09 Feb 2016:
Ice-Free Arctic Trade Route
Unlikely For Decades to Come, Study says
Despite the impact climate change is having on Arctic sea ice, it will be decades before big cargo ships will be able to take an ice-free shortcut
Russian tanker making its way through ice.
across the Arctic Ocean, according to a new report from the Arctic Institute
. In recent years, countries have been vying for access to possible Arctic shipping lanes in the belief that use of the passage was more imminent and would contribute to shorter travel times and associated cost savings
. But given the Arctic’s short sailing season, continuing treacherous ice conditions, the high costs associated with armoring cargo ships to withstand the ice, as well as low fuel prices, the Institute predicts that such crossings won’t become commercially viable until at least 2040. Until that time, shipping between Europe and Asia will continue to use the Suez Canal. Arctic shipping has decreased in recent years, from 1.3 metric tons in 2013 to 300,000 tons in 2014.
08 Feb 2016:
West Virginia Flatter
After Decades of Mountaintop Removal
Decades of mountaintop coal mining have substantially altered the topography of central Appalachia, according to new
esearch by Duke University
Appalachian mountain and valley affected by mining
. Areas affected by mining are as much as 60 percent flatter than they were pre-mining. In mountaintop mining, bedrock is blasted away
to uncover coal seams below the surface. In addition to mountains reduced in height, the valleys are also affected; they can be substantially shallower after mining debris is deposited in them. The fill can be as deep as 200 meters, which can significantly alter water flow and contamination as well. "The depth of these impacts is changing the way the geology, water, and vegetation interact in fundamental ways that are likely to persist far longer than other forms of land use," said Emily Bernhardt, a professor of biology at Duke and co-author on the study.
05 Feb 2016:
Rising Temperatures Skewing
Gender Balance of Sea Turtles, Study Says
Rising global temperatures may be skewing the gender makeup of marine turtles, according to
new research from Florida State University
Loggerhead sea turtle
. The gender of marine hatchlings is influenced by the temperature of the sands in which they incubate, with warmer temperatures producing more females. “It's worrying that you could have an extreme skew in gender one way," said Mariana Fuentes, an assistant professor of oceanography at FSU. "Any changes in population structure can have real repercussions.” The scientists examined 25 years worth of data for 21 loggerhead turtle nesting beaches along the Brazilian coast, but the results are pertinent to other regions since temperature-dependent sex determination affects all turtles.
04 Feb 2016:
Only Known Wild Jaguar in
the U.S. Filmed in Arizona in Rare Video
of the only known wild jaguar still roaming the United States has been captured using remote sensor
"El Jefe" filmed roaming south of Tucson at night
cameras in Arizona. The big cat, known by the nickname El Jefe
(“The Boss”), is one of only four or five jaguars spotted in the wild in the U.S. in the past two decades. El Jefe
is believed to live in the Santa Rita Mountains, about 25 miles south of Tucson. The footage was captured by Conversation CATalyst
, which has about a dozen cameras in the area where the jaguar lives. Notoriously elusive, the video footage is the product of three years of tracking. Healthy numbers of jaguars, the third largest cats after lions and tigers, once roamed the Southwest, but they all but disappeared about 150 years ago due to habitat loss and hunting, shot to protect livestock. Jaguars are now protected by the Endangered Species Act, although El Jefe
may be the last one in the U.S.
03 Feb 2016:
China’s Wind Power Sector
Experienced Rapid Growth in 2015
China installed nearly half of all new global wind power generation
last year and added as much new wind energy capacity in one year as the total capacity of the leading U.S. wind-producing states — Texas, Iowa, and California. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that China installed nearly 29 gigawatts of new wind-power capacity last year, surpassing the previous record of 21 gigawatts in 2014. China’s new wind energy capacity dwarfed the next-largest market, the United States, which added 8.6 gigawatts in 2015. Analysts said China’s wind sector grew rapidly because of declining manufacturing and installation costs, generous government feed-in tariffs, improving transmission capacity, and the government’s campaign to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Five Questions for Robert Bullard
On the Flint Water Crisis and Justice
In Flint, Michigan, a city of 100,000 whose population is 56 percent African American, a state cost-cutting measure to begin drawing drinking water supplies from
Texas Southern University
Robert D. Bullard
the Flint River has led to a public health crisis. The corrosive waters of the river have leached lead out of Flint’s aging water pipes, causing thousands of children to ingest dangerously high levels of lead — a problem that was ignored for months. Yale Environment 360
asked Robert D. Bullard — dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and the man widely considered the first to fully articulate the concept of environmental justice — five questions about how the situation in Flint reflects on environmental inequality in the United States. Read more.
02 Feb 2016:
General Electric Joins
The Move From CFL Bulbs to LEDs
General Electric, a leader in the lighting market, has announced that it will stop manufacturing compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs by the end of the year and
increasingly shift production to LED
(light emitting diode) bulbs, which last longer, produce a better-quality light, and are rapidly declining in price. The move highlights a trend away from CFL bulbs, which several years ago were the go-to choice for energy-saving bulbs to replace energy-intensive incandescent light bulbs. “Now is the right time to transition from CFL to LED,” said GE lighting executive John Strainic. The price of an LED bulb has fallen from $30 to $5 in recent years and continues to decline. Retail giant Ikea abandoned CFL bulbs last year and now sells only LED lights, and other major retailers like Walmart are expected to follow suit — a move welcomed by environmental groups, which laud the large energy savings from LEDs.
01 Feb 2016:
Lab-raised Caribbean Coral
Grown in the Wild for the First Time
Caribbean coral colonies bred in a lab, using in-vitro fertilization, have for the first time been raised to sexual maturity in their
natural marine habitat, according to findings published in the Bulletin of Marine Science
. Offspring of endangered elkhorn coral were reared from gametes collected in the field and successfully reattached to a reef a year later, where they have grown in size considerably
according to researchers from SECORE International
. Over the past four decades, an estimated 80 percent of all Caribbean corals have disappeared. The elkhorn coral’s decline is so severe that it was the first coral species to be listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2006. Due to its large size, branching shape, and preference for shallow waters, the coral is particularly effective at protecting shorelines from incoming storms, as well as providing a critical habitat for many reef organisms. Scientists hope this success will be an important step in helping restore endangered reefs
29 Jan 2016:
European Summers Hottest Since
Roman Empire, Tree Ring Analysis Finds
For the past three decades, Europe has been experiencing its warmest summers since the days of the Roman Empire, according to a study published in the Environmental Research Letters Journal
. The study, compiled by 40 academics, concluded that average summer temperatures have been 1.3 degrees Celsius hotter than they were 2,000 years ago. Heat waves also occur more often and last longer. The temperature figures were calculated by analyzing the tree ring analysis of three pine species found in Austria, Sweden, and Finland, as well as climate modeling and historical documents. The report says that summers were particularly warm between Roman times and the third century, before cooling until the 7th century. Temperatures warmed up again during medieval times, then dropped again from the 14th to 19th centuries. The recent warming, however, is unprecedented and cannot be explained by natural variability
, but is directly related to manmade climate changes, the scientists said.
28 Jan 2016:
Japan Is Building World's
Largest Floating Solar Farm Near Tokyo
Work has begun in Japan on what is expected to be the world’s largest floating solar farm, according to Japanese electronics
Rendition of solar farm on reservoir outside Tokyo
firm Kyocera, which is spearheading the effort. Japan is facing an increasing need for alternate forms of energy following the 2011 disaster at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Land is inherently in short supply, which is why the country is keen on developing floating solar plants
. Although water and electricity can make for a dangerous combination, the technology to build atop water is not particularly challenging, industry analysts say, but it is more expensive than building terrestrial solar farms. The power plant is being built on a reservoir in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture, not far from Tokyo. It is expected to produce enough power for 5,000 households when completed in two years.
27 Jan 2016:
Rush to Electric Vehicles
Is Worsening Air Pollution in China
The push by the Chinese government and the country’s automakers to expand production of electric vehicles is actually worsening air pollution
and carbon emissions because most of China’s electricity is still produced by coal-fired power plants, new studies show. Thanks to government incentives, production of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles is expected to grow six-fold to two million cars and trucks by 2020. But studies by researchers at Tsinghua University show that electric vehicles charged in China with coal-fired power produce two to five times as many particulates and other pollutants as gasoline cars. The Tsinghua studies call into question the government policy of promoting deployment of electric vehicles while the vast majority of the country’s electricity still comes from coal. “International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn’t need to rely on electric vehicles,” said one analyst. “Clean up the power plants.”
26 Jan 2016:
Cost of Manufacturing Solar
Panels Is Projected to Continue Falling
The cost of manufacturing solar panels is dropping more quickly than previously predicted, putting solar energy on course to meet
20 percent of global energy demand by 2027, according to Oxford University mathematicians, who developed a new forecasting model
. By contrast, the International Energy Agency’s predictions are far more conservative, stating that by 2050, solar panels will generate just 16 percent of global energy demand. The Oxford researchers' model predicts solar panel costs will continue to decrease 10 percent a year for the foreseeable future. Their model draws on historical data from 53 different technologies. The findings should help refute claims that solar PV cannot be ramped up quickly enough, said Oxford's Doyne Farmer, who co-wrote the paper. “We put ourselves in the past, pretended we didn’t know the future, and used a simple method to forecast the costs of the technologies,” he said.
25 Jan 2016:
Massive Transformation to Clean
Energy in the U.S. is Possible, Study Says
A rapid and affordable transformation to wind and solar energy within 15 years is possible in the U.S., according to a new study by NOAA
Map showing U.S. wind energy potential
and University of Colorado Boulder researchers published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. This energy transformation could slash greenhouse emissions by as much as 78 percent below 1990 levels, the study said. One of the biggest issues with weather-related power generation is its inherent intermittent nature, leading utilities to rely on gas-fired generators and other reserves during cloudy or low-wind periods. The solution to this problem is to scale up renewable energy generation systems to match the scale of weather systems, the scientists said. The model partially depends on significant improvements to the nation’s outdated electrical grid, including the creation of new, high-voltage direct-current transmissions lines.
22 Jan 2016:
Gasoline Prices Slow Electric
Car Sales to Below Administration Goals
The low price of gasoline is delaying the Obama Administration’s stated goal of reaching one million electric vehicles on American
Cheap gas is hurting electric car sales.
roads by now, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said
. In the summer of 2008, with gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, Obama, then a candidate, set a goal of getting 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015, something he reiterated in his 2011 State of the Union address. Of the 250 million cars and trucks on U.S. roads, only 400,000 of them are electric. Sales fell six percent last year when compared to 2014, to about 115,000 vehicles, despite an increasing number offerings, often at sold at steep discounts. But cost remains an issue. Mostly due to the price of batteries, electric and hybrid cars often cost about $8,000 to $10,000 more than an equivalent gasoline-powered car.
21 Jan 2016:
Tree Frog Long Believed
Extinct Is Rediscovered, Scientists Say
A specimen of tree frog to be extinct for nearly 150 years, has been found in again in the wild in the jungles of northeast
A new genus of tree frog has been rediscovered.
India, according to an article
published in the journal PLOS ONE
. A group of scientists, led by Indian biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju, identified the frogs as part of a new genus, Frankixalus
, and said the frogs could be living across a wide swath of Asia. But that doesn't mean the frogs are safe, Biju said. They were found at high altitudes in a diversity hotspot under threat from agricultural development. The frog has some very unusual characteristics, such as breeding inside tree hollows 20 feet above ground, where it feeds its tadpoles unfertilized eggs in small pools of water.
20 Jan 2016:
2015 Was the Hottest Year
on Record, U.S. Government Scientists Say
Last year was the hottest year globally — by far — breaking a record set in 2014, according to a report released today
by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During 2015, the globally averaged land and sea surface temperatures were 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average. December, in particular, was the hottest month ever recorded. According to the report, the record warmth was broadly spread around the world and contributed to significant global climate anomalies and events. NOAA and NASA do separate analyses of global temperatures, and the results they released today show 2015 as the warmest since global record-keeping began in 1880.
Interview: Finding a New Politics
For Our New Environmental Era
In an age defined by humankind’s unprecedented influence on the environment, how do do we begin to
reverse our increasingly disruptive impacts on the planet’s fundamental natural systems? Author Jedediah Purdy maintains that the times require a new politics to address the urgent global issues now confronting the planet, a vision he lays out in his new book, After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene
. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Purdy concedes that it’s difficult to discern the specifics of the “democratic Anthropocene” he’s calling for, but it has fundamental underpinnings: being less beholden to Big Money, attaching a moral value on climates and landscapes, and placing more emphasis on our responsibility to future generations. “We only have one way of collectively pivoting the direction in which we're taking that world, and that is political.”
Read the interview.
19 Jan 2016:
Ocean Absorption of Manmade
Heat Doubles Since 1997, Study Says
The amount of manmade heat absorbed by the world’s oceans has doubled since 1997, according to a study
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
released yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Scientists have long known that the oceans absorb more than 90 percent of manmade heat, but the study’s figures give a new and more accurate accounting for that process over a period of 150 years. According to the study, the oceans absorbed 150 zettajoules of energy between 1865 and 1997 — and an additional 150 zettajoules in just the past 18 years. “The changes we’re talking about, they are really, really big numbers,” said co-author Paul Durack, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California. “They are nonhuman numbers.” Put in perspective, the amount of energy absorbed by the oceans since 1997 is the equivalent to a Hiroshima-sized bomb
being exploded every second for 75 years.
15 Jan 2016:
Northeast U.S. Waters Warming
Faster than Previously Thought, NOAA says
The ocean waters off the Northeastern United States may get even warmer, and this warming may occur twice as quickly as previously thought,
according to a new study
The Gulf of Maine is warming rapidly
by researchers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The findings, based on four global climate models, suggest that ocean temperatures in that region will rise three times faster than the global average. “Prior climate change projections for the region may be far too conservative,” said Vincent Saba, a NOAA fisheries scientist and lead author of the study. The Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than nearly 100 percent of the world’s oceans, likely due to a northerly shift in the Gulf Stream. Scientists have been studying the warming’s impact on the area’s marine ecosystem.
14 Jan 2016:
Europe’s Remaining Orcas
Threatened by Banned Toxins, Study Finds
Orcas and other dolphins living in European waters are facing a severe threat from lingering toxic chemicals that have been banned for decades,
Two orcas ply the waters
according to a study led by the Zoological Society of London and published in the journal Scientific Reports
. The research, which was based on long-term studies of more than 1,000 biopsied whales, dolphins, and porpoises in European waters, found that the blubber of these cetaceans contain some of the highest concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the world. Without much stronger restrictions, "PCBs will continue to drive population declines or suppress population recovery in Europe for many decades to come," the study’s authors wrote. PCBs are a group of man-made chemicals previously used in the manufacture of electrical equipment, flame-retardants, and paints.
13 Jan 2016:
Melting Icebergs Fertilize
Oceans and Slow Warming, Study Says
The Manhattan-sized icebergs breaking off from the Antarctic ice sheet, which have become a symbol for climate change and
Melting icebergs can fertilize the oceans
rising oceans, may actually help slow global warming, according to a study
published in Nature Geoscience
. As the icebergs melt in warmer waters, they release in their wake significant amounts of iron and other nutrients that act as fertilizers for algae and other ocean flora, organisms that extract carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. These iceberg-induced ocean blooms absorb 10 to 40 million tons of carbon a year, or about the equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions from Sweden or New Zealand, the study finds. Until now, the impact of ocean fertilization was thought to be very localized. Grant Bigg, of the University of Sheffield and an author of the report, said he was surprised to find that the impact can extend up to 1,000 kilometers. There are typically 30 giant icebergs floating off Antarctica at any one time, and they can linger for years.
12 Jan 2016:
US Coal Production Drops to
30-Year Low in 2015, According to EIA
Coal production in the United States has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration
A coal mine in Wyoming
Coal production for 2015 was about 900 million short tons, which is 10 percent lower than the year before, and the lowest since 1986, the EIA reported. Production in the Central Appalachian Basin has fallen the most, largely due to difficult mining geology and high operating costs. Domestically almost all coal is used to generate electricity, and demand has fallen as the market share of natural gas and renewables has increased. Low natural gas prices, a decline in U.S. coal exports, and federal environmental regulations have all contributed to declining coal demand, the EIA said. Coal is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.
11 Jan 2016:
Scientists Warn of Biodiversity
Impacts of Major Hydropower Projects
Hydropower is considered by many to be a key ingredient to reducing carbon emissions and meeting global climate goals,
The Belo Monte dam under construction in the Amazon
but it comes at a great cost to biodiversity, particularly in tropical rainforests, according to a new report
published in the journal Science
. “Far too often in developing tropical countries, major hydropower projects have been approved and their construction begun before any serious assessments of environmental and socioeconomic impacts had been conducted,” says the report's lead author Kirk Winemiller, an aquatic ecologist at Texas A&M University. The dam-building rush, with more than 450 dams planned for the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong river basins alone, impedes tropical fish migration and vastly expands deforestation due to road construction, according to the authors. Other concerns include development of previously inaccessible terrain, as well as methane emissions from newly built reservoirs.
08 Jan 2016:
Study suggests most nitrogen
found in oceans comes from natural sources
The world’s oceans are less affected by human activities then previously suggested by atmospheric models when it comes to increased
Graph of various nitrogen sources found in oceans
nitrogen levels, according to a new study
published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. The majority of nitrogen found in the oceans comes from the oceans themselves instead of human pollution blown off shore, which contradicts most models, the researchers say. That’s both good news and bad news. On the plus side, “People may not be polluting the ocean as much as we thought,” says Meredith Hastings, associate professor at Brown University, one of the study’s co-authors. Excess nitrogen can throw aquatic ecosystems out of balance and lead to large algal blooms that can be deadly for sea creatures. However, nitrogen also stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, which increases the oceans’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus mitigating carbon emissions to some extent.
07 Jan 2016:
New Device Harvests Energy From
Walking and Exercising, Researchers Say
Researchers at MIT have developed a new method
for harnessing energy
generated by very small bending motions, which could be capable
Schematic of new human energy harvester
of harvesting power from a broader range of natural human activities such as walking and exercising. Based on electrochemical principles — the slight bending of a sandwich of metal and polymer sheets, with materials similar to those in lithium ion batteries — the new technology can more effectively capture energy from human motions than previous devices. Those devices, which were based on frictional technology or the compression of crystalline materials, can capture energy from mechanical vibrations, but they are not as compatible with the pace of human movements, the researchers explain in the journal Nature Communications
. When bent even a very small amount, the new layered composite produces a pressure difference that squeezes lithium ions through a polymer. The process produces alternating electrical current, the researchers say, which can be used directly to power devices such as cell phones and audio players.
06 Jan 2016:
Graphene Membrane Can Clean
Nuclear Wastewater, New Research Shows
Microscopic graphene membranes can effectively filter radioactive particles from nuclear reactor wastewater
Microscopic image of graphene membrane
at room temperature, researchers from the University of Manchester have shown. Writing in the journal Science
, the researchers demonstrated that graphene membranes can act as a sieve, separating different varieties of hydrogen — both radioactive and non-radioactive isotopes — from water. The new technology could also be scaled to produce significant amounts of so-called "heavy water," which is a non-radioactive component that is required in large quantities to produce nuclear energy. The graphene technology is 10 times cheaper and more efficient than current methods of producing heavy water. "This is really the first membrane shown to distinguish between subatomic particles," said University of Manchester researcher Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo.
05 Jan 2016:
NASA Images Show Swelling
Of Mississippi From Massive Flooding
A historic flood has sent the highest water levels ever recorded through the Mississippi River south of St. Louis, toppling records
Satellite image of flooding along the Mississippi River
set during the devastating floods of 1993. The massive surge follows heavy rains that dropped up to 12 inches of water across the region during a three-day period in late December. A NASA satellite
recently acquired this image of flooding along the Mississippi River from January 3rd, which shows floodwaters as blue and vegetation as green. The previous day, the waters caused the highest flood on record at Cape Girardeau, a Missouri town south of St. Louis. The flood water will continue to move southward, National Weather Service forecasters say, cresting in northwestern Tennessee today and in Memphis, Tennessee, by the end of the week. Some researchers
point to modern river management strategies enacted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, such as levees and dams that constrain the river, for exacerbating the effects of the heavy rainfall.
04 Jan 2016:
More Than Half of Power Plants Could be Hampered by Climate Change
More than 60 percent of the world's power plants could be hampered by changes in climate and water distribution by the middle
Canada's Toba Montrose hydroelectric project
of the century, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Hydropower plants and thermoelectric power plants — nuclear, fossil-, and biomass-fueled plants that convert heat to electricity — rely on freshwater from rivers and streams to produce energy and effectively cool equipment. Together, these types of power plants produce 98 percent of the world's electricity, the researchers note. Changes in climate that lead to water shortages and increased water temperatures will affect electricity generation in some regions more than others, says lead researcher Michelle Van Vliet of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She notes that adaptation measures focused on making power plants more efficient and flexible — such as switching from freshwater cooling to air or seawater cooling — could mitigate the decline.
04 Jan 2016:
More than Half of Power Plants
Could be Hampered by Climate Change
More than 60 percent of the world's power plants could be hampered by changes in climate and water distribution by the middle
Canada's Toba Montrose hydroelectric project
of the century, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Hydropower plants and thermoelectric power plants — nuclear, fossil-, and biomass-fueled plants that convert heat to electricity — rely on freshwater from rivers and streams to produce energy and effectively cool equipment. Together, these types of power plants produce 98 percent of the world's electricity, the researchers note. Changes in climate that lead to water shortages and increased water temperatures will affect electricity generation in some regions more than others — the U.S., southern South America, southern Africa, and parts of Europe are particularly vulnerable, says lead researcher Michelle Van Vliet of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She notes that adaptation measures focused on making power plants more efficient and flexible — such as switching from freshwater cooling to air or seawater cooling — could mitigate the decline.
04 Jan 2016:
How Science Can Help to Halt
The Western Bark Beetle Plague
Tens of millions of acres of pine and spruce trees have died in western North America in recent
years as a result of bark beetle infestations spawned by a hotter, drier climate. University of Montana entomologist Diana Six has been working to understand why the genetics of some individual trees enable them to survive even as whole forests around them are turning brown and perishing. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Six explains the root causes of the beetle infestations, discusses why U.S. Forest Service policies may be making the problem worse, and describes why the best hope for Western forests will come from the trees’ capacity to genetically adapt to a new climate regime. Read the interview.