has been in decline since April 2011, when the reservoir was 87.3 percent full.
8. Lake Piru
Like Lake Casitas, Lake Piru is also located in Los Padres National Forest of Ventura County. It was created in 1955 by the construction of the Santa Felicia Dam on Piru Creek. Water level in the lake has been in a steep decline since August 2012.
9. Lake Perris
Lake Perris was completed in 1973 and is located in a mountain-rimmed valley between Moreno Valley and Perris, in what is now the Lake Perris State Recreation Area. The dam that impounds the lake is 128 ft (39 m) high. The lake hasn’t reached its average historical level since September 2005.
10. Santa Margarita Lake
Santa Margarita Lake, also called Salinas Reservoir, is located several miles southeast of the town of Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County. The lake was created by the construction of Salinas Dam on the southern end of the Salinas River.
The dam was built in 1941, and the lake provides the city of San Luis Obispo with a portion of its drinking water. Water level in the lake has been declining since June 2011.