Posts Tagged: Climate
In a drought-prone region like Southern California, working with Mother Nature is not only wise but necessary, according to Janet Hartin, UC Cooperative Extension horticulture advisor for Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, who studies climate-ready trees.
In 2020, Governor Newsom launched the California Climate Action Corps, empowering Californians to protect their communities from the impacts of climate change. Newsom's call to action emphasizes the need for long-term and sustainable solutions like Hartin's research, which urges Southern California to care for existing trees and plant new ones.
In collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and other UC Cooperative Extension scientists, Hartin is amid a 20-year research study identifying trees suitable for California's different climate zones. Her work provides a comprehensive understanding of trees and their benefits related to human and environmental health, particularly as Californians navigate climate change's evolving challenges.
One of these concerns is urban heat islands. UHIs are areas in which heat is reradiated from paved concrete or asphalt surfaces. In cities covered in asphalt, like Los Angeles, average temperatures can become six degrees hotter than surrounding areas.
To reduce urban heat islands, she has been working with community organizations to plant trees. In March, for example, Hartin teamed up with the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District to increase tree canopy in the Inland Empire.
Trees keep cities cool
To keep the city cool, some Los Angeles neighborhoods are repainting pavements with reflective coating. According to a 2020 study published in Environmental Research Letters, reflective coating can decrease pavement temperatures up to 10 degrees. As helpful as this is, augmenting urban landscapes to include heat-, drought- and pest-resistant tree species, whether native or not, can significantly reduce the impacts of urban heat islands too.
“Trees can cool impervious surfaces by 40 to 65 degrees,” Hartin said. During a 2021 study, in May and June Hartin discovered that unshaded asphalt could be more than 60 degrees hotter than shaded asphalt during late spring and early summer in inland and desert cities.
Other than providing shade, trees are effective at deflecting the sun's radiation and cooling the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. Given that they absorb and store carbon as well, trees lessen the impacts of pollution from fossil fuels.
“A well-tended mature landscape tree can absorb 40 tons of carbon over its lifespan,” said Hartin.
In a 2021 blog post, Hartin suggests trees be selected based on their adaptation to the “micro-climate” in each particular landscape, noting factors to consider like shade, proximity to buildings, space needs below and above ground, soil type and water source. She also recommends the Sunset Western Climate Zone maps for reference, noting that they are “more precise than USDA zones for our warmer climates.”
Based on the study with the U.S. Forest Service examining the performance of 12 species of underplanted but promising landscape trees at UC Riverside, favorable candidates include bubba desert willow and maverick thornless honey mesquite for their drought resistance, and red push pistache for its drought and heat resistance.
Tamara Hedges, executive director of UC Riverside Palm Desert Center and member of the Board of Directors for the Oswit Land Trust, agrees that trees are important in our fight against climate change:
“Through our partnerships with the UC California Naturalist and the Master Gardener Programs and many other nonprofits in the Coachella Valley, natural ecosystems are being protected and expanded and built environments cooled through the planting of appropriate tree species. These UC/USFS studies go a long way in identifying new underrepresented tree species."
General tips for planting
For California, planting in early fall through late winter provides ample time for trees to establish a strong root system before enduring the summer heat. Doing so also means that natural rainfall can fulfill water needs, as opposed to solely relying on irrigation systems.
Unlike newly planted trees, mature trees should be watered infrequently but deeply. Watering too often can reduce the level of oxygen in the rootzone and result in waterlogged soils prone to crown and root rots.
During the fall, trees only need about 15% of the water they would require in the summer. When watering, keep the tree trunk dry. Because the roots of the tree grow outward and are usually a foot deep into the ground, Hartin recommends watering the area around the trunk rather than the trunk itself. This will also help avoid water waste.
“Trees not adapted to the climate they're planted in and not receiving proper care are much more susceptible to invasive pests like shothole borers and diseases,” said Hartin. “Even the loss of one front yard tree can significantly reduce shade, increase the surrounding temperature, and diminish energy savings.”
Earlier this year, officials in Southern California declared a water shortage emergency resulting in restrictions such as limiting outdoor water use to one day of the week. While mandatory restrictions vary across the region, Amir Haghverdi, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and associate professor of agricultural and urban water management at UC Riverside, is using research to pinpoint irrigation strategies that will help communities reduce their demand for water and increase supply.
Haghverdi and his team are responding to a hotter and drier California by working to identify changes that can make a substantial difference in water savings.
While behavioral changes such as preventing leaks and turning the faucet off while brushing teeth can help, Haghverdi's research focuses on methodical changes like stressing green spaces, planting drought-tolerant plant species, using non-traditional water sources, and investing in technology to better control water use.
Testing a lawn's limits
For six years, Haghverdi and his team have performed stress tests on turfgrass to identify the lowest percent of evapotranspiration rate (ETo) that it can withstand and still survive. To do this, Haghverdi's team applies different percentages of ETo, obtained from weather stations, and monitors the performance of each landscape species over time.
While both cool-season and warm-season species can be stressed and still maintain their aesthetic value for a few weeks to several months, Haghverdi's results showed that warm-season turfgrass species require less water and can withstand water stress better.
The actual duration that people can apply less water depends on the type of turfgrass, the weather conditions and the stress level. For example, results showed that hybrid bermudagrass (a warm-season turfgrass) during summer in inland Southern California could keep its aesthetic value above the minimum threshold for 30 to 50 days, depending on the weather conditions, with irrigation application as low as 40% ETo.
In contrast, tall fescue, a cool-season turfgrass, even with 20% more water, showed signs of stress after only a few weeks and could not maintain its minimum acceptable quality.
Plant drought-tolerant species
Haghverdi's work demonstrates that when water conservation is the goal, alternative groundcover species are clearly superior to all turfgrass species and cultivars that they have tested so far. In fact, his team has identified drought-tolerant species that can maintain their aesthetic values with a third to a quarter less water than cool-season turfgrass (as low as 20% ETo) and can even withstand no-irrigation periods.
Furthermore, extensive field trials showed that new plant species from different regions could be as resilient as native species in withstanding drought and heat stress while maintaining their aesthetic beauty and cool canopy. Occasionally, they have outperformed native species, underscoring the advantages of drought- and heat-tolerant species that are non-native.
Based on Haghverdi's preliminary results for minimum irrigation requirement in inland Southern California, creeping Australian saltbush, a non-native species originally from Australia, and coyote bush, native to California, were top performers. Considering cooling benefits, drought tolerance and sensitivity to over-irrigation, creeping Australian saltbush performed the best.
Counties are already using recycled water
Although he recommends renewing your landscape with drought-tolerant or low-water use greenery and identifying how long your green spaces can live without water, Haghverdi acknowledges that, while contradictory, the cooling benefits of landscape irrigation are essential in Southern California.
“This is one of the tradeoffs of water conservation,” said Haghverdi. “If the only goal is to conserve water, maybe people will conclude that we don't have enough water to irrigate landscape.”
Water conservation efforts could influence counties to stop or reduce landscape irrigation. The consequences, however, would result in hotter environments due to the heat island effect. The loss of landscapes means that the sun's energy will be absorbed into the ground, instead of prompting transpiration in plants, which helps keep environments cool.
Thus, stressing green spaces and investing in drought-tolerant plant species help reduce the demand for water, but increasing water supply is just as vital. Haghverdi urges Southern California counties to prioritize a supplemental water supply such as recycled water – an approach already implemented in Ventura, Orange and San Diego counties.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California's Pure Water Southern California Program, formerly known as the Regional Recycled Water Program, aims to do just that. In partnership with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, the program will further purify wastewater to produce a sustainable source of high-quality water for the region.
According to the program's website, this would “produce up to 150 million gallons of water daily when completed and provide purified water for up to 15 million people, making it one of the largest water reuse programs in the world.”
Smart controllers save time, money and water
Making the best use of the water you already have relies on efficiency. Sprinklers that are poorly placed, for example, are not as effective as they could be.
“What I see often while walking my dog in the neighborhood is that there's a lot of runoff, bad irrigation and bad timing like when it's windy,” Haghverdi observed. “People usually set their irrigation timer and then forget it, but they don't adjust it based on the season or weather parameters. That's not going to help us conserve water, a precious resource, in California.”
Thankfully, Haghverdi and his team have done extensive research on smart irrigation controllers, which, simply put, are irrigation timers with a sensor built in. Generally, there are two types of smart irrigation controllers: weather- and soil-based controllers.
Weather-based controllers use evapotranspiration data to automatically adjust their watering schedule according to local weather conditions. Soil-based controllers measure moisture at the root zone and start irrigating whenever the reading falls below a programmed threshold.
Smart controllers that have flowmeters can detect leaks and be activated automatically, whereas rain sensors can stop irrigation during rainfall. Although both additions are ideal for large irrigation landscapes such as parks and publicly maintained green spaces, rain sensors are easy to install and effective for residential areas too.
When asked about cost being a hindrance, Haghverdi responded, “Not a lot of people know that there are grants for smart controllers – some that will pay either all or a majority of the cost.”
To check if grants are available in your area, interested individuals are encouraged to contact their local water provider.
“We need to move towards autonomous and smart irrigation [strategies], and water management in urban areas. That's the future. If we can build autonomous cars, why can't we build smart water management systems that apply the right amount of water to each plant species, can detect leaks and prevent water waste?” said Haghverdi.
To learn more about or stay updated on Haghverdi's research, visit www.ucrwater.com.
Climate change, extreme drought, intense wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic can all be linked to humanity's troubled relationship with the natural world.
For more than a decade, healing and deepening connections between people and the environment have been pillars of the UC California Naturalist Program. Partnering with over 80 organizations across the state, the program – a part of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources – has trained over 6,500 participants and certified more than 5,350 volunteers who engage fellow community members in advancing environmental stewardship and climate resilience.
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the program is convening a statewide conference Oct. 7–9 along the north shore of Lake Tahoe, under the theme of “Celebrating Community, Nature and Resilience for a Just Future.” Keynote speakers are José González, founder of Latino Outdoors; Rhiana Jones, director of the Washoe Environmental Protection Department; and Obi Kaufmann, artist and eco-philosopher. Members of the public are invited to register for the conference.
UC Naturalists and Climate Stewards (the latter program was established in 2020), as well as instructors for both certification courses, will gather with community members to reflect on their work, share best practices and chart a path toward a more sustainable and equitable future.
“We're striving to create a welcoming and safe space where we can challenge our own long-standing assumptions and perspectives and hear from a wide range of voices on crucial topics, including the latest on climate change and resilience; participatory science; and equity, diversity and inclusion in the conservation space,” said Gregory Ira, director of the UC California Naturalist Program.
Ira also highlighted the conference's equity-based registration fee structure, aimed at minimizing cost as a barrier to participation.
“We encourage anyone with an interest in learning more about California's unique ecosystems – and becoming a better steward of the environment – to join us for the weekend,” he said. “We truly value the perspectives and experiences you can bring to our conference.”
The conference agenda will feature engaging presentations, hands-on workshops and field trips to the area's natural wonders. Presenters include:
- Herman Fillmore, culture/language resources director, Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California
- Don Hankins, Professor, Geography and Planning, Chico State University
- Patricia Maloney, Forest and Conservation Biologist, Tahoe Environmental Research Center, UC Davis
- Adina Merenlender, co-founder of the California Naturalist Program and UC Cooperative Extension professor in conservation science
- Jennifer Norris, deputy secretary for biodiversity and habitat, California Natural Resources Agency
- Ken-ichi Ueda, co-founder and co-director of iNaturalist, UC Berkeley School of Information
For more information and to register, visit the conference website at https://ucanr.edu/sites/2022CalNatCon/.
Study explores cooling benefits of fast-growing vines as trees take their time
Perhaps trees aren't the only green solution when it comes to cooling urban spaces and reducing energy costs. Honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, pink trumpet and other vines could be a fast-growing substitute in climate-smart cities of the future.
Researchers from UC Davis are leading a nearly $880,000 federal grant to study how vines may provide cooling and shade in Western states in less time than it takes a tree to grow tall.
“Vines can quickly shade buildings and reduce energy consumption while trees slowly grow to maturity,” said Alessandro Ossola, an assistant professor of plant sciences who is a principal investigator for the project. “We believe vines can be an effective and cheap measure to help cities accelerating climate change adaptation.”
The grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service will fund work to plant and monitor at least 10 types of vines on trellises in five locations in different climate zones over three years. California Department of Food and Agriculture is administering the grant.
Using less water
Water conservation will be vital as populations rise, climate extremes become more prevalent and the demand for agricultural and drinking water increases. The goal of this research is to identify vines that can help save energy by providing cooling and reduce the need for irrigated water.
“In addition to rapid growth rates, vines can be easily integrated with structures to maximize potential cooling effects,” said Loren Oki, a Cooperative Extension specialist with Department of Plant Sciences, who is the project lead. “But we need to understand the relationships between low water-use plants and their ability to reduce thermal loads on buildings.”
The vines will be planted, supported by a trellis and watered regularly during the first growing season to establish deep roots and healthy shoots. Over the next two years, the vines will experience low, moderate and high water allocations.
The vines will be rated on aesthetics, foliage quality, floral quantity, pest and disease resistance, appearance and other factors. Thermal images of trellis coverage and other environmental measurements will also be taken to assess shading and cooling potential, according to grant documents.
Many vines can be grown along cables and wire nets that are actually detached from walls to avoid direct contact and still provide shade, Ossola said.
“We want to understand which vine characteristics relate to fast growth, reduced water use and increased aesthetic appeal,” he added.
Outreach and education
The findings will enable recommendations to be developed for regions, planners, the landscape industry and the public. It could lead to plants being designated as “water-wise,” “low-water use,” “energy-saving” or “cooling.”
Extensive engagement and outreach will also publicize the information.
“Climate change is a great opportunity for the horticultural industry to innovate and promote climate-ready plant productions,” Ossola said.
USDA funding supports research across state lines to find innovative solutions to regional and national problems, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt said in a news release announcing this and other grants.
“This year's funded projects will address a range of those challenges, from energy and water saving in vine plants, finding cost-effective solutions for heat tolerance and drought, to addressing food safety risks for produce,” Moffitt said.
Scientists from the University of Arizona, University of Washington, Utah State University and the South Coast Research and Extension Center at UC Agricultural and Natural Resources are contributing to the research and will be overseeing vine sites in their states.
This article is reprinted from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental (CA&ES) website, where it is titled "Could Vines Be the Answers to Speeding Urban Cooling, Water Reduction in the West?"
How to help plants in drought-stricken states
A new UC Riverside study shows it's not how much extra water you give your plants, but when you give it that counts.
This is especially true near Palm Springs, where the research team created artificial rainfall to examine the effects on plants over the course of two years. This region has both winter and summer growing seasons, both of which are increasingly impacted by drought and, occasionally, extreme rain events.
Normally, some desert wildflowers and grasses begin growing in December, and are dead by June. A second community of plants sprouts in July and flowers in August. These include the wildflowers that make for an extremely popular tourist attraction in “super bloom” years.
“We wanted to understand whether one season is more sensitive to climate change than another,” said Marko Spasojevic, UCR plant ecologist and lead study author. “If we see an increase or decrease in summer rains, or winter rains, how does that affect the ecosystem?”
The team observed that in summer, plants grow more when given extra water, in addition to any natural rainfall. However, the same was not true in winter.
“Essentially, adding water in summer gets us more bang for our buck,” Spasojevic said.
Their findings are described in a paper published in the University of California journal Elementa.
Over the course of the study, the team observed 24 plots of land at the Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center, in the Palm Desert area. Some of the plots got whatever rain naturally fell. Others were covered and allowed to receive rain only in one season. A third group of plots received additional collected rainwater.
While adding water in summer resulted in higher plant biomass, it generally did not increase the diversity of plants that grew, the researchers noted. Decreasing rainfall, in contrast, had negative effects on plants across both summer and winter, but may lead to some increased growth in the following off-seasons.
Implications of the work extend beyond learning when additional water resources might be applied simply to help plants grow. Whole communities of animals depend on these plants. They are critical for pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and they play a big role in controlling erosion and movement of soils by wind.
“Studies like this one are critical for understanding the complex effects of climate change to dryland ecosystems,” said Darrel Jenerette, UCR landscape ecologist and study co-author.
Desert plants also play an important role in removing carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the atmosphere to use as fuel for growth. Microbes that live in the soil can use the carbon and nitrogen released by plant roots, then send it back into the atmosphere where it can affect the climate.
“Drylands cover roughly a third of the land surface, so even small changes in the way they take in and emit carbon or nitrogen could have a big impact on our atmosphere,” said Peter Homyak, UCR environmental scientist and study co-author.
As the team continues this research over the next few years, they expect to see changes in soil carbon and nitrogen cycling, given that plants are already being affected by changes in seasonal rainfall, as this study shows.
“Can changes in precipitation patterns alter the feedback between plants and microbes, destabilizing the carbon locked in soils and sending more of it into the atmosphere? We are working on figuring that out,” Homyak said.
Editor's note: Jenerette and Homyak are affiliated with University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources through UC Riverside's Agricultural Experiment Station./h2>