e360 digest


19 Feb 2014: Loss of Arctic Sea Ice
Has Greater Warming Impact Than Expected

The steady disappearance of Arctic sea ice, which is causing the exposed and darker surface of the Arctic Ocean to absorb more sunlight, is having a more profound impact on global warmingthan previously

Click to Enlarge
“Sea

Sea ice extent in 2012
estimated, according to a new study. The decline of albedo, or reflectivity, from the Arctic Ocean equals roughly 25 percent of the warming caused by rising carbon dioxide levels, according to scientists at the University of California, San Diego. The impact of this "albedo feedback," in which the highly reflective white surface of sea ice is replaced by heat-absorbing open ocean, is considerably stronger than climate models had predicted, according to the UCSD research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers had thought increasing Arctic cloud cover might slow the albedo feedback, but this study indicates that is not happening.
PERMALINK

 

18 Feb 2014: Website Allows Whistleblowers
To Report Wildlife and Forest Crimes

A new whistleblower site offers people a secure and anonymous way to report incidents of poaching, wildlife trafficking, and illegal logging around the world. The site is called WildLeaks, a nod to the well-known WikiLeaks site, and it's backed by the California-based Elephant Action League. Users can upload documents, video, or images detailing the crimes, and submissions will be encrypted so data and identities remain secure. The aim is to provide a safe way for citizens to report these illegal activities so that local and federal governments can take action. Prosecuting wildlife crimes and illegal logging is often a low priority in countries where some of the worst offenses occur; moreover, local government corruption often deters people from reporting such crimes, organizers say. "We [will] work to transform this information into a verified and actionable item, a point for launching an investigation or sharing it with the media or, when possible, with selected and trusted law enforcement officers, always aiming at exposing wildlife crimes and bringing the responsible individuals to justice," said the WildLeaks project leader.
PERMALINK

 

17 Feb 2014: New Maps Pinpointing Wind
Turbines Will Help Track Effects on Wildlife

More than 47,000 wind turbines dot the U.S. landscape, predominantly clustered in the Midwest and Great Plains, as a new interactive tool developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows. The maps — the first

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U.S. wind turbine locations

Wind turbines in the U.S.
publicly-available, nationwide data set for wind energy generation — show the locations of every turbine in the U.S., from large wind farms to single turbines, and are accurate to within 10 meters. The maps are part of the USGS's effort to assess how wind turbines impact wildlife, and they show detailed technical information such as the make, model, height, area of the turbine blades, and capacity of each turbine. Turbine-level data will improve scientists’ ability to study wildlife collisions, the wakes causes by wind turbines, the interaction between wind turbines and ground-based radar, and how wind energy facilities overlap with migratory flyways, the USGS says.
PERMALINK

 

Five Questions for Elizabeth Kolbert
On Facing Up to the Sixth Extinction

Elizabeth Kolbert's new book, The Sixth Extinction, focuses on one of the most troubling realities of our age: We are living in a period when, for only the sixth time in earth’s history, the diversity of species is contracting suddenly and rapidly — but now, we humans are the cause. For her reporting, Kolbert, an e360 contributor and New Yorker staff writer, traveled from the Peruvian Andes to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, probing the fate of a dozen species. Yale Environment 360 asked Kolbert five questions about the book and what she discovered in researching it.
Read more.
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14 Feb 2014: Climate Benefits of Natural Gas
Are Questioned in A Major New Report

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been underestimating methane leaks from natural gas production and use by 25 to 75 percent, according to a comprehensive assessment of more than 200 studies. When the methane leaks are accounted for, natural gas contributes to climate change more than industry and the EPA have claimed, concludes the report by a team of U.S. scientists. In some cases, natural gas contributes to warming more than other fossil fuel sources. For instance, fueling trucks and buses with natural gas instead of diesel likely increases emissions, because diesel engines are relatively efficient, according to the researchers. Natural gas has been touted as an important "bridge fuel" because it emits less CO2 during combustion than oil and coal. Recently, though, studies have indicated that leaks of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, during natural gas production, transportation, and consumption may offset its climate benefits. The new report, published in Science, synthesized the results of 20 years' worth of methane leakage studies.
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13 Feb 2014: Australian Bushfire Has Grown
To Size of Melbourne, NASA Image Shows

A fire rivaling the size of the city of Melbourne is raging in southeastern Australia, as a NASA satellite image taken at night earlier this week shows. The Snowy River Complex Fire, which is burning mountain forests near a

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Australian fire the size of Melbourne

Australian bushfire and Melbourne at night
remote national park, is one of three bushfires that flared up last weekend. Fueled by strong winds combined with a heat wave and prolonged dry conditions, the three fires have consumed more than 180,000 hectares (695 square miles), about 100,000 (390 square miles) of which burned in the Snowy River Complex. That fire's dense, opaque smoke is visible from space during night and day, and satellite images show the smoke plume stretching across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. The Snowy River blaze includes fires that ignited on February 9, as well as fires that were started by lightning in January. Though stunningly large in this view, they do not pose much of a threat to people or infrastructure.
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12 Feb 2014: Despite Costs, Most Americans
Want Action on Climate Change, Report Finds

A large majority of Americans — 83 percent — say the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if those efforts have economic costs, according to a new report from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. As many as 56 percent of Americans would be willing to pay an extra $100 each year if their power company would generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Corporations and industry should be doing more to stave off climate change, according to 65 percent of people interviewed in a national survey, and 61 percent believe individual citizens should also be taking a more active role. Many of the survey's findings are similar across Democratic and Republican party lines. Tax rebates for energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels are popular among people aligned with both parties, for example, as well as funding renewable energy research and regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. And people from both parties are generally supportive of ending all fossil fuel subsidies, although Democrats (67 percent) are more supportive of that policy than Republicans (52 percent).
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11 Feb 2014: Shrinking Household Size
May Offset Progress in Curbing Population

Household size — the number of people living together under one roof — has been shrinking worldwide, and the trend could have major consequences for resource consumption, new research finds. Although global population growth has been somewhat curbed in the developed world, the number of households has continued to grow at a much faster pace in nearly all countries, Michigan State University researchers found. Average household size in developed nations declined from approximately five members in 1893 to 2.5 in 2000, while the rapid decline in household size in developing nations began around 1987, according to the research, which analyzed trends between the years 1600 and 2000. Smaller households are typically less efficient, with fewer people using proportionally more land, water, and energy. Constructing housing units also consumes lumber and building supplies, and generally requires building more roads and commercial areas. "This will put enormous strain on the environmental life support system we rely on, even if we achieve a state of zero population growth," one study author said.
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10 Feb 2014: New Plant Found in Andes
Supports up to 50 Species, Researchers Say

Researchers working in the Ecuadorian Andes have discovered a new species of black pepper plant that is a nexus of biodiversity. The plant, named Piper kelleyi, supports roughly 40 to 50 insect species, the scientists estimate, many of which are entirely dependent on the
P. kelleyi caterpillar
Specialist herbivore Eios feeds on P. kelleyi
plant for survival. P. kelleyi produces chemical compounds that are known to deter most herbivores, but a single type of caterpillar has adapted to overcome the toxicity of the plant's defenses. That caterpillar, in turn, is preyed upon by species of wasps and flies dependent on that specific caterpillar species — and ultimately the plant — for survival. Altogether, an assemblage of up to 50 species of herbivorous and predatory insects are dependent on P. kelleyi, the researchers report in the journal PhytoKeys.
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Photo Essay: In New Orleans, an
Architect Makes Water His Ally


In Flood-Prone New Orleans, an Architect Makes Water His Ally
Dutch Dialogues II

No city in the United States faces as grave a threat from flooding, hurricanes, and rising seas as New Orleans, part of which lies below sea level. But New Orleans architect David Waggonner and his associates, learning lessons from the Dutch, have proposed a revolutionary vision for New Orleans that seeks to make an asset of the water that surrounds the city, remaking unsightly canals into an important and scenic part of the landscape and mimicking nature to store rainfall. Waggoner’s firm has been chosen to help develop a Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, a first step in what could be a multi-billion dollar project to redesign the ways in which the region co-exists with water. “To sustain the city in this difficult site in an era of rising seas and more extreme weather, we must convert our necessities into niceties, into desirable places that connect with people and culture,” Waggonner says.
View the Photo Gallery
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07 Feb 2014: Chimpanzee 'Mega-Culture'
Documented in Remote Forest in Congo

Researchers have documented a huge population of chimpanzees in the Democratic Republic of Congo — a community of perhaps tens of thousands of individuals with its own unique customs and behaviors, the Guardian reports. The so-called "mega-culture," which spans 50,000 square kilometers of virtually untouched

Watch Video
Chimps in DRC

Chimps are thriving in a remote Congo forest.
forest, is thought to be the largest population of chimps in Africa and one of the last remaining continuous populations of chimpanzees in the wild, the scientists report in the journal Biological Conservation. The researchers first reported on this community in 2007, but their new survey includes detailed videos of the thriving population and its unique behaviors, which include feasting on leopards, using tools to harvest giant African snails and swarming insects, and building ground nests far more frequently than other chimps. While the find is heartening in terms of chimpanzee conservation, the researchers and wildlife advocates fear the population could be decimated by habitat loss and poachers, who stand to make huge profits in the bushmeat trade.
PERMALINK

 

06 Feb 2014: Maps Show Tropical Corridors
Important to Wildlife As Climate Changes

A new set of maps highlights the importance of habitat corridors in helping wildlife deal with the effects of climate change and deforestation. The series of maps shows more than 16,000 habitat corridors— swaths of

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South America habitat corridors

Protected areas and corridors in South America
land that connect forests or protected areas and allow animals to move between them — in tropical regions of Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. High-resolution data on biodiversity, endemism, and vegetation density allowed the researchers, led by Patrick Jantz of the Woods Hole Research Center, to determine which corridors are most important for maintaining biodiversity under changing climate conditions. The maps also highlight which corridors are most important for sequestering carbon and averting carbon emissions associated with deforestation. Researchers hope the findings will help guide wildlife protection plans and serve as a framework prioritizing the conservation of habitat corridors.
PERMALINK

 

05 Feb 2014: Vast Forests and Frequent
Fires Were Key Causes of Ancient Warming

The release of volatile organic compounds from forests and smoke from wildfires had a far greater impact on global warming 3 million years ago than ancient atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a new study finds. During the mid-Pliocene epoch, forests covered a much larger percentage of the planet, releasing large amounts of volatile organic compounds, according to Nadine Unger of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Those compounds are precursors to ozone and organic aerosols, which are both potent greenhouse gases. The dark foliage of the planet's abundant forests also absorbed large amounts of solar energy, another reason why the Pliocene was a relatively warm era even though atmospheric levels of CO2 were not exceptionally high. The research — based on earth-system modeling that used a supercomputer capable of processing 52 trillion calculations per second — provides evidence that dynamic atmospheric chemistry played an important role in past warm climates, underscoring the complexity of climate change, the authors write in Geophysical Research Letters.
PERMALINK

 

04 Feb 2014: NASA Image of Alaska
Depicts Spring-like Temperatures and Thaw

As the continental U.S. faced frigid weather and major winter storms in January, Alaska experienced record high temperatures. A map based on NASA satellite data

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“Alaska

Alaska’s warm January
shows that the last half of January was one of the warmest winter periods in Alaska’s history, with temperatures as much as 40 degrees F (22 C) above normal on some days in the central and western portions of the state. A high pressure system off the state's western coast sent warm air and rain through Alaska instead of down into California, which is in the midst of a record drought. The warmest January temperature ever observed in Alaska was tied on January 27, when the thermometer hit 62 F (16.7 C) at Port Alsworth, in southern Alaska. Combined with rainstorms, the heatwave set off a host of spring-like effects, including avalanches and swollen rivers, which carried major sediment loads into the Gulf of Alaska. Inland, Arctic lakes are also seeing consequences of Alaska's long-term warming trend. A new study found that lakes in the region froze almost six days later and broke up about 18 days earlier in the winter of 2011 compared to the winter of 1950.
PERMALINK

 

03 Feb 2014: Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier
Is Moving at Record Speeds, Study Finds

Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier is flowing into the ocean at a record pace of more than 17 kilometers per year, according to research by U.S. and German scientists. The glacier, which drains 6 percent of the

Click to Enlarge
Jakobshavn Glacier

The calving front of Jakobshavn Glacier
massive Greenland ice sheet, moved at a rate of 46 meters per day in the summer of 2012 — four times the glacier's 1990s summer pace. The unprecedented speed appears to be the fastest ever recorded for any glacier or ice stream in Greenland or Antarctica, the researchers report in the journal The Cryosphere. Scientists estimate the glacier added about 1 millimeter to global sea levels from 2000 to 2010; its faster flow into the ocean means Jakobshavn will add even more water over the current decade. Widely thought to be the source of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic in 1912, the researchers say Jakobshavn is flowing at record speeds because its front edge, called the calving front, now overlies a particularly deep spot on the ocean floor. "As the glacier’s calving front retreats into deeper regions, it loses ... the ice in front that is holding back the flow, causing it to speed up," the lead researcher explained.
PERMALINK

 

31 Jan 2014: U.S. State Department Report
Boosts Prospects of Keystone XL Pipeline

In a long-awaited report, the U.S. State Department has concluded that the carbon-heavy oil from Alberta's tar sands will be extracted whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline is built, improving the prospects that the highly controversial project will be built. In an environmental impact statement that was six years in the making, the State Department concludes that the process of extracting and burning tar sands oil creates 17 percent more greenhouse gases than traditional oil, but that the heavily polluting oil will be brought to market with or without the pipeline. "It's unlikely for one pipeline to change the overall development of the oil sands," said a State Department official. If completed, the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama will make the final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and he vowed last year that he would approve the pipeline only if it would not "significantly exacerbate" the problem of carbon emissions. Environmental activists such as Bill McKibben of 350.org have said it would be "game over" for the climate if Keystone XL is built.
PERMALINK

 

30 Jan 2014: NASA Animation Shows
Relentless Pace of Warming Since 1950

A 15-second NASA animation shows the steady and rapid warming of the planet since the middle of the 20th century, with regions in the Arctic and Siberia warming as much as 2 to 4 degrees C (3.6 to 7. 2 degrees

View Animation
Global temperatures 2013

Temperatures show long-term increases.
F) above a long-term average. The animation begins in 1950, but the intensity of the yellow, orange, and red colors shows how much temperatures have increased compared to baseline temperature data collected from 1880 to the present. NASA said that nine of the planet's 10 warmest years have occurred since 2000, and worldwide surface temperatures continued to rise in 2013, according to satellite and meteorological data. Since 1880, when atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were 285 parts per million (ppm), the average global temperature has risen 1.4 degrees F; atmospheric CO2 concentrations crossed a milestone of 400 ppm last year. "Long-term trends in surface temperatures are unusual and 2013 adds to the evidence for ongoing climate change," NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt said.
PERMALINK

 

29 Jan 2014: Driven by State Incentives
Electric Cars Top Vehicle Sales in Norway

Norwegians have been snapping up electric cars: In the last three months of 2013, the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf outsold all other cars, including conventionally fueled models. But rather than environmental concerns,
Oslo EV
An EV charges up in Oslo
a host of government incentives — totaling an estimated $8,300 per vehicle — are largely driving the boom, the Guardian reports. Norway, a country of only 5 million people, currently has around 21,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads, compared to 70,000 EVs among 313 million Americans and 5,000 EVs among 63 million people in the UK. More than 1,200 EVs are being sold in Norway per month thanks to incentives that include free electricity for recharging, lower sales tax rates, waived tolls, free parking, insurance discounts, and permission to drive in bus lanes, which are less crowded. The EV rush is expected to slow, however, as bus lanes become more crowded, and the government plans to end financial incentives once 50,000 EVs are registered, which could occur by 2016.
PERMALINK

 

28 Jan 2014: Peru Park Holds Record
Reptile and Amphibian Diversity, Study Finds

A new study crowns Peru's Manu National Park as the place with the world's most diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians — 287 species in all. The park's 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species outnumber those in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park, which, with 271 reptile
Manu glass frog
Alessandro Catenazzi
A glass frog from Manu's cloud forests
and amphibian species, was previously believed to contain the world's most diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians. Although Manu National Park represents only 0.01 percent of the world's land area, it houses 2.2 percent of all amphibian species and 1.5 percent of all reptile species, the researchers note. They attribute the rich diversity to the park's elevation gradient, which spans the Western Amazon's tropical rainforest up through high Andean cloud forests, providing a wide range of habitats. Manu also has record bird diversity — with 1,000 species, or 10 percent of the world's total species — and tremendous butterfly diversity, with 1,200 species. Scientists say the inventory of the national park's richness is far from complete. DNA analyses, frog call studies, and other techniques will likely reveal even more diversity, the authors note in the journal Biota Neotropica.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: How Citizen Science Is
Aiding and Democratizing Research

When biologist Caren Cooper carries out her avian studies, she’s aided by thousands of assistants, none of whom are paid for their work. That’s because Cooper, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, relies on the help of so-called citizen scientists, volunteers from across the country who contribute data
Caren Cooper
Caren Cooper
to her research projects. These lay people provide information that enables her and other scientists to study bird life in ways that would otherwise be impossible. But, as Cooper notes in an interview with Yale Environment 360, the uses of citizen science go well beyond bird research. Bushmen in the Kalahari are using apps to document wildlife and natural resources that need to be protected. Environmental activists also are employing open-source technology to measure and monitor pollution, including the deployment of kites and balloons to document such events as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “A lot of the ways for us to move forward in certain fields require massive collaboration,” says Cooper. “And so we’re building all the infrastructure for these collaborations, all of the web tools — whatever we need to make that happen.”
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

27 Jan 2014: Changes in Humidity
Are Used to Generate Electricity

Researchers have created a new kind of generator that uses bacterial spores to harness the untapped power of evaporating water. Scientists from Harvard and Columbia universities have created small, prototype generators by coating a sheet of rubber with a soil
Vancouver 2010 Olympics
Bacillus subtilis bacterial spores
bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, that greatly expands and contracts with changes in humidity. Building a generator out of Legos, a miniature fan, a magnet, and the spore-covered sheet of latex, the researchers used the humidity-driven flexing of the rubber sheet to drive the movement of the magnet, which generated electricity. The developers of the potential renewable energy technology said that large electrical generators could one day be powered by changes in humidity from sun-warmed ponds and harbors. The scientists said that moistening and then drying a pound of the spores produces enough force to lift a car one meter. “If this technology is developed fully, it has a very promising endgame,” said Columbia University researcher Ozgur Sahin.
PERMALINK

 

24 Jan 2014: Future Olympic Winter Games
At Risk as Climate Warms, Researchers Warn

As few as six of the world's previous 19 Olympic Winter Games sites will likely still be wintry enough to host snow sports at the end of the century, according to a report by Canadian and Austrian researchers. Iconic locales such as Squaw Valley, Utah, and Vancouver,
Vancouver 2010 Olympics
Vancouver, 2010 winter games host, is warming.
Canada, will likely be too warm by the middle of this century. Even under conservative climate change scenarios, only 11 of the 19 sites would remain climatically stable enough to reliably host the games, the study found. Olympic organizing committees consistently cite poor weather as a major challenge for the winter games, and it's likely to get more challenging: The average February daytime temperature of winter games locations has steadily increased — from 0.4 degrees C at games held in the 1920s to 1950s, to 3.1 degrees C in the 1960s to 1990s, to 7.8 degrees C so far in the 21st century. These sites will likely warm by an additional 2.7 to 4.4 degrees C by the end of the century, according to the report.
PERMALINK

 

23 Jan 2014: NASA Images Show Severity
Of California's Record-Setting Drought

A pair of NASA images, taken a year apart, show the profound impacts of California's current drought, which Gov. Jerry Brown said yesterday poses a major threat to California's environment and economy. A satellite image taken last Saturday shows virtually no snow cover

Click to Enlarge
California drought 2014

California has almost no snowpack this January.
in the Coast Range and Cascade Mountains, and only a modest amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada. Officials say the snowpack is only 10 to 30 percent of normal levels. In addition, California's vital agricultural areas in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, which lie west of the Sierra Nevada, are a parched brown. By contrast, a satellite image taken in January 2013 shows significant snowpack in the mountains and a swath of green in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. Half of California's yearly precipitation falls between December and February, so January's record dry conditions threaten water supplies for the entire year.
PERMALINK

 

22 Jan 2014: New Virus Associated With
Massive Bee Die-Offs, Researchers Report

A rapidly mutating virus may be partially responsible for the massive bee die-offs known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), which has wiped out a third of commercial bee colonies annually for the past seven years, a group of U.S. and Chinese researchers reports. Most scientists, including the study's authors, believe CCD is triggered when colonies are weakened by a combination of factors, such as viruses, parasites, and perhaps pesticides. The study, published in the journal mBio, found in bees a variant of the tobacco ringspot virus, an RNA virus that likely jumped from tobacco plants, to soy plants, to bees. Weak bee colonies began succumbing to massive die-offs in autumn, and the researchers found those bees were heavily infected with tobacco ringspot — which is believed to affect honeybees' nervous systems — and other viruses. Strong colonies that made it through the winter showed no evidence of infection by tobacco ringspot. The researchers believe the virus jumped from plants to bees through "bee bread," a concoction of pollen, nectar, and saliva they feed their larvae. Bee infection by tobacco ringspot is the first known instance of a virus from pollen jumping to bees.
PERMALINK

 

21 Jan 2014: More Crude Oil Spilled by
U.S. Trains in 2013 Than Previous 40 Years

U.S. trains spilled 1.15 million gallons of crude oil in 2013 — more than was spilled in the nearly 40 years since officials began tracking such accidents, federal data show. The majority of that volume came from two major derailments: a November incident in Alabama that spilled 750,000 gallons and a December incident in North Dakota that officials estimate spilled 400,000 gallons. Those incidents, as well as smaller spills, have added to growing concerns over the safety of using railways to transport crude as U.S. oil production surges in the upper Midwest. From 1975 to 2012, a total of 800,000 gallons of crude were spilled during rail transport. Excluding the two major derailments from the 2013 total, 11,000 gallons of crude were spilled last year — more than the previous two years combined. The data do not include a 1.5 million-gallon spill that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July.
PERMALINK

 

20 Jan 2014: Soil Microbes Can Alter DNA
In Response to Climate Change, Study Says

A 10-year study of soil ecosystems has determined that microbes alter their genetic code in response to a warming climate so they can process excess carbon being absorbed by plants from the atmosphere, a team of U.S. researchers reports in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. A 2-degree Celsius temperature increase spurred microbes in soil ecosystems to, over many generations, tweak their DNA, amping up their respiratory systems and converting extra organic carbon in the soil to CO2. The soil contained extra carbon because the 2-degree temperature increase made plants grow faster and higher; when those plants began to die, the carbon in their leaves, stems, and roots was added to the soil and taken up by the microbial community. Understanding the "black box" of carbon's fate in soil ecosystems holds important clues for better forecasting an ecosystem's response to climate change, says Georgia Institute of Technology researcher Kostas Konstantinidis, an author of the study. "One reason that models of climate change have such big room for variation is because we don’t understand the microbial activities that control carbon in the soil," he said.
PERMALINK

 

17 Jan 2014: More Than 1,000 Rhinos
Poached in 2013, South African Officials Say

More than 1,000 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa last year, a record total and an increase of more than 50 percent from 2012, South African officials say. South Africa is home to nearly all of the
Black rhino
Adam Welz
world's 20,000 rhinos, which are targeted by poachers because their horns are highly valued and believed to contain medicinal properties. Although those claims are scientifically unfounded, demand from increasingly wealthy consumers in China and Vietnam has driven the price of rhino horns to over $65,000 per kilogram — more valuable than gold, platinum, or cocaine. South Africa has tried to stem the crisis by training park rangers to use arms, drones, and helicopters, but those anti-poaching efforts have shown limited success. Rhino poachings in 2012 also increased by 50 percent over 2011 totals, and 37 have been poached so far in 2014, officials report. Most of the killings are taking place in South Africa's Kruger National Park, where 606 rhinos were killed last year and 425 in 2012.
PERMALINK

 

16 Jan 2014: Pebble Mine Would Endanger
Alaska's Bristol Bay, Major EPA Study Finds

A three-year study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that mining in Alaska's Bristol Bay area would pose significant dangers to the environment, a potentially fatal setback for plans
Bristol Bay watershed
Mulchatna River, part of Bristol Bay watershed
to develop Pebble Mine, a major open-pit mining project that aimed to exploit one of the largest and richest mineral deposits in the world. The EPA study cited concerns for the region's thriving sockeye salmon population and its native people, saying the mine would destroy 24 to 94 miles of salmon streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds, and lakes. Pebble Mine proponents, including Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, criticize the study as flawed and rushed, since the development company wasn't allowed to submit its mining plan before the EPA study. Native groups, fishermen, and environmental organizations are applauding the study. The proposed mine — which seeks to exploit gold, copper, and other metals — was already in trouble, with one of two major partners withdrawing from the project last year.
PERMALINK

 

15 Jan 2014: West African Lions Are
Critically Close to Extinction, Study Says

West African lions are close to extinction, and vulnerable populations could be wiped out in the next five to 10 years, according to new research led by the wild cat conservation group Panthera. West African lions, which are genetically distinct from other African lions, once numbered in the tens of thousands. Now the
West African lion
Philipp Henschel/Panthera
Male West African lion
population has been reduced to around 400 individuals spread across 17 countries, largely due to habitat loss, a shortage of prey, and poaching, according to the study published in PLOS ONE. Of the remaining lions, only about 250 are mature enough to reproduce, but in many cases those individuals are spread too far apart to breed. West African lions are now present in only 1.1 percent of their original habitat and should be considered "critically endangered," according to the study. Running low on habitat and prey, the lions sometimes kill livestock. Villagers then kill the lions in revenge. "It's become very complicated for this carnivore at the top of the food chain to find enough space and food to survive," one scientist told Reuters.
PERMALINK

 

14 Jan 2014: Google's Acquisition of Nest
Expected to Boost Smart Grid Expansion

Google's purchase of Nest, a leading manufacturer of smart thermostats, further deepens the Internet search giant's involvement in the green energy sector and is likely to help accelerate development of a more efficient
Smart thermostat
smart grid, experts say. Google has already invested $300 million in distributed solar companies, which have been helping homeowners install photovoltaic panels to offset their conventional grid-based power consumption. The success of distributed solar hinges on effective smart-metering, and acquiring Nest — whose thermostats can be controlled remotely and can track and reduce energy consumption — could help Google gain valuable insight into millions of individuals' daily power consumption patterns, Quartz reports. As power grids and meters get "smarter," demand for technology like Nest's thermostats will likely grow; incorporating distributed solar energy sources should become easier for households, as well. The $3.2 billion deal will also give Google access to Nest Energy Services, a branch of the company that manages partnerships between Nest and U.S. power companies.
PERMALINK

 

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Colorado River Video
In a Yale Environment 360 video, photographer Pete McBride documents how increasing water demands have transformed the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the arid Southwest. Watch the video.

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