Tag Archives: USA

2011 precipitation anomalies in USA

From US’s National Weather Service – big precipitation anomalies in US this past year.  The purple areas are extra wet, while the red areas are extra dry.

Precipitation anomalies in USA for 2011 in mm


“Normal” precipitation is derived from PRISM climate data, created at Oregon State University. The PRISM gridded climate maps are considered the most detailed, highest-quality spatial climate datasets currently available. The 30 year PRISM normal from 1971-2000 is used for precipitation analysis since 2004. Prior to 2004 the 30 year PRISM normal from 1961-1990 is used.” from http://water.weather.gov/precip/about.php

Inequality in the USA – driven by politics?

1) Multi-part Slate series  The Great Divergence 2010:What’s causing America’s growing income inequality? by Timothy Noah examines changes in inequality in the USA and evaluates multiple explanations.  He introduces the series by writing:

In the late 1970s, a half-century trend toward growing income equality reversed itself. Ever since, U.S. incomes have grown more unequal. Middle-class incomes stagnated while the top 1 percent’s share of national income climbed to 24 percent.

2) Crooked Timber reviews new popular book Winner take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by political scientist’s Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.  Henry Farrell writes:

[the book] should transform the ways in which we think about and debate the political economy of the US.  The underlying argument is straightforward. The sources of American economic inequality are largely political – the result of deliberate political decisions to shape markets in ways that benefit the already-privileged at the expense of a more-or-less unaware public.

3) An academic paper in Politics and Society (DOI: 10.1177/0032329210365042) by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson presents the ideas behind the book and a number of commentaries was published this year in a special issue.  It is available online at: http://pas.sagepub.com/content/38/2/152.full.pdf.  Hacker and Pierson conclude their article by writing:

Explaining the remarkable rise of winner-take-all requires a true political economy— that is, a perspective that sees modern capitalism and modern electoral democracies as deeply interconnected. On the one side, government profoundly influences the economy through an extensive range of policies that shape and reshape markets. On the other side, economic actors—especially when capable of sustained collective action on behalf of shared material interests—have a massive and ongoing impact on how political authority is exercised.
… Too many economists and political scientists have treated the American political economy as an atomized space, and focused their analysis on individual actors, from voters and politicians to workers and consumers. But the American political economy is an organized space, with extensive government policies shaping markets, and increasingly powerful groups who favor winner-take-all outcomes playing a critical role in politics. Finding allies in both political parties, organized groups with a long view have successfully pushed new initiatives onto the American political agenda and exploited the opportunities created by American political institutions to transform U.S. public policy…. In the process, they have fundamentally reshaped the relative economic standing and absolute well-being of millions of ordinary Americans. Politics and governance have been central to the rise of winner-take-all inequality.

Over fertilizing the world

Three faces of global over fertilization from agriculture in China and the USA, and its complex effects on food webs.

1) Chinese farmers are acidifying there soil by over applying fertilizer.  Acidic soils impede crop growth and amplify the leaching of toxins.  Since the early 1980s, pH has declined from 0.2 to 0.8 across China, mostly due to overuse of fertilizer.  This is shown in a new Science paper, Significant Acidification in Major Chinese Croplands (DOI: 10.1126/science.1182570) by JH Guo and others.

Topsoil pH changes from 154 paired data over 35 sites in seven Chinese provinces between the 1980s and the 2000s. The line and square within the box represent the median and mean values of all data; the bottom and top edges of the box represent 25 and 75 percentiles of all data, respectively; and the bottom and top bars represent 5 and 95 percentiles, respectively. (From Guo et al)

Reporting on the paper Mara Hvistendahl writes, “Beginning in the 1970s, Chinese farmers applied ever-increasing amounts of fertilizer with the hope that it would lead to bigger harvests. Instead of high yield, however, they got water and air pollution. Today, agricultural experts estimate that in many parts of China fertilizer use can be slashed by up to 60%.”  In another issue of Science she also reports on current Chinese efforts to reduce fertilizer use.  In the Wall Street Journal, Geeta Annad reports on overfertilization in India “Pritam Singh, who farms 30 acres in Punjab, says the more desperate farmers become, the more urea they use. Overuse is stunting yields.”

2) The Washington Post reports on how in the US large feed lots are causing water quality problems in Manure becomes pollutant as its volume grows unmanageable

Animal manure, a byproduct as old as agriculture, has become an unlikely modern pollution problem, scientists and environmentalists say. The country simply has more dung than it can handle: Crowded together at a new breed of megafarms, livestock produce three times as much waste as people, more than can be recycled as fertilizer for nearby fields.

… Despite its impact, manure has not been as strictly regulated as more familiar pollution problems, like human sewage, acid rain or industrial waste. The Obama administration has made moves to change that but already has found itself facing off with farm interests, entangled in the contentious politics of poop.

3) Fertilization of ecosystems can have complex ecological consequences. In a paper in PNAS, John Davis and others show that in a Long-term nutrient enrichment decouples predator and prey production DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0908497107.

Relationship between primary consumer and predator secondary production for the reference stream (gray circles), the treatment stream (black circles), and previously published data (open circles). The arrows represent the temporal trajectory of the treatment stream starting with the 2 years of pretreatment (P1 and P2) and ending with the fifth year of enrichment (E5). The data labels correspond to the sampling year for the reference and treatment streams. The previously published data include 5 years of production data from the reference stream (C53) and a similar Coweeta stream (C55) that had experimentally reduced terrestrial leaf inputs during 4 of those years (21). It also includes previously published data from an unmanipulated year that compared our current reference (C53) and treatment (C54) streams (22). AFDM is ash-free dry mass.

Their research showed that there were differences in how predators and prey responded to fertilization, but these only emerged over time.  Increases N and P entering a stream increased populations of both predators and prey, however later on prey populations continued to increase but predator populations declined,because fertilzation shifted the streams prey to larger, predator resistant species, which reduced the efficiency with which energy flowed through the food web.

Mapping the USA’s food

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has introduced the Food Environment Atlas, a new web-based data visualization tool.  The atlas is an interactive online tool that allows people to visualize various food related information at the USA county level.  For example the map below:

Pounds per capita of meat and poultry

Ratio per capita of fruit and vegtables consumed vs. processed food

Continue reading

Hydrological impact of biofuels

R. Dominguez-Faus and others analyze the impact of different biofuels on water in the USA in their article in Envir. Science and Technology, The Water Footprint of Biofuels: A Drink or Drive Issue? (doi:10.1021/es802162x).  The figure below, from the paper, shows the substantial ecological requirements (and variation) among biofuels.

Figure 1. Evapotranspiration, irrigation, and land requirements to produce 1 L of ethanol (Le) in the U.S. from different crops.

Figure 1. Evapotranspiration, irrigation, and land requirements to produce 1 L of ethanol (Le) in the U.S. from different crops.

They write:

The current and ongoing increase in biofuel production could result in a significant increase in demand for water to irrigate fuel crops, which could worsen local and regional water shortages. A substantial increase in water pollution by fertilizers and pesticides is also likely, with the potential to exacerbate eutrophication and hypoxia in inland waters and coastal areas including Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. This in turn would cause undue financial hardship on the fishing industry as well as negative impacts to these vital, biodiversity-rich, ecosystems. Such threats to water availability and water quality on local and national scales represent a major obstacle to sustainable biofuel production and will require careful assessment of crop selection and management options. It is important to recognize that certain crops such as switchgrass and other lignocelluosic options deliver more potential biofuel energy with lower requirements for agricultural land, agrichemicals, and water.

Climatic factors such as frequency of droughts and floods are beyond human control, but as the wide range of estimated nutrients discharged to surface waters shows, clearly some important variables are within our control. These include crop selection, tillage methods, and location. As more biofuel production is integrated into the agriculture sector it will be important to adopt land-use practices that efficiently utilize nutrients and minimize erosion, such as co-cropping winter grains and summer biomass crops. These land use choices should also focus on establishing riparian buffers and filter strips to serve a dual purpose in erosion control and biomass production. Similarly, a CRP-like program should be considered to promote cellulosic biofuel crop planting in marginal lands to prevent excess erosion and runoff while allowing producers to benefit from historically high commodity prices. CRP-like payments would then help to balance societal goals with ecological benefits and provide financial viability for the farmers making the land use choices. Finally, increasing charges for irrigation water for biofuel crops to market rates should be considered to promote fuel crop agriculture in areas where rainfall can supply the majority of the water requirements and to reflect the true value of water resources in the price of biofuels. Policies and programs should be coordinated to avoid the current situation where some efforts (ethanol subsidies, mandates) bid against other programs (CRP) though both are funded by taxpayers with the common goal of environmental protection.

Bureau of Reclamation adaptive management job

I was sent this job ad:

The Bureau of Reclamation has an opening for a GS-13 Supervisory General
Biologist in Salt Lake City, Utah. The selectee will serve as an
understudy to the current Adaptive Management Group Chief for approximately 6 months, and will then assume the responsibilities of the Adaptive Management Group Chief. Responsibilities include serving in a key
technical and managerial role in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP). For more information on the GCDAMP visit:


This position is open to both government employees and to the public.
Apply at USA Jobs: http://www.usajobs.gov/.

In USA Jobs, search using one of the following vacancy numbers: BR-UC-2009-37 (public) or BR-UC-2009-61 (for government employees [note: government employees must also click the “status” button on the left side of the USA Jobs page to see the BR-UC-2009-61 announcement]). The vacancy closes on October 17, 2009.

Mapping farms in the USA



New York Times reports on the 2007 USA agricultural census to map US organic farms

The map of organic farms in the United States is clustered into a few geographic centers, a strikingly different pattern than the map of all farms, which spreads densely over many regions, breaking only for the Rockies and Western deserts.

Areas in the Northeast and Northwest have many small organic farms that sell produce directly to consumers. Large organic farms, which some critics call organic agribusiness, have flourished in California.

The largest organic markets by far are for vegetables, fruit and dairy products, according to Catherine Greene, an economist at the Agriculture Department.

Organic vegetables now account for 5 percent of all vegetable sales; organic dairies, which are the fastest-growing sector, now produce 1 percent of the nation’s milk.

Via Agricultural biodiversity weblog

Archetypical landscape of the USA

Jeff Cardille at the University of Montreal has a project METALAND that is eveloping more sophiticated ways of characterizing landscapes.  He presented some of his work on archetypical landscapes of the USA at the current Ecological Society of America meeting.

Jeff Cardille 17 archetypical landscapes of USA

On Nature’s blog Emma Morris report’s on his talk From the bright green soy field to the rolling blacktop…this land was made for you and me:

What is the typical landscape of the United States? Jeffrey Cardille, of the University of Montreal wondered the same thing. He may be in Montreal now, but he’s from the US of A, and a big Woody Guthrie fan. Guthrie, in his alternative national anthem “This Land is Your Land” invoked the “redwood forests,” the “gulf stream waters” and so on. But could it be that the archetypal US landscape these days is rather a cornfield or a brand new subdivision?

To find out, Cardille used an algorithm called “affinity propagation”, made famous in this Science paper by Frey and Dueck. As Cardille explains, the algorithm is “a way to find representative samples in complex datasets.” In the Science paper, it was used to create clusters of faces the same people out of a sea of photographs. Each cluster was organized around a central exemplar photo.

Cardille used the same method on landscape data from the National Land Cover Data Set, and metrics extracted from the dataset with a program called fragstats. He gridded the lower 48 off into 6 km by 6 km squares and then let the algorithm rip on the data—5% at a time due to computing power limitations.

What emerges on any one of the runs are something like 17 exemplar squares, real chunks of the landscape that best represent the totality of the landscape. Predictably, of the 17 in the run he presented, 13 are human dominated—row crops, clear cuts, urbanizing suburban land, and the like. Two are carefully managed national parks. Just two are more or less running themselves. One of these is a square of the vast shrub-lands of Texas.