29 Jan 2016:
European Summers Hottest Since
Roman Empire, Tree Ring Analysis Finds
For the past three decades, Europe has been experiencing its warmest summers since the days of the Roman Empire, according to a study published in the Environmental Research Letters Journal
. The study, compiled by 40 academics, concluded that average summer temperatures have been 1.3 degrees Celsius hotter than they were 2,000 years ago. Heat waves also occur more often and last longer. The temperature figures were calculated by analyzing the tree ring analysis of three pine species found in Austria, Sweden, and Finland, as well as climate modeling and historical documents. The report says that summers were particularly warm between Roman times and the third century, before cooling until the 7th century. Temperatures warmed up again during medieval times, then dropped again from the 14th to 19th centuries. The recent warming, however, is unprecedented and cannot be explained by natural variability
, but is directly related to manmade climate changes, the scientists said.
28 Jan 2016:
Japan Is Building World's
Largest Floating Solar Farm Near Tokyo
Work has begun in Japan on what is expected to be the world’s largest floating solar farm, according to Japanese electronics
Rendition of solar farm on reservoir outside Tokyo
firm Kyocera, which is spearheading the effort. Japan is facing an increasing need for alternate forms of energy following the 2011 disaster at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Land is inherently in short supply, which is why the country is keen on developing floating solar plants
. Although water and electricity can make for a dangerous combination, the technology to build atop water is not particularly challenging, industry analysts say, but it is more expensive than building terrestrial solar farms. The power plant is being built on a reservoir in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture, not far from Tokyo. It is expected to produce enough power for 5,000 households when completed in two years.
27 Jan 2016:
Rush to Electric Vehicles
Is Worsening Air Pollution in China
The push by the Chinese government and the country’s automakers to expand production of electric vehicles is actually worsening air pollution
and carbon emissions because most of China’s electricity is still produced by coal-fired power plants, new studies show. Thanks to government incentives, production of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles is expected to grow six-fold to two million cars and trucks by 2020. But studies by researchers at Tsinghua University show that electric vehicles charged in China with coal-fired power produce two to five times as many particulates and other pollutants as gasoline cars. The Tsinghua studies call into question the government policy of promoting deployment of electric vehicles while the vast majority of the country’s electricity still comes from coal. “International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn’t need to rely on electric vehicles,” said one analyst. “Clean up the power plants.”
26 Jan 2016:
Cost of Manufacturing Solar
Panels Is Projected to Continue Falling
The cost of manufacturing solar panels is dropping more quickly than previously predicted, putting solar energy on course to meet
20 percent of global energy demand by 2027, according to Oxford University mathematicians, who developed a new forecasting model
. By contrast, the International Energy Agency’s predictions are far more conservative, stating that by 2050, solar panels will generate just 16 percent of global energy demand. The Oxford researchers' model predicts solar panel costs will continue to decrease 10 percent a year for the foreseeable future. Their model draws on historical data from 53 different technologies. The findings should help refute claims that solar PV cannot be ramped up quickly enough, said Oxford's Doyne Farmer, who co-wrote the paper. “We put ourselves in the past, pretended we didn’t know the future, and used a simple method to forecast the costs of the technologies,” he said.
25 Jan 2016:
Massive Transformation to Clean
Energy in the U.S. is Possible, Study Says
A rapid and affordable transformation to wind and solar energy within 15 years is possible in the U.S., according to a new study by NOAA
Map showing U.S. wind energy potential
and University of Colorado Boulder researchers published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. This energy transformation could slash greenhouse emissions by as much as 78 percent below 1990 levels, the study said. One of the biggest issues with weather-related power generation is its inherent intermittent nature, leading utilities to rely on gas-fired generators and other reserves during cloudy or low-wind periods. The solution to this problem is to scale up renewable energy generation systems to match the scale of weather systems, the scientists said. The model partially depends on significant improvements to the nation’s outdated electrical grid, including the creation of new, high-voltage direct-current transmissions lines.
22 Jan 2016:
Gasoline Prices Slow Electric
Car Sales to Below Administration Goals
The low price of gasoline is delaying the Obama Administration’s stated goal of reaching one million electric vehicles on American
Cheap gas is hurting electric car sales.
roads by now, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said
. In the summer of 2008, with gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, Obama, then a candidate, set a goal of getting 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015, something he reiterated in his 2011 State of the Union address. Of the 250 million cars and trucks on U.S. roads, only 400,000 of them are electric. Sales fell six percent last year when compared to 2014, to about 115,000 vehicles, despite an increasing number offerings, often at sold at steep discounts. But cost remains an issue. Mostly due to the price of batteries, electric and hybrid cars often cost about $8,000 to $10,000 more than an equivalent gasoline-powered car.
21 Jan 2016:
Tree Frog Long Believed
Extinct Is Rediscovered, Scientists Say
A specimen of tree frog to be extinct for nearly 150 years, has been found in again in the wild in the jungles of northeast
A new genus of tree frog has been rediscovered.
India, according to an article
published in the journal PLOS ONE
. A group of scientists, led by Indian biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju, identified the frogs as part of a new genus, Frankixalus
, and said the frogs could be living across a wide swath of Asia. But that doesn't mean the frogs are safe, Biju said. They were found at high altitudes in a diversity hotspot under threat from agricultural development. The frog has some very unusual characteristics, such as breeding inside tree hollows 20 feet above ground, where it feeds its tadpoles unfertilized eggs in small pools of water.
20 Jan 2016:
2015 Was the Hottest Year
on Record, U.S. Government Scientists Say
Last year was the hottest year globally — by far — breaking a record set in 2014, according to a report released today
by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During 2015, the globally averaged land and sea surface temperatures were 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average. December, in particular, was the hottest month ever recorded. According to the report, the record warmth was broadly spread around the world and contributed to significant global climate anomalies and events. NOAA and NASA do separate analyses of global temperatures, and the results they released today show 2015 as the warmest since global record-keeping began in 1880.
Interview: Finding a New Politics
For Our New Environmental Era
In an age defined by humankind’s unprecedented influence on the environment, how do do we begin to
reverse our increasingly disruptive impacts on the planet’s fundamental natural systems? Author Jedediah Purdy maintains that the times require a new politics to address the urgent global issues now confronting the planet, a vision he lays out in his new book, After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene
. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Purdy concedes that it’s difficult to discern the specifics of the “democratic Anthropocene” he’s calling for, but it has fundamental underpinnings: being less beholden to Big Money, attaching a moral value on climates and landscapes, and placing more emphasis on our responsibility to future generations. “We only have one way of collectively pivoting the direction in which we're taking that world, and that is political.”
Read the interview.
19 Jan 2016:
Ocean Absorption of Manmade
Heat Doubles Since 1997, Study Says
The amount of manmade heat absorbed by the world’s oceans has doubled since 1997, according to a study
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
released yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Scientists have long known that the oceans absorb more than 90 percent of manmade heat, but the study’s figures give a new and more accurate accounting for that process over a period of 150 years. According to the study, the oceans absorbed 150 zettajoules of energy between 1865 and 1997 — and an additional 150 zettajoules in just the past 18 years. “The changes we’re talking about, they are really, really big numbers,” said co-author Paul Durack, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California. “They are nonhuman numbers.” Put in perspective, the amount of energy absorbed by the oceans since 1997 is the equivalent to a Hiroshima-sized bomb
being exploded every second for 75 years.
15 Jan 2016:
Northeast U.S. Waters Warming
Faster than Previously Thought, NOAA says
The ocean waters off the Northeastern United States may get even warmer, and this warming may occur twice as quickly as previously thought,
according to a new study
The Gulf of Maine is warming rapidly
by researchers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The findings, based on four global climate models, suggest that ocean temperatures in that region will rise three times faster than the global average. “Prior climate change projections for the region may be far too conservative,” said Vincent Saba, a NOAA fisheries scientist and lead author of the study. The Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than nearly 100 percent of the world’s oceans, likely due to a northerly shift in the Gulf Stream. Scientists have been studying the warming’s impact on the area’s marine ecosystem.
14 Jan 2016:
Europe’s Remaining Orcas
Threatened by Banned Toxins, Study Finds
Orcas and other dolphins living in European waters are facing a severe threat from lingering toxic chemicals that have been banned for decades,
Two orcas ply the waters
according to a study led by the Zoological Society of London and published in the journal Scientific Reports
. The research, which was based on long-term studies of more than 1,000 biopsied whales, dolphins, and porpoises in European waters, found that the blubber of these cetaceans contain some of the highest concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the world. Without much stronger restrictions, "PCBs will continue to drive population declines or suppress population recovery in Europe for many decades to come," the study’s authors wrote. PCBs are a group of man-made chemicals previously used in the manufacture of electrical equipment, flame-retardants, and paints.
13 Jan 2016:
Melting Icebergs Fertilize
Oceans and Slow Warming, Study Says
The Manhattan-sized icebergs breaking off from the Antarctic ice sheet, which have become a symbol for climate change and
Melting icebergs can fertilize the oceans
rising oceans, may actually help slow global warming, according to a study
published in Nature Geoscience
. As the icebergs melt in warmer waters, they release in their wake significant amounts of iron and other nutrients that act as fertilizers for algae and other ocean flora, organisms that extract carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. These iceberg-induced ocean blooms absorb 10 to 40 million tons of carbon a year, or about the equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions from Sweden or New Zealand, the study finds. Until now, the impact of ocean fertilization was thought to be very localized. Grant Bigg, of the University of Sheffield and an author of the report, said he was surprised to find that the impact can extend up to 1,000 kilometers. There are typically 30 giant icebergs floating off Antarctica at any one time, and they can linger for years.
12 Jan 2016:
US Coal Production Drops to
30-Year Low in 2015, According to EIA
Coal production in the United States has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration
A coal mine in Wyoming
Coal production for 2015 was about 900 million short tons, which is 10 percent lower than the year before, and the lowest since 1986, the EIA reported. Production in the Central Appalachian Basin has fallen the most, largely due to difficult mining geology and high operating costs. Domestically almost all coal is used to generate electricity, and demand has fallen as the market share of natural gas and renewables has increased. Low natural gas prices, a decline in U.S. coal exports, and federal environmental regulations have all contributed to declining coal demand, the EIA said. Coal is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.
11 Jan 2016:
Scientists Warn of Biodiversity
Impacts of Major Hydropower Projects
Hydropower is considered by many to be a key ingredient to reducing carbon emissions and meeting global climate goals,
The Belo Monte dam under construction in the Amazon
but it comes at a great cost to biodiversity, particularly in tropical rainforests, according to a new report
published in the journal Science
. “Far too often in developing tropical countries, major hydropower projects have been approved and their construction begun before any serious assessments of environmental and socioeconomic impacts had been conducted,” says the report's lead author Kirk Winemiller, an aquatic ecologist at Texas A&M University. The dam-building rush, with more than 450 dams planned for the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong river basins alone, impedes tropical fish migration and vastly expands deforestation due to road construction, according to the authors. Other concerns include development of previously inaccessible terrain, as well as methane emissions from newly built reservoirs.
08 Jan 2016:
Study suggests most nitrogen
found in oceans comes from natural sources
The world’s oceans are less affected by human activities then previously suggested by atmospheric models when it comes to increased
Graph of various nitrogen sources found in oceans
nitrogen levels, according to a new study
published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. The majority of nitrogen found in the oceans comes from the oceans themselves instead of human pollution blown off shore, which contradicts most models, the researchers say. That’s both good news and bad news. On the plus side, “People may not be polluting the ocean as much as we thought,” says Meredith Hastings, associate professor at Brown University, one of the study’s co-authors. Excess nitrogen can throw aquatic ecosystems out of balance and lead to large algal blooms that can be deadly for sea creatures. However, nitrogen also stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, which increases the oceans’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus mitigating carbon emissions to some extent.
07 Jan 2016:
New Device Harvests Energy From
Walking and Exercising, Researchers Say
Researchers at MIT have developed a new method
for harnessing energy
generated by very small bending motions, which could be capable
Schematic of new human energy harvester
of harvesting power from a broader range of natural human activities such as walking and exercising. Based on electrochemical principles — the slight bending of a sandwich of metal and polymer sheets, with materials similar to those in lithium ion batteries — the new technology can more effectively capture energy from human motions than previous devices. Those devices, which were based on frictional technology or the compression of crystalline materials, can capture energy from mechanical vibrations, but they are not as compatible with the pace of human movements, the researchers explain in the journal Nature Communications
. When bent even a very small amount, the new layered composite produces a pressure difference that squeezes lithium ions through a polymer. The process produces alternating electrical current, the researchers say, which can be used directly to power devices such as cell phones and audio players.
06 Jan 2016:
Graphene Membrane Can Clean
Nuclear Wastewater, New Research Shows
Microscopic graphene membranes can effectively filter radioactive particles from nuclear reactor wastewater
Microscopic image of graphene membrane
at room temperature, researchers from the University of Manchester have shown. Writing in the journal Science
, the researchers demonstrated that graphene membranes can act as a sieve, separating different varieties of hydrogen — both radioactive and non-radioactive isotopes — from water. The new technology could also be scaled to produce significant amounts of so-called "heavy water," which is a non-radioactive component that is required in large quantities to produce nuclear energy. The graphene technology is 10 times cheaper and more efficient than current methods of producing heavy water. "This is really the first membrane shown to distinguish between subatomic particles," said University of Manchester researcher Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo.
05 Jan 2016:
NASA Images Show Swelling
Of Mississippi From Massive Flooding
A historic flood has sent the highest water levels ever recorded through the Mississippi River south of St. Louis, toppling records
Satellite image of flooding along the Mississippi River
set during the devastating floods of 1993. The massive surge follows heavy rains that dropped up to 12 inches of water across the region during a three-day period in late December. A NASA satellite
recently acquired this image of flooding along the Mississippi River from January 3rd, which shows floodwaters as blue and vegetation as green. The previous day, the waters caused the highest flood on record at Cape Girardeau, a Missouri town south of St. Louis. The flood water will continue to move southward, National Weather Service forecasters say, cresting in northwestern Tennessee today and in Memphis, Tennessee, by the end of the week. Some researchers
point to modern river management strategies enacted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, such as levees and dams that constrain the river, for exacerbating the effects of the heavy rainfall.
04 Jan 2016:
More Than Half of Power Plants Could be Hampered by Climate Change
More than 60 percent of the world's power plants could be hampered by changes in climate and water distribution by the middle
Canada's Toba Montrose hydroelectric project
of the century, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Hydropower plants and thermoelectric power plants — nuclear, fossil-, and biomass-fueled plants that convert heat to electricity — rely on freshwater from rivers and streams to produce energy and effectively cool equipment. Together, these types of power plants produce 98 percent of the world's electricity, the researchers note. Changes in climate that lead to water shortages and increased water temperatures will affect electricity generation in some regions more than others, says lead researcher Michelle Van Vliet of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She notes that adaptation measures focused on making power plants more efficient and flexible — such as switching from freshwater cooling to air or seawater cooling — could mitigate the decline.
04 Jan 2016:
More than Half of Power Plants
Could be Hampered by Climate Change
More than 60 percent of the world's power plants could be hampered by changes in climate and water distribution by the middle
Canada's Toba Montrose hydroelectric project
of the century, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Hydropower plants and thermoelectric power plants — nuclear, fossil-, and biomass-fueled plants that convert heat to electricity — rely on freshwater from rivers and streams to produce energy and effectively cool equipment. Together, these types of power plants produce 98 percent of the world's electricity, the researchers note. Changes in climate that lead to water shortages and increased water temperatures will affect electricity generation in some regions more than others — the U.S., southern South America, southern Africa, and parts of Europe are particularly vulnerable, says lead researcher Michelle Van Vliet of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She notes that adaptation measures focused on making power plants more efficient and flexible — such as switching from freshwater cooling to air or seawater cooling — could mitigate the decline.
04 Jan 2016:
How Science Can Help to Halt
The Western Bark Beetle Plague
Tens of millions of acres of pine and spruce trees have died in western North America in recent
years as a result of bark beetle infestations spawned by a hotter, drier climate. University of Montana entomologist Diana Six has been working to understand why the genetics of some individual trees enable them to survive even as whole forests around them are turning brown and perishing. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Six explains the root causes of the beetle infestations, discusses why U.S. Forest Service policies may be making the problem worse, and describes why the best hope for Western forests will come from the trees’ capacity to genetically adapt to a new climate regime. Read the interview.
The View From Far Above:
How Earth Changed in 2015
From raging forest fires to dwindling snowmelt to the extraordinary birth of new ocean islands, sometimes the best way to witness planetary happenings — and to gain perspective on them — is from high above. Below are satellite images and aerial photos from the NASA Earth Observatory that capture some of the more dramatic changes that shaped the earth over the past year.
View the gallery.
23 Dec 2015:
Congressional Tax Credits
Expected to Further Boost U.S. Renewables
The renewable energy sector in the United States is finishing 2015 on a high note as Congress has voted to approve significant extensions for tax credits
for renewable energy, and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has reported a surge in wind power installations.
Ending uncertainty about the fate of tax credits for the wind and solar industries, Congress has voted to extend investment tax credits for solar power and production tax credits for wind energy through 2022 and 2020, respectively. Renewable energy companies and analysts praised the extensions, saying that, coupled with rapidly falling prices for wind and solar energy technologies, the tax credits virtually guarantee a boom in the production of renewables in the U.S. Earlier this week, the AWEA said U.S. wind energy production has reached a milestone, with 50,000 turbines providing a generating capacity of 70 gigawatts — enough to power 19 million homes.
Iberian Lynx Is Back from Brink,
But Still Faces Major Challenges
Efforts to help restore the endangered population of the Iberian lynx are showing signs of success. Chief among them are the captive breeding program, which has
An Iberian lynx in the wild
helped increase the animal’s numbers from a critical low of less than 100 individuals to 160 today. The elegant 25-pound predator, a close relative of the American bobcat, still faces a number of challenges including habitat loss of 95 percent, a high vehicular mortality rate, and a genetic exchange stymied by a lack of wildlife corridors. It remains uncertain, as well, if the lynx can acclimate quickly enough to life at higher, cooler climes, where its main prey, the European rabbit, is already beginning to relocate due to climate change. Read more.
18 Dec 2015:
Marshes Likely More Resilient
To Sea Level Rise Than Thought, Study Says
Marshes may be more resilient to climate change and associated rises in sea level than previously thought, according to recent research
An aerial view of Venice showing elevation by color
published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study shows that as levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase, more CO2 gets taken in by marsh plants. This spurs higher rates of photosynthesis and plant growth, causing marsh plants to trap more sediment above ground and generate more organic soil below ground, the researchers explain. The process can increase the rate of soil accretion nearly enough to allow marshes to keep up with rising sea levels. In fact, the researchers say, it may increase a marsh's threshold for water inundation by up to 60 percent. "Essentially, we found it's a self-rising mechanism marshes use to build themselves up," said Marco Marani, a researcher at Duke University who helped conduct the study.
17 Dec 2015:
Severe Toxic Algal Blooms
Likely To Double in Lake Erie with Warming
The number of severe harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie will likely double over the next century, according to
Sampling lake water during a toxic algal bloom
Ohio State University. As soon as 2050, toxic algal blooms like the one that cut off Toledo's drinking water supply in 2014 will no longer be the exception, but rather the norm, the researchers say. Although several states and Canadian provinces have agreed to significantly cut nutrient runoff into the Great Lakes, the study suggests that nutrient reductions alone might not be enough to stop the toxic blooms. That's because factors associated with climate change — less winter snow, heavier spring rains, and hotter summers — supercharge the blooms, the researchers explain. "Those are perfect growing conditions for algae," said Noel Aloysius, a member of the research team. "We can reduce phosphorus by 40 percent, but the algae won't suffer as much as you might hope."
16 Dec 2015:
Five Questions for Bill McKibben
On the Paris Climate Agreement
Activist Bill McKibben was a visible presence during the climate conference in Paris, urging for strong action. Yale Environment 360
caught up with McKibben, the founder of 350.org
, after an agreement was reached and asked him five question about Paris and the road beyond. While the Paris accord “didn’t save the planet,” McKibben says, “it may have saved the chance to save it – that is, it didn’t foreclose the possibility. Actually getting anywhere will now require massive organizing to hold leaders to their promises.”
15 Dec 2015:
China Anti-Pollution Efforts
Lead to Steep Drop in Sulfur Dioxide Levels
Emissions of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas that threatens human health and causes acid rain, have dropped sharply in the last decade
China's sulfur pollution has decreased in recent years.
in China, thanks to aggressive air pollution control initiatives by the Chinese government. As these NASA images show, levels of sulfur dioxide in China fell significantly from 2005 to 2014, while emissions of the gas increased in India during the same period. From 2012 to 2014, Chinese SO2 emissions fell especially sharply, by 50 percent. The steady drop in emissions of the noxious gas, released during the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, can be attributed to pollution control measures enacted before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the widespread installation of flue gas desulfurication devices on power plants, the switch to coal with a lower sulfur content, and the closing of coal-fired power plants in favor of less-polluting energy sources such as natural gas, wind, and solar power. India’s sulfur dioxide emissions have risen because of the rapid expansion of coal-fired power plants.
14 Dec 2015:
Accelerating Rock Weathering
Could Help Reduce Atmospheric CO2 Levels
Speeding up the naturally occurring process of weathering rocks to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere could help to
Weathered limestone cliffs in Yorkshire, England
stabilize the climate and avert ocean acidification caused by greenhouse gas emissions, according to
research published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. As rainwater and other environmental conditions naturally break down rocks on the earth's surface, carbon dioxide is drawn from the atmosphere. The process converts CO2 to bicarbonate, a mineral that chemically binds CO2 and is washed away through rivers to the oceans. By modeling the large-scale effects of weathering — which is driven largely by precipitation, vegetation, and soil microbes — the researchers found methods for accelerating this CO2-removal system. Such a strategy could significantly counteract anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions, they say, slowing ocean acidification and protecting delicate ocean ecosystems such as coral reefs.