Sharon’s Guide to Understanding Scientific Papers: I. Querying the Abstract

In the spirit of teaching a person to fish, I’ll explain my own process for reviewing scientific papers. Because I’ve been in the forest biology/forest ecology biz for almost 50 years, it may be easier for me. But I’m hoping that curious TSW readers will be able to adapt these steps for your own use, and I’ll give you some hints to make things easier. Along the way, you’ll also find out what peer reviewers may look at, and what they don’t or can’t. I hope others will share their own methods and shortcuts.

We’ll start with the paper Jon posted here:

1. Get a copy of the paper. Some may be open-source (yay!). The next step is to go to Google Scholar and look it up. Often you will find a copy for free there. The last step is to write the corresponding author (there’s usually an envelope and an email if you hover over the list of authors) and ask for a reprint. Back in the day, we would send each other postcards and slip copies in the surface mail. This is pretty much the modern equivalent of that process. So far, no one has turned me down or not replied to an email. That’s how I got the copy I am posting so thanks to author Thom Thom et al (2019) – The climate sensitivity of carbon, timber, and species richness co-varies with forest age in boreal-temperate North America

2. Look at the abstract with an eye to data sources, methods and conclusions. What are they measuring?
(one of the most difficult things to wade through is terminology, but it has to be done).

We focused on a number of ESB indicators to (a) analyze associations among carbon storage, timber growth rate, and species richness along a forest development gradient; (b) test the sensitivity of these associations to climatic changes; and (c) identify hotspots of climate sensitivity across
the boreal–temperate forests of eastern North America.

What is “ESB”? It’s some combination of ecosystem services and biodiversity. There are many indicators of those (e.g. genetic diversity of amphibians, species diversity of insects, and so on for biodiversity). So to relate what they measured to what we know, we’ll have to dive deeper into the methods section. We may have our own experiences with carbon measurements, but not so much with species richness.

The data used was FIA and other plot information, and they used modeling to test the sensitivity to climate change. By now, you may be curious and ask “how can you tell what climate change will do? how can you tell what aspects will be sensitive?” That again, will have to wait for methods section.

Next, I look for the conclusions in the abstract:

While regions with a currently low combined ESB performance benefited from climate change, regions with a high ESB performance were particularly vulnerable to climate change. In particular, climate sensitivity was highest east and southeast of the Great Lakes, signaling potential priority areas for adaptive management. Our findings suggest that strategies aimed at enhancing the representation of older forest conditions at landscape scales will help sustain ESB in a changing world.

Then I try to paraphrase it in my own words. I came up with “if you combine indicators, the regions with low marks get higher marks after climate change and regions that have high marks now will go down, that would be east and SE of the Great Lakes.” A natural question would be “do all indicators go the same way?” “How sensitive are these findings to the way you combine them and which ones you include?”

And how does the above relate to “old forest conditions” that strategies should enhance?

3. Write down your questions. This is particularly helpful if you can’t get back to this for a day or so. In this case, my questions would be:
a) what ESB indicators did they use? It sounds like carbon, timber and species richness, but it could be others as well.
b) how did they figure out what changes would occur due to climate change?
c) how did they figure out whether an indicator was sensitive to climate change?
d) do all indicators change in the same direction and/or how sensitive are the findings to the way they are combined and which ones are in and out?
e) how does all this relate to “old forest conditions?


Action for Clean Water: Tell Your Senator to support AB 756

To All,

According to a federal study, California has the most known detections of toxic PFAS chemicals in the nation. But that study only looked for very high levels of a mere six chemicals in a family of 5000.

Protecting the public from toxic PFAS chemicals will require having a true understanding of PFAS in our water supplies. AB 756 is a commonsense bill that clarifies the State Water Board’s role in requiring public water systems to monitor for any PFAS with a verified testing method. This would help reveal the true scope of the problem by monitoring for more chemicals than the federal government has looked for. It also requires that the public be notified when PFAS are found.

Please take a moment to tell your senator to vote for AB 756 (C. Garcia) when it comes up in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on June 19th.

The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) is opposing the bill; they want the state to limit monitoring to a weak federal plan that focuses on only two PFAS chemicals. They also claim that notifying the public about these chemicals would be burdensome. In other words, they want to keep you in the dark about chemicals that have been linked to cancer, liver toxicity, disruption of the immune and endocrine systems, neonatal toxicity, and environmental damage.

We need you to counter ACWA’s position by telling your senator that you have the right to know what’s in your water.

Several states are way ahead of California in trying to find out how much PFAS is in their environment and regulating those chemicals in drinking water. Tell your senator today to make sure our safety doesn’t lag behind. Request that your senator vote yes on AB 756.

For Clean Water,
Andria Ventura
Toxics Program Manager

Guide to CA Water Rights for Small Water Users

Issues with and confusion about water rights & wrongs in California is something that often comes up in much of the in stream restoration work we do, whether in montane meadows, salmonid streams or riparian rangelands, thus I thought some of you would find this new Guide to CA Water Rights for Small Water Users written by TU’s amazing Mary Ann King & Matt Clifford to be well worth your time.

Mostly Water Rites,

I’m attaching a new Guide to CA Water Rights for Small Water Users that Matt Clifford and I wrote with assistance from the State Water Board and The Nature Conservancy. It’s intended to provide an introductory overview of water rights, with an emphasis on the issues likely to be encountered by smaller-scale water users (e.g., farmers and residents on coastal streams). We did our best to write it in plain English, and to explain what kinds of water rights a landowner may already have, what those rights allow them to do, what kind of additional water rights are available, and how to get them. We’re pretty pleased with how it came out, and hope it can help de-mystify a complex subject.

Please feel free to distribute it far and wide.

Here’s a blog post on the guide too:

All my best,

Mary Ann

Action: Trump wants to drill the Central Valley and coast

True to form and consistent with his administration’s desire to drain public lands of every last drop of their fossil fuel potential — despite scientific consensus of a climate crisis stemming from our dependence on them — President Trump’s Bureau of Land Management is trying to re-open 1 million acres of California’s public land and mineral estate for drilling and fracking.

Click the link below to read a little more and tell the BLM to stop this monstrous plan.


OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT: Regulating Perchlorate in Drinking Water

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a notice of proposed rulemaking that seeks public input on a range of options regarding the regulation of perchlorate in public drinking water systems.

The agency is seeking comment on a proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for perchlorate to establish a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) and a health-based Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) at 56 micrograms per liter.

In addition, the agency is seeking comment on three alternative regulatory options:

·         An MCL and MCLG for perchlorate set at 18 micrograms per liter.

·         An MCL and MCLG for perchlorate set at 90 micrograms per liter.

·         Withdrawal of the agency’s 2011 determination to regulate perchlorate in drinking water.

The agency is requesting comment on all relevant aspects of the proposed rule but is especially interested in the perchlorate monitoring and reporting requirements for public water systems and a list of treatment technologies that would enable water systems to comply with the MCL, including affordable compliance technologies for small systems serving 10,000 persons or less. EPA is also requesting comment on its methodology for deriving the MCLG, the underlying assumptions and analysis of its cost and benefit estimates, and other specific items listed in the proposed rule.

Perchlorate is commonly used in solid rocket propellants, munitions, fireworks, airbag initiators for vehicles, matches, and signal flares. Perchlorate may occur naturally, particularly in arid regions such as the southwestern United States and is found as an impurity in hypochlorite solutions used for drinking water treatment and nitrate salts used to produce nitrate fertilizers, explosives, and other products.

EPA will accept public comment on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register via [Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0780].

For more information and to view the pre-publication version of the Federal Register Notice, visit

Water Boards Seeking Information on Streams and Watersheds

To all,

The California State Water Board is seeking information on watershed and streams so if you can help, there is a link below that will take you to where you can input the information.

Thank you.

Larry, CRW Web Manager

The Healthy Watersheds Partnership is conducting a literature review so we can create a resource/library on the website. Specifically we are looking for literature pertaining to the following topics:

defining watershed and stream “health”
data imputation methods
data aggregation and reduction
determining relative watershed health
climate change impacts to water quality
climate change impacts to beneficial uses

If you are aware of any literature related to these topics, we ask that you send us information about it by filling out the Google form. Thank you!


Anna Holder
California Sea Grant Fellow
Office of Information Management and Analysis
California State Water Resources Control Board
(916) 341-5286
1001 I Street, 19th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814


To All,

This is a message from the California Ocean Protection Council,
California Academy of Sciences, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife with opportunities for activists to engage in water protection activities.

Citizen science – the involvement of non-scientists in the production of scientific knowledge – can generate biodiversity data at spatial and temporal scales difficult to achieve by other approaches. Our team – a collaboration between the California Academy of Sciences, the California Ocean Protection Council, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife – is building the capacity to use citizen science observations to understand and monitor biodiversity across California’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) network.

Over the last decade, the Citizen Science team at the Academy has been developing a community of naturalists – scientists and non-scientists alike – working together to document biodiversity, connecting people to their local nature and simultaneously collecting data critical to science and management. In particular, a number of ongoing Academy citizen science initiatives focus on California’s coastal ecosystems. These include Snapshot Cal Coast – an annual California statewide effort to document our coastal biodiversity – as well as community bioblitzes and intertidal monitoring.

All these biodiversity observations are collected and aggregated using a common platform – iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a global network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists contributing biodiversity observations over space and time. It achieves this via a set of technological tools, which facilitate the recording, sharing and visualization of detailed biodiversity information.

Our team is developing innovative approaches and tools (MPA Explorer app in development; Snapshot Cal Coast app in development) to make use of the Academy’s citizen science efforts and iNaturalist community-contributed observations in support of the State of California’s long-term MPA Monitoring Action Plan. Our aims are twofold. First, to provide resource managers with a framework for integrating iNaturalist and Snapshot Cal Coast observations into long-term Marine Protected Area monitoring. Second, to understand the effects of changing ocean conditions on California coastal biodiversity by looking for patterns in these data over space and time, such as species range shifts or changes in community diversity.

You can help us! Imagine you could reliably estimate any current or future property of coastal ecosystems to facilitate your professional and/or recreational activity. What would you like to know about biodiversity within and outside Marine Protected Areas and across California’s coast? Are you interested in how people interact with coastal ecosystems, where and when they go, and what they choose to observe? If you have unanswered questions you would like to share, please take 5 minutes to answer our survey.

Please share this announcement with anyone who may be interested in this project.
Thank you,
California Ocean Protection Council
California Academy of Sciences
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Groundwater Exchange: Information for Activists

Dear Readers,

I am pleased to announce the launch of a new platform, the Groundwater Exchange, the latest website in my growing library of online resources for the water sector in the west. I hope those of you working to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act will find this a useful resource.

It has been my great pleasure to partner with Environmental Defense Fund and Stanford’s Program on Water in the West on this project and I have included our joint press release below.

Please check out the Groundwater Exchange at and feel free to send me your comments and suggestions. With your help, the Groundwater Exchange will evolve to be a valuable tool in SGMA implementation.

I also invite you to attend our webinar featuring a live demo of the Groundwater Exchange from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11. To register, visit

Thank you for being a reader of Maven’s Notebook!

Best regards,


New Platform Offers Resources and Engagement Tools for California Water Agencies and Communities Website provides a one-stop shop for information on the state’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Sept. 18, 2018) Maven’s Notebook, in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Stanford’s Program on Water in the West (WitW), launched a new website today at to provide a central hub of science-based information related to California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

The Groundwater Exchange is a free, collaborative online platform designed to connect water managers, water users and community members with tools and resources to support successful implementation of SGMA.

A webinar featuring a live demonstration of the Groundwater Exchange will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11. To register, visit

“Information about SGMA is currently spread across dozens of different websites,” said Christina Babbitt, senior manager of EDF’s California Groundwater Program. “With the Groundwater Exchange, we’re consolidating that information onto one website where communities across California can learn more about the law and become more engaged in issues related to groundwater, which is vitally important to the health and resilience of our state.”

“In addition to consolidating resources, water managers and community members involved in developing the site wanted to be able to share their experience and learning with one another. The Groundwater Exchange has an online forum to meet that need—here users can ask questions, share materials and engage with members of the water community,” added Tara Moran, the WitW Sustainable Groundwater Program lead. “We are really excited to be supporting a broader dialogue within the California water community.”

Groundwater contributes 40 percent of California’s annual water supply in a normal year and more than 60 percent in a dry year, according to the California Department of Water Resources. During the historic drought that ended in 2017, the state’s largest water users—agriculture and cities—over-pumped groundwater, which reduced river flows, caused land to sink faster than ever before, and left many poor communities without access to groundwater.

Prior to passage of SGMA in 2014, groundwater was largely unregulated in California. This historic legislation presents a significant opportunity for California to protect this fundamental resource for future generations.

SGMA led to the creation of more than 250 local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) tasked with developing and implementing plans to bring groundwater conditions into balance by as early as 2040. The California Department of Water Resources has provided substantial SGMA materials to the agencies, but many agencies have limited financial, technical and personnel resources. Moreover, additional SGMA resources have been developed by nonprofits and academic experts.

“Given the complexity of groundwater management, the California Department of Water Resources greatly appreciates the collaborative efforts to develop the Groundwater Exchange, as it will help to ensure SGMA’s success,” said Taryn Ravazzini, the department’s deputy director, special initiatives. “The platform will undoubtedly serve as a valuable forum to promote information exchange among Groundwater Sustainability Agency members, decision-makers and local stakeholders.”

Key features of the Groundwater Exchange include:

A forum to post questions, start discussions and share materials.
An introduction to SGMA, including frequently asked questions, publications on public engagement in English and Spanish, and links to organizations that help give community members a voice in water policy and decisions.
Searchable maps and a basin watch list that alerts users when new information about their basin becomes available.
A calendar and news section consolidating the latest content related to SGMA from across the Internet.
Weekly email updates featuring new content on the Groundwater Exchange and upcoming events.
“Sustainably managing groundwater is one of the most important and complex challenges that California will face in the coming decades,” said Andrew Fahlund, senior program officer at the Water Foundation. “The Groundwater Exchange brings together the best people and ideas to achieve this crucial goal.”

“California’s agriculture industry is vital to the production of our ingredients, and we are committed to improving water sustainability in the state,” added Jeff Hanratty, applied sustainability manager at General Mills. “We are proud to support the Groundwater Exchange, which will help water managers implement their Groundwater Sustainability Plans, balancing water needs for people, agriculture and the environment.”

The Groundwater Exchange was created with funding from the Water Foundation, General Mills and the California Department of Water Resources.

To learn more about the Groundwater Exchange, visit

Action to Protest Trump Downgrading Clean Water for People and Fish

The future of the Clean Water Rule is in our hands
The EPA wants to reduce protections for headwater streams.

Stand up for clean water today!
To act, send a letter by going to Trout Unlimited website.

Whether you fish or just simply understand the value of clean water, there is no law more important than the Clean Water Act. In 2015, the EPA developed a rule that affirmed Clean Water Act protections for “intermittent and ephemeral streams.” In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed weakening these protections. These streams —the headwaters of our nation’s rivers —provide us the fisheries we cherish and the clean drinking water we require.
Intermittent streams are those that have a continuous flow but only at certain times of the year, sustained seasonally by springs, ground-water inputs or a surface water source such as rain or melting snow.

Ephemeral streams flow only briefly (hours to days) in direct response to precipitation in the immediate vicinity.

stream miles classified as intermittent or ephemeral

Seeing Red: Do fewer protections impact your water?

Short answer? Yes. Think of intermittent and ephemeral streams like the capillaries in your body. While they are small and often overlooked, they play a vital role in our overall health. So too do the small headwater streams which feed the larger creeks and rivers we more commonly recognize. Zoom in to learn more about intermittent and ephemeral streams where you live.

We all deserve clean water.

Protecting it has never been more critical:

To act, send a letter by going to Trout Unlimited website.