e360 digest


Interview: Using Robots to Unlock
Mysteries of CO2 and the Oceans

As climate change accelerates, scientists are focusing on the key role the world’s oceans play in absorbing half the planet’s carbon dioxide. But the precise mechanisms
Wave Glider
Liquid Robotics
Robotic Wave Glider
by which the oceans remove carbon from the atmosphere and the consequences for marine life remain poorly understood. That has led Tracy Villareal, a professor of marine science at the University of Texas at Austin, to devote his research to diatom phytoplankton. To better understand how these tiny organisms mitigate climate change, Villareal has become a pioneer in the use of a wave- and solar-powered ocean-going robot, known as the Wave Glider. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Villareal discusses why unlocking the secrets of diatoms is critical to understanding climate change and how deploying robots will revolutionize marine science. “There are all sorts of wild robotic systems under development,” he says.
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

08 Nov 2013: Antarctic Researchers Discover
Strips of Rock That Slow Flow of Glaciers

Narrow ribs of dirt and rock beneath Antarctic glaciers help slow the glaciers' flow into the sea, according to new research from scientists at Princeton University and the British Antarctic Survey. Using satellite measurements of the Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites

Click to Enlarge
Antarctic glacier velocities

NASA
Antarctic glacier speeds
Glacier, both in West Antarctica, researchers discovered bands they call "tiger stripes" underlying the glaciers. The stripes serve as zones of friction and prevent sliding, much like non-slip flooring, the researchers report in Science. Understanding the factors that control the glaciers' flow to the sea is important because their melting contributes significantly to sea level rise. The Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers are particularly important, as together they've contributed about 10 percent of the observed global sea level rise over the past 20 years.
PERMALINK

 

07 Nov 2013: Grand Canyon 'Zombie'
Uranium Mine on Hold for Financial Reasons

The reopening of a major uranium mine near the Grand Canyon has been put on hold until December 2014 or whenever a federal court rules on the proposed revival of the mine, the Guardian reports. The owner of Canyon
South Rim of Grand Canyon
Colin.faulkingham/Wikimedia
Grand Canyon's South Rim
Mine, Energy Fuels Resources, cited falling uranium prices, which have reached a near five-year low, and litigation costs as reasons for the decision. In April the Canyon Mine and other so-called "zombie mines" were given federal approval to reopen based on their rights at the time they closed, despite an Obama administration ban on new hard-rock mines in areas larger than 1 million acres. Grand Canyon National Park officials say reopening the Canyon Mine, located six miles from the popular South Rim entrance, and other uranium mines could affect scarce water sources in the area. Environmental groups and the Havasupai Indian tribe sued the U.S. government in 2012, contending the environmental review of the mine's impacts was outdated.
PERMALINK

 

06 Nov 2013: Disturbed Tropical Forests
Are Slow to Regain Plant Biodiversity

In tropical forests that are regrowing after major disturbances, the ability to store carbon recovers more quickly than plant biodiversity, researchers from the U.K. have found. However, even after 80 years, recovering forests store less carbon than old-growth
Regrowing tropical forest in Brazil
Ricardo Solar
A regrowing tropical forest in Brazil
forests, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. This is likely because regenerating forests are often dominated by small, fast-growing trees and it may take centuries for larger trees, which hold more carbon, to become established, according to scientists from the Center for Ecology & Hydrology and Bournemouth University, who studied more than 600 recovering tropical forests. Tree species that are hallmarks of old-growth forests were rare or missing in the regrowing forests, the study showed. Since regenerating forests are often located far from old-growth forests and surrounded by farmland, it may be difficult for animals to move seeds between the forests, which may account for the lower plant biodiversity, researchers said.
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05 Nov 2013: Beijing To Limit New Cars
By 40 Percent in Anti-Pollution Drive

In an effort to reduce severe air pollution in the Chinese capital, Beijing will limit by 40 percent the number of new cars sold annually for the next four years, cutting license plate allocations from 240,000 to 150,000 each
Beijing traffic
Wikimedia
Chang'an avenue in Beijing
year. The cap, which should also help ease the capital's worsening traffic congestion, means Beijing will license only 600,000 new cars between 2014 and 2017 — fewer than in 2010 alone, Reuters reports. By 2017, 40 percent of those licenses, which drivers vie for in auctions and lotteries, will be reserved for hybrid and electric cars. New car sales in China are currently capped in four cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Guiyang — and the government plans to limit sales in eight additional cities, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said.
PERMALINK

 

04 Nov 2013: Treaties May Not Be The
Key to Global Sustainable Development

Sweeping international treaties are no longer the key for charting the planet’s path to sustainable development, according to international leaders gathered at the “Rio+20 to 2015” conference last week. Instead, they said, partnerships among governments, businesses, and NGOs hold the most promise for measurable progress on sustainability issues, including climate change. "There’s been an enormous focus on treaties," Hans Hoogeveen, director general of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, told the conference at Yale University. "Lawyers and diplomats think they can rule the world, govern the world, from New York, Nairobi, or Rome. I think we have to learn that this not reality anymore." The United Nations convened a summit in Rio in 2012 to secure sustainability commitments from private businesses, societal groups, and leaders at all levels of government. Last week’s conference sought to develop recommendations for producing timely, measurable results from those commitments before international talks planned for Paris in 2015.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

01 Nov 2013: Obama to Sign Order
Calling For Adaptation to Climate Change

President Obama was expected to sign an executive order on Friday directing federal agencies to make it easier for states and communities to adapt to the rising seas, more intense storms, and droughts that are expected to increase as the planet warms this century. A key aspect of the order aims to ensure that states and local communities take into account likely climate conditions in the future when they spend federal money on projects like roads, bridges, and flood control structures. Critics say that such planning has often been lacking as the northeastern U.S. rebuilds from Hurricane Sandy. Obama’s executive order also will set up a task force of state and local leaders to advise the federal government on how best to enable local communities to plan for storms, droughts, and disasters as temperatures increase. “All of that is going to be shaped by the awareness of climate change and the things that can be done to make those investments produce a much more resilient society,” said John P. Holdren, the president’s science adviser.
PERMALINK

 

31 Oct 2013: Smaller Rise in Global CO2
Emissions May Be Sign of Permanent Slowing

Global carbon dioxide emissions grew last year at about half the rate of the past decade, possibly signaling a permanent slowdown of CO2 emissions, says a new report from the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency and the European Commission's Joint Research Center. Although total CO2 emissions reached a record 34.5 billion tons, the increase over 2011 was only 1.1 percent — less than half the average rate of increase over the past decade. China, the U.S., and the European Union accounted for 55 percent of global CO2 emissions. China, which emitted 29 percent of total CO2, increased its rate by only 3 percent, a significant slowdown from its average recent growth of 10 percent. The analysts credit the slowdown to China's rapid growth in hydropower. The U.S. and European Union saw their emissions fall by 4 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. The report links those declines to increased shale gas use in the U.S. and decreased energy consumption and freight transport in the E.U. Globally, the pace of renewable energy growth has been accelerating, the report said.
PERMALINK

 

30 Oct 2013: Low on Natural Gas, China
Cities Will Face Choking Air Pollution

In a push to curb air pollution, China has been urging its cities to rely more heavily on natural gas and less on coal. But a shortage of natural gas is threatening that goal, as urban populations boom and domestic gas production lags, Reuters reports. Chinese officials have said that to reduce air pollution the most densely populated parts of Beijing should use only gas heat, which limits the supply of natural gas for smaller cities and forces those cities to rely on coal. Pollution levels in Chinese cities commonly exceed World Health Organization guidelines by 40 to 50 times. The problem is most pronounced in northern China, where air pollution from burning coal has already shortened life expectancy by 5.5 years compared to the southern part of the country. China's natural gas shortage is expected to be 10 percent higher this year than last year, since more users have switched from coal. Authorities are rationing natural gas and prioritizing its use for homes and transportation, but experts don't expect the shortage to subside anytime soon.
PERMALINK

 

29 Oct 2013: Three Western U.S. States And
British Columbia Sign Climate Agreement

The governors of California, Oregon, and Washington, together with the premier of British Columbia, have signed a pact to coordinate efforts to combat global warming. With a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion and a population of 53 million people, the three states and the Canadian province represent the world's fifth largest economy. The leaders agreed to a dozen actions aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, including streamlining permits for renewable energy projects, improving the electric power grid, supporting more research on ocean acidification, and expanding government purchases of electric vehicles, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Environmentalists have praised the agreement, but, as Jeremy Carl, an energy policy fellow at Stanford University, noted, "The devil will be in the details, whether they do anything substantive or whether it turns out to be a time-wasting exercise."
PERMALINK

 

28 Oct 2013: Underground Heat From
Cities Could Help Power Them, Study Says

The heat generated by urban areas and their buildings, factories, sewers, and transportation systems could be used to power those cities, according to a new study by German and Swiss researchers. Thermal energy produced by the so-called "urban heat island effect" warms shallow aquifers lying below cities, and geothermal and groundwater heat pumps could tap into those warm reservoirs to heat and cool buildings, the scientists say. In the southwest German city of Karlsruhe, the researchers found that the city of 300,000 generated 1 petajoule of heat per year — enough to heat 18,000 households. Karlsruhe's underground heat production increased by about 10 percent over the past three decades, the team reported in Environmental Science and Technology. The biggest contributors to the city's underground heat flux were its densely populated residential areas and surface temperature increases associated with paving. Sewage pipes, underground district heating networks, and thermal waste water discharges also contribute to warming shallow aquifers, the study found.
PERMALINK

 

Above a Whole Foods Market,
A Greenhouse Grows in Brooklyn

By the end of this year, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, will witness the completion of a cutting-edge partnership in urban agriculture and retail — a 20,000-square-foot rooftop greenhouse built on a Whole Foods
Gotham Greens greenhouse
Gotham Greens
Gotham Greens' existing greenhouse in Brooklyn.
supermarket. Atop this newly constructed store in Gowanus, Brooklyn, Gotham Greens, a New York company that grows greenhouse vegetables, plans to grow leafy vegetables and tomatoes, which will be sold at the store below and at other Whole Food markets. Scheduled for completion in December, Gotham Greens says the new facility will be capable of producing 150 tons of produce each year, a significant increase over the capacity of the company’s existing 100-ton-per-year solar-powered rooftop greenhouse in nearby Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

25 Oct 2013: Major Pension Funds Question
Long-Term Outlook for Fossil Fuel Profits

Leaders from some of the largest pension funds in the U.S. and the world are concerned about the future profitability of fossil fuel companies, and they have asked those companies to report on their plans for managing a long-term shift toward renewable energy. Managers of 70 major pension funds, which together control about $3 trillion in investments, asked 45 of the world's largest coal, oil, gas, and electric power companies to complete the profitability studies by spring. The pension funds are concerned that, because large investments in fossil fuel exploration take decades to recoup, future legislation could limit production or regulate expensive pollution controls that will significantly cut profitability. "The scientific trajectory that we're on is clearly in conflict" with the business strategy of the companies, Jack Ehnes, the head of the California's State Teachers' Retirement System, told the AP. "We've been pleasantly surprised by the seriousness" of some of the fossil fuel companies, who are "not just blowing us off," a spokesman for the coalition that is coordinating the efforts told the AP.
PERMALINK

 

24 Oct 2013: Electric Vehicle Sales
On the Rise in 2013, New Analysis Shows

By the end of August, 59,000 electric vehicles had been sold in the U.S. this year — more than during all of 2012, a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) shows. Over the past three years,
Electric vehicle
UCS
Americans purchased more than 140,000 electric vehicles (EVs), which have saved more than 40 million gallons of gas each year, the report notes. California is the leader, with 29 percent of all U.S. plug-in vehicle purchases made this year. EV sales rates have more than doubled in that state over the past year, according to the report. Although East and West coast cities continue to be hotspots for EV sales, purchases are picking up in cities like Denver, St. Louis, and Dallas, the report says.
PERMALINK

 

23 Oct 2013: Endangered Asiatic Cheetahs
Are Spotted by Iranian Conservationists

Iranian conservationists have spotted a rare Asiatic cheetah with four cubs, offering hope that the large cats can be pulled back from the brink of extinction. Only 40 to 70 Asiatic cheetahs exist today, all in Iran. Over the

Click to Enlarge
Asiatic cheetah mother and four cubs

PWHF/Iran DOE
weekend, conservationists with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF) spotted the five cheetahs in Khar Turan national park in northern Iran. "In the past year or so that we closely monitored Turan, we never spotted a family, especially female cheetahs with cubs," Delaram Ashayeri, project manager at PWHF, told the Guardian. "It shows Asiatic cheetahs are surviving, breeding cubs are managing to continue life. It's good news against a barrage of bad news about these animals." Iranian conservationists have been involved in a decade-long campaign to protect the cheetahs and educate indigenous people living near them. But sanctions imposed by Western nations over Iran's nuclear program have hampered these efforts, making it difficult to secure international funding and equipment, such as camera traps.
PERMALINK

 

22 Oct 2013: Southern Amazon Rainforest
In Danger as Dry Season Expands, Study Says

The dry season in the southern part of the Amazon rainforest is lasting three weeks longer than it did 30 years ago, putting the forest at higher risk for fires and tree mortality, according to new research from the University of Texas. The most likely culprit is global

Click to Enlarge
Amazon vegetation index

Myneni/Bi/NASA
Amazon vegetation index
warming, says lead researcher Rong Fu. Even if future wet seasons become wetter, rainforest soil can only hold so much water, Fu explained. That water must sustain the forest throughout the entire dry season, and as the dry season lengthens the rainforest becomes increasingly stressed, vegetation growth slows, and the risk of fire rises. During a severe drought in 2005, the Amazon actually released a large amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, rather than acting as a net carbon sink. Should dry seasons continue to expand, conditions like those in 2005 could become the norm, accelerating the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere, the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
PERMALINK

 

21 Oct 2013: French Utility Company
Agrees to Build Major Nuclear Plant in U.K.

The British government and the French state-controlled utility company, EDF Group, have agreed to build the U.K.'s first nuclear power plant in a generation. The new plant, to be built at Hinkley Point in southwest England, is part of the British government's ongoing efforts to cut carbon emissions in half by the mid-2020s. To meet that goal, the U.K. plans to renew some of its existing nuclear plants and build several new plants to replace aging ones, the New York Times reports. Once completed, the Hinkley Point nuclear power station will supply 7 percent of the country's electricity — enough to power 6 million homes. Consumers and taxpayers will cover most of the projected £16 ($26 billion) overall cost, but the proposed project is expected to face opposition since EDF will be guaranteed a price of roughly £90 ($145) per megawatt hour for 35 years, a rate that is considerably higher than current electricity costs.
PERMALINK

 

18 Oct 2013: Austrian Team Wins U.S.
Department of Energy Solar Competition

Employing creative ventilation and natural wood, a team from Austria won the 2013 Solar Decathlon, a biennial competition for solar houses sponsored by U.S.

Click to Enlarge
Team Austria Solar Decathlon House

Solar Decathlon Team Austria
Department of Energy. The winning design features large living spaces with natural ventilation that helps the house maintain comfortable temperature and humidity levels, and is 96 percent wood. "It was important to us to use wood, because we have a lot of forests in Austria," team member Philipp Klebert told Fast Co.Exist. "We wanted to make a statement about sustainability in that respect." Floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall sliding-glass doors, combined with an open floor plan, cool the house quickly and with minimal energy consumption. Among other guidelines, all Solar Decathlon entries must produce as much solar energy as they consume, and houses are scored in 10 categories ranging from affordability to home entertainment. One of the team's sponsors is planning to market the design, perhaps as a self-assembly kit, Fast Co.Exist reports.
PERMALINK

 

17 Oct 2013: Animals May Play Significant
Role in Carbon Cycling, Researchers Say

Wildlife may play a more important role in the global carbon cycle than researchers have previously given it credit for, according to a study from an international group of scientists. Although models generally include
Muskoxen in Alaska
Wikimedia Commons
Muskoxen in Alaska
carbon cycling by plants and microbes, they often ignore the ways animals contribute to the process. That's a mistake, says Oswald Schmitz, an ecologist at Yale who led the study, because the actions of wildlife can affect carbon cycling through "indirect multiplier effects." For example, the massive loss of trees in North America triggered by the pine beetle outbreak has caused a net carbon change on scale with British Columbia's current fossil fuel emissions, the researchers reported in Ecosystems. And in the Arctic, where about 500 gigatons of carbon is stored in permafrost, large grazing mammals like caribou and muskoxen can help maintain the grasslands that have a high albedo and thus reflect more solar energy. "We're not saying that managing animals will offset these carbon emissions," Schmitz said. "What we're trying to say is the numbers are of a scale where it is worthwhile to start thinking about how animals could be managed to accomplish that."
PERMALINK

 

Photo Essay: Focusing a Lens on
China's Environmental Challenges


China environmental problems
Sean Gallagher

Photographer Sean Gallagher has lived and worked in China for seven years, visiting nearly all of its provinces as he documents the country’s daunting ecological problems and its widely varied landscapes. In a Yale Environment 360 photo essay, the Beijing-based photojournalist chronicles China’s widespread water and air pollution, the battle against the desertification that has spread across the country's northern regions, and the threats to the nation's biodiversity.
View the photo gallery.
PERMALINK

 

16 Oct 2013: Climate-Driven Disasters To Keep
Impoverished Populations Poor, Study Says

Extreme weather events driven by climate change will exacerbate poverty in regions where people are already among the world's poorest, according to a study by the U.K.'s Overseas Development Institute. Where disasters
Flooding in Mozambique
TheHumanitarianCoaliton.ca
Floods in Mozambique
such as drought are common, those events are the leading cause of poverty, the authors say, rather than poor health or societal factors. Across the globe, up to 325 million people will be living in countries that face natural hazard risks by 2030, the report says; in sub-Saharan Africa alone, 118 million people in poverty will face extreme events. To brace against the effects of disasters, aid money should be spent on reducing those risks, rather than only on humanitarian relief after an extreme event, the authors argue. Currently, money tends to flow to a region after a disaster instead of before, when it could be used for prevention. "If the international community are serious about ending extreme poverty, they need to get serious about reducing disaster risk for the poorest people," the institute's Tom Mitchell told the BBC.
PERMALINK

 

15 Oct 2013: Nine in 10 Europeans in Cities
Breathe Dangerous, Polluted Air, Study Says

More than 90 percent of Europeans living in cities are exposed to harmful levels of air pollutants, according to a new assessment from the European Environment Agency. Concentrations of ground-level ozone, or smog,
Autobahn air pollution
Zakysant/Wikimedia
German Autobahn
pose a danger to 97 percent of city populations, and levels of fine particulate matter (particles with a diameter less than 2.5 microns, known as PM2.5) exceed European standards for 91 to 96 percent of city-dwellers — and European standards for both pollutants exceed World Health Organization recommendations. A new study of European mothers linked higher PM2.5 exposure to lower birth weight, a standard indicator of fetal development. Eastern European countries have the highest levels of PM2.5, whereas ground-level ozone is worst in northern Italy. Although emissions of most air pollutants have steadily declined over the past 10 years — lead and carbon monoxide levels, for example, now meet international standards in most areas — emissions haven't fallen as much as predicted.
PERMALINK

 

14 Oct 2013: World Ocean Conditions Worse
Than Previously Thought, Analysis Finds

The world's oceans are deteriorating more rapidly than scientists had thought due to rising carbon dioxide levels and associated warming, according to a new analysisby European scientists. By many indicators, ocean conditions are even worse than outlined last
CCS injection well
USGS/Wikimedia
Sea butterfly without shell
month by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's assessment report on the physical effects of global warming, the researchers say. Sinking oxygen levels, which could decline by 1 to 7 percent by 2100, increasing ocean acidification, and overfishing of more than 70 percent of marine populations are among the biggest threats to ocean ecosystems, the scientists report in Marine Pollution Bulletin. Mollusks and other sensitive organisms are increasingly being found with corroded shells, a result of rising dissolved CO2 concentrations; within 20 to 40 years ocean acidity levels may reach the point where coral reefs are eroded faster than they can regenerate, the review said.
PERMALINK

 

11 Oct 2013: Agricultural Ammonia Emissions
Threatening U.S. National Parks, Study Finds

Ammonia emissions from agricultural fertilizers are threatening sensitive ecosystems in U.S. national parks, a study led by Harvard researchers has found. Thirty-eight national parks are seeing nitrogen deposition levels at or above the threshold for ecological damage,
Smoky Mountains hardwood trees
rskoon/Flickr
Great Smoky Mountains N.P.
the study says. In natural ecosystems, excess nitrogen can disrupt nutrient cycling in soil, cause algal overgrowth, and make aquatic environments acidic. While some of that nitrogen comes in the form of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from power plants and vehicle exhaust, existing air quality regulations and new clean energy technologies are helping reduce NOx emissions. Ammonia emissions from agricultural operations, however, are expected to climb as demand for food and biofuels surges. Daniel Jacob, who led the study, said that because ammonia is volatile, only 10 percent of the nitrogen makes it into the food, with much of it escaping through the atmosphere and being deposited across the landscape. According to the report, published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, hardwood trees, such as those shown above, are most sensitive to excess nitrogen in eastern temperate forests, while in western national parks lichens appear to suffer first.
PERMALINK

 

10 Oct 2013: Carbon Capture and Storage
Projects Lagging Worldwide, Study Finds

Major projects aiming at capturing and burying carbon dioxide underground have slowed worldwide, according to a study by the Global CCS Institute in Australia. Despite the common view among experts that carbon
CCS injection well
CO2CRC
Otway CCS project, Victoria, Australia
capture and storage (CCS) technologies could play a crucial role in slowing the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases, the number of major CCS projects fell from 75 to 65 over the past year. Although the U.S. currently leads the world in CCS projects, most of them involve pumping carbon into old oil wells to stimulate additional oil production. China, the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide, seems poised to become the new leader in CCS, with 12 projects in the works, the study noted. A major hurdle for the growth of CCS has been the lack of investments in projects based on new technologies, the analysts said. CCS technology has so far not proven to be commercially viable, The New York Times reported.
PERMALINK

 

09 Oct 2013: Antarctic Research Operations
To Be Halted Amid U.S. Government Shutdown

The National Science Foundation (NSF) says it is curtailing the 2013-2014 Antarctic research season because the U.S. government shutdown has delayed funding for operations there. The U.S. Antarctic
McMurdo Station
John Bortniak/NOAA
McMurdo Station
Program, which is managed by the NSF, announced yesterday that the three U.S. research stations, ships, and other facilities there will switch to "caretaker status" when funds are exhausted around October 14. All research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended, according to the statement. Because of the remote location and long lead time necessary for planning and travel, the NSF has already started the process of shuttering research facilities. Once funding is restored, some research operations could be restored, the U.S. Antarctic Program said. Around 700 scientists typically travel to the continent between October and February each year, according to Nature.
PERMALINK

 

08 Oct 2013: Eighty Percent of Ecosystems
Vulnerable to Climate Change, Study Finds

Climate change could significantly transform up to 86 percent of the planet's land ecosystems under worst-case global warming scenarios, according to researchers at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. That estimate is based on a 4 to 5 degree C temperature increase by the year 2100 — a scenario that is plausible given many nations' reluctance to enact greenhouse gas emissions limits, the researchers say. Even if global temperatures are kept to 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels, 20 percent of natural land ecosystems are at risk of moderate or major changes, especially high-altitude and high-latitude regions. Such changes could include boreal forests being transformed into temperate savannas, trees growing in thawed Arctic tundra, or even a dieback of some of the world's tropical forests. "Essentially, we would be leaving the world as we know it," says Sebastian Ostberg, who led the research. "The findings clearly demonstrate that there is a large difference in the risk of global ecosystem change under a scenario of no climate change mitigation compared to one of ambitious mitigation," he added.
PERMALINK

 

07 Oct 2013: Nutrient Recycling by Sponges
Is Vital in Sustaining Reefs, Study Says

Sponges are the unsung heroes of coral reefs, helping the vibrant ecosystems thrive in the marine equivalent of a desert, a Dutch team working in the Caribbean has found. Scientists had long questioned how reefs, some
Caribbean sponges
NOAA
of the most productive communities on earth, were able to survive in low-nutrient tropical seas. Bacteria help recycle some nutrients, but the so-called "microbial loop" can't account for the high rates of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous recycling needed to maintain a coral reef, researchers say. Sponges fill that void by drawing in plankton and organic matter expelled by the corals and shedding cells that other reef organisms ingest as food, the researchers report in Science. The "sponge loop," as the Dutch team calls the process, recycles 10 times more organic material than bacteria do and produces as many nutrients as all other primary producers in a coral reef combined, they say.
PERMALINK

 

04 Oct 2013: New Hurricane Sandy Models
Are Most Detailed Visualizations To Date

The most striking visualizations to date of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of the U.S. East Coast last year, show in great detail the storm's evolution and path. Developed using state-of-the-art computer models

Click to Enlarge
Hurricane Sandy model

Mel Shapiro, NCAR
Temperature model of Sandy
at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the images are based on data with spatial resolution 5,500 times greater than NOAA's highest-resolution hurricane forecast model. The visualizations show how several well-studied weather phenomena coincided to create the superstorm. They also show how, about a day before it made landfall, cool air began to envelop the storm's warm core. This ultimately tempered Sandy's power, but it also could have intensified winds at the storm's lower levels. The computer model includes 150 layers of vertical data, which means the model calculated weather conditions at more than 4 billion points within the storm each second, said meteorologist Robert Henson of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which manages NCAR.
PERMALINK

 

Forum: Climate Scientists Assess
The Latest Report from U.N. Panel

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently issued a report containing the latest data and
scientific assessments of the physical science of climate change. It is one of three so-called “working group” reports that will be released in advance of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, due out in September 2014. In a Yale e360 forum, seven climate scientists discuss what they consider to be the most noteworthy or surprising findings in the recent report. Read more.
PERMALINK

 

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