02 Oct 2013:
Excess Radioactivity and Metals
Found in Pennsylvania Fracking Wastewater
Researchers found high levels of radioactivity, metals, and salts in sediments and water downstream from a Pennsylvania facility that treats fracking wastewater. Radioactivity levels downstream of the treatment plant were about 200 times higher than in surrounding areas, and concentrations of some salts and metals were also higher than background levels, the scientists reported in Environmental Science and Technology
. The Duke University team traced the radioactivity's source to the Marcellus Shale formation, which is naturally high in salts and radioactivity. Although the treatment plant removes more than 90 percent of the radioactive metals radium and barium, the effluent still exceeds federal limits for radioactive waste disposal, the researchers said. Plants, fish, and other organisms near the facility are potentially at risk for radium bioaccumulation. Downstream, carcinogenic byproducts can form when water with excess levels of the salt bromide mixes with disinfection chemicals at municipal drinking water plants, the study said. A mile downstream from the treatment facility, bromide levels were 40 times higher than background levels, the researchers reported.
01 Oct 2013:
Small Rainforest Predators
Are Photographed and Studied in Gabon
The west African country of Gabon is known for its gorillas, elephants, and other large animal species, but a recent study
has shed light on little-known rainforest predators that could face increasing pressure from the
bushmeat trade. Using camera traps, bushmeat surveys, and DNA analyses, researchers from Panthera, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and other groups completed the first-ever survey of 12 small carnivore species throughout the country. The study found two species — the common slender mongoose and the Cameroon cusimanse — that hadn't been found in Gabon before, and it documented an extended range for the Egyptian mongoose. “It appears that these species are widespread and not currently threatened, but the proximity of many small carnivores to human settlements and the growing bushmeat trade could potentially impact these populations," said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Fiona Maisels, who co-authored the study. "These new findings will help inform future management."
30 Sep 2013:
Ikea to Sell Home Solar Panels
In All British Stores Within a Year
The Swedish furniture retailer Ikea will begin selling residential solar panels in its 17 UK stores within the next 10 months. The basic package's $9,500 price tag will include 18 panels, installation, maintenance,
design consultation, and energy monitoring. With energy savings and current green energy subsidies in the UK, consumers should typically earn as much as $1,244 per year and break even in about seven years, Ikea said. Great Britain's heavily subsidized green energy market is smaller than other European countries', but it has shown steady growth, rising 25 percent in the last year, the Guardian reports
. The decision by the world's largest furniture retailer comes after a successful test run at a store outside London, where solar panel sales averaged one unit per day. Ikea has not announced plans to sell units in the U.S., where some utility companies have sought an end to public subsidies of
residential solar installations.
27 Sep 2013:
IPCC Scientists Warn
Of Upper Limit on CO2 Emissions
Saying it is 95 percent certain that humans have caused most of the global warming of the last half-century, scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned today that the world can afford to burn about 1 trillion tons of carbon
before facing extreme climate change. The IPCC’s working group on the physical sciences for the first time set an upper limit on CO2 emissions, contending that humanity can combust only one-third of the 3 trillion tons of fossil fuels that still remain in the ground. If carbon emissions continue at their current pace, IPCC scientists forecast that the trillionth ton of carbon will be released around 2040, and beyond that the world will face potentially destabilizing temperature increases exceeding 2 degrees C, or 3.6 degrees F. The physical sciences report,
compiled by hundreds of scientists and released in Stockholm, marked the first time that the IPCC had forecast that sea levels could rise by as much as three feet this century. The physical sciences report is the first of several to be released in the next year in advance of the 2014 publication of the IPCC’s fifth report on global climate change.
26 Sep 2013:
Major Initiative Announced
To Help Curb Elephant Poaching in Africa
The Clinton Global Initiative and 16 conservation organizations have announced that they are investing $80 million
over three years to stem the epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa, which has surged recently due to increasing demand for ivory in Asia. The Partnership to Save Africa's Elephants, which includes the governments of seven African nations, will fund programs that scale up anti-poaching enforcement, combat trafficking at ports and markets with more enforcement and harsher penalties, and curb the demand for illegal ivory with ad campaigns aimed at consumers in China, Vietnam, and other nations. "We cannot hope to reverse the dramatic decline in elephant populations without addressing all three parts of the problem," said Patrick Bergin, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation.
25 Sep 2013:
More Than 80 Elephants Dead
From Cyanide Poisoning in Zimbabwe Park
Poachers poisoned watering holes with cyanide in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, killing 81 elephants
in the latest wave of slayings to supply the trade in illegal ivory. The cyanide, poured into remote watering
Hwange National Park
holes in the park, also killed smaller animals and vultures that ate the poisoned carcasses. Park rangers arrested nine alleged poachers after following them to a cache of ivory tusks hidden in the park. The elephant death toll of 81 includes 41 carcasses found earlier this month following another cyanide poisoning incident in Hwange park. Zimbabwe's new environment minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, has pledged to make jail penalties for poachers harsher. Elephant and rhino poaching in Africa
has accelerated in recent years due to increasing Asian demand for ivory and rhino horn, which is used in traditional medicines, even though it has no proven medicinal properties. Officials estimate tens of thousands of elephants are being slaughtered each year in the worst wave of poaching in decades.
24 Sep 2013:
Major Wind and Rain Belts
Could Shift North as Earth Warms
A study of warming at the end of the last Ice Age indicates that future warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels will likely shift the planet's rain and wind belts northward, say researchers
at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Regions that are already dry — including the western U.S., western China, and the Middle East — could grow drier, while equatorial Africa and monsoonal Asia may become wetter. An examination of data such as polar ice cores and ocean sediments shows that as the last Ice Age ended 15,000 years ago, northward shifts in the tropical rain belt and mid-latitude jet stream occurred as the temperature gradient between the northern and southern hemispheres increased. That sharper gradient came about because the land mass-dominated northern hemisphere warmed faster than the ocean-dominated southern hemisphere, according to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. Researchers say a similar pattern could develop in years to come as the northern hemisphere continues to warm faster than the southern hemisphere.
23 Sep 2013:
Cleaner Air from Curbing CO2
Emissions Would Save Lives, Study Finds
Gains in air quality that would come from reducing greenhouse gas emissions could save up to three million lives per year by 2100, according to U.S. researchers
. Their findings, published in Nature Climate Change
, come ahead of an important interim report by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, set to be released on Friday. Cutting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, vehicles, and other sources would reduce particulate matter and ozone emissions, which are tied to cardiovascular distress, respiratory illnesses, lung cancer, and strokes. The study estimated that by 2100, 1.4 million to 3 million premature deaths a year could be avoided thanks to cuts of CO2 emissions. The researchers calculated that health care savings alone would outweigh the projected costs of cutting carbon emissions over the next few decades.
20 Sep 2013:
U.S. Places CO2 Limits
On New Coal-Fired Power Plants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will for the first time begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions from new coal- and natural gas-fired power plants
under the Clean Air Act, EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy announced. Speaking in Washington, McCarthy said, “Climate change is real, human activities are fueling that change,
and we must take action to avoid the most devastating consequences.” The EPA regulations, which the coal industry vows to challenge in court, will require new coal plants to emit fewer than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, considerably lower than the average 1,800 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour currently produced by coal-fired power plants. Such limits would require the new plants to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which has not been used on a wide scale. The difficulty of using CCS technology will be at the heart of lawsuits challenging the EPA move, industry officials say.
19 Sep 2013:
Fracked Shale Formations
Could Store Carbon Dioxide, Study Says
Storing carbon dioxide in the same shale formations that produce natural gas may be an effective way to sequester carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel-burning power plants, according to a U.S. study
. Computer models by researchers at the University of
Virginia suggest the Marcellus Shale, a 600-square-mile formation in the northeastern U.S. that is a center of hydrofracturing natural gas, is capable of storing half the CO2 emitted by U.S. coal plants from now to 2030. Fracked shale wells are good candidates for carbon storage because CO2 can be injected in much the same way that natural gas was extracted, the researchers say. Fracking involves injecting pressurized fluids in wells to fracture the shale rock, which creates cracks that let gas seep out. The authors of this study suggest those networks of cracks could be filled with CO2 before sealing the natural gas wells.
18 Sep 2013:
Climate Change Reporting
Focuses on Disasters and Uncertainty
Nearly 80 percent of news articles about climate change either warn of current or future disaster scenarios related to global warming, or contain discussions about the uncertainty of climate science, an Oxford study of 350 news articles
from 2007 to 2012 has found. Fewer than two percent of the articles from the media in six countries discussed opportunities to be gained from switching to a lower-carbon economy. Journalists were attracted to "gloom and doom" stories about climate-related disasters, the team wrote, which is in line with findings from previous studies. Uncertainty was discussed in nearly 80 percent of the articles, which the researchers say poses a problem for dealing with climate change
because it keeps debate focused on what's considered conclusive proof of global warming
, rather than directing discussion toward the comparative costs and risks of different policy options.
17 Sep 2013:
Major Company Backs Out
Of Pebble Mine Project in Alaska
A major mining company has withdrawn its participation in Alaska's Pebble Mine project, dimming the controversial project's prospects of moving forward, the Anchorage Daily News reports
. The British Mining giant, Anglo American, said it was pulling out of the project to focus on lower-risk mining ventures — a tacit acknowledgment that opposition among fishermen,
Bristol Bay watershed
indigenous groups, and environmentalists was making it increasingly unlikely that the Pebble Mine would receive the necessary state and federal approvals. The opposition is focused on concerns that the massive gold and copper mine would threaten Bristol Bay and endanger the world's richest wild salmon fishery
. Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian company, continues to back the project, but a company official said the firm would have trouble moving forward without a partner.
16 Sep 2013:
Canadian Scientists Fight Back
Against Government Censorship Rules
Recent rules silencing government researchers in Canada have sparked protests in 16 major cities, the Guardian reports
. The Harper administration over the past few years has ordered scientists at Canada's National Research Council, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and other government research agencies not to discuss work on a number of climate- and environment-related issues with journalists, the public, or even fellow researchers. Scientists have been asked not to comment on topics ranging from snowflakes to salmon, even after results have been published in major scientific journals. Critics charge that the Harper administration has a track record of muzzling environmental research
. Earlier this month the administration was accused of stalling a major report on greenhouse emissions — widely expected to document significant rises in carbon pollution — because the study could deal a blow to Harper's efforts to secure U.S. approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Guardian reports.
13 Sep 2013:
Warmer Ocean Water Is Key
Factor in Melting Ice Shelves, Study Says
Recent research into one of West Antarctica's most rapidly melting glaciers and ice shelves has shown that rising ocean temperatures and a series of channels lacing the underside of
Edge of Pine Island ice sheet
the shelf are the key factors in the rapid thinning of the shelf
and the swift advance of the glacier behind it. Reporting in Science
, U.S. scientists said that instruments deployed on and under the Pine Island Glacier and ice shelf over the past two years have shown that warmer ocean water has been flowing through a series of channels under the shelf, causing the 31-mile-long floating slab of ice to thin at the alarming rate of 2.4 inches per day and loosening the shelf's hold on the bedrock below. The melting ice shelf itself doesn't contribute to sea level rise, but as it thins it allows more of the land-based Pine Island Glacier to flow into the sea,
which is contributing to sea level rise.
12 Sep 2013:
Migration of Trees Is
Not Keeping Pace with Warming
Most tree species in the U.S. aren't migrating northward as rapidly as predicted in response to climate change, a new study says
. Looking at 65 species across
Kilmer Forest, North Carolina
31 eastern states, the team found no consistent, northward migration of tree species, as many other climate studies have predicted. Rather than shifting northward by dispersing seeds to cooler climates, the researchers found, tree species are responding by speeding up their life cycles. "Most trees are responding through faster turnover," says lead scientist James Clark
of Duke University, "meaning they are staying in place but speeding up their life cycles in response to longer growing seasons and higher temperatures." The results appear in Global Change Biology
Interview: Finding a Better Message
About the Risks of Climate Change
It’s a common refrain: If people only knew more about the science, there wouldn’t be so much polarization on the issue of climate change. But Dan M. Kahan’s
groundbreaking work has gone a long way to prove that idea wrong. In fact, he’s found, it’s not the lack of scientific understanding that has led to conflict over climate change, but rather the need to adhere to the philosophy and values of one’s “cultural” group. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale Law School, maintains that in order to break down the polarization, the issue needs to be reframed in a way that minimizes the likelihood that positions on climate change will be identified with a particular group. “Are there ways to combine the science with meanings that would be affirming rather than threatening to people?” he says. “I think if somebody believes that there just aren’t any, I think that person just doesn’t have much imagination.”
Read the interview.
11 Sep 2013:
Arsenic in Vietnam Groundwater
Slowly Moving Toward Hanoi, Study Says
As the population and water needs of Hanoi mushroom, the capital city of Vietnam is slowly drawing poisonous arsenic into the aquifer that supplies its drinking water, say researchers from the U.S. and Vietnam
. Water contaminated with arsenic has moved more than a mile
The Red River
closer to the aquifer over the last 40 to 60 years, the researchers report in Nature
, due to the city's increasing water demand; municipal pumping in Hanoi doubled between 2000 and 2010. The good news, says lead researcher Alexander van Geen of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is the contaminated groundwater "is not moving as fast as we had feared it might.” This will give Hanoi officials time, perhaps decades, to determine how to best deal with the problem. The study also determined why arsenic is leaching into the groundwater: As water containing arsenic mixes with high levels of organic carbon from the Red River and other surrounding aquifers, the chemistry changes and arsenic dissolves in the water.
Counterpoint: Two Scientists Offer
A Dissenting View on Ascension Island
Ecologists Daniel Simberloff, of the University of Tennessee, and Donald Strong, of the University of California, Davis, have written a critical appraisal of a recent Yale Environment 360
article by Fred Pearce about Ascension Island. In their critique, the two scientists contend that Pearce failed to accurately describe what has occurred on the island and misrepresented the science of restoration ecology. Read more
10 Sep 2013:
New Prize is Created to
Improve Measurements of Ocean Acidity
Philanthropist Wendy Schmidt is offering $2 million in prize money
to inventors who can develop inexpensive and easily deployable sensors to measure ocean acidification. The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X Prize
is offering $1 million to the team that invents the most accurate sensors to measure the ocean’s acidity and $1 million to the team that devises the most affordable and easy-to-use sensors. Biologist Paul Bunje, a senior executive for oceans at the X-Prize Foundation, said that because current ocean acidity sensors can cost more than $5,000, very little is known about the pace of ocean acidification in various regions and depths. The goal, said Bunje, is to deploy many thousands of sensors worldwide. Rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide mean that more CO2 is being dissolved in the oceans, steadily making them more acidic.
09 Sep 2013:
Grid-Scale Batteries Make Sense
For Solar Energy, But Not Wind, Study Says
When renewable energy sources such as solar and wind farms generate more electricity than consumers need, storing the excess doesn't always make sense, say researchers from Stanford University
. Large, grid-scale batteries capable of storing the extra electricity are resource-intensive and costly to manufacture and maintain — sometimes more so than the energy they're used to store. "You wouldn't spend a $100 on a safe to store a $10 watch," said Michael Dale, who co-authored the study in the journal Energy & Environmental Science
. "Likewise, it's not sensible to build energetically expensive batteries for an energetically cheap resource like wind." Economically, it makes more sense to shut down wind energy production when consumer demand is low than it does to maintain battery systems to store excess wind energy, the study said. But battery storage does make sense for photovoltaic systems, the researchers say
, because solar panels and solar farms require more energy to build and maintain.
Yale Environment 360 Articles Are
Yale Environment 360
Now Available in Spanish and Portuguese
has increased its international reach with a new partnership launched this month with Universia, a Spanish online education network. As part of this joint effort, Universia will translate selected Yale Environment 360
articles into Spanish and Portuguese
and feature them on its website, which has more than 10 million unique viewers each month. The articles will be featured on a special e360
page on the Universia site at e360yale.universia.net
. Universia is an institutional network of 1,242 universities in Spain, Portugal, and 21 countries throughout Latin America, and through this partnership, Yale Environment 360
will significantly expand its international audience and influence. You can find the new e360/Universia page at e360yale.universia.net
06 Sep 2013:
Immense Pacific Volcano Is
Among The Largest in the Solar System
A massive underwater volcano the size of New Mexico has been discovered 1,000 miles east of Japan, Nature Geoscience reports
. Covering an area of 120,000 square
miles, the volcano is 50 times larger than Hawaii's Mauna Loa, making it the largest volcano on Earth, according to a team of researchers
from the U.S., Japan, and the U.K. The newly discovered volcano, named Tamu Massif, is only 25 percent smaller than the immense volcano on Mars, Olympus Mons, which is large enough to spot with a backyard telescope. Tamu Massif is a shield volcano, with a low, broad shape and gradually sloped flanks. Its name derives from Texas A&M University, where the lead researcher taught for three decades.
05 Sep 2013:
Swapping Corn for Rice Benefits
China's Miyun Reservoir, Study Shows
After years of contamination and decreasing output, China's Miyun Reservoir is rebounding
, say researchers from China and the U.S. Rice farming had contaminated and tapped the reservoir, which lies 100 miles north of Beijing and is the main water source for the city's 20 million inhabitants. But four years ago, the Chinese government began paying farmers to grow corn instead, which requires less water and leads to less fertilizer and sediment runoff than rice farming
. Now, water quality tests show that fertilizer runoff declined sharply, the researchers found, and the amount of reservoir water available to Beijing and surrounding areas has increased. Farmers also made more money growing corn instead of rice and were able to spend less time tending their crops, the study concluded
How High Tech Is Helping
Bring Clean Water to Rural India
Social entrepreneur Anand Shah runs Sarvajal, a company that seeks to bring clean water to remote villages in India by deploying solar-powered “water
ATMs,” which dispense water to residents with the swipe of a prepaid smart card. Sarvajal, launched in 2008, currently serves more than 110,000 rural customers and is now is moving into India’s urban slums, where people often spend hours a day waiting for trucks to deliver clean water. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Shah talks about the challenges of expanding access to clean water in India and the lessons his company has learned from its first five years of operation. “The solutions came from what we actually saw in the field, rather than being invented elsewhere,” he says, “and that’s what makes it work.”
Read the interview.
04 Sep 2013:
Scientists, Governments Question
'Blockbuster' Climate Change Reports
Scientists and government officials are questioning the way the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, widely considered the definitive authority on global climate risk, handles its major reports. The panel typically issues "blockbuster" reports every five to seven years; the next is set to be released this month in Stockholm. But The Guardian reports
that international climate scientists, many of whom have been involved in drafting those major reports, are now suggesting future assessments should be more targeted in scope and released more frequently. Scientists and government officials say that narrower reports, such as studies focused on specific regions or phenomena, would be more useful to policymakers. The panel's governing body will meet in October to discuss its future.
03 Sep 2013:
Crop Pests Migrate Poleward
Due to Global Warming, Study Says
Global warming has been driving crop pests toward the North and South poles at a rate of 1.7 miles per year, according to new research from the U.K. Looking at the
Stem rust (Puccinia graminis fungus)
distribution of 612 crop pests over the past 50 years, the researchers found a strong correlation between warming global temperatures and increased ranges for the pests. “If crop pests continue to march polewards as the Earth warms, the combined effects of a growing world population and the increased loss of crops to pests will pose a serious threat to global food security,” said Daniel Bebber, a biologist at the University of Exeter who led the study published in Nature Climate Change
. Crop pests — which include insects as well as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and nematodes — destroy 10 to 16 percent of the world's crops each year, or enough food to feed nine percent of the population, scientists estimate.
30 Aug 2013:
Greenland Ice Hides Gorge
Longer than the Grand Canyon
A massive gorge nearly twice as long as the Grand Canyon is hidden under Greenland's ice sheet, reports a team of researchers from the U.K., Canada, and Italy.
With a width of about six miles and a maximum depth of 2,600 feet, the previously undiscovered canyon is as wide as its Arizona counterpart and nearly half as deep. Flowing water likely carved the canyon long before the formation of the mile-deep ice sheet that has blanketed it for the past few million years. Researchers found the feature using ice-penetrating radar equipment, they reported in Science
. The canyon does not yet have a name. "It's remarkable to find something like this when many people believe the surface of the earth is so well mapped," said lead author Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol.
29 Aug 2013:
Future Wildfire Seasons to Be
Longer, Smokier, Cover More Area
Fire seasons will be three weeks longer, generate twice as much smoke, and cover a larger area of the western U.S. by 2050, a new study from Harvard researchers finds
. The risk of large fires could also increase by a
Petruncio Mike, USFWS
factor of two to three. In general, the biggest driver for future fires in Western states will be temperature, but driving factors can vary from region to region, the researchers say. In the Rockies, for example, moisture in the forest floor is the biggest predictor. Wildfires in the Great Basin region, however, will be more heavily influenced by relative humidity in the previous year. The results, published in Atmospheric Environment
, are based on records of past fire activity, decades of meteorological data, and a set of internationally recognized climate scenarios.
28 Aug 2013:
Illegal Slash-and-Burn Fires
Are Causing Smog Problem in Indonesia
Skies above Indonesia have been blanketed with smog
as wildfires burn throughout its forests. Ignoring
environmental laws, companies are using the practice of slash-and-burn to clear land for palm oil plantations. The illegal fires decimate rainforests and peatlands and fill the air with lethal levels of smoke, as seen in this NASA satellite image taken on August 27. Indonesia's pollution index hit a record-high 401 earlier this month; any reading above 400 is considered life-threatening to the elderly and sick. Palm oil is the world's largest vegetable oil commodity
and demand is rising rapidly, causing massive damage to tropical forests, especially in Southeast Asia.
27 Aug 2013:
Mexican Gray Wolves
Granted Increased Protection in the U.S.
The U.S. government has agreed to expand the territory
where a small population of Mexican gray wolves in the southwestern U.S. can be protected and reintroduced.
Mexican gray wolf
Under a pair of agreements with the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service also has consented to a plan under which Mexican gray wolves that cross the U.S.-Mexico border and establish territories in Arizona and New Mexico will no longer be captured by U.S. authorities. The agency will also start releasing captive Mexican gray wolves into Gila National Forest and allow them to establish territories throughout much of New Mexico and Arizona. That rule, set to be finalized by January 2015, significantly expands the habitat for a beleaguered population of about 75 Mexican gray wolves
in those states. Wildlife ecologists have been advocating for such measures, saying increased protections and expanded territories are essential to the recovery of the Mexican wolf population, but states in the region have strongly opposed such an expansion.