The Year of the Flood: Can the Colorado River Delta Come Back?

Can the Colorado River delta be returned to a wetland ecosystem? Photo: The Sonoran Institute

Can the Colorado River delta be returned to a wetland ecosystem? Photo: The Sonoran Institute

In the fall of 1922, Aldo Leopold, on a camping trip with his son, Carl, and his dog, Flick, looked up to the sky to see “a huge ‘chimney’ of cranes, wheeling high in the sky…”

As Leopold would note in his journal, “When they got the glint of the sun, they showed pure white and looked like a huge skyrocket bursting into white sparks …”

To those of us here in Wisconsin, we picture the elder Leopold sitting outside of his Sand County shack on the banks on the Wisconsin River, documenting the annual migration.

But Leopold was 2,000 miles away from his home in a totally different ecosystem in the fall of 1922 – one that so impressed him that he vowed to never return in fear that it wouldn’t be the same. Continue reading

Thickest Lake Ice in Decades May Last Into Spring

Ted Bier, our senior research specialist for the Long-Term Ecological Research program, was recently photographed on Lake Monona holding this massive chunk of ice in front of the Madison skyline.

Ted Bier hoists a two-foot thick chunk of ice on Lake Monona. Photo: Kirsten Rhude

Ted Bier hoists a two-foot thick chunk of ice on Lake Monona. Photo: Dave Harring

That picture led to the following story on The Capital Times website:

How thick is the ice on Madison’s lakes? Researcher Ted Bier almost didn’t have enough drill to find out this week.

Bier takes ice depth samples as part of his work for the UW-Madison Center for Limnology, and he was out in the middle of Lake Monona on Thursday to get a reading. The drill kept going and going until finally reaching water underneath the ice.

When they extracted the ice core that you can see in the photo above, the depth measured 65 centimeters, more than 25 inches.

“Generally speaking, all the lakes in the area had 2 feet or more of ice on them at some point in time this winter,” Bier said. “That’s 40 to 50 percent thicker than we usually have. I’ve been here 13 years and it’s the thickest I’ve ever seen.” – Read the rest on the madison.com website.

A Word About This Winter: Trends and Variability

CFL grad student, Zach Lawson releases a northern pike back into a well-frozen Lake Mendota. Photo: A. Hinterthuer

CFL grad student, Zach Lawson releases a northern pike back into a well-frozen Lake Mendota. Photo: A. Hinterthuer

Sure it’s been a long winter, but we were surprised when all that lake ice recently got political here in Wisconsin.

In January, State representative Mark Pocan told the legislature that, “Ice fishermen are already noticing fewer days they can be out on our ice covered lakes.” Perhaps because the statement was so counter to current conditions on Madison lakes, it struck some people as a dubious statement. That seemed the case, at least, because the political watchdog website PolitiFact jumped on the claim to test its veracity.

As anyone who’s paid attention to such things can tell you, Pocan was absolutely speaking the truth. In the last 150+ years of recorded data, the number of days our lakes are ice covered has shrunk. Still skeptical? Take a look at the graph below. Continue reading

Slideshow: LTER Winter Sampling on “Unusually” Thick Ice

Passerby stop to check out the nearly two-foot think sections of ice carved from Lake Mendota this winter.

Passerby stop to check out the nearly two-foot think sections of ice carved from Lake Mendota this winter.

A recent article on the website of the Wisconsin State Journal asked Ted Bier, a senior research specialist here at the CFL about this incredibly cold winter, what it meant for the ice on Madison lakes, and if he’d ever seen anything like it.

It is, indeed, an unusual year, Bier confirmed.

The State Journal went on to say that:

In his 12 years in Madison, the thickest he’d ever seen the ice was 18 inches in the winter of 2002-03, but last week Bier measured the ice on Lake Mendota at about two feet thick. Continue reading

Fish Fry Day: Sturgeon Take the Elevator & Climate Change Ruins Everything

Happy Fish Fry Day! Battered, fried deliciousness will on Wisconsin menus this evening, so consider this an appetizer. Before you tuck in to a plate of bluegill, perch, walleye or (if you must) cod, here are two pieces of ichthyological info sure to impress a friend or two.

1. Sturgeon Take the Elevator

Our friends at the River Alliance of Wisconsin produced this fun, animated video explaining why lake sturgeon head upstream to spawn, what keeps them from achieving those dreams, and how the Menominee River Fish Passage Partnership lends a hand.

2. You’ve Gone Too Far, Climate Change

Friday Night Fish Fry. Photo: midwestcoasting.blogspot.com

Friday Night Fish Fry. Photo: midwestcoasting.blogspot.com

This isn’t for the weak of heart, but Ohio State University scientist, Stuart Ludsin’s research is featured in this story on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate.gov website.

In short, warming waters in the Great Lakes are bad news for cool-water species of fish. In related news, walleye and yellow perch are a cool-water species. In more related news, they are also some of the most delicious. Read the excellent article if you think you can stomach it.

 

 

Scenarios: Using Science Fiction to Think About the Future

by Jenny Seifert

Photo Courtesy: Richard Hurd, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo Courtesy: Richard Hurd, Flickr Creative Commons

Change is constant and inevitable—in jobs, in relationships, in business, and in nature. It can make us feel downright powerless to realize that nothing is certain. So why even bother trying to plan ahead?

Well, when it comes to thinking about how people might cope with big changes that will affect us all, such as climate change, planning ahead…way far ahead…could make a big difference in how future generations—you know, our children’s children—will live in a changed world.

In fact, by thinking through what is possible, we do have some power in determining how our communities react to both foreseeable and unforeseeable changes to our environment. And a diverse team of scientists at the UW-Madison is currently trying to help envision potential futures in the very region they call home: the Yahara Watershed. Continue reading

Study IDs 10-year Water Level Cycle in Great Lakes, Says Current Lows Buck Trend

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact Carl Watras, 715-356-9494, cjwatras@facstaff.wisc.edu

BOULDER JUNCTION, WI – For at least the last seventy years, lakes and aquifers in northern Wisconsin have followed the same pattern – after higher than average peaks, water levels spend about ten years on a downward trend before abruptly spiking up again, only to repeat the decade-long fall back to low-water conditions. The cycle holds true for aquifers and seepage lakes in northern Wisconsin, the gigantic freshwater body formed by Lakes Michigan and Huron, and every lake in between.

Fallison Lake in northern Wisconsin is a seepage lake tied to the same hydrological cycle governing Great Lake water levels.

Fallison Lake in northern Wisconsin is a seepage lake tied to the same hydrological cycle governing Great Lake water levels.

“There was absolutely no reason for us to expect that our little lakes and Lakes Michigan and Huron would act the same way, but they did,” says Carl Watras, a research scientist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who is based out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Trout Lake Research Station.

Watras, is lead author of a report published online today in the journal, Geophysical Research Letters. The study doesn’t just document a ten-year oscillation between high and low water levels – it also shows that current low water levels have seemingly broken from the script. Continue reading

Fish Forced into “Hunger Games” When Lakes Lose Trees

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  In attempts to predict what climate change will mean for life in lakes, scientists have mainly focused on two things: the temperature of the water and the amount of oxygen dissolved in it. But a new study from University of Wisconsin researchers is speaking for the trees – specifically, the dead ones that have toppled into a lake’s near-shore waters.

Low water levels leave prime aquatic real estate, like these logs, stranded on shore. Photo: Jereme Gaeta

Low water levels leave prime aquatic real estate, like these logs, stranded on shore. Photo: Jereme Gaeta

For fish in northern Wisconsin lakes, at least, these trees can be the difference between pastures of plenty and the Hunger Games.

Under ‘normal’ water-level situations, says Jereme Gaeta, a post-doctoral researcher at the UW-Madison’s Center for Limnology and lead author of the study, trees in the water provide “coarse woody habitat.” Not only do they offer a refuge for fishes that would otherwise be lunch, they also provide food for those fishes – serving as structure for algae to grow on and aquatic insects to live.

When water levels drop, that habitat is left high and dry. Without it, Gaeta says, species like the yellow perch he studied are forced to move into what’s called the foraging arena, where the odds are most assuredly not in the fishes’ favor. Continue reading

Lake Mendota’s Freeze Earliest in… well…Three Years

As you now probably know, the Wisconsin State Climatologist’s office has officially called it – Lake Mendota achieved “ice on” this Monday, December 16th. And that means our iconic lake has frozen twice in the same calendar year! (Not all that unusual, but still cool.)

From Picnic Point to Maple Bluff, Lake Mendota is "hard" water. Photo: Hinterthuer

From Picnic Point to Maple Bluff, Lake Mendota is “hard” water. Photo: Hinterthuer

While the freeze comes nearly a month earlier than the last two years (both 2011 and 2012 had ice-on dates on January 14th), it doesn’t exactly set a precedent – you only need to go back to 2010 in the records to discover another mid-December freeze. (The 15th, to be exact). You can read more about long-term trends in lake ice here. Continue reading

Limnology in Antarctica: Luke Winslow Heads Way Down South

by Luke Winslow

Two weeks ago Saturday: I wake up at home, make some coffee and read The Economist. It is fall now and the temperature is cooler and pleasant. I have accepted that the trip to Antarctica probably won’t happen as a result of the government shutdown. I’m mentally preparing for a slightly less chilly task – removing the Lake Mendota buoy for the fall.

Last Saturday: I wake up. I’m at the bottom of a four foot deep hole in the snow. I have  large scrapes and bruises up and down my side. My left arm is sore and doesn’t have full range of motion. There is a Nalgene filled with my own urine sitting next to me. My back aches. I take a picture.

Whoa. It’s been a wild couple of weeks.

CFL grad student LUke Winslow comes to after a fall in Antarctica. Photo: Luke Winslow

CFL grad student LUke Winslow comes to after a fall in Antarctica. Photo: Luke Winslow

If this were a movie from the 90’s, there would be a fade-out here. Because this is an email, I will just hit enter a few times to indicate a transition to the backstory. Continue reading