Warming Trends: Music For Sinking Cities, Pollinators Need Room to Spawn and Equal Footing for ‘Rough Fish’

A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

Anglers fish at Eben G. Fine Park on Thursday. Credit: Cliff Grassmick/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

Anglers fish at Eben G. Fine Park in Boulder, Colorado on Thursday. Credit: Cliff Grassmick/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

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SCIENCE

Justice for ‘Rough Fish’ 

Andrew Rypel was just a young boy in Wisconsin who loved fishing when he first learned that people valued some fish more than others. Some of the species he caught, his dad would call “rough fish” or “trash fish.” 

The distinction stumped him, even as a kid. Many of these species, like suckers or gars, were native fish that had an important role in the ecosystem, yet many states did not limit how many of those fish an angler could take, putting future populations at risk. “Even at 10, 11, 12 years old, I thought this was just really strange, bizarre and wrong,” he said.

Rypel, now an associate professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at the University of California, Davis, was a co-author of a perspective paper published last month in Fisheries Magazine, calling for a shift in the way we look at “rough fish” species. 

The authors of the paper argue that “rough fish” is a pejorative that labels the fish as having little or no value. This view has its roots in early colonization of the Americas, the authors wrote, when fish that were considered undesirable from the white male perspective were deemed worthless, even though Native Americans had been consuming some of these species for generations. 

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“When you trace back the history of these fishing regulations, it’s very difficult not to just acknowledge that these came from European attitudes from mostly European anglers who came to the U.S. and said, ‘Oh, no, we fish for these species and not these species,’” Rypel said.

As he and his colleagues were beginning to draft the paper, last summer’s protests over the killing of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement were sparking conversations within the scientific community about representation in fisheries management. That timing made this paper have more of a “splash factor,” Rypel said.

The paper makes a series of recommendations for fisheries managers, including setting limits on how many of these species anglers can keep, investing in research and education about the role these fish play in the ecosystem and potentially changing the term “rough fish.” 

Solomon David, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Nicholls State University in Louisiana, who co-authored the paper with Rypel, said global warming is changing aquatic ecosystems, yet limits on rough fish have not changed much at all since the 20th century. 

“These fish are some of our greatest indicators of overall ecosystem health within our most valuable natural resource, which is freshwater,” David said. “We’re using these potential canaries in the coal mines with unlimited bag limits for probably a couple 100 years, and we’re not changing that. And that’s why it’s important to change now.” 

CULTURE

Music to Sink By

A new orchestral composition that interprets the effects of climate change through music can only be heard in cities threatened by sea level rise. 

Beginning with a delicate harp melody and escalating to a cacophony of string harmonies, rapid percussion and distressing brass melodies, the 10-minute arrangement is called “ICE.” The acronym stands for “Indisputable Case of Emergency.” The music was written by the Finnish composer Cecilia Damström. 

The piece, performed by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra of Finland, can only be heard online from computers with IP addresses in one of 100 cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, London and Abu Dhabi, all of which are facing daunting sea level rise as the planet warms. 

Organizers with Lahti’s European Green Capital, a year-long designation for the city of Lahti, marked with green events and projects, reached out to Damström about composing a piece, and she immediately had an idea of what it would sound like.

“It was going to be about melting ice and about how all our winters are getting shorter and shorter,” she said. “I researched a lot about ice and a lot about snow, like how ice crystals are always six-edged. So that’s why I always have six-harmony, symmetrical chords that the violins are playing in a way that symbolizes ice.”

The piece begins with a few bars from an eerie harp; shortly after, the violin harmony enters, creating a sound that Damström intended to represent the way ice crystals grow across a window pane. The sound builds up with repeating melodies, each successively shorter—symbolizing shortening winters—until a climax where the instruments combine to sound like an alarm going off while the bassline beats below, representing the Earth’s distressed heartbeat straining to survive. 

Then subtly, a bicycle bell enters with tinny rings that symbolize the ways we can address the climate crisis. The piece concludes with the same harp from the beginning, this time with a promising tone for the future.

“It was very important for me to capture that, first of all ice, and that it’s so amazing that we have this planet,” Damström said. “But also this sort of common panic that I would say our generation is feeling, so that comes in and sort of drops, but then I also wanted to give hope.”

CULTURE

These Politicians Aren’t Tweeting About Climate Change

Americans who are most vulnerable to climate change are less likely to have their political representatives tweet about the issue, a new study has found. 

An analysis conducted by Cornell University researchers examined more than 1 million tweets from 2017 to 2019 from 638 politicians, including mayors, governors and members of Congress. They found that Democrats tweeted more often about climate change than Republicans, and even within parties, leaders in places where constituents are more concerned about climate change, such as New York, tweeted more about the issue than leaders in places where the effects of climate change are most pronounced, such as Florida. The findings show that politicians tend to “play to the crowd,” the study’s authors wrote, rather than serving as “trustees,” or deliverers of factual information.

“Tweeting frequency is not related to the actual climate change risks their constituents are facing,” said lead author Chao Yu, who was a graduate student at Cornell when the study of local, state and federal politicians was conducted. “Which means that the politicians from both parties at all three of these levels fail to be leaders who are supposed to inform their constituents of objective risks.”

The analysis also showed that leaders of wealthier districts tended to tweet about climate change more than leaders in poorer communities. Yu said this could be because poorer communities tend to be more concerned about economic development, so their leaders focus their messaging there.

“Twitter has become an important platform for studying politics because position statements on social media can be influential agenda setters,” Yu said. “So politicians often use social media, particularly Twitter, as short press releases to signal their policy intentions.”

SCIENCE

Cleveland Bees: ‘Give Us Space!”

The larvae of native bees and wasps are more abundant when they have at least 15 acres of connected greenspace with plenty of native flowers, a study conducted in Cleveland found, showing that post-industrial cities could improve bee conservation.

The study, conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, studied 40 vacant lots in Cleveland with different habitat types, from mowed turf grass to flowering native prairie. Each plot had a birdhouse-like structure filled with a stack of cardboard straws in which bees and wasps could lay their eggs. Researchers regularly X-rayed the structures to see what species of larvae were inside. 

They found that native bees and wasps were more abundant in plots that were connected to a larger greenspace, such as a park, with at least 15 continuous acres that contained native flowers and grasses. 

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Cleveland was once a booming industrial city but has lost 60 percent of its population since the 1950s. That means there’s an abundance of abandoned buildings and vacant lots that the lead author of the study, Katie Turo, said could be converted into low maintenance bee habitat. Turo recently received her Ph.D. from Ohio State University. 

“We hope that they would be more beautiful, maybe less expensive to maintain with less mowing,” Turo said of the greenspace habitats. “Also, that they would be beneficial for insects in Cleveland, that would provide some ecosystem services like pollination or pest control to the ecosystem.”

The study focused on native bees because biodiversity is important for ensuring that there is a long-term supply of pollinators, Turo said. The bees need so much space because it gives them more areas to nest their young and hide from predators, she added, and the native flowers and grasses provide the food resources they rely on. 

Turo envisions Cleveland and other post-industrial cities around the United States using this information to rethink what is growing in vacant spaces. An ideal plan to create this would involve people living in nearby neighborhoods and would provide resources like trails, benches and educational panels for them to learn about the ecosystems being conserved. 

“Urban conservation only really succeeds long term if we’re working with the communities in those urban areas too,” she said. “People have diverse perspectives and aesthetic opinions about what looks good in a vacant lot and what they would like in an area for improving that particular neighborhood.”

SOLUTIONS

New Technologies for Beating Back Algal Bloom

A Scranton-based company is debuting a three-pronged, chemical-free approach to keep algae out of a Florida lake. 

Fueled by nutrients pouring into the lake from sources like household fertilizer, algae blooms can devastate the recreational value of a lake and the ecosystem within by depleting oxygen resources, leaving none behind for fish, bacteria and other plants. Lake St. Charles, a 60-acre recreational lake connected by a creek to Tampa Bay, is a hypereutrophic lake, meaning it is known for its high algae concentrations. 

LG Sonic, an algae management company, has launched three technologies at the lake. First is a solar-powered buoy that uses ultrasonic waves to create a sound barrier in the top layer of the water, which prevents algae from floating to the surface for sunlight. 

The second is a nano aerator, which delivers microscopic bubbles into the water column to increase oxygen levels. The third is a Phos-Out Mat, a piece of fabric that absorbs nutrients that have accumulated at the bottom of the lake over the last several decades. 

“A big goal of all communities is to stop the runoff of nutrients,” said Greg Eiffert, director of LG Sonic’s U.S. operations. “But you still have 40 or 50 years worth of legacy nutrients in the bottom, and they just don’t go away.”

None of these technologies use any chemicals to reduce algae, Eiffert said, because chemicals tend to do more harm than good. Even though they can kill algae, they also kill good bacteria and harm the ecosystem as a whole. 

Algae problems are probably going to get worse with climate change, too, Eiffert said, because increased temperatures are exactly what algae need. 

“Global warming is an extremely negative effect for controlling algae. It’s a plant, it wants warmth and it wants nutrients, and unfortunately, global warming is affecting that,” he said. “And then just from our abuse to the planet, we’re just throwing nutrients in the water table. Those are the two key driving factors to why we have the algae problem we have today and it’s getting worse.”