Category Archives: Ecosystem services

Readings on ES in a Social-Ecological Context (with a resilience emphasis)

Recently I developed a short reading list for PhD students working on ecosystem services at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.  This list seeks to cover and introduce a broad area of ecosystem service research with a focus on understanding ecosystem services in a social-ecological context, with a special focus on resilience.


  1. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. MA Conceptual framework.  Chapter 1 in Ecosystems and Human WellBeing: Status and Trends. Island Press (Washington, DC). [available online at:]
  2. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005.  Analytical Approaches for Assessing  Ecosystem Condition and Human Well-being.  Chapter 2 in Ecosystems and Human WellBeing: Status and Trends. Island Press (Washington, DC). [available online at:

Ecology and ES

  1. Kremen, C. (2005). Managing ecosystem services: what do we need to know about their ecology?. Ecology Letters, 8(5), 468-479.
  2. Lavorel, S., Grigulis, K., Fourier, J. & Cedex, G. (2012) How fundamental plant functional trait relationships scale-up to trade-offs and synergies in ecosystem services. Journal of Ecology, 100, 128–140.

Institutions & ES

  1. Jack, B.K., Kousky, C. & Sims, K.R.E. (2008) Designing payments for ecosystem services: Lessons from previous experience with incentive-based mechanisms. PNAS, 105, 9465–70.
  2. Muradian, R., Corbera, E., Pascual, U., Kosoy, N. & May, P.H. (2010) Reconciling theory and practice: An alternative conceptual framework for understanding payments for environmental services. Ecological Economics, 69, 1202–1208.
  3. Rathwell, K. J., and G. D. Peterson. 2012. Connecting social networks with ecosystem services for watershed governance: a social-ecological network perspective highlights the critical role of bridging organizationsEcology and Society 17(2): 24.
  4. van Noordwijk, M., & Leimona, B. (2010). Principles for Fairness and Efficiency in Enhancing Environmental Services in Asia: Payments, Compensation, or Co-Investment? Ecology and Society15(4), 17.

Proposed Framework Extensions

  1. Chan, Kai MA, et al. 2012 Where are cultural and social in ecosystem services? A framework for constructive engagement. BioScience 62(8): 744-756.
  2. Daw, T., Brown, K., Rosendo, S. & Pomeroy, R. 2011 Applying the ecosystem services concept to poverty alleviation: the need to disaggregate human well-being. Environmental Conservation, 38, 370–379.
  3. Daniel, T. C., Muhar, A., Arnberger, A., Aznar, O., Boyd, J. W., Chan, K., … & von der Dunk, A. 2012. Contributions of cultural services to the ecosystem services agenda. PNAS109(23), 8812-8819.
  4. Fisher, B., Turner, R. & Morling, P. (2009) Defining and classifying ecosystem services for decision making. Ecological Economics, 68, 643–653.

ES & Resilience

  1. Biggs, R., Schlüter, M., Biggs, D., Bohensky, E. L., BurnSilver, S., Cundill, G., … & West, P. C. (2012). Toward Principles for Enhancing the Resilience of Ecosystem Services. Annual Review of Environment and Resources37(1).
  2. Enfors et al., 2008 Making investments in dryland development work: participatory scenario planning in the Makanya catchment, Tanzania.  Ecology and Society, 13 (2)42
  3. Raudsepp-Hearne, C., Peterson, G.D., Tengö, M., Bennett, E.M., Holland, T., Benessaiah, K., MacDonald, G.K. & Pfeifer, L. (2010) Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox: Why Is Human Well-being Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade? BioScience, 60, 576–589.

Tradeoffs & Bundles of ES

  1. Bennett, E.M., Peterson, G.D. & Gordon, L.J. (2009) Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services. Ecology Letters, 12, 1394–404.
  2. Raudsepp-Hearne, C., Peterson, G.D. & Bennett, E.M. (2010) Ecosystem service bundles for analyzing tradeoffs in diverse landscapes. PNAS, 107, 5242–7.
  3. Nelson, E., Mendoza, G., Regetz, J., Polasky, S., Tallis, H., Cameron, Dr., Chan, K.M., Daily, G.C., Goldstein, J., Kareiva, P.M., Lonsdorf, E., Naidoo, R., Ricketts, T.H. & Shaw, Mr. (2009) Modeling multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, commodity production, and tradeoffs at landscape scales. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7, 4–11.


  1. Cowling, R.M., Egoh, B., Knight, A.T., O’Farrell, P.J., Reyers, B., Rouget’ll, M., Roux, D.J., Welz, A. & Wilhelm-Rechman, A. (2008) An operational model for mainstreaming ecosystem services for implementation. PNAS, 105, 9483–9488.
  2. Daily, G.C., Polasky, S., Goldstein, J., Kareiva, P.M., Mooney, H. a, Pejchar, L., Ricketts, T.H., Salzman, J. & Shallenberger, R. (2009b) Ecosystem services in decision making: time to deliver. Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment, 7, 21–28.
  3. O’Farrell, P. J., Anderson, P. M., Le Maitre, D. C., & Holmes, P. M. (2012). Insights and opportunities offered by a rapid ecosystem service assessment in promoting a conservation agenda in an urban biodiversity hotspotEcology and Society17(3), 27.

Questions + Futures

  1. Carpenter, S.R., Mooney, H. a, Agard, J., Capistrano, D., Defries, R.S., Díaz, S., Dietz, T., Duraiappah, A.K., Oteng-Yeboah, A., Pereira, H.M., Perrings, C., Reid, W. V, Sarukhan, J., Scholes, R.J. & Whyte, A.  2009. Science for managing ecosystem services: Beyond the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. PNAS, 106, 1305–12.
  2. Kinzig, A., Perrings, C., Chapin III, F., Polasky, S., Smith, V., Tilman, D. & Turner II, B. 2011. Paying for Ecosystem Services — Promise and Peril. Science, 334, 603–604.
  3. Kremen, C. and R.S. Ostfeld. 2005. A call to ecologists: measuring, analyzing, and managing ecosystem services. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 3:10:540-548.
  4. Norgaard, R.B. 2010. Ecosystem services: From eye-opening metaphor to complexity blinder. Ecological Economics, 69, 1219–1227.

This list over emphasizes the research from Stockholm Resilience Centre, which is useful for us, but probably not for those with other interests.  For those who are interested – I have a broader open Mendeley of papers of ecosystem services – here.

Please suggest papers that our students should be reading in the comments.


Tim Daw on ecosystem services tradeoffs

  • In the video below Tim Daw, from the University of East Anglia’s School of International Development and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, explains his project Participatory Modelling of Wellbeing Tradeoffs in Coastal Kenya. The project, in which I’m also participating, has examined tradeoffs between social wellbeing and ecological conservation in small scale fisheries in Kenya using a combination surveys, models, scenarios, and participatory workshops.

For more information on the project is available on the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s website. The project is funded by the UK’s Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation programme. and there is more information on the ESPA website.

For more on poverty and ecosystem service tradeoffs see:

  • Bennett, E.M., Peterson, G.D. & Gordon, L.J. (2009) Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services. Ecology letters, 12, 1394–404. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01387.x
  • Daw, T., Brown, K., Rosendo, S. & Pomeroy, R. 2011. Applying the ecosystem services concept to poverty alleviation: the need to disaggregate human well-being. Environmental Conservation, 38, 370–379. DOI: 10.1017/S0376892911000506
  • Raudsepp-Hearne, C., Peterson, G.D. & Bennett, E.M. 2010. Ecosystem service bundles for analyzing tradeoffs in diverse landscapes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 5242–7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0907284107

Can Geoengineering and Planetary stewardship be combined?

Should we deliberately intervene in the Earth system to counteract the negative impacts of climate change? Certainly not, if we ask prominent Earth system scholar Will Steffen. In a recent article published in Ambio , Steffen and colleagues argue that geoengineering and Planetary stewardship are opposing extremes because the former deal with “symptom treatment” rather than the reduction of anthropogenic pressures on the planet (Steffen et al. 2011:752).

In my view, this very much depends on what particular technology you focus on, and on what scale. In a recent article in Ecology and Society “Geo-engineering, Governance, and Social-Ecological Systems: Critical Issues and Joint Research Needs” , I argue that there is an interesting, and unexplored interface between some types of geoengineering technologies, and Planetary stewardship.

One important detail that tends to get lost in the public debate about geoengineering, is that the concept not only includes technologies that intend to counteract warming through the regulation of solar radiation (e.g. injection of stratospheric aerosols, cloud brightening), but also a suite of proposals that build on ecosystem-based approaches such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), long-term storage of charcoal in soils (biochar), and reforestation and afforestation.

Once this wider spectrum of proposed and future technologies is acknowledged, a whole different set of poorly explored issues emerge.

Earth stewards could play a key role in various phases of geo-engineering research, ranging from theory and modeling, to technology development, and subscale field-testing. […] Two issues will prove critical. One is to secure that geo-engineering experiments explore technologies that not only address climate stresses, but could also bring multiple social-ecological benefits to communities. […] Second, participatory and co-management processes always play out within an institutional context. Hence, the creation of institutional mechanisms at the national or international level that support consultation, the disclosure of information, provide ombudsmen functions, and endorse integrated assessments of social-ecological dimensions will provide a critical underpinning for participatory processes (from mentioned article in Ecology and Society).

Is this really geoengineering? Well, if you follow the conventional definitions of the concept, I would argue that it is. But it is geoengineering in a different way. As Mark Stafford-Smith and Lynn Russell so elegantly summarizes it in a recent article in Carbon Management

Instead, the geoengineering debate should urgently be reframed as, “what combination of many smaller geoengineering options could be resilient, least harmful and yet effective in mitigating global environmental change?”

Time has come for the resilience community to think more creatively about technology, and seriously engage with the geoengineering debate.

Additional resources of interest:

Lynn M Russel et al. (2012). “Ecosystem Impacts of Geoengineering: A Review for Developing a Science Plan”, Ambio

STEPS Centre (2012). Biochar: “Triple Wins”, Livelihoods and Technological Promise, STEPS Working Paper [PDF]

Oxford Geoengineering Programme (Oxford University)

Stockholm Seminar with Jason Blackstock on Solar Geoengineering

Conceptualizing Social-Ecological Systems

I’ve recently been teaching about social-ecological systems and because I think it is important to conceptualize systems graphically these discussions caused me to reflect on the conceptual diagrams of social-ecological systems

Conceptualizing something as a social-ecological system hides some aspects of reality to focus on others. Social-ecological systems focus on the interactions and
Factors that distinguish social-ecological systems from other approach feedbacks between social and ecological, in particular how social and ecological alter one another and “co-evolve.”

As a systems approach it focuses on structures and processes, but because it comes from a resilience orientation in is particularly interested in how these structures persist and reorganize in response to shocks, gradual changes, or purposeful transformations.

Below are a number of different takes on conceptual diagrams of social-ecological systems that I think show some different aspects of social-ecological systems.

There are many other conceptual diagrams of social-ecological systems and I’d welcome any comments that point to other papers that have particularly interesting or different conceptual diagrams.

The full citations of the papers are:

  • Berkes, Folke, and Colding editors. 2003. Navigating Social Ecological Systems. Cambridge University Press.
  • Chapin, F.S., Lovecraft, A.L., Zavaleta, E.S., Nelson, J., Robards, M.D., Kofinas, G.P., Trainor, S.F., Peterson, G.D., Huntington, H.P. & Naylor, R.L. (2006) Policy strategies to address sustainability of Alaskan boreal forests in response to a directionally changing climate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103, 16637-43. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0606955103
  • Anderies, J. M., M. A. Janssen, and E. Ostrom. 2004. A framework to analyze the robustness of social-ecological systems from an institutional perspective. Ecology and Society 9(1): 18. [online] URL:
  • Bennett, E.M., Peterson, G.D. & Gordon, L.J. (2009) Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services. Ecology Letters, 12, 1394-404. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01387.x

Ecosystem services and poverty alleviation

Ecosystem services for poverty alleviation (ESPA) is an exciting new research programme funded by a consortium of development and science agencies in the UK. I’m on ESPA’s international advisory board and they asked me for some thoughts on the ecosystem service science. Below is what I wrote:

The concept of “Ecosystem services” is a powerful idea that bridges the conceptual separation of the ecological and the social, to connect ecosystems to human well-being. The success of this idea has lead to many “payment for ecosystem service” schemes, which are now being implemented or are being discussed. These plans have the potential to channel substantial amounts of money into the enhancement of the natural capital, which produces ecosystem services, in ways that improve the livelihoods of the world’s poorest.

The challenge of ecosystem service research is that the policy success of the idea of ecosystem services has rapidly outstripped its scientific basis. This situation presents many risks that efforts may be wasted on activities that actively damage natural capital or reduce the livelihoods of the poor. More specifically in terms of poverty alleviation, ecosystem service research has sometimes merely  biological research coated with a veneer of social relevance, rather than using social needs to focus ecological research. Achieving positive outcomes, and avoiding negative ones requires a much richer understanding of ecosystem services than now exists. Below I suggest some ecosystem service research challenges that it would be useful for ESPA research to address.

Research Challenges
Effective ecosystem services assessment: Scientists and practitioners need to develop faster, cheaper ways of assessing the state of multiple ecosystem services, especially in data sparse regions. A better understanding of the following points would help design more effective assessments.
Bundles of ecosystem services: We need to better understand how multiple ecosystem services interact with one another over time. Are they tightly or weakly integrated? Over what scales? What are the social and ecological processes that connect them? In particular what are the trade-offs or synergisms between multiple ecosystem services? This issue is particularly import if we are to avoid situations where investment in specific ecosystem services (e.g. food production or carbon sequestration) results in reducing in other ecosystem services whose losses outweighs the benefits obtained for the increases. This is particularly important to ensure that increases in agricultural production actually increase human well-being.

Dynamics of ecosystem services: Most analyses of ecosystems services have been static, and there has been too much focus on species role in producing ecosystem services and too little on either social or spatial processes shape the supply of ecosystem services. We need to develop better ways to assess how multiple ecosystem services vary and change over time, and understand what are the key social, ecological and geographic factors that drive these changes. In particular it is important to understand what internal and external social and ecological dynamics can produce abrupt changes in ecosystem services (or alternatively what processes can produce resilience). Understanding these factors is important to know when are where abrupt changes are likely to occur, what can be done to avoid unwanted abrupt changes, or alternatively what can be done to promote desired abrupt changes.

Enhancing ecosystem services: Poverty reduction requires enhancing the supply of ecosystem services in degraded ecosystems, but other than agricultural research on provisioning services there has been relatively little work on how to effectively increase ecosystem services. Much environmental research assumes people have a negative impact on ecosystems, but people can improve ecosystem functioning (e.g. Terra Preta – the high productivity soil produced by pre-Columbian Amazonian civilizations). Social, ecological and technological processes can be used separately or in combination to improve ecosystem services, but while there has been a lot of research on the built environment, there has been little research on how ecological infrastructures can be built, enhanced and maintained. We need to better understand how to do enhance ecosystem services, especially how poor people can do it in degraded ecosystems, in wild and human dominated ecosystems, as well as in rural and urban locations.

Governing ecosystem services: It is currently unclear what are effective ways to govern ecosystem services. Today there is often a haphazard assignment of property rights to ecosystem services without analysis or research on the ecological and social consequences, or resilience of these strategies. Ecosystem services present multiple challenges in that their consumption, production and management occur at different scales making it difficult to connect ecosystem system services to existing property or land management. Furthermore, research has shown that not only can payment for ecosystem service schemes have negative impacts on other ecosystem services, but also that payments can erode the social norms and practices that are producing ecosystem services. These problems suggest that institutional innovation and experimentation is needed to develop effective institutions to govern ecosystem services – especially to enhance the wellbeing of the poor, and that the design of such programmes should not be done from a narrow economic perspective.

Human well-being and ecosystem services: How do changes in the supply of ecosystem services alter human wellbeing? People depend on ecosystem services, but we know little about how much benefit different people receive from different ecosystem services. What we do know is largely about either multiple benefits of food production or the economic benefits of tourism. We know little about how either regulating ecosystem services relate to human wellbeing, or how ecosystem services contribute to multiple aspects of human wellbeing. Addressing this issue in multiple ways is critical to understanding the connection between ecosystem services and poverty reduction. In particular better understanding how to develop agricultural landscapes that provide a diverse set of ecosystem services to the poor. Contributing to clarifying these relationships would be a major benefit of ESPA. In particular a richer understanding of how ecosystem services contribute to diverse aspects of human wellbeing, such as health, security, and good social relations, is important to be able to accurately value ecosystem services.

The above research challenges are written in a telegraphic form that is relatively unsupported. Some of these issues are raised and discussed in greater length in three recent papers I co-authored:

A new global database of plant traits – TRY

An ongoing research programme in ecology is to use species traits to model ecosystem dynamics and function.   Most of the effort on traits has focussed on plants.

Location of TRY sample sites

TRY is an exciting new global database of plant traits that has managed to combine many of these efforts – bring together 93 separate plant trait databases, and worked with 198 partners from 106 different scientific institutions, to produce a global database that contains 3 million trait records for about 69 000 plant species (of the world’s 3 00 000 plant species).  The database covers  about 1,500 different plant traits, including the morphological, anatomical, physiological, biochemical, and phenological – and ranging from leaf area, to fire tolerance, and nitrogen fixation capacity.  The project’s objectives are:

(1) The construction of a global-scale database of vascular plant traits. This database should gather under a single, easily accessible format data available in different existing datasets that cover a variety of biomes, geographic areas, and traits. The database construction is under the technical responsibility of the Organismic Biogeochemistry Group at the Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry.

(2) Make the trait data available for the ecological community. The TRY database is not public, but data are shared among participants of the TRY initiative upon request, respecting the intellectual property rights of data contributors.

(3) Support the design of a new generation of dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs) which take into account the greater biological complexity, necessary for a more robust representation of ecosystem response to global environmental change.

A new paper from the project in Global Change Biology (DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02451.x) presents the TRY database and an initial analysis of traits that shows:

  • most plant traits are approximately log-normally distributed, with widely differing ranges of variation across traits.
  • most trait variation is between species (interspecific), but significant intraspecific variation is also documented, up to 40% of the overall variation.
  • Plant functional types (PFTs), as commonly used in vegetation models, capture a substantial fraction of the observed variation – but for several traits most variation occurs within PFTs, up to 75% of the overall variation.

Hopefully we can expect much more progress in understanding ecological dynamics, as well as ecosystem function and services based on the further development and analysis of this database.

Three new positions in ecosystem services research at McGill University

We’re looking to hire three new people to join our team working on the role of landscape structure and biodiversity in the provision of ecosystem services. The new positions include a postdoc to work on developing models of ecosystem services, a PhD position in historical ecosystem ecology,  and a (part time) project manager. We’re working in the Montérégie, a lovely agricultural landscape just southeast of Montreal.

For more about the project, check out our website:

Here’s more detail on each of the three positions:

Postdoctoral researcher

We are seeking an outstanding postdoctoral researcher to be a part of a dynamic multi-lab team that is mapping and modeling past, present, and future provision of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the agricultural landscape around Montréal. The primary research project would involve synthesizing historical and current geospatial data to evaluate how landscape configuration effects the provision of ecosystem services in this region. This analysis will inform the development a spatial model of the provision of ecosystem services under different land use/land cover configurations in the greater Montreal region.

A successful candidate will have a PhD in a related field (e.g., Geography, Ecology); experience with ecosystem modeling techniques, including GIS and computer programming; and be familiar with the literature on ecosystem services. The applicant should have a good publication record and a demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a large team. Capacity to read and speak French is a plus.

The successful applicant would be primarily based in the lab of Dr. Elena Bennett at McGill’s Macdonald Campus, but would also be supervised by the co-PIs on the project, including Dr. Jeanine Rhemtulla (Geography), Dr. Andrew Gonzalez (Biology), and Dr. Martin Lechowicz (Biology). An office on McGill’s downtown campus will also be provided. Salary will be $35,000 per annum plus standard McGill benefits. We encourage applicants of all nationalities to apply.

Applicants should submit a CV, a statement detailing how their research interests align with the focus of the project, and the names and contact information for three references. Start date is targeted for January 2012. Please submit applications by September 1, 2011 to: Elena Bennett (elena dot bennett at mcgill dot ca)

PhD Student in Historical Ecosystem Ecology

We are seeking a PhD student interested in historical ecology, landscape ecology, and ecosystem services to be a part of a dynamic multi-lab team that is mapping and modeling past, present, and future provision of ecosystem services in the agricultural landscape around Montreal. The student’s project would involve examining historical records to estimate past provision of ecosystem services, interpretation of historical air photos and other maps, and modeling relationships between land use, spatial configuration, and ecosystem services through time. There is considerable room for a student to develop their own project within these general parameters.

A successful candidate should have an MSc degree in a related field, experience with GIS, remote sensing, or other ecosystem modeling techniques, and an ability to work independently and as part of a large team. Ability to read and speak French is a plus.

The successful applicant could be a PhD student in either Geography or Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University and would be co-supervised by Dr. Elena Bennett and Dr. Jeanine Rhemtulla. McGill University, located in Montreal, QC, is one of Canada’s top universities and boasts a large international student population.

Applicants should submit a CV, a statement of research interests, a copy of their transcripts, and the names and contact information for two references. Start date is targeted for Fall 2012. Please submit applications to: Jeanine Rhemtulla and Elena Bennett (jeanine dot rhemtulla at mcgill dot ca) and (elena dot bennett at mcgill dot ca)

Project Manager (Part Time)

We are seeking an organized, energetic, and enthusiastic project manager for a new project about biodiversity, connectivity, and ecosystem services in the settled landscapes of the greater Montreal region. The project involves a large team of professors and their students (~30 people total) working on both the fundamental and applied aspects of this research. Our project seeks to understand how past and future land use change will affect habitat connectivity, biodiversity, and the provision of multiple ecosystem services. Policy makers and managers often must make decisions with limited rigorous information about how to manage for sustainable landscapes. In order to improve the link between science and decision making our project includes actively engaged partners from local cities, counties, NGOs, as well as regional and provincial government. Our research will improve both the science and decision-making required to manage for sustainable and resilient landscapes.

Project management would include:

  • Managing the activities and people associated with the project and ensure that we are meeting project goals
  • Ensure communication across the researchers involved with the project
  • Management of GIS data central to the project, creation of geodatabases
  • Coordinating and tracking the project budget
  • Maintaining communication with our project partners
  • Identify opportunities for improving and enhancing the project

We seek a project manager who is self-motivated, extremely organized, and has experience running a major research project or managing a research team. Because the project manager would also have a role in managing geodatabases for the project, experience with GIS and geodatabase management is also important. A graduate degree (M.Sc. or PhD) in environmental sciences would be an advantage. The position will involve considerable communication with our local management partners, so the successful applicant must be bilingual (French/English).

We envision a part-time (up to 3 days/week) position with a salary of approximately $20,000 per annum.

Applicants should submit a CV, a statement of interests and experience, and contact information for three references. Start date is targeted for Fall 2011. Please submit applications by July 1, 2011 to: Elena Bennett (elena dot bennett at mcgill dot ca)

Chicago invests in resilient ecological infrastructure

Leslie Kaufman in the New York Times has a good article, A City Prepares for a Warm Long-Term Forecast, that reviews Chicago’s efforts to improve its ecological infrastructure. The article describes the city’s approach to climate change adaptation:

As a first step, the city wanted to model how global warming might play out locally. …  the scientists said, Chicago would have summers like the Deep South, with as many as 72 days over 90 degrees before the end of the century. For most of the 20th century, the city averaged fewer than 15. By 2070, Chicago could expect 35 percent more precipitation in winter and spring, but 20 percent less in summer and fall. By then, the conditions would have changed enough to make the area’s plant hardiness zone akin to Birmingham, Ala. But what would that mean in real-life consequences?

A private risk assessment firm was hired, and the resulting report read like an urban disaster film minus Godzilla. The city could see heat-related deaths reaching 1,200 a year. The increasing occurrences of freezes and thaws (the root of potholes) would cause billions of dollars’ worth of deterioration to building facades, bridges and roads. Termites, never previously able to withstand Chicago’s winters, would start gorging on wooden frames. Armed with the forecasts, the city prioritized which adaptations would save the most money and would be the most feasible in the light of tight budgets and public skepticism.

… Much of Chicago’s adaptation work is about transforming paved spaces. “Cities are hard spaces that trap water and heat,” said Janet L. Attarian, a director of streetscapes at the city’s Department of Transportation. “Alleys and streets account for 25 percent of groundcover, and closer to 40 percent when parking lots are included.” The city’s 13,000 concrete alleyways were originally built without drainage and are a nightmare every time it rains. Storm water pours off the hard surfaces and routinely floods basements and renders low-lying roads and underpasses unusable.

To make matters worse, many of the pipes that handle storm overflow also handle raw sewage. After a very heavy rain, if overflow pipes become congested, sewage backs up into basements or is released with the rainwater into the Chicago River — … As the region warms, Chicago is expecting more frequent and extreme storms. In the last three years, the city has had two intense storms classified as 100-year events.

So the work planned for a six-point intersection on the South Side with flooding and other issues is a prototype. The sidewalk in front of the high school on Cermak Road has been widened to include planting areas that are lower than the street surface. This not only encourages more pedestrian traffic, but also provides shade and landscaping. These will be filled with drought-resistant plants like butterfly weed and spartina grasses that sponge up excess water and help filter pollutants like de-icing salts. In some places, unabsorbed water will seep into storage tanks beneath the streets so it can be used later for watering plants or in new decorative fountains in front of the high school. The bike lanes and parking spaces being added along the street are covered with permeable pavers, a weave of pavement that allows 80 percent of rainwater to filter through it to the ground below. Already 150 alleyways have been remade in this way.

… Awareness of climate change has filled Chicago city planners with deep concern for the trees. Not only are they beautiful, said Ms. Malec-McKenna, herself trained as a horticulturalist, but their shade also provides immediate relief to urban heat islands. Trees improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide, and their leaves can keep 20 percent of an average rain from hitting the pavement. Chicago spends over $10 million a year planting roughly 2,200 trees. From 1991 to 2008, the city added so many that officials estimate tree cover increased to 17.6 percent from 11 percent. The goal is to exceed 23 percent this decade.

The problem is that for trees to reach their expected lifespan — up to 90 years — they have to be able to endure hotter conditions. Chicago has already changed from one growing zone to another in the last 30 years, and it expects to change several times again by 2070. Knowing this, planners asked experts at the city’s botanical garden and Morton Arboretum to evaluate their planting list. They were told to remove six of the most common tree species. Off came the ash trees that account for 17 percent of Chicago tree cover, or more than any other tree. … So Chicago is turning to swamp white oaks and bald cypress. It is like the rest of adaptation strategy, Ms. Malec-McKenna explains: “A constant ongoing process to make sure we are as resilient as we can be in facing the future.”

On Dot Earth Andrew Revkin follows up with links to his description of Seoul and other cities that have substantially improved their ecological infrastructure.

Nobel Symposium in Stockholm

I just argued the human role in the Anthropocene with Will Steffen at the 2011 Nobel Laureate Symposium in Stockholm.  In a mock court, in front of a jury of Nobelists, I successfully argued that:

1) Humanity has pushed the Earth out of the Holocene epoch, but 4) Humanity can prosper, in the Anthropocene

2) Humanity has substantial capacity to cope with tipping points, they do not represent “catastrophic change” (from the perspective of humanity).

3) Humanity needs learn how to cope with a novel, turbulent world requires change – based on learning, experimentation, diversity.

The rest of the symposium is is being broadcast on the web.

The symposium’s website provides a description of the meeting:

This third Nobel Laureate Symposium will focus on the need for integrated approaches that deal with the synergies, conflicts and trade-offs between the individual components of climate change.

Climate change, decreasing biodiversity, deteriorating ecosystems, poverty and a continuously growing population all contribute to reducing the planet’s resilience and may have catastrophic implications for humanity.

Each of these problems has attracted great attention from the international community, but they have invariably been considered in isolation, with little or no regard to the interactions between them.

It is time to change this approach.

The Symposium is organized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, Stockholm Environment Institute, Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics and Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research.

The Symposium, organised with the participation and support of HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, will provide an informal setting for productive discussions on how we can transform current governance into a more sustainable and adaptive management approach that operates within the boundaries of the planet.

It will take place at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm between 16-19 May and will include a mix of plenary presentations, panel discussions and working group sessions. The Symposium will be concluded with a Royal dinner hosted by HM Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

Steve Carpenter wins Stockholm Water Prize

Big congratulations to my former post-doc advisor Steve Carpenter on winning the 2011  Stockholm Water Prize.  It is well deserved as Steve has done a huge amount of really innovative work on ecosystem dynamics, ecological economics, large scale ecosystem experiments,  and environmental management.

The prize citation writes:

Professor Carpenter’s groundbreaking research has shown how lake ecosystems are affected by the surrounding landscape and by human activities. His findings have formed the basis for concrete solutions on how to manage lakes.

Professor Carpenter, 59, is recognised as one of the world’s most influential environmental scientists in the field of ecology. By combining theoretical models and large-scale lake experiments he has reframed our understanding of freshwater environments and how lake ecosystems are impacted by humans and the surrounding landscape.

The Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee emphasises the importance of Professor Carpenter’s contributions in helping us understand how we affect lakes through nutrient loading, fishing, and introduction of exotic species.

“Professor Carpenter has shown outstanding leadership in setting the ecological research agenda, integrating it into a socio-ecological context, and in providing guidance for the management of aquatic resources,” noted the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee.

The Stockholm Water Prize is a global award founded in 1991 and presented annually by the Stockholm International Water Institute to an individual, organisation or institution for outstanding water-related activities. The Stockholm Water Prize Laureate receives USD 150,000 and a crystal sculpture specially designed and created by Orrefors.

H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, who is the patron of the Prize, will formally present Professor Carpenter with the 2011 Stockholm Water Prize at a Royal Award Ceremony in Stockholm City Hall on August 25 during the 2011 World Water Week in Stockholm.

SIWI, who gives the water prize have also posted an interview with Steve about his work on trophic cascades and resilience: