Yazan Hasan - Blog # 1 - April 18, 2023
Saltwater Intrusion on the Eastern Shore : Climate Change and Forestry
Growing up in Annapolis, I knew the Eastern Shore of Maryland very superficially, only passing by it on my way to the beach. When I reached high school and began to develop more interest in the natural sciences, I began to notice an odd sight. I'd drive by and see vast expanses of dead forests in the middle of the summer; a sight that left me concerned and curious. Driven by this newfound curiosity, I began to conduct more research and learned that the Eastern Shore was facing very serious threats stemming from climate change and sea level rise, and one such example of this was these "ghost forests" I saw in many parts of the Eastern Shore.
I set out to investigate this issue and speak to landowners and forestry experts while working for Maryland Sea Grant in 2021. I soon discovered that in addition to sea level rise, the eastern shore was also experiencing land subsidence. With the increased frequency of high-tides and storm events, and the flat topography of the land, water from the bay encroaches further inland, leaving the soil with a higher salinity content. This phenomenon is known as salt-water intrusion, and it is responsible for the loss of many thousands of acres of forest and agricultural land. I spoke to farmers along the many "necks" of the Chesapeake Bay and was shocked that I had not heard more about this growing up just 20 miles away in Annapolis. I realized that climate change had already left tangible consequences in my own backyard- it was no longer something I thought of exclusively in the future tense.
The eastern shore has a deep tradition of farming loblolly pines, which were traditionally harvested once a generation, and used to provide for the next. However, loblolly pine farmers that have been on their land for generations must now reckon with the reality of a changing climate. This has devastated the cultural and environmental heritage of these communities. With little opportunity for youth to continue in the ways of their parents, they leave for opportunity elsewhere. Speaking with Mike Calders, a third-generation loblolly pine farmer from Crapo, Maryland, I learned that many of these small farming communities are under threat of disappearing with an increasingly dwindling population. Calders' own family property has seen a dramatic transition since the 1960s, with more than two thirds of the property transitioning from forest to marsh.
Speaking with Matt Hurd, a forester at the Maryland Forest Service, the future is focused on helping landowners manage and adapt to what is accepted as an inevitable change.
Many landowners are incentivized to adapt their lands to new purposes, such as hunting and conservation, where partnerships with organizations such as Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge can provide landowners an economic escape from an otherwise frozen real estate market. Thus, conservation and other strategic partnerships can help facilitate transitions for landowners who may be struggling to adapt. The Eastern Shore constitutes about a third of Maryland's land, yet less 10% of its population. Heavily dependent on agriculture, the Eastern Shore's unique coastal topography will see the worst of the consequences of climate change, and will have serious impacts in forestry, agriculture, tourism, and more.
To learn more, readers may watch this documentary series I produced on the impacts of saltwater intrusion on the Eastern Shore. (Part 1, Part 2)
Yazan Hasan - Blog # 2 - April 18, 2023
Recently, I studied abroad in Iceland as a US department of State Gilman Scholar. The main focus of this trip was to study renewable energy; however, my attention was especially interested with the unique landscape and ecology of Iceland.
One of the most notable things you'll notice upon arrival in Iceland is the stark lack of trees. Iceland has experienced almost total deforestation since the first human settlers arrived about 1150 years ago. In contrast, when settlers first arrived, up to 40% of Iceland's area was forested with forests of birch, willow, and aspen trees. Like any agrarian society, forests began to be cleared both to provide fuel and to create fields for animals to graze. However, forests were not managed sustainably, and as a result Iceland has lost 95% of its original forest cover. To give perspective, around 33% of the US is forested, compared to 1.9% for Iceland.
While on a walking tour of Reykjavik, the capital, our tour guide pointed something out to me which left me in awe. The tree you see above, is actually the oldest tree in Iceland, planted in 1884. I realized how much I took old growth forests for granted when I witnessed this. A tree that would be completely unassuming and ordinary elsewhere, has such significance here.
The impacts deforestation has had on the land in Iceland has been devastating. Iceland has witnessed large-scale desertification and soil degradation as the landscape has lost its protective vegetative cover. As a result, large tracts of land have been degraded due to erosion, causing dust storms and impacting air quality. However, today there is much being done to restore the landscape and bring back the birch woodlands of old. The Icelandic Forest Service was established in 1908 and since then has played a large role in reforestation efforts as well has research and education. Reforestation in Iceland also means increasing security; for instance, in the regions surrounding Hekla, an active volcano in Iceland that is expected to erupt, reforestation efforts have been particularly forthright so as to prevent dust storms and erosion from volcanic ash. The Icelandic Forestry Association, comprised of 57 local forestry societies, is one of the most active environmental NGO's in Iceland with a membership of 7000, or 2% of Iceland's population. They publish Icelandic Forestry twice a year, containing general articles as well as scientific papers. They are also responsible for 10-30% of all tree plantings each year.
The robust and active role forestry has played in restoring Iceland's landscape gives inspiration to other nations looking to right historical mismanagement of natural resources. Ecosystem restoration in Iceland is not just a goal, it is being achieved every day. Similarly, the heavy investment in forestry research and education, in a country with almost no forests, shows just how important healthy and robust forests are to a country's resilience. Investing in forestry is an investment in the future wellbeing of a nation, and in Iceland's case this will pay dividends in cultural heritage, ecotourism, wildlife habitat, and a variety of ecosystem services.
Reviewing New Maryland Governor Wes Moore's Environmental Policy Promises
Recently elected Maryland governor Wes Moore has already made notable history, being the first African American Governor of Maryland. Moore ran on a progressive platform, highlighting issues such as education, health care, social justice, and public safety. Moore also included a suite of ambitious climate proposals in his campaign promises. Here, I will review some of Wes Moore's environmental policy promises, and what progress has been made so far.
First, identifying some notable campaign promises regarding Environmental Policy
These promises have encouraged conservation groups that important environmental issues will be a focus of this new administration.
Now, just 2 months into his tenure as Governor, what actions has Moore taken to make good on these campaign promises? By most measures, the new administration is doing well. Since inauguration, Moore has announced Maryland joining the US Climate Alliance, with a $422 million investment into environmental programs, along with 67 new hires for the Maryland Department of the Environment. Additionally, Moore has pledged to phase out gas-powered car sales by 2035. Looking forward, local environmentalists will be keeping track of the Moore administration to see how environmental policy will be handled over the next 4 years.
Maryland's invasive Japanese honeysuckle
Originally introduced to the shores of Long Island, New York in 1806, the Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) has become one of Maryland's most evident invasive species to impact forests and wildlife. The Japanese honeysuckle is a woody vine adorned with fragrant white flowers and spreads by intertwining trees, overlaying bushes, and encompassing sections of Maryland's forest floor (Maryland Invasive Species Council, 2005). Spreading over disturbed areas of land, roadsides, fields, and forests, the vine can survive in the colder winter months because of its semi-evergreen nature. Not only does the invasive vine block sunlight from trees and undergrowth, but it can also wrap tightly around trees, shrubs, and other natives, cutting off their nutrient supply and causing them to die (iNaturalist, 2023). Maryland's forests depend on native pollinators, plants, and animals for survival, but through the introduction of invasives, there is heightened competition for space, food, and sunlight (Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 2023).
Maryland's native biodiversity and forest integrity continues to be threatened by invasive species such as the Japanese honeysuckle so communities must take action to remove and cultivate the natural and native ecosystems. In terms of controlling the invasive spread, young vines can be uprooted to prevent further introduction to ecosystems, but all aspects of the plant (roots, seeds, runners) must be removed from the soil and trees to avoid new growth. Other methods of extermination include the use of foliar herbicides that can help eliminate extensive growth, but are most effective in the cooler months once native vegetation becomes dormant. Prescribed burns in the springtime can also help to slow the spread of the Japanese honeysuckle by burning the seeds and young growth (Evans, 2012). Communities can help slow the spread of this invasive species and are integral for maintaining the health and natural biodiversity of Maryland's ecosystems.
Evans, C. (2012). Japanese Honeysuckle.
Anti-iNaturalist. (2023). Japanese honeysuckle.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources. (2023). Maryland Plants & Wildlife. Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Maryland Invasive Species Council. (2005). Japanese Honeysuckle. https://mdinvasives.org/iotm/nov-2005/
Climate Change Impacts on Mangrove Forests:
Mangrove forests are instrumental ecosystems for tropical and subtropical coastlines and surrounding communities. Asia holds 42% of the worldâ€™s mangrove ecosystems, with 21% being found in Africa, and the remaining 38% dispersed widely through the tropical coastal regions of North, South, and Central America, Australia, and the various islands within Oceania (Earth Observatory 2010).
Mangroves not only provide food and habitat for animals, but they are essential for sustaining biodiversity along coastlines, and they secure and trap sediments to reduce the long-term consequences of coastal erosion (Ewel 1998, 84).
These terrestrial and aquatic habitats have been shown to adapt to sea level rise over thousands of years because of peat formation and carbonate deposits located alongside the root systems. This, however, has changed drastically due to the influx of ocean temperatures and the rapid sea level rise occurring over the past century (Alongi 2015, 31).
Along the coasts of Louisiana, Texas, and southern Florida, seedlings of black mangroves have had difficulties adjusting to rising temperatures and have shown high rates of die-off within 39 and 40-degree celsius water.
It is unclear how rising temperatures affect established mangroves and their root systems, but it is believed that water temperatures ranging from 42 and 45 degrees celsius will have limiting effects on growth (Odum et al., 1982).
The concept of vulnerability is arguably impossible to measure because of its subjective nature, but it is undeniable that increased exposure to elements as a result of climate change has made negative impacts on these coastal mangrove ecosystems (Ellison, 2014).
Direct human pressures, alongside the impacts of climate change, have led scientists to hypothesize four potential changes that mangrove forests will most likely endure. Due to changing salinity levels, the first prediction states mangrove forests along coastlines will decline as the scarcity of freshwater increases.
The second and third predictions state that the forests will decline based on sea level rise, the lack of colonization space inland, and decreases in sediment yields.
The final prediction anticipates increased expansion of forest ecosystems throughout a greater latitudinal range in order to adapt to temperatures and salinity changes (Alongi 2015, 35).
Overall, mangrove forests are extremely valuable ecosystems, and their protection is required for continual sustainability and long-term health.
Alongi, D. M. (2015). The Impact of Climate Change on Mangrove Forests. Current Climate Change Reports, 1(1), 30â€“39. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40641-015-0002-x
Earth Observatory. (2010, November 30). Mapping Mangroves by Satellite. NASA Earth
Ellison, J. C. (2015). Vulnerability Assessment of Mangroves to Direct Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise
Impacts. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 23(2), 115â€“137.
Ewel, K. C., Twilley, R. R., & Ong, J. E. (1998). Different Kinds of Mangrove Forests Provide Different
Goods and Services. Global Ecology and Biogeography Letters, 7(1), 83â€“94.
Odum, W. E., McIvor, C. C., & Smith, T. J. (1982). The Ecology of the Mangroves of South Florida: A
Community Profile. The Service.
Anti-Racism in Environmental Science and Conservation
I have had the privilege of being involved in ecology, environmental science, and conservation work for over 10 years. In this time, Iâ€™ve been able to work with many esteemed researchers across some of the most prestigious institutions in the country. My experience as a Black man in this field, is that most people within the scientific and environmental communities are NOT actively or openly racist. While this is a refreshing departure from some other fields within the United States, there is still much work to be done to fully address the legacy of inequity and institutional racism that permeates all aspects of our lives. It is not enough for the environmental community to just be non-racist; to truly attain the goals of protecting the planetâ€™s resources, ensuring that all people have access to a sustainable lifestyle, and producing relevant and innovative science on a global scale, the field of environmental science and conservation must adopt the ideals of anti-racism.
Here, anti-racism means actively identifying and opposing racism in all its forms. Not just individual acts of racism and prejudice, but also institutional, structural, and environmental racism. Due to the all-encompassing effects of racism, anti-racism can look different across various settings and situations. Within academic settings, institutional racism can be addressed in the recruitment and training of students and acknowledging racist origins in many theories when teaching science history. At the level of environmental non-profits and research institutions, issues with hiring and retaining minority employees need significant improvement. To combat environmental racism at the structural level, there needs to be collaboration between researchers, policy makers, and governments to address major inequities at the local and international scale. Additionally, increased focus on anti-racism can increase awareness of other social issues within the field, such as misogyny and homophobia.
There isn't enough space within this blog post to truly address all the complexities and issues regarding racism and anti-racism in the field of environmental science, however, we must take every opportunity available to start the conversation. I've included several links to more detailed information on anti-racism work within science and other fields.
"Being Anti-Racist" - National Museum of African American History and Culture;
Anti-Racism Resources: Racial Bias in Scientific Fields - Harvard University
"Science has a racism problem" - Cell Journal Editorial
"To attract more blacks and Hispanics to STEM, universities must address racial issues on campus" - The Hechinger Report
"Is Science for Us? Black Students' and Parents' Views of Science and Science Careers" - Science Education
"The ecological and evolutionary consequences of systemic racism in urban environments" - Science