e360 digest
Water


21 Aug 2012: NASA Image Shows Low Waters
Of Drought-Stricken Mississippi River

A pair of NASA satellite images comparing water flow along the Mississippi River this month with August 2011 illustrates the effects of a severe summer drought along the critical waterway. The recent photo, taken just south

Click to enlarge
Drought Mississippi River

NASA
The Mississippi River, 2011-2012
of Memphis, Tennessee on Aug. 8, reveals extensive sandbars that are newly exposed or far larger than they were a year ago. Numerous stretches of the river have become significantly narrowed by decreased water flow. The drought, the worst in 56 years, has left the Mississippi River at its lowest levels since 1988, with some areas more than 12 feet lower than normal conditions at this time of year. Ninety-seven vessels were stranded by low waters near Greenville, Mississippi, where an 11-mile stretch of the river was closed for dredging. Near St. Louis, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been forced to stop river traffic for up to 12 hours at a time in order to keep the shipping lane wide enough, according to Reuters.
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16 Aug 2012: Large Utah Tar Sands Mine
A Threat to Water Supplies, Groups Say

Two environmental organizations are fighting a Canadian company’s plan to mine a massive reserve of oil sands in eastern Utah, saying the project would tax water supplies in what is already the U.S.’s second-driest state. In what would be the U.S.'s first large-scale oil sands mining operation, Calgary-based U.S. Oil Sands Inc. has already excavated a two-acre test mine at site called PR Spring and ultimately hopes to establish a sprawling, 6,000-acre mine as early as 2014. According to the Utah Geological Survey, about 25 billion barrels of bitumen are buried on state and federal land in this region — enough to meet the nation’s oil needs for more than three years. But according to a report by Inside Climate News, it remains unclear whether there will be enough groundwater to support the industry long-term — not to mention the water needs of municipalities and private industries nearby. Two groups, Living Rivers and the Western Resource Advocates, are appealing U.S. Oil Sands’ mining permit, arguing that the state of Utah ignored the threat to groundwater supplies. According to a letter from the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, the mine is expected to use “116 gallons of water per minute on a 24-hour basis.”
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16 Aug 2012: Ocean Health Index Evaluates
State of Waters Around the Globe

An international team of researchers has released a new tool that evaluates the state of the world’s oceans, a so-called Ocean Health Index that its creators say provides the first comprehensive assessment of the relationship

Click to enlarge
Ocean Health Index

Ben Halpern, et al/Nature
The Ocean Health Index
 
between the planet’s marine regions and human communities. While previous assessments of ocean health were based on the level of “pristineness,” this index is framed in terms of the benefits humans derive from the oceans and the extent to which communities maintain a sustainable marine environment. Using a wide range of criteria — including water quality, marine biodiversity, and the condition of coastal areas — the researchers ranked ocean areas worldwide on a scale from 0 to 100. According to their analysis, published in the journal Nature, the global ocean received an overall score of 60, while scores for individual areas ranged from 36 to 86. The waters around Jarvis Island, near Hawaii, ranked highest; the waters off the West African nation of Sierra Leone ranked lowest.
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09 Aug 2012: Overuse of Groundwater
Threatens Global Supplies, Study Says

A new study finds that nearly one-quarter of the world’s population lives in regions where water is being used faster than it can be replenished. Using computer models of global groundwater resources and water use data, scientists from Canada and the Netherlands calculated that the planet’s “groundwater footprint” — the area above ground that relies on water from underground sources — is about 3.5 times larger than the aquifers themselves. The study found that in most of the world’s major agricultural regions — including the Central Valley in California, the Nile delta region of Egypt, and the Upper Ganges in India and Pakistan— demand exceeds these reservoirs’ capacity for renewal. For example, the groundwater footprint for the Upper Ganges aquifer is more than 50 times the size of aquifer. “This overuse can lead to decreased groundwater availability for both drinking water and growing food,” said Tom Gleeson, a hydrologist at McGill University in Montreal and lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature. According to the scientists, about 1.7 billion people, mostly in Asia, live in areas where water needs for humans and ecosystem services outstrip the ability of aquifers to replenish themselves.
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31 Jul 2012: Low Levels of Caffeine Found
In Waters of U.S. Pacific Northwest

In a new study, scientists document low levels of caffeine pollution in the waters off the Oregon coast, fresh evidence that contaminants from human waste are entering marine ecosystems with unknown risks to wildlife and human health. In a series of tests conducted at 14 coastal locations, researchers found that caffeine levels were higher — about 45 nanograms per liter — in remote waters, while levels were below reporting limits (about 9 nanograms per liter) near “potentially polluted” areas such as sewage treatment plants, the mouths of rivers, and larger communities, National Geographic reports. According to the findings, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, the higher levels are likely occurring near sites with on-site waste disposal systems that are subject to less monitoring than larger wastewater treatment plants. While the environmental effects of such low-level contamination are not known, experts say they are a reminder of the range of pollutants — from pharmaceuticals to artificial sweeteners — entering natural ecosystems through human waste.
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30 Jul 2012: Recent Historic Drought
May Be the ‘New Normal,’ Study Says

A multi-year drought from 2000 to 2004 that lowered crop productivity and reduced water levels across western North America may become “the new normal” over the next century as the climate warms, a new study says. In an analysis of climate models and precipitation projections, a team of scientists predicts that 80 of the 95 years between 2006 and 2100 will have precipitation levels as low, or lower, than levels experienced during the recent historic drought. That drought — which, based on tree ring data, was worse than any other experienced by the western U.S. in many centuries — caused crop productivity to drop by 5 percent, reduced runoff in the upper Colorado River basin by half, and triggered increased mortality in forests. In addition, the dry conditions cut the carbon sequestration capacity of forests across the western U.S., Canada, and Mexico by 51 percent, said Beverly Law, a scientist at Oregon State University and co-author of the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience. As forest vegetation wilted, it caused more CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, amplifying global warming, according to the study.
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17 Jul 2012: Severe Drought in U.S.
Is The Worst Dry Spell Since 1956

The U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) says that 55 percent of the Lower 48 states suffered from moderate to extreme drought in June, the largest area affected by drought since 1956. With searing heat and drought conditions only intensifying in July, corn and soybean crops in the U.S. Midwest are suffering badly, threatening to increase food and fuel prices and cut food aid and grain exports from the world’s top producer of key crops. “We’re moving from a crisis to a horror story,” said Purdue University agronomist Tony Vyn. “I see an increasing number of fields that will produce zero grain.” The current drought now covers a larger area than the famous 1936 drought, although other droughts in the Dust Bowl years — particularly the extreme drought of 1934 — still rank higher, the NCDC said in a report. Several years of drought in the mid-1950s were also worse than the current dry spell, which is the sixth most severe drought since the U.S. began keeping records in 1895.
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09 Jul 2012: Water Use by Tourists Outstrips
Local Use in Poor Nations, Report Says

The disproportionate use of freshwater by tourists in resorts across the developing world exacerbates the poverty of local residents and in some cases has triggered conflicts, a new report says. In a study of five tourist destinations — including Bali, Zanzibar, and Goa and Kerala in southern India — the UK-based group Tourism Concern found a wide disparity between the amount of water used by resort hotels and how much is available to local residents. In some Zanzibar villages, for instance, tourists use 16 times more water daily per person than locals, with visitors to five-star hotels consuming 3,195 liters per room compared with about 93 liters per local resident, according to the report, which will be released next week. In some cases, frustrated Zanzibar residents have attempted to sabotage water pipelines leading into hotels, forcing the hotels to hire security guards. Two years ago, a cholera outbreak in a Zanzibar village was blamed in part on sewage from hotels contaminating water supplies.
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28 Jun 2012: Wildfires Across Western U.S.
Depicted in NASA Satellite Image

A new map released by NASA depicts the large scale of wildfires sweeping across the western U.S. and Mexico, where experts say exceptionally dry conditions have made many regions a tinderbox. The map, based on

Click to enlarge
NASA Map Smoke Across U.S. West

NASA
Smoke across U.S. West and Mexico

 
satellite data collected by the agency’s Ozone Mapper Profile Suite, illustrates high atmospheric concentrations of aerosols (including smoke particles) from Mexico to Montana. Intense fires in Colorado, Utah, and Nevada are marked by dark brown and rust-red on the map, reflecting a high concentration of smoke and aerosols. High aerosol concentrations also are visible over parts of Texas and Mexico, probably as a result to a combination of dust and fires in dry regions. A fire official in Colorado, where ten separate fires are currently burning, said that a light winter snow pack, dry conditions, and the long-term effects of climate change combined to make the region especially susceptible to fires this year.
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07 Jun 2012: Environmental Tipping Point
Is Nearing, International Study Says

The rapid warming of the planet, a soaring human population, the steady loss of biodiversity, over-exploitation of energy resources, and the degradation of the world’s oceans are driving the world toward an ecological tipping point, according to a new study in Nature. Twenty-two scientists from five nations compared the major changes taking place today with previous ecological shifts — such as the end of the last Ice Age 14,000 to 18,000 years ago — that triggered mass extinctions of some species, expansions of others, and the creation of new global ecosystems. The paper said that while there is still considerable uncertainty as to whether the world is now approaching such a “state shift,” many signs point to a future of ecological upheaval. “Given all the pressures we are putting on the world, if we do nothing different, I believe we are looking at a time scale of a century or even a few decades for a tipping point to arrive,” lead author Anthony Barnosky, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview.
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04 Jun 2012: Power Plant Production Drops
As Waters Warm and River Flows Decline

Rising water temperatures and a reduction in river flows have caused declining production at some thermoelectric power plants in the U.S. and Europe, a trend that will likely continue for decades as the planet warms, according to a new study. Writing in em>Nature Climate Change, researchers estimate the generating capacity at U.S. nuclear and coal-fired plants, which rely on consistent volumes of water flow at particular temperatures to cool overheated turbines, will fall 4 to 16 percent from 2031 to 2060 as a consequence of climate change. In Europe, scientists predict, production will drop 6 to 19 percent due to a lack of cooling water. According to the study, “extreme” drops in power generation caused by near or total plant shutdowns will triple during that time period. In the U.S., thermoelectric plants account for more than 90 percent of electricity generation. “This study suggests that our reliance on thermal cooling is something we’re going to have to revisit,” said Dennis Lettenmaier, of the University of Washington, the study's co-author.
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30 May 2012: Water Depletion Threatens
Future U.S. Food Supplies, Study Says

The rapid depletion of groundwater resources in key U.S. agricultural regions could portend future vulnerabilities in growing the nation’s food, according to a new study. In an assessment of water supplies in California’s Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S. — which runs from northwest Texas to southern Wyoming and South Dakota — University of Texas researchers found that in many places water is being used faster than it can be replenished, and that some regions may be unfit for agriculture within decades. According to their findings, farmers in California’s Central Valley, a region known as the nation’s “fruit and vegetable basket,” used enough water during a 2006-2009 drought to fill Lake Mead, the nation’s largest man-made reservoir. In the High Plains, a major grain-growing region, about one-third of groundwater depletion occurs in just 4 percent of the land area. At current rates of water depletion, some parts of the High Plains, including the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas, will be unable to support irrigated agriculture within a few decades, according to the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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24 May 2012: Los Angeles Becomes
Largest U.S. City to Ban Plastic Bags

Los Angeles has become the largest U.S. city to impose a ban on plastic bags at supermarkets and other stores, a significant victory for environmental advocates seeking to keep plastic waste out of the region’s landfills and waterways. In a vote Wednesday, the City Council approved plans to phase out plastic bags at approximately 7,500 stores over the next 16 months. The council will conduct a four-month environmental review of the ban, after which larger stores would have six months to shift away from plastic bags while smaller retailers would have a year, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. “Let’s get the message to Sacramento that it’s time to go statewide,” said Councilman Ed Reyes. While the city backed away from a similar ban on paper bags, stores will be required to charge 10 cents for each paper bag one year after the plastic ban is enacted.
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09 May 2012: Groundwater Pumping Emerges
As a Factor in Sea Level Rise, Study Says

The vast amounts of water pumped out of the ground for irrigation, drinking water, and industrial uses will increasingly contribute to global sea level rise in the coming decades, according to a new study. According to researchers at Utrecht University, humans pumped about 204 cubic kilometers (49 cubic miles) of groundwater in 2000, much of which evaporated into the atmosphere before ultimately entering rivers, canals and, eventually, the world’s oceans. While in earlier decades the rise in sea level caused by groundwater removal was canceled out by the construction of dams, that changed by the 1990s as humans pumped more groundwater and built fewer dams. By 2000, groundwater extraction resulted in a sea level rise of about 0.57 millimeters annually — compared with about 0.035 millimeters in 1990. According to the study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, by 2050 the pumping of groundwater worldwide could cause sea levels to rise about 0.8 millimeters annually.
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02 May 2012: Fracking Fluid Can Migrate
Into Marcellus Aquifers, New Study Says

A new study estimates that fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region can migrate into underground drinking water supplies far more quickly than experts have previously estimated. The study, based on computer modeling and funded by opponents of fracking, concluded that natural faults and fractures in the Marcellus shale, exacerbated by the effects of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could allow chemicals to reach shallow drinking water supplies in as little as “just a few years.” Companies involved in fracking for natural gas have maintained that impermeable layers of rock in the Marcellus Shale formation would keep fracking fluids safely locked nearly a mile below water supplies. But independent hydrologist Tom Myers, who published his study in the journal Ground Water, says his modeling shows that is not the case. “Simply put, [the rock layers] are not impermeable,” said Myers. The Marcellus Shale underlies large portions of the northeastern U.S., and thousands of fracking wells have been drilled in recent years. The study was funded by two organizations opposed to gas fracking, and some scientists strongly disagree with its conclusions.
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Interview: Standing Up Against
A Massive Dam Project in Africa

The Gibe III dam project in Ethiopia — which, if completed, would be the world’s fourth-largest dam — was moving steadily forward when it collided with a 31-year-old Kenyan woman named Ikal Angelei. Since learning of
Ikal Angelei
Goldman Environmental Prize
Ikal Angelei
the project in 2008, she has galvanized local and international opposition to the dam, which would generate electricity for East Africa but also threaten the way of life of hundreds of thousands of indigenous Ethiopians and Kenyans who rely on the waters of Lake Turkana, the world’s largest permanent desert lake. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Angelei, who recently received a 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize, describes why the Gibe III project threatens the survival of the region’s indigenous people, what it will take it to stop it, and how she has used public pressure and social media in her campaign against the dam. “If we let go and say, ‘Build the dam,’ it means we are saying that... governments can destroy ecosystems in the name of development,” she says.
Read the interview
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06 Apr 2012: Natural Wastewater Treatment
Gains Favor in Nepal, With Nearly 30 Plants

Wastewater managers in Nepal are increasingly turning to natural, decentralized wastewater treatment to prevent the mass discharge of raw sewage into urban water bodies and rivers. Almost 30 systems have been constructed in the last 15 years, and recent efforts to institutionalize decentralized treatment may see these numbers rise. The pervasive plant design in Nepal is a constructed wetland — a shallow bed of gravel, stone, and specialized reeds that filter contaminants. Some of the treated wastewater is reused for toilet flushing, and the dried sludge applied as fertilizer on land. More recently, biogas reactors affixed to treatment plants have provided additional energy recovery. The plants can serve communities of up to 2,000 people. Experts with the Asian Development Bank say decentralized systems are well suited for developing countries that often cannot afford larger, centralized sewage treatment plants, but note that the natural treatment wetlands require sizeable amounts of land and may not be suitable for densely populated urban areas.
Read more
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29 Mar 2012: New Microbial Fuel Cell
Converts Raw Sewage into Electricity

U.S. scientists have developed a fuel cell capable of converting 13 percent of the energy found in sewage into electricity, a process that its developers say could also more efficiently treat municipal wastewater. In a report released at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute describe a so-called microbial fuel cell that uses naturally existing microbes that produce electrons and protons as they metabolize the organic waste. The electrons are collected by an anode in one container, while the protons pass through a permeable membrane to a cathode in a separate container; the voltage between the electrodes produces an electric current. The process is also capable of removing about 97 percent of the organic matter, the scientists say. While that would not be clean enough for re-use as drinking water, the researchers say the results suggest the technology could one day emerge a wastewater treatment alternative. Treatment of wastewater and sewage currently consumes about 2 percent of the U.S. energy supply, at a cost of about $25 billion annually.
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12 Mar 2012: Ice on U.S. Great Lakes
Has Decreased by 71 Percent Since 1973

The average amount of ice covering the U.S. Great Lakes has dropped by 71 percent over the past 40 winters, with ice coverage on the largest of the lakes, Superior, dropping by 79 percent, according to a report

Click to enlarge
NASA Sea Ice 1980 2012

NOAA/UWM
Lake Superior, 2012
from the American Meteorological Society. Researchers used satellite photographs and Coast Guard reports to document the decline of ice coverage in the Great Lakes from 1973 to 2010. The lake with the most precipitous loss of ice has been Lake Ontario, where ice coverage has fallen by 88 percent, according to the report, published in the Journal of Climate. The report does not include the current winter, which has been extraordinarily mild, resulting in only five percent of the Great Lakes’ surface being covered in ice. Lead researcher Jia Wang of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the large loss of ice could speed the evaporation of the lakes and accelerate shoreline erosion because of the increase in open water.
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20 Feb 2012: NASA Photo Shows Shrinking
Lake In The Southern Sahara Desert

A new photo taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station shows the extent to which Lake Fitri, a terminal lake in the southern Sahara Desert in Chad, has diminished due to dry conditions. In the

Click to enlarge
NASA Lake Fitri Sahara

NASA
Lake Fitri
photo, which was taken in January, the muddy yellow-brown water is visible at the center of the basin, surrounded by a network of exposed mud, burnt vegetation, and sand dunes. The dry borders show that the lake was many times larger in years past, with the wind-shaped curves of ancient beaches now located several kilometers from the current shoreline. According to NASA, the lake, which formed as a terminus for rivers that never accumulated enough rainfall to reach the sea, is sensitive to the shifting equilibrium between inflow from rivers and evaporation. The numerous beach ridges show the different levels the lake has reached in response to the shifting climate system.
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14 Feb 2012: ‘Virtual Water’ Reliance
Puts Nations at Risk, Study Says

A new study calculates that about one-fifth of all water goes toward the production of crops and commodities for export, part of a global phenomenon known as “virtual water” that researchers say could place pressure on finite water supplies in some nations. Using

Click to enlarge
Virtual Water Global Map

Arjen Hoekstra and Mesfin Mekonnen, PNAS
The virtual water balance, per country
worldwide trade indicators, demographic data, and statistics on water use, researchers from the University of Twente in the Netherlands mapped the world’s water footprint, including patterns of trade they say are creating disparities in water use. According to the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, many desert and island nations are becoming increasingly dependent on water from other countries, as they import not just food products but the water needed to produce it. Some of the most water-rich nations — including the U.S. and Japan — are also among the biggest importers because the products they import require so much water to produce.
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13 Feb 2012: Student Push for Ban on
Plastic Water Bottles Irks Industry

Student groups on some college campuses are pushing their schools to ban the sale of plastic water bottles, a campaign that so far has prompted more than 20 colleges and universities to impose partial or complete bans. The bottled water industry has responded with a sarcastic video criticizing the campaign. Student groups, citing environmental and health concerns of one-time bottle use, have worked with nonprofit groups like Ban the Bottle to have bottled water removed from vending machines and cafeterias and to push for more reusable bottle handouts and the use of water fountains. In recent months, Macalester College in Minnesota and Humboldt State University in California have imposed campus-wide bans, and the University of Vermont says it will end its contract with Dasani bottler Coca-Cola this year. In response, the International Bottled Water Association has released a video belittling the students’ cause and maintaining that a bottled water ban would leave consumers with fewer healthy beverage options.
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10 Feb 2012: Wastewater Reuse Could Increase
U.S. Supplies 27 Percent, Report Says

Advanced treatment of municipal wastewater could increase available water supplies in the U.S. by 27 percent, according to a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences. Of the 32 billion gallons of municipal wastewater discharged each day nationwide, about 12 billion gallons of effluent is emptied into an ocean or estuary, the report said. Existing treatment technologies would allow municipalities to reuse that water for a variety of purposes — including irrigation, industrial use and drinking water — while posing no increased risk of exposure to microbial or chemical contaminants than in some existing drinking water systems. As reported in the New York Times, an increasing number of U.S. communities are utilizing wastewater reuse technologies — including a pilot plant in San Diego that produces about 1 million gallons of clean drinking water daily — or are considering it. According to the National Academy report, increased stress on water supplies as a result of climate change and population growth will require many municipalities to consider alternative sources of water.
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07 Feb 2012: Nigerian Children Perish
From Exposure to Lead in Gold Mining

Lead contamination from hundreds of gold mines across northwestern Nigeria has caused the deaths of 400 children under the age of five and exposes thousands more children to lead poisoning, according to a report from the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch. Across the state of Zamfara, where hundreds of artisanal mines are now in operation, young children processing ore are exposed to toxic levels of lead, the report said. Many others are exposed when family members return home from work covered in the toxic dust, when lead-filled ore is crushed in their homes, or when exposed to contaminated water and food. In some villages, mortality rates were as high as 40 percent among children who showed signs of lead poisoning. “Zamfara’s gold brought hope for prosperity, but resulted in death and backbreaking labor for its children,” said Babatunde Olugboji, a deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.
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02 Feb 2012: Harsh Roadside Environments
Creating Hardy Salamanders, Study Suggests

The old adage — “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” — seems to apply to salamanders evolving to survive in contaminated environments near roads. Yale University researcher Steven Brady compared
Spotted salamander Yale
Steven Brady/Yale University
A spotted salamander
salamanders breeding in roadside ponds with those breeding in woodland ponds, and he found that the roadside salamanders have a tough life. Only 56 percent of salamander eggs in roadside ponds survive the first 10 weeks, compared with an 87 percent survival rate for salamander eggs in woodland ponds. The roadside salamanders also experience higher mortality, grow at a slower rate, and are more likely to develop L-shaped spines and other disfigurements — all likely linked to roadside contaminants, especially concentrations of salt. Still, Brady found that when he transferred eggs from roadside ponds and woodland ponds to a neutral environment, the roadside eggs out-survived those of their forest cousins. “These animals are growing up in harsh environments where they face a cocktail of contaminants, and it appears that they are evolving to cope with them,” said Brady, whose study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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16 Jan 2012: Mandatory Roof Gardens Urged
As Solution to Singapore Flooding

A panel formed to study solutions to increased flooding in Singapore has urged the government to require green roofs on new and retrofitted buildings. The 12-member panel, which was created after torrential rains caused flash flooding across eastern and central Singapore last year, said improved weather modeling and infrastructure improvements are needed to handle a surge in stormwater runoff caused by urbanization in Singapore. In the meantime, however, the panel urged simpler steps to reduce and delay flooding, including better storage tanks, porous pavements, and rain gardens. Such rooftop gardens, which are often added to reduce heat or for aesthetic reasons, can absorb six to 34 liters of water per square meter and limit water flow, local contractors said. After flash floods inundated large areas of Singapore last June for the second consecutive year, a government official warned that the nation’s drainage system is not equipped to handle the region’s “changing” weather patterns.
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16 Dec 2011: Time Ranks ‘Fracking’ Rap
Among Most Creative Videos of 2011

An online video featuring an unlikely fusion of hip-hop lyrics and the natural gas extraction technology known as “fracking” was ranked number 2 on Time magazine’s list of most creative videos in 2011. Produced by a team of students from New York University’s Studio 20 journalism program, the video, “My Water’s on Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song),” features a rap-style description of the hydraulic fracturing drilling process — and its possible environmental consequences — over animated graphics. Lisa Rucker, a Los Angeles-based editor who helped produce the video, said the video has the potential to introduce the controversial fracking debate to a wide audience. The video has attracted more than 200,000 viewers since it was posted on YouTube in the spring.
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08 Dec 2011: Rampant Marijuana Cultivation
Is Damaging U.S. National Forests

U.S. officials say widespread marijuana cultivation in national forests has caused “severe” damage to some ecosystems and wildlife in 20 states. In testimony before the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, U.S. Forest Service Director of Law Enforcement David Ferrell said federal officials have uncovered large-scale marijuana operations in 67 different national forests across the U.S. At these sites — which typically cover 10 to 20 acres and include armed guards and counter-surveillance methods — operators usually clear large areas of native vegetation; spray voluminous amounts of herbicides, rodenticides, and pesticides; and divert thousands of gallons of water daily from streams, lakes, and drinking water supplies. In California alone, Ferrell said, the Forest Service has removed more than 130 tons of trash, 300 pounds of pesticides, and nearly 260 miles of irrigation piping from 335 illegal cultivation sites. Cleaning and restoring the sites costs about $15,000 per acre, Ferrell says.
PERMALINK

 

07 Dec 2011: Project Uses Satellite Data
To Better Predict Flooding in South Asia

A new NASA project will use satellite data to better monitor how much water is fed into river systems across the Himalayan region through snow and glacier

Click to enlarge
Glacial Lake Himalaya NASA

NASA
Glacial lake in eastern Nepal
melt, an initiative that could help provide early warnings on flooding and drought across South Asia. Using satellite observations of snow and glacial melt, the so-called HIMALA project will generate daily snow/water equivalence maps that will then be fed into other hydrological models that monitor how much freshwater is entering the region’s major rivers, including the Ganges and the Indus. While the Himalayan glaciers serve as a freshwater reservoir for more than 1.3 billion people, scientists say those water resources will increasingly be affected by climate change, population growth, urbanization, and changes to land use. Results from the HIMALA project also could be used to improve drinking water quality and availability and devise climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. A report on the project was published in the journal BioOne.
PERMALINK

 

02 Dec 2011: New Interactive Network
Maps Pollution, Noise Levels Across Europe

The European Environment Agency (EEA) and Microsoft this week introduced a network of online sites that map air, water, and noise pollution levels across the continent based on government data and information

Click to enlarge
Yellowstone Wolverine

Eye on Earth
Eye on Earth
uploaded by users. The Eye on Earth network includes three separate interactive services: AirWatch, WaterWatch, and NoiseWatch. Using geospatial mapping technology, WaterWatch displays the 22,000 locations across Europe where the EEA monitors the quality of water at beaches, rivers, lakes, and other swimming areas. By zooming in on flagged monitoring stations, users can compare government rankings with public comments on water quality. AirWatch provides information from more than 1,000 air-monitoring stations, while NoiseWatch allows users to instantly upload noise level readings from their mobile devices.
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