Interview: Designing Green Cities
To Meet 21st Century Challenges
Landscape architect Martha Schwartz is a passionate believer in the role that landscape can play in urban sustainability. Great landscape design, she says, can
Martha Schwartz Partners
moderate extreme heat, recycle water, reduce energy use, lower carbon emissions, and attract people to urban areas. Following these principles, her London-based firm, Martha Schwartz Partners
, has designed such projects as Dublin’s Grand Canal Square; Exchange Square, in Manchester, England; and Abu Dhabi’s Corniche beachfront area. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Schwartz, a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, talks about the importance of incorporating cultural values in urban design, explains why the design of streets and parking lots is as important as the design of parks, and discusses why the U.S. lags behind many other nations in the greening of its cities. Read the interview
20 Nov 2012:
U.S.-Mexico Reach Accord
On Sharing Colorado River Water
The U.S. and Mexico have reached an agreement on how to share water from the Colorado River
, a five-year deal crafted to help both nations prepare for future droughts. Under the agreement, regional water agencies in California, Arizona, and Nevada will purchase nearly 100,000 acre-feet of water from Mexico’s share of the river, enough to cover 200,000 households for a year. In return, Mexico will receive $10 million to repair damage along hundreds of miles of irrigation canals caused by a 2010 earthquake — repairs that will bring thousands of acres of farmland back into production, according to the Los Angeles Times
. The U.S. will also promise to buy additional water and allow it to flow to the delta south of the border, a region that has seen reduced water flow in recent years
as U.S. water demands upstream have increased. In addition, Mexico will agree to take lesser water during periods of drought, but will be allowed to keep some of its water in Lake Mead
, the vast reservoir that straddles Nevada and Arizona, providing badly needed storage capacity.
02 Nov 2012:
Sea-Level Rise Projections
Ignored Critical Feedbacks, Researcher Says
A U.S. researcher says projected sea-level rise over the next century has been underestimated because current models fail to consider several critical feedbacks
that might accelerate rising seas in the coming decades. While the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that global sea levels could rise 0.2 to 0.5 meters by 2100, current projections suggest that seas could rise a meter or more. One of the factors ignored by earlier models, says University of Colorado geologist Bill Hay, is the influx of warm, briny ocean water into the Arctic that occurs when melting fresh water is released, a phenomenon he says acts as a sort of “heat pump” in the Arctic, adding more ice-free waters, which then absorb more solar energy. According to Hay, who will present his findings at the annual meeting of The Geological Society of America, another factor that was ignored is the potential melting of large ice sheets in Greenland and western Antarctica. A third feedback, he said, is the vast amounts of groundwater being removed to address humankind’s surging water needs, much of which ultimately ends up in the oceans.
13 Sep 2012:
In Himalaya Mountains,
A Mixed Picture of Glacial Melting
A new study says that glaciers in the Himalayas are reacting to climate change in different ways
, with glaciers in the eastern and central Himalayas retreating at accelerating rates, while glaciers in the western Himalaya and Hindu Kush region are more stable and possibly even growing in places. According to a report by the National Research Council
, many of the glaciers of the Himalayan region are retreating at rates comparable to other parts of the world, but changes to glacial meltwater are not likely to make a significant difference in water availability at lower elevations, which rely more on monsoon rains and snowmelt. If the the current rate of glacial retreat continues, however, the report said that high-elevation areas of some river basins could see altered seasonal water flow. In addition, researchers say the melting of glaciers could affect regional water security during periods of drought or “similar climate extremes.” The Himalaya/Hindu Kush region is the source of several river systems — including the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra — that supply drinking water and irrigation to 1.5 billion people.
06 Sep 2012:
Destruction of Tropical Forests
Reduces Regional Rainfall, Study Says
A new study has found that destruction of the world’s tropical forests may significantly reduce regional rainfall across large regions
, a phenomenon researchers say could have devastating effects for people living in and around the Amazon and Congo basins. Using satellite observations of rainfall and vegetation, as well as atmospheric wind flow patterns, researchers from the University of Leeds and the NERC Center for Ecology & Hydrology found that across 60 percent of the Amazon and Congo rainforests, air passing over extensive forest areas produces twice as much rain as air passing over areas with little vegetation. According to their findings, published in the journal Nature
, this effect in some cases can increase rainfall thousands of miles away. After combining these findings with projected deforestation rates and current trends, the researchers calculated that tropical forest loss could reduce rainfall across the Amazon basin during the wet season by 12 percent by 2050, and 21 percent during the dry season.
27 Aug 2012:
Desalination Sector Surges as
Technology Improves, Demand Grows
A new report predicts that global investment in water desalination projects will triple over a five-year period from 2011 to 2016
, driven by improvements in technology and a surge in companies entering the sector. According to Global Water Intelligence, investments in desalination plant installations will grow from $5 billion last year to $8.9 billion this year; by 2016, the report says, the sector could reach $17 billion. A critical factor has been the emergence of technologies that require less energy to make potable water from seawater, including a process called forward osmosis that uses less heat and power than existing reverse osmosis plants and could cut the cost of desalination by as much as 30 percent. Also driving this surge is growing demand in developing nations already facing water shortages, including China and India. “Those huge economies will not be able to step forward without a solution to water scarcity, and one of the solutions is going to be desalination,” Avshalom Felber, CEO of Israel-based IDE Technologies, told Bloomberg News.
24 Aug 2012:
Drought Conditions Trigger
Smallest Gulf ‘Dead Zone’ in Years
U.S. scientists say the nation’s worst drought in five decades has had at least one positive effect: the smallest so-called “dead zone” seen in the Gulf of Mexico in years
. In a 1,200-mile research cruise conducted in the
Algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico
waters of the gulf this month, scientists from Texas A&M University found only 1,580 square miles of oxygen-depleted, or hypoxic, water in the gulf, compared with 3,400 square miles last August. The hypoxic zone is created when algal blooms, caused by large amounts of fertilizer and nutrients washing into the gulf, remove oxygen from the water and suffocate marine life. According to the researchers, hypoxia was found only in the waters near the Mississippi River delta, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of all freshwater runoff in the gulf; no hypoxia was observed off the Texas coast. “What has happened is that the drought has caused very little fresh-water runoff and nutrient load into the gulf, and that means a smaller region for marine life to be impacted,” said Steve DiMarco, an oceanographer at Texas A&M.
22 Aug 2012:
New Canadian Law Removes
Federal Oversight From Smaller Projects
Major revisions to Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act have stripped nearly 500 projects of federal oversight
in British Columbia alone, including major dam projects, gravel extraction operations, and the sinking of former warships as artificial reefs, according to a news report. The new screening assessments, the latest in a series of initiatives by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration seen as weakening environmental regulation
, give an increased role in environmental oversight and enforcement to provinces. Speaking to the Vancouver Sun
, a spokesperson for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said that the “numerous small, routine projects… posed little or no risk to the environment.” But Canadian environmental advocates warn that a reduced federal role in monitoring these hundreds of projects will ultimately place the province’s environment, particularly fish habitat, at increased risk. “The cumulative impacts of all the projects that they will no longer review will be great and it will take a few years for Canadians to appreciate that,” said Otto Langer, a former official with the federal fisheries department.
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
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Goldman Environmental Prize
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.