27 Mar 2015:
Metals Used in High Tech
Are Becoming Harder to Find, Study Says
Metals critical to newer technologies such as smartphones, infrared optics, and medical imaging will likely become harder
This chart shows the criticality of 62 metals.
to obtain in coming decades, according to
Yale researchers, and future products need to be designed to make reclaiming and recycling those materials easier. The study, the first to assess future supply risks to all 62 metals on the periodic table, found that many of the metals traditionally used in manufacturing — zinc, copper, aluminum, lead, and others — show no signs of vulnerability. But some metals that have become more common in technology over the last two decades, such as rare earth metals
, are available almost entirely as byproducts, the researchers say. "You can't mine specifically for them; they often exist in small quantities and are used for specialty purposes," said Yale scientist Thomas Graedel. "And they don't have any decent substitutes."
26 Mar 2015:
Pollution May Trigger Heath
Problems in Deep-Water Fish, Study Says
Fish living in deep waters near continental slopes have tumors, liver pathologies, and other health problems that may be
Microscopic abnormality in a black scabbardfish liver.
linked to human-generated pollution, researchers report
in the journal Marine Environmental Research
. They also describe the first case of a deep-water fish species with an “intersex” condition — a blend of male and female sex organs. In the study, which looked at fish in the Bay of Biscay west of France, researchers found a wide range of degenerative and inflammatory lesions in fish living along the continental slope, which can act as a sink for heavy metal contaminants and organic pollutants such as PCBs and pesticides. The fish that live in these deep waters are often extremely long-lived — some can be 100 years old — which allows them to bioaccumulate such contaminants. However, linking the fishes' physiological changes to pollution is preliminary at this time, the researchers said.
Interview: Why This Tea Partyer
Is Seeing Green on Solar Energy
Debbie Dooley’s conservative credentials are impeccable. She was one of the founding members of the Tea Party movement and
continues to sit on the board of the Tea Party Patriots. But on the issue of solar power, Dooley breaks the mold. To the consternation of some of her fellow conservatives, she has teamed up with the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, first in Georgia and now in Florida, to form the Green Tea Coalition. The group is working to get an initiative on the Florida ballot that would allow individuals and businesses to sell power directly to consumers. In an interview with e360
, Dooley explains why she supports solar energy campaigns and why she’s willing to go up against conservative organizations when it comes to this issue.
Read the interview.
25 Mar 2015:
Dutch Energy Company Heats
Homes With Custom-Built Computer Servers
A Dutch energy company is installing radiator-sized computer servers — which infamously generate large amounts of
A radiator-sized computer server installed in a home.
waste heat as they churn out data — in residential homes to offset energy costs, company representatives said
this week. In the trial program, Rotterdam-based Eneco has equipped a handful of houses with custom-built computer servers designed to heat rooms as the servers process data for a variety of corporate computing clients. Eneco and the company behind the radiator-servers, Nerdalize
, expect each one to reduce a home's heating expenses by roughly $440 over the course of a year. Eneco will cover all computing-related energy costs, the company said, but they expect the program to reduce server maintenance costs by up to 55 percent through preventing complications that arise when servers overheat. In summer months, the server-radiators will redirect excess heat outside the home, its designers say.
24 Mar 2015:
Extreme Forest Fragmentation
Documented in Comprehensive New Study
Fragmentation of the world’s forests has become so severe
that 70 percent of remaining woodlands are now within 1 kilometer of a road or other form of development, according to a new study
. Using the world’s first high-resolution satellite map of tree cover, as well as an analysis of seven long-term fragmentation studies, researchers showed that the ongoing destruction of global forests is decreasing biodiversity by as much as 75 percent in some areas and adversely affecting the ability of forests to store carbon and produce clean water. The study, published in the journal Science Advances
, found that 20 percent of the world’s forests are just 100 meters from a human-created “edge.” Even many parks and protected areas have undergone fragmentation, the study said. The few remaining large, virgin tracts of forest are found in parts of the Amazon, Siberia, Congo
, and Papua New Guinea.
Back from the Brink: Success Stories
Of the U.S. Endangered Species Act
A small minnow known as the Oregon chub
recently became the 29th species to recover after being listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the first fish to ever join those ranks. The Endangered Species Act
, signed into law in 1973, is widely considered one of the most important pieces of U.S. environmental legislation ever enacted. This e360
photo gallery highlights the 21 species
native to the United States, including the bald eagle (above), that have made recoveries strong enough to be removed from the endangered list.
Read more | View gallery of recovered species
20 Mar 2015:
Glacial Melt and Precipitation
Create Massive Runoff in Gulf of Alaska
Rapidly melting glaciers, rain, and snow are combining to dump a massive amount of freshwater
into the Gulf of Alaska,
Gulf of Alaska
with important implications for ocean chemistry and marine biology, according to a new study. So much meltwater is now flowing into the Gulf of Alaska that if all the streams and other runoff sources were combined it would create the world’s sixth-largest coastal river, according to research in The Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.
The collective discharge into the Gulf of Alaska is more than four times greater than the Yukon River and 50 percent greater than the Mississippi River. They found that glaciers surrounding the Gulf of Alaska are melting and retreating at a swift pace, creating an important source of meltwater. Researchers said this flood of freshwater affects ocean temperature, salinity, currents, marine biology, and sea level.
19 Mar 2015:
Electric Vehicles Keep Cities
Cooler than Gas-Powered Cars, Study Says
Electric vehicles emit 20 percent less heat than gas-powered cars, which helps mitigate the urban heat island effect and
An electric car recharges its battery.
could lead to lower air conditioner use in major cities, according to research published in the journal Scientific Reports
. Heat emanating from vehicles is an important contributor to the heat island effect — the difference between temperatures in heavily urbanized areas and cooler rural regions — and a shift toward electric vehicles could help, the researchers say. They used data from Beijing in the summer of 2012 to calculate that switching vehicles from gas to electricity could reduce the heat island effect by nearly 1 degree C. That would have saved Beijing 14.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity from air conditioning and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 11,779 tons per day, the study says.
18 Mar 2015:
Biodegradable Plastics Are as
Persistent as Regular Plastics, Study Finds
Plastics designed to degrade don't break down any faster than their conventional counterparts, according to research
Plastic accumulated along the Los Angeles River.
published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology
. Because most plastics accumulate in landfills and remain intact for decades or longer, some manufacturers have begun producing plastics with proprietary blends of additives that are supposed to make the materials biodegradable, and a number of countries have adopted legislation promoting the use of those additives. But in laboratory tests, researchers found the plastics with biodegradation-promoting additives fared no better than conventional plastics in any of three different disposal scenarios — simulated landfill conditions, compost, and soil burial for three years. Previous research looked at plastics buried in soil for 10 years, the authors note, and found that only 5 percent of the so-called biodegradable plastic decomposed.
17 Mar 2015:
California Could Install Ample
Solar Power Without Damaging Habitats
California could generate enough electricity from solar power to exceed the state's energy demand five times over, even if solar equipment were only to be installed on and near existing infrastructure, a report in Nature Climate Change
says. The report shows it is possible to substantially boost California's solar energy production without converting natural habitat, harming the environment, or moving solar installations to remote areas far from consumers. Roughly eight percent California's land area has been developed by humans, the study says, and residential and commercial rooftops provide ample opportunity for generating electricity through small- and utility-scale solar power installations. Additional solar facilities could be constructed in undeveloped areas that are not ecologically sensitive, such as degraded lands, the report notes. "Integrating solar facilities into the urban and suburban environment causes the least amount of land-cover change and the lowest environmental impact," says lead researcher Rebecca R. Hernandez.
16 Mar 2015:
El Niño and La Niña Can Predict
Severity of Tornado Season, Study Says
El Niño and La Niña conditions can help predict the frequency of tornadoes and hail storms in some of the most
Tornado near El Reno, Okla., in May 2013.
susceptible regions of the U.S., new research
published in the journal Nature Geoscience
shows. Scientists have been using El Niño and La Niña conditions, which can be identified months before the climate cycles actually develop, to make more accurate forecasts of droughts, flooding, and hurricane activity. Now, a team of researchers says they can also forecast how active the spring tornado season will be based on the state of El Niño or La Niña in December, and sometimes even earlier. Moderately strong La Niña events lead to more tornadoes and hail storms over portions of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and other parts of the southern U.S., the study shows, whereas El Niño patterns suppress the storms. Scientists have detected El Niño conditions over the past few weeks, which indicates that this spring will be a relatively quiet one for severe storms in the southern U.S., the authors say.
13 Mar 2015:
Obama Administration Doubles
Size of Key California Marine Sanctuaries
The Obama administration yesterday expanded protections for two major marine sanctuaries off the coast of San Francisco,
Sea stars on the shores of Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
California — the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries — doubling their extent
to create a protected area the size of Connecticut. The sanctuaries encompass a wide array of habitats, including estuarine wetlands, rocky intertidal habitat, open ocean, and shallow marine banks, as well as areas of major upwelling where nutrients come to the surface and support a vast array of marine life, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. The expansion comes after more than a decade of of community action, scientific research, and political effort. Although it was nearly unanimously supported by San Francisco Bay Area residents, the expansion faced strong opposition
from the oil and gas industry, which will now be barred from drilling in the region.
12 Mar 2015:
Bubbling From Melting Glaciers
Makes Fjords Noisiest Places in Oceans
Bubbles gushing from melting glaciers and their icebergs make fjords the noisiest places in the oceans, according to
research published in Geophysical Research Letters
. Researchers used underwater microphones to record noise levels in three bays where glaciers flow into ocean fjords and icebergs calve from glaciers. They found that average noise levels from bubbles in these fjords exceeded those generated by all other sources, including weather, wildlife, and machines such as ships and sonar devices. Glacial calving contributed some of the noise, but the constant melting and bubbling was the real culprit, the researchers said. Their findings raise questions about how the underwater noise in the fjords — which are foraging hotspots for seabirds and marine mammals and important breeding habitat for harbor seals — will affect animals as climate change further increases melting rates.
11 Mar 2015:
Warming To Sharply Increase
For Remainder of 21st Century, Paper Says
Within a decade, the earth — and particularly the northern hemisphere — will begin warming at rates unprecedented in the last 1,000 to 2,000 years, according to new research
in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Examining the rate of temperature increases in 40-year intervals over the past 2,000 years, the scientists concluded that temperatures had fluctuated up or down by about 0.2 degrees F over each interval. In the past 40 years, however, warming has approached 0.4 degrees F per decade. And beginning in 2020, temperatures could start to rise by 0.7 degrees F per decade and continue at that rate until at least 2100. Warming will be especially pronounced in the Arctic, where temperatures are expected to soar by 1.1 degrees F by 2040. The scientists warned that such greenhouse gas-driven warming is moving the planet into an unstable climatic state.
10 Mar 2015:
Solar and Wind on Track to
Dominate New U.S. Power Capacity in 2015
U.S. electric companies expect to install more than 20 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale generating capacity this year and
Power generating capacity set to come online in 2015.
60 percent of that will be wind and solar power, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration analysis
. Energy companies plan to retire 16 GW of generating capacity this year, EIA numbers show, and 81 percent of that will be coal-fired power plants. The large number of coal plant retirements can be attributed to the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which are slated to go into effect this year. Many companies decided that shuttering coal generators would be more cost effective than retrofitting them to meet the new standards, the EIA said. Natural gas power plants — which, although they burn fossil fuels, emit significantly less carbon than coal-fired plants — will make up roughly 32 percent of the additional capacity.
09 Mar 2015:
Blue Crabs Are Moving Into
Gulf of Maine's Warming Waters, Study Says
Blue crabs have become the first documented commercially important species to move into the Gulf of Maine
Blue crab caught 80 miles north of its historic range.
a migration that may be driven by climate change, according to ecologist David Johnson of the Marine Biological Laboratory. Although the historic northern limit of the blue crab is Cape Cod, Massachusetts, scientists and resource managers have observed blue crabs as far north as northern Maine and Nova Scotia, Canada. Johnson says that warmer ocean temperatures in 2012 and 2013, which were 1.3 degrees C higher than the previous decade's average, allowed the crabs to move north. In the 1950s, blue crabs were observed in the gulf during a time of warmer waters, Johnson notes in the Journal of Crustacean Biology
, but once the gulf returned to average temperatures, the crabs disappeared. He added that "recent observations of blue crabs may be a crystal ball into the future ecology of the Gulf of Maine."
Interview: What Lies Behind the
Surge of Deforestation in Amazon
Ecologist Philip Fearnside has lived and worked in the Brazilian Amazon for 30 years and is one of the foremost authorities on
deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest. A professor at the National Institute for Research in the Amazon, Fearnside is now watching with alarm as, after a decade of declining deforestation rates, the pace of cutting in the Amazon is on the rise again. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Fearnside explains the factors behind the resurgence in deforestation and warns that the Amazon will sustain even graver losses if Brazil’s newly re-elected President Dilma Rousseff — who is backed by large landowners and agribusiness interests — doesn’t change course.
Read the interview.
06 Mar 2015:
Los Angeles City Council Says
Vegetables Can Be Grown Along Sidewalks
The Los Angeles, California, City Council voted
this week to allow residents to grow fruits
Planting in a parkway in Los Angeles, Calif.
and vegetables in the small strips of city-owned land between the sidewalk and street. Doing so used to require a $400 permit, essentially preventing lower-income residents from using the green spaces, which are also known as parkways. Community groups have been pushing for many years to do away with the permit fee in hopes of improving low-income communities' access to healthy foods, and the council has been working on the ordinance change for almost two years. The mayor is expected to approve the change next week, and if he does, the ordinance will go into effect in 30 days.
05 Mar 2015:
Shifting to Electric Power
From Oil Not Always the Greener Choice
Transitioning from fossil fuels to electric-powered technology is widely believed to be an effective way to lower carbon emissions. However, as a new Nature Climate Change
report explains, that calculus changes significantly if the electricity is produced by burning coal or oil. For electrification to lower emissions, a region must produce its electricity with less than 600 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per gigawatt hour (GWh), the report says. If a region's electricity production exceeds this 600-ton threshold — as it does in India, Australia, and China, for example — moving to electricity may increase carbon emissions and accelerate climate change. "You could speculate that incorporating electrified technologies such as high speed rail in China may not lower overall emissions," says Chris Kennedy, a University of Toronto engineer who authored the study. "It might even be more carbon friendly to fly."
04 Mar 2015:
Hurricanes Help Spread
Invasive Marine Species, Researchers Find
Hurricanes can accelerate the spread of invasive marine species — in particular the lionfish, a hardy invader that
An adult lionfish
can overrun ecosystems and devastate native biodiversity — according to research
published in the journal Global Change Biology
. Researchers found that hurricanes, by forcing changes in strong ocean currents, have helped lionfish spread from the Florida Straits to the Bahamas since 1992, increasing the spread of the species by 45 percent and their population size by 15 percent. Normally the currents pose a barrier to the transport of lionfish eggs and larvae, the researchers say, but as a hurricane passes, the current shifts and carries lionfish larvae and eggs from Florida to the Bahamas. Scientists say climate change may increase the frequency or intensity of future storms, which could further accelerate the spread of marine invasives.
03 Mar 2015:
Photographs of Amazon Forest
Added to Google Street View Collection
Detailed views of the Amazon rainforest, its rivers, and indigenous communities are the latest additions to Google's
"Street View" collection, the company announced
this week. The imagery — captured while boating down 500 kilometers of rivers, walking along 20 kilometers of trails, and ziplining through dense forest — reveals stunning views
of the Amazon from the top of its canopy to the forest floor. The photos also capture daily life in 17 communities of local people who live deep within the rainforest and along the Rio Mariepauá, one of the Amazon River's largest tributaries. The images were collected in partnership with the conservation organization Amazonas Sustainable Foundation, which hopes that sharing in-depth photographs of the area will help promote conservation efforts.
Interview: How Climate Change
Helped Lead to Conflict in Syria
Before Syria devolved into civil war, that country experienced its worst drought on record. The consequences of this disaster
included massive crop failures, rising food prices, and a mass migration to urban areas. In a new study
in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, researchers suggest the drought and its ensuing chaos helped spark the Syrian uprising. They make the case that climate change was responsible for the severity of the drought. Colin Kelley, a climatologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was the study’s lead author. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Kelley explains that long-term precipitation and soil temperature trends in Syria and the rest of the region correlate well with climate change models, demonstrating, he says, that the record-setting drought can’t be attributed to natural variability.
Read the interview.
02 Mar 2015:
Emperor Penguins Had Few
Refuges During Last Ice Age, Study Finds
The Ross Sea and certain other Antarctic waters likely served as refuges for the three emperor penguin populations that
survived during the last ice age, when large amounts of ice made much of the rest of Antarctica uninhabitable, according to a new study
published in the journal Global Change Biology
. The findings suggest that extreme climatic conditions on the continent during the past 30,000 years created an evolutionary "bottleneck" that is evident in the genetic material of modern-day emperor penguins, a species known for its ability to thrive in icy habitats. But during the last ice age, the Antarctic likely had twice as much sea ice, the researchers say, leaving only a few locations for the penguins to breed — distances from the open ocean (where the penguins feed) to the stable sea ice (where they breed) were too great. The three populations that did manage to survive may have done so by breeding near areas of ocean that are kept free of sea ice by wind and currents, the researchers suggest.
27 Feb 2015:
Growing Risks to India's
Water Supply Mapped With New Online Tool
A new online tool
could help water users in India understand the risks to their water supply, which is dwindling and increasingly
polluted, recent analyses show. The tool, created by 13 organizations including the World Resources Institute
, allows users to see where the competition for surface water is most intense, where groundwater levels are dropping significantly, and where pollution levels exceed safety standards. Northwest India, for example, faces extremely high surface water stress as well as low groundwater levels, as this map shows. Overall, 54 percent of India is under high or extremely high water stress, an equal portion is seeing declining groundwater levels, and more 130 million people live where at least one pollutant exceeds national safety standards, according to the World Resources Institute.
26 Feb 2015:
Heat-Trapping Effects of
CO2 Measured in Nature for First Time
Scientists have long understood how carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming, but the phenomenon had not been directly documented
at the earth's surface outside of a laboratory — until now. Writing in the journal Nature
, researchers present 11 years of field data on carbon dioxide's capacity to absorb thermal radiation emitted from the surface of the earth. The results agree with theoretical predictions of the greenhouse effect associated with fossil fuel combustion, researchers say, and provide further confirmation that calculations used in climate models are on track when it comes to representing the impact of CO2 emissions. "We see, for the first time in the field, the amplification of the greenhouse effect because there's more CO2 in the atmosphere to absorb what the earth emits in response to incoming solar radiation," says Daniel Feldman, a scientist at Berkeley Lab and lead author of the study.
25 Feb 2015:
Global Pesticide Map Shows
Large Areas of High Water Pollution Risk
Streams across roughly 40 percent of the planet's land area are at risk of pollution from pesticides, according to
Risk for pesticide pollution
published in the journal Environmental Pollution
. Surface waters in the Mediterranean region, the United States, Central America, and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk, according to the study, which produced the first global map of pesticide pollution risk. Taking into account weather data, terrain, pesticide application rates, and land use patterns, the map shows that the risk of pesticide pollution is relatively low in Canada and northern Europe but increases closer to the Equator. More areas are likely to face high pesticide pollution risk as global population grows and the climate warms, the researchers say, because agricultural activity and crop pests will both intensify, likely requiring even higher rates of pesticide use.
24 Feb 2015:
New Map Shows Background
Noise Levels Across the United States
A new map by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) shows America's quietest and noisiest places. The park service
mapped background noise levels across the country on an average summer day using 1.5 million hours of acoustical data. The quietest areas of the country, such as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, are shown in deep blue on this map and are likely as quiet now as they were before European colonization, NPS researchers say. They are collecting the data as part of an effort to determine whether and how wild animals are affected by anthropogenic noise pollution. Owls and bats, for example, rely on hearing faint rustles from insects and rodents, and scientists think human-driven noise could be drowning out those subtle signals in many areas of the country.
23 Feb 2015:
Large-scale Pumping Can
Return Oxygen To Deep Waters, Study Finds
A team of Danish and Swedish scientists reports
that they have restored oxygen to the waters
Deploying instruments in Byfjord, Sweden.
of a deep fjord that had suffered from a long-term lack of oxygen. The researchers used large pumps to mix oxygen-rich surface water into the deeper parts of the fjord's water column — which had long been anoxic due to its depth and geological setting — and after only two months higher oxygen concentrations became detectable in the bottom waters. "In the later phase of the experiment the entire water column began to look healthy," the researchers said, noting that bacterial species that live in well-oxygenated waters had begun to appear. Low oxygen levels make waters uninhabitable to most forms of life, and anoxic waters often harbor only a few types of bacteria, some of which produce significant levels of greenhouse gases.
20 Feb 2015:
Wind Produced 10 Percent of
Texas Electricity in 2014, Grid Operator Says
More than 10 percent of the electricity used in Texas last year came from wind turbines, according to
General locations of wind plants in Texas.
Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's electric grid. Wind's share of the Texas electric mix grew from just over 6 percent in 2009 to 10.6 percent in 2014. During that period, wind power generation actually doubled — rising from 18.8 million megawatt-hours to 36.1 million — while total electricity generation in Texas also rose by 11 percent. The share of electricity generated by wind power in Texas is more than double the U.S. figure of 4.4 percent. The growth in wind generation in Texas is a result of new wind plants coming online and grid expansions that have allowed more wind power to flow through the system to consumers, the council said.
19 Feb 2015:
New York City Set for Major
Sea Level Rise By 2050, Report Concludes
The waters surrounding New York City are on track to rise 11 to 21 inches by the 2050s, according to an analysis
NASA climate change models. The city's average temperature, which has increased by 3.4 degrees F since 1900, is set to rise another 5 degrees F by the 2050s, the report says, and annual precipitation is also likely to rise significantly over that period. New York City has already seen sea levels rise by over 1 foot since 1900 — nearly twice the average global rate, according to the report, which was published by the New York City Panel on Climate Change. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the report highlights the urgency of mitigating climate change and adapting to its risks, and he announced a commitment
to cut the city's emissions by 80 percent by 2050.