Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Posts Tagged: Climate Change

UC Davis to lead groundwater and irrigated agriculture sustainability study

UC Davis Professor Isaya Kisekka and students measure soil moisture content using a neutron probe at the UC Davis Agricultural Research Station in 2018.

Effort Will Develop Ways to Minimize Risk from Climate Extremes for Southwest Growers

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, have been awarded a $10 million grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to find ways to sustain irrigated agriculture while improving groundwater quantity and quality in the Southwest under a changing climate.

Isaya Kisekka, associate professor of agrohydrology and irrigation at UC Davis, is leading a team of more than two dozen climate, plant and soil scientists; hydrologists; engineers; economists, educators and extension specialists from UC Davis and other institutions in California, Arizona and New Mexico. They will develop climate change adaptation management strategies that ensure sustainability of groundwater and irrigated agriculture.

Kisekka says the project team in California will work with Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to develop tools and data to enhance water management at both the farm and groundwater basin scales to improve crop production and achieve sustainability goals under the state's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which provides a statewide framework to help protect groundwater resources over the long-term. The research team will also work with grower coalitions to achieve the groundwater quality goals of the Central Valley Salt and Nitrate Management Plan. 

“For farmers, the biggest challenge threatening their business is water,” Kisekka said. “Our project is going to develop climate-smart adaptation management practices to help growers achieve their production goals while addressing the co-benefits for the environment and human health. We are going to develop cutting edge tools to manage groundwater quantity and quality as well as study how policies impact behaviors such as water use in agriculture.”

The practices, models and tools developed will be used by growers or their advisors, policymakers, irrigation districts, coalitions and groundwater sustainability agencies to address climate change extremes such as drought or floods.

Growing dependence on groundwater

Growers have increasingly depended on groundwater during multi-year droughts and heat stress. Part of the five-year project includes looking into aquifer systems in California's Central Valley, central Arizona and the lower Rio Grande basin in New Mexico. These regions have all experienced unprecedented overdraft, which happens when more water is pumped from a groundwater basin than is replaced from sources, including rainfall.

“For a long time, a lot of farmers would use groundwater as an insurance policy whenever there was a drought,” Kisekka said. “The negative consequences of that became obvious: groundwater levels declined, we had subsidence which causes land to sink, we had deterioration in water quality and so on. What are growers going to do when we have another drought like we are now? We have to think more broadly.” 

Kisekka says they will also come up with management practices to improve soil health, develop alternative water supplies and reduce water demand so the region can continue to produce various agriculture commodities, such as vegetables, grapes and almonds.

“We grow crops in California that we cannot shift to another part of the country because they won't grow well there,” Kisekka said. “We can't grow almonds in the Southeast where they have a lot of water because they require a certain climate. We want to ensure food and nutritional security of the United States by sustaining irrigated agriculture in the Southwest.”

Project researchers will also establish innovative education and extension programs to teach students of all backgrounds and ages, as well as the public, about the importance of water in agriculture.

“Part of this is to develop educational curriculums from elementary to high school to college, where instructors can pull our modules on water management or sustainable agricultural systems and teach that in their classes,” Kisekka said.

While the depletion of groundwater supplies, among other factors, puts major pressure on agricultural operations in the southwestern region, Kisekka hopes the management practices and tools that will be developed during this project will help improve production and resource sustainability and help make California and the country more resilient to climate change. UC Davis will establish the Agricultural Water Center of Excellence as part of the grant. This unique Center of Excellence will also have capacity to support agricultural water research, education and extension activities at collaborating institutions with potential impact at local, state, national and international levels.

“We hope at the end of the day we can still grow food in California and the Southwest in general without drying out our groundwater aquifers,” he said. “We have to learn to adapt to climate change. We may not be able to stop it in the short term, but we should be able to adapt.”

Researchers from University of California, Berkeley, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Stanford University, CSU Fresno, University of Arizona, New Mexico State University, USDA Agricultural Research Service (Sustainable Agricultural Water Systems Research: Davis, CA and Water Management and Conservation Research: Maricopa, AZ) and USDA Climate Hub are also participating in the project.

Posted on Monday, October 18, 2021 at 1:38 PM
  • Author: Tiffany Dobbyn
Tags: climate change (112), Groundwater (22), irrigation (25), Isaya Kisekka (1)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Increasing temperatures led to better-tasting wine grapes, but for how long?

A worker installs a shade film in Napa, California, to protect cabernet sauvignon grapes from overexposure to the sun. Photo by Kaan Kurtural, UC Davis

Study shows sugar, color content should be watched

Warming temperatures over the past 60 years have led to increased wine quality, but a new study looking at sugar and color content in grapes indicates the industry may be facing trouble if trends continue, according to collaborative research out of the University of California, Davis, and University of Bordeaux.

“Quality has increased steadily up to now,” said lead author Kaan Kurtural, a professor of viticulture and enology and an extension specialist at UC Davis. “We just don't know the tipping point.”

Kurtural's research, published in the journal OENO One, focuses on two renowned wine regions — Napa Valley and Bordeaux, France.

Cabernet sauvignon grapes. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark

Researchers looked at ripening, grape quality and temperature data over six decades in both regions and then confirmed the findings with a five-year trial in Napa. They also consulted wine ratings in publications like Wine Spectator to gauge consumer demand.

One key finding: As temperatures exceeded what was considered the optimal level for quality, the grapes produced better wines.

“Previous research had few field data, but a record of assumptions,” said Kurtural.

Other quality factors at play

Temperature is a factor, but the paper suggests that sugar and color content should not be discounted. The authors also identified a biomarker that affects taste, color and other factors that can be the bellwether for climate change in red-skinned wine grapes.    

“Temperature is always there,” he said. “Temperature is not your bellwether.”

Higher temperatures can harm grape composition, including color, taste and aroma. Researchers examined pigment and sugar content of five California vintages of cabernet sauvignon, finding that as the grapes got sweeter the skin and color deteriorated.

The degradation of these quality-related compounds and the observed plateaus of wine quality ratings suggests there can be too much of a good thing.

Researchers have long theorized that increasing temperatures from climate change would lead to shifts in wine-growing regions, opening up some new areas for vineyards and making others unsustainable.

That shift could be a boon to some economies and devastating to others, something the industry should watch.

“Since the 1980s, grapes got riper and they were able to make better flavor and color compounds,” Kurtural said. “Are we going to lose this or adapt more?”

Gregory A. Gambetta with the University of Bordeaux is a corresponding author on the paper.

For more information:

Posted on Monday, October 4, 2021 at 1:30 PM
  • Author: Emily C. Dooley
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

New book shows how Californians are bolstering climate resilience

 

Wildfires that generate their own weather, drought, record-breaking heatwaves, and frequent flooding are compelling more people to try to mitigate and adapt to climate change. A new book co-authored by Adina Merenlender, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, shows how Californians are working together across diverse communities and landscapes to improve resilience and address climate justice.

“The climate leaders profiled in this book are inspirational,” said Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources secretary, in his review of “Climate Stewardship: Taking Collective Action to Protect California.”

“Their stories reflect the diversity of California's people and landscapes and show the power of collective action to create change,” he wrote. “They also reveal our profound connection with nature and with one another, and the power of nature-based solutions to address the climate crisis. Perhaps most importantly, this wonderful book reminds us of what we are capable of as individuals to improve the future of our planet and people.” 

“Climate Stewardship offers an uplifting way to learn about climate science that is most relevant for California's communities and ecosystems,” said co-author Adina Merenlender.

Published by UC Press, “Climate Stewardship” will be required reading for participants of the UC Climate Stewards certification course, but it isn't a textbook. The book is a collection of personal stories of individuals who are striving to improve climate resilience.

“The stories, many gathered through UC Cooperative Extension efforts, show what everyday people can do together to improve community resilience across agricultural, natural and urban landscapes,” Merenlender said. “‘Climate Stewardship' also offers an uplifting way to learn about climate science that is most relevant for California's communities and ecosystems.”

Fresno County farmers Siong and Fong Tchieng shade vegetables to protect the crop from sunburn. Photo by Ka Tchieng

Michael Yang, UC Cooperative Extension small farms and specialty crops agricultural assistant, works with Hmong farmers in Fresno County, such as the Tchieng family, to advance climate-smart agriculture. In the book, Ka Tchieng, whose family grows vegetables, wrote about how they are adapting their farming practices to climate change. "My parents, Siong and Fong Tchieng, are picking green bell, purple bell and sweet Italian peppers. The shade is to help prevent sunburn on the peppers during the hot summer in Fresno,” she wrote. 

While the book is research-based, it is written for a general audience, Merenlender said.

“It is written in narrative form with stories meant to showcase what can be done and some relevant climate science is woven throughout,” she said. “For this reason, it is meant to be of interest to a wide California audience.” 

The book is illustrated with original paintings by Obi Kaufmann, author of “The California Field Atlas,” and co-authored by Brendan Buhler, an award-winning science writer.

For more information about the book, see the California Naturalist blog at http://calnat.ucanr.edu/cs/Climate_Stewardship. To buy the book from UC Press, visit https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520378940/climate-stewardship.

Posted on Friday, September 10, 2021 at 1:40 PM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

The importance of trees to cool urban heat islands

Partnering for California

Spring 2021 proved to be one of the hottest in California, breaking heat records in several cities. It was a perfect opportunity to plant “climate-ready landscape trees” in inland cities identified in a study conducted by the University of California Cooperative Extension in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

Climate-ready trees were planted by a USFS team in June 2021.

The idea of bringing together community groups and volunteers to enhance tree canopies that cool urban heat islands --which can be more than 50 degrees hotter than surrounding areas -- in the Redlands area was spawned by Janet Hartin, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor for Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.

It became a reality when Mandy Parkes, district manager of Inland Empire Resource Conservation District, and Shelli Stockton of the University of Redlands received partner grants from the Climate Action Corps to start a nursery and get the “climate-ready landscape trees” in the ground. To date, nearly 100 trees from the study have been planted, including over 40 at the Redlands Sports Complex. As the volunteers in Redlands know, planting trees helps to cool these heat islands. After a long day of digging and planting in June, the volunteers were satisfied with their hard work and looked forward to sharing their experiences.

Nearly 100 trees from the study have been planted, including over 40 at the Redlands Sports Complex.

According to Parkes: “The project is moving along quickly due to excellent work of the Climate Action Fellows; inspiring research and support from Janet Hartin and the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners who will ensure that residents continue to receive proper tree care help long after the planting ends; outreach by Mario Saucedo and his Redlands-based community action nonprofit organization, Common Vision Coalition.”

Saucedo, chairman of Common Vision Coalition, said, "It came together, all of us round-tabling on how we could do this pilot project and reach out to the community residents and offer them free trees for their homes." 

Once the community accepted the project, the outreach began. James Berry of the California Climate Action Corps was excited after they got the green light from the city of Redlands to plant the trees.

"They are from two different species," said Berry. "The Western Bud and the Red Push Pistache. Both are heat tolerant and drought tolerant, making them ideal for the high temperatures we are facing, and the ones in the coming years as a result of the climate change."

“Our ‘Trees for Tomorrow' workshop we held last fall for city planners, wholesale and retail nursery personnel, landscape architects, landscapers, water districts community groups, and Master Gardeners resulted in pockets of multidisciplinary projects, tree planting projects across Southern California, including the Redlands project. The Redlands project exemplifies the core principles of a well thought out and executed project that includes long-term tree care, a real key to maximizing benefits of trees over their lifespans of 50 years and more.”

Red push pistache is heat tolerant and drought tolerant.

With a statewide drought forcing water restrictions, people are looking into options to save water. Hartin advises against sacrificing any trees.

"One of the things that I think is important to prioritize is to make sure that when we have to reduce our water use outside in urban areas, we maintain our trees as a top priority," said Hartin. "If that means for a year or two that our lawns and our flowering beds are going to go by the wayside, then that's just the situation."

She recommends something as simple as dragging a hose out and into the tree's drip line, making sure not to water the trunk, but the other side of the drip line where the active root system is.

"Climate-ready tree study: update for Southern California communities" by E. Gregory McPherson, Alison Berry, Natalie van Doorn, Janet Hartin, Jim Downer, Darren Haver and Erica Teach is published at https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/60414

To learn more about the study or how to combat climate change with trees:

“Trees for tomorrow start today.”

“Be part of the solution: Plant drought, heat, and pest-resistant trees to combat urban heat islands.”

“Lush urban forest can help communities face climate change.”

Posted on Thursday, August 26, 2021 at 11:30 AM
Tags: Climate Change (112), Janet Hartin (10), trees (9)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Communicating about climate crisis and other scientific issues requires more than facts

 
A new book by Faith Kearns offers advice for effective science communication. Kearns talks with the Generous Films documentary production team at the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County in 2019. Photo by Jared Stapp

New book offers advice for discussing misconceptions and oversimplifications

Research can inform people to take appropriate action to solve problems, but effectively communicating is key. Faith Kearns, who works on emotional and contentious water-related issues such as climate change, drought and wildfire, has learned firsthand that the way scientists communicate can deeply affect people and communities.

Faith Kearns
Kearns, an academic coordinator for the California Institute for Water Resources at University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, has written about what she has learned in 25 years of practice in a new book, Getting to the Heart of Science Communication: A Guide to Effective Engagement from Island Press. The book includes on-the-ground experiences of many science communicators, including those working in Cooperative Extension.

“The book offers an on-the-ground perspective on communicating emotional and contentious topics and is filled with concrete examples from practitioners, which is different from many science communication books written by journalists or researchers,” Kearns said. “It is centered around practical tools like relating, listening, working with conflict, and understanding trauma, all with an eye toward equity and justice.”

Among the many issues addressed in the book – ranging from food security to disasters – climate change is one of the biggest. Meteorologist and climate journalist Eric Holthaus notes in the foreword that giving people scientific facts isn't convincing many people that there is a climate crisis, much less solving the climate emergency. “This crisis is getting worse not because of a deficit of information, after all, but because of a deficit of action,” writes Holthaus.

Grist journalist Kate Yoder wrote, “For a long time, scientists have relied on a ‘deficit' model of communication. The idea is that if people are given enough facts and data about, say, climate change, then they'd accept the science— in a logical, rational way — and decide to take action. This idea isn't necessarily wrong, but it ignores the messiness of the world and the role that emotions play in guiding decisions.”

Kearns begins the book with a personal anecdote that changed the way she thought about science communication. After she and her colleagues gave a presentation on wildfire preparation to residents in Mendocino County, an emotional audience member explained to Kearns that he had labored to keep a recent wildfire from consuming his property and the way the researchers had presented their information without attention to the fact that a fire had just burned through the area had been re-traumatizing.

Scientists and science writers see the value of employing Kearns' advice to improve public science literacy.

“Many communicators, including myself, have neglected other pieces of communicating that don't have to do with providing information,” Kearns said. “It's so important to know who you are in conversation with and what they've been through. Their history, communities, and personal experiences impact how they will receive scientific information. One of the most important skills you can have as a science communicator is to be able to listen well.”

Jonathan Wai reviewed Kearns' book in Science. He wrote: “The book offers a view from the front lines of science communication, profiling practitioners who explain their journeys and share stories of relationship building and community engagement. Framing herself as a scientist turned science communicator, Kearns describe her vision for the future of the field, one in which relational communication is fundamental.”

Kearns acknowledges in the preface that a single book cannot be all things to all people. “My hope is that I can fairly treat the argument that emotion, conflict, and power struggles are already present in science communication and engagement work and that ignoring them is counterproductive,” she wrote.

Kat Kerlin, UC Davis environment writer and media relations specialist, tweeted her appreciation for the book's science communication advice.

Getting to the Heart of Science Communication is written for science communicators and scientists working at research institutions, government agencies, consulting firms or nonprofit organizations. In addition, it will be of interest to those working with scientists including journalists and decision-makers. People interested in science will also find much to consider in this updated view of the science communication landscape. 

The 280-page paperback is published by Island Press and can be ordered for $30 (use code HEART for a publisher discount) at https://islandpress.org/books/getting-heart-science-communication and wherever books are sold.

For more about science communication, see Kearns' blog at https://faithkearns.substack.com.

 

Posted on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 1:14 PM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

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