On May 6th, 2019, the UN released a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, warning that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. The pace of species extinction is accelerating, gravely impacting people across the world. The report emphasizes the need to improve and strengthen practices of care between humans and the natural world by recognizing the positive contributions of women, and indigenous communities in particular, to nurturing human relations with the environment and to regenerative sustainability.
It recommends incorporating indigenous wisdom, values, and technology into conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of land and resources, as well as including indigenous peoples, women, and local communities in environmental governance.
Bernie Krause, Lincoln Meadow at Yuba Pass, California Geophony sound, 1988, 1999
Habitat: Sub-tropical forest
Climate: Sub-tropical coastal rainforest
Weather: Clear/partly cloudy (80.6°F)
About a three-and-a-half hour drive east of San Francisco, at an altitude of nearly 7,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada mountains, is a spectacular sub-alpine meadow surrounded by ponderosa pine, juniper, and lodgepole pine trees with a clear mountain stream bisecting the habitat. When I first began recording there in the early 1980s, the site was an old-growth habitat that, while accessible to hikers and skiers, had not undergone any significant changes over time. Then, in 1988, a logging company convinced local residents that a new tree-cutting protocol they were using, called selective logging (taking out a tree every 65 feet or so — rather than cutting down everything in sight), would have no negative impact on the environment. While the local residents accepted their explanation, I remained skeptical and asked the company representatives if I might record at the site before and after their activity. Permission granted, I recorded the dawn chorus in mid-June of 1988, before logging later that summer, and, again in 1989, a year after the company’s action. To the human eye and any frame of a camera, the site appeared as if there had been no change. That observation, by itself, would have supported the logging company’s claim that there was no environmental impact from their activity. However, the difference to both the ear supported by a visual image of the sound in the form of spectrograms is clear. In the 1988 example, the signature of the mountain stream can be seen in the lowest third of the image while the bird vocalizations are visible in the middle third. They typically include, mountain quail, red-breasted and Williamson’s sapsuckers, Townsend’s solitaire, Cassin’s finch, western wood-pewee, Hammond’s flycatcher, hermit and MacGillivray’s warblers, western tanager, Lincoln sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, and the green-tailed towhee.
In the 1989 sample, the birdsong density and diversity was all but gone, with only the sound of the stream and a Williamson’s sapsucker (woodpecker) present in the soundscape and spectrogram. Despite 15 visits over the past 27 years, the biophony in this fragile habitat has not yet returned to its pre-1988 level.
Bernie Krause, Sugarloaf State Park, Kenwood, California Geophony sound, 2004, 2009, 2014, 2015
Dates: April 15, 2004, 2009, 2014, and 2015
Habitat: Oak chaparral/low scrub vegetation: Baccharis pilularis
Weather: Clear (avg. 40°F)
In our area, about 50 miles north of San Francisco in an area known as Jack London’s “Valley of the Moon”, there was no birdsong during the spring and summer of 2015. None whatsoever. There were birds, to be sure. And they sometimes called. But there was no singing, per se. It was the first time in my seventy-seven years that I can ever remember not hearing birds sing in the morning at sunrise during spring and summer. Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is about a twenty-minute drive from our home, a combination of scrub vegetation, different kinds of oak trees, and alders; it is located in a separate valley that cuts through the floor of the park and is bisected by a winter stream. Nestled in the Mayacamas Mountains separating Sonoma and Napa Valleys, both famous for fine California wine, the spring cycle and warmer days have occurred progressively earlier with each passing year — about 2 weeks earlier than when I began to record there in the early 90s; vegetation leafs out sooner, the temporal distribution of precipitation has shifted, and the migrating patterns of birds, once represented by a fairly constant density and diversity, have changed. There has been a dramatic swing in the mix of dominant species in my recordings since the early 1990s. While the combination in our region was pretty constant — within a certain dynamic expectation at the outset — new species of birds appear with each season since the early 2000s, while the expected ones have diminished in number, or have disappeared altogether, as confirmed by annual systematic bioacoustic sampling.
The presentation is divided into 4, 15-second soundscape samples within 48 hours of April 15 in 2004, 2009, 2014, and, finally, 2015, calibrated to within 1/10th of a dB with the same protocols rigorously observed over the 11-year period. The bottom third of the spectrogram features the acoustic signature of a nearby stream, running fully charged in the first two segments, but almost silent in the third because of the drought. In the fourth, because the drought was so severe, there is no stream to be seen or heard. The middle third of the spectrogram, just above the stream signature, is a biophony comprised of birdsong from dark-eyed juncos, golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows, California towhees, acorn woodpeckers, black-headed grosbeaks, American robins, Brewer’s sparrows, red-shouldered hawks, pileated woodpeckers, and wild turkeys. Note the subtle density reduction in birdsong between 2004 and 2009, and the almost complete lack of density and diversity in 2014 and 2015, with the full impact of the drought.
Bernie Krause, Spread Creek Pond, Jackson Hole Wyoming Geophony sound, 1981, 2009
Dates: June 15, 1981 (5am) and June 26, 2009 (5:23am)
Habitat: Marsh, Great Basin coniferous
Weather: Clear (avg. 35°F)
Spread Creek Pond lies about 25 miles northeast of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, not far from the magnificent Grand Teton National Park. This signature habitat is being affected by global warming in a way that is expressed through the narrative of the biophony. In 1981, when I recorded the first digital natural soundscape recording (using a primitive and awkward Sony F1 beta device) as heard in the first example, the birds present were warbling vireo, yellow warbler, white-crowned sparrow, Wilson’s warbler, house wren, and dusky flycatchers. By 2009, as shown in example number 2, spring was arriving in that biome about 2 weeks earlier, enough to alter the landscape so that the vegetation was leafing out earlier, the precipitation was a bit drier, and the entire mix of birds had changed. Both the density (of birds) and diversity (of species) now featured the hermit thrush, Swainson’s thrush, cowbird, grosbeak, yellow-rumped warbler, dark-eyed junco, chipping sparrow, and white-crowned sparrow — a nearly complete change of characters than had previously remained constant for many, many years.
Desirée Dolron. UNCERTAIN.
Video. TX, 2016
The viewer’s eye slowly moves across a morass of secular cypress trees, swathed in Spanish moss, immersed in water. Under the surface, a foreign weed is rampant and disturbing the local ecosystem. The succession of images in loop and the suffocating sound of the audio accentuate the impression of the forest’s continuous deterioration. The title is taken from the name of the town in Texas where I stayed during production. It also refers to the future of the trees and, in a broader sense, to the fragility of life in general.
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Media Release, May 2019
Zacharias Kunuk and Ian Mauro. Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change
The Inuit learn to observe their environment from childhood. The Elders vividly recall how they discovered nature and wildlife while playfully training their five senses for survival in the Canadian Arctic. Their ancient wisdom is adapting to the current changes surrounding them, as they have learned to embrace some modern lifestyle elements into their culture, without ceasing to co-exist with nature. Rising temperatures and pollution are disturbing their ecosystem and society in ways “southern” academics do not entirely grasp. This is a tale of endurance told as an intimate conversation.
“Although a desktop globe always spins smoothly around the axis running through its north and south poles, a real planet wobbles. Earth’s spin axis drifts slowly around the poles; the farthest away it has wobbled since observations began is 37 feet (12 meters).”
In April 2016, Surendra Adhikari and Erik Ivins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, published today in Science Advances a research showing how the movement of water around the world contributes to Earth’s rotational wobbles.
Around the year 2000, Earth’s spin axis took an abrupt turn toward the east and is now drifting almost twice as fast as before, at a rate of almost 7 inches (17 centimeters) a year.
“It’s no longer moving toward Hudson Bay, but instead toward the British Isles,” said Adhikari. “That’s a massive swing.” Adhikari and Ivins set out to explain this unexpected change. Scientists have suggested that the loss of mass from Greenland and Antarctica’s rapidly melting ice sheet could be causing the eastward shift of the spin axis. Those changes are largely caused by movements of water through everyday processes such as accumulating snowpack and groundwater depletion. They calculated how much mass was involved in water cycling between Earth’s land areas and its oceans from 2003 to 2015, and the extent to which the mass losses and gains pulled and pushed on the spin axis. In the Southern Hemisphere, ice mass loss from West Antarctica is pulling, and ice mass gain in East Antarctica is pushing, Earth’s spin axis in the same direction that Greenland is pulling it from the north, but the combined effect is still not enough to explain the speedup and new direction. Something east of Greenland has to be exerting an additional pull. The researchers found the answer in Eurasia. “The bulk of the answer is a deficit of water in Eurasia: the Indian subcontinent and the Caspian Sea area,” Adhikari said. The finding was a surprise. This region has lost water mass due to depletion of aquifers and drought, but the loss is nowhere near as great as the change in the ice sheets. [Source: NASA Study Solves Two Mysteries About Wobbling Earth. 4/8/2016]