16 Nov 2011:
Restoration of UK Peatlands
Is Advocated by Conservation Group
The UK’s extensive peatlands and peatbogs must be protected and restored
to avoid large-scale releases of carbon dioxide and to protect water supplies, according
to a new study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The report said that 80 percent of the peatbogs in Britain, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and islands such as the Hebrides have been damaged by overgrazing, burning, draining, or extraction for peat moss. These peatlands — up to 40 feet thick in places — store an estimated 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide, far more carbon than is stored in UK forests. Noting that the loss of only 5 percent of the 10,000 square miles of peatland in the UK would equal the UK’s entire annual carbon emissions, the IUCN said that governments should begin restoring drained and dried peat bogs by refilling them with water and should impose far tougher controls on the use of peatlands for agriculture or development. The IUCN’s report comes at a time when conservation groups worldwide are placing a greater emphasis on preserving peat ecosystems.
01 Nov 2011:
Extreme Weather Events
Likely Linked to Warming, IPCC Says
A draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says there is a 2-in-3 probability that human-caused climate change is already leading to an increase in extreme weather events.
The draft summary, obtained by the Associated Press, said that increasingly wild weather, such as the downpours that have caused recent extreme flooding in Thailand, will lead to a growing toll in lost lives and property damage, and will render some locations “increasingly marginal as places to live.” The report says scientists are “virtually certain” that continued warming will cause not only an increase in extreme heat waves and drought in some regions, but will generate more intense downpours that lead to severe flooding. The report, which wades into the contentious subject of whether climate change is already causing more extreme weather
, will be issued in several weeks in advance of global climate talks to be held in South Africa next month.
24 Oct 2011:
Study Offers New Insights
Into Planting Flood-Tolerant Crops
Scientists say they have identified the molecular mechanism that enables plants to detect and cope with low oxygen levels
that occur when roots or shoots are
University of Nottingham
Water added to the Arabidopsis plant
inundated with water, a development they say could help farmers breed high-yield, flood-tolerant crops as flooding becomes more common globally. In a study published in Nature
, researchers from the University of California, Riverside and the University of Nottingham in the UK describe the subtle changes they observed in the metabolism of plants after they were fully or partially submerged. Specifically, in tests on Arabidopsis
, a small flowering plant species, they identified proteins that are actually unstable when oxygen levels are normal, but become more stable when oxygen levels drop, such as during exposure to increased amounts of water; this trait enhances the plants’ ability to survive in flood conditions. Researchers say that in years to come scientists might be able to manipulate this trait, called the protein turnover mechanism, to develop crops capable of surviving flood conditions.
20 Oct 2011:
Waterways Emit More CO2
Than Previously Believed, Study Says
Rivers and streams in the U.S. release substantially more carbon into the atmosphere
than previously assumed, a new study finds. According to the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience
, a significant amount of carbon absorbed by plants and trees ends up in waterways before ultimately being released into the atmosphere. Using geospatial data to model the movement of carbon dioxide from more than 4,000 rivers and streams across the U.S., researchers calculated that the CO2 emitted from waterways is roughly the same as burning 40 billion gallons of gasoline. “These rivers breathe a lot of carbon,” said David Butman of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and co-author of the study. According to researchers, the findings should alter the way scientists model how carbon is cycled at regional and global levels.
17 Oct 2011:
U.S. Water Agencies Eye
Water Alternatives Across Mexico Border
Four water districts in the western U.S. are working with Mexican officials to develop two huge desalination plants in Playas de Rosarito
, a coastal city located in the Mexican state of Baja California, as communities on both sides of the border look to wean themselves from the drought-prone Colorado River. One group — including the water agencies that provide water to much of Southern California, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Tijuana — is now studying the costs of a plant that would provide about 50 million gallons daily, while a second project would provide nearly 100 million gallons daily to the U.S. via a new pipeline, with operation set to begin in 2014. While some environmental groups have expressed concerns about the proposals, including charges that American water agencies are targeting Mexico to avoid stricter U.S. review, proponents say the plants could provide a freshwater alternative to the Colorado River, which for decades has been the lifeblood for seven U.S. states and northwest Mexico but has been running increasingly low in recent years
as a result of rising demand.
13 Oct 2011:
Five-point Plan Proposed
To Feed World in a Sustainable Fashion
An international team of scientists has unveiled a plan that they say would double food production by 2050
while reducing the global environmental impact of agriculture
. Reporting in the journal Nature
, scientists from the U.S., Canada, Sweden, and Germany said that the only way the world community could sustainably feed the estimated 9 billion to 10 billion people expected on the planet later this century would be by taking the five following steps: halt expansion of farmland into tropical forests and wild lands; more efficiently use large swaths of underutilized farmland in Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, boosting current food production by nearly 60 percent; make more efficient use of water, fertilizers, and chemicals, which are currently overutilized in some areas and underutilized in others; shift diets, especially in the developed world, from excessive meat consumption; and reduce the amount of food that is discarded, spoiled, or eaten by pests, which currently amounts to about a third of the food supply. “For the first time we have shown that it is possible to both feed a hungry world and protect a threatened planet,” said the study's lead author, Jonathan Foley
, of the University of Minnesota.
12 Oct 2011:
Global Meat Production
Increased 20 Percent Since 2000, Report Says
Global meat production has grown by 20 percent in the last decade
and tripled since 1970, increases that have far exceeded the rate of population growth during the same periods and pose significant threats to the environment, the economy, and public health, a new report says. According to the Worldwatch Institute report, much of that growth is due to the rise of large-scale factory farming in developing countries such as China. Such industrial-scale farming not only poses health risks to livestock and ultimately introduces massive amounts of antibiotics into the environment, it also generates significant emissions of potent greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide, the report says. Earlier reports have found that livestock operations account for as much as 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions
. While the new report says people in the developed world consume more than twice as much meat as those living in developing nations (80 kilograms annually per person, compared with 32 kilograms), it predicts that demand for livestock products in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will nearly double by 2050.
11 Oct 2011:
Rising Gold Prices Drive
Rampant Clearing of Peruvian Amazon
The spread of illegal gold mining in southern Peru has driven a growth in deforestation so rampant that government officials may declare an environmental emergency, according to a news report
. As the global
price of gold has climbed, mining operations in the Amazon have extended into the fringes of Tambopata Nature Reserve, an important region for ecotourism, with miners beginning operations without necessary permits, according Mongabay.com
. In some cases, miners have started operations within the reserve itself, using dredges and massive suction equipment to search for gold in rivers and creeks. Ecologists warn that enormous swaths of remote and biodiverse forest are being cleared before scientists have even been able to completely assess their value. “This [area] is often blanketed in clouds. It’s poorly known to science,” said ecologist Gregory Asner
of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University. “We don’t know the composition of the ecosystems.”
10 Oct 2011:
Amazon Drought Released
More CO2 than India’s Annual Emissions
A drought that affected large areas of the Amazon rainforest in 2010 triggered the release of about 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide
, more than the total annual CO2 emissions of India, according to a new
Click to enlarge
Environmental Research Letters
Decline in Amazonian forest net primary production, 2008-2010
study. After combining a NASA carbon cycle simulation model and satellite data that reflects the “greenness” — or light interception capacity — of forest canopies, researchers at the NASA Ames Research Center found that net primary production in some forest areas decreased by an average of 7 percent compared with 2008 data. The drought not only reduced the amount of CO2 absorbed by the rainforest, but the drying of normally flooded areas also released large amounts of CO2 through the decomposition of soil and dead wood. According to the study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters
, the results suggest “a more widespread and long-lasting impact to Amazonian forests than what could be inferred based solely on rainfall data.”
07 Oct 2011:
Desalination Equipment Rushed
to Drought-Stricken Pacific Nation
Military airplanes from Australia and New Zealand are delivering a large desalination unit to the drought-stricken Pacific nation of Tuvalu
, where water supplies have nearly run dry after six months without rain. The tiny island nation, which has a population of about 11,000 people, has declared a state of emergency, with officials predicting that drinking water could run out within days. In addition to record drought conditions caused by the La Nina weather phenomenon, officials say rising seas have contaminated groundwater supplies. While New Zealand had already sent desalination equipment to the remote island nation, its foreign minister said more capacity is needed to meet the nation’s needs. On the main island of Funafuti, where the majority of the population lives, water is already being rationed. “At present the two operating desalination plants at Funafuti are producing a combined volume of 43,000 liters a day,” said New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully. “The minimum requirement for the 5,300 residents is 79,500 liters a day.” The Australian government has also sent 1,000 rehydration packs for Tuvalu’s hospitals and provided money to fuel the desalination plants.
30 Sep 2011:
Controversial $3.6 Billion Dam
Shelved by Myanmar Government
The Myanmar government has suspended construction of a controversial $3.6 billion dam project
following weeks of protests by opposition forces. The Myitsone dam project, which was being developed in part by Chinese investors, would have flooded about 296 square miles (766 square kilometers), with about 90 percent of the power reportedly destined for export to China. According to reports, President Thein Sein told members of parliament “that his government, being born out of people’s desire, has to act according to the desire of the people.” The dam, which would have been built near the head of the Irrawaddy River, had emerged as a symbol of growing public resentment over China’s increasing influence in Myanmar. Critics argued the project would have disrupted the flow of the Irrawaddy, a lifeline for millions of people, and displaced 12,000 residents from 63 villages.
26 Sep 2011:
Major Rivers Have Enough Water
to Sustain Growing Populations, Study Says
A new study says the world’s major river systems contain more than enough water to meet global food production needs
in the 21st century. Following a five-year study of 10 river basins — including the Nile, Ganges, Andes, Yellow, and Niger — scientists with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) found that the greatest water challenge facing the planet is not scarcity but the inefficient and inequitable distribution of water. “Huge volumes of rainwater are lost or never used,” said Alain Vidal, director of CGIAR’s Challenge Program on Water and Food. In regions of sub-Saharan Africa, he said, even “modest” improvements in rainwater harvesting could yield two to three times more food production. Elsewhere, regions in Asia and Latin America exist where food production could be increased by at least 10 percent, according to the report, which is published in the journal Water International
. According to a recent UN report, global food output will have to increase 70 percent by 2050
to feed a growing world population.
26 Sep 2011:
Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate
And Environmental Activist, Is Dead at 71
Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist whose advocacy for social justice and ecosystem preservation in post-colonial Africa earned her the 2004 Nobel Peace
Prize, has died after a battle with cancer
. Maathai, 71, who during four decades skillfully articulated the benefits of environmental sustainability to ordinary citizens, was co-founder of the Green Belt Movement
, which helped Kenyan women plant trees on their farms, school properties, and church compounds as a means of preserving the environment, sustaining watersheds, and teaching new skills. Since 1977, the organization has planted an estimated 45 million trees across Kenya and has expanded to other African nations. Maathai spoke around the world about environmental justice and poverty, but remained focused on issues in Kenya, serving as a parliamentarian and assistant minister. “Wangari Maathai was known to speak truth to power,” said John Githongo, an anti-corruption campaigner in Kenya. “She blazed a trail in whatever she did.”
19 Sep 2011:
Chinese Solar Company Vows
Toxic Cleanup After Four-Day Protest
A Chinese solar panel company has apologized for a devastating toxic spill
at one of its manufacturing plants in August and vowed to clean up the pollution after four days of protests outside its headquarters. According to reports
, solid waste contaminated with high levels of fluoride leaked from a plant owned by JinkoSolar Holding Company in Haining, located about 80 miles southwest of Shanghai, and was swept into a nearby river by heavy rains on Aug. 26. Residents say the pollution caused a massive fish-kill in the river, and that pigs whose sties were washed with river water also died. Following a four-day protest that at times became violent, a JinkoSolar spokesman admitted that the incident occurred and vowed “appropriate” steps to clean up the contamination. “We cannot shirk responsibility for the legal consequences which have come from management slips,” the spokesman, Jing Zhaohui, told a news conference. The demonstrations in response to the spill are the latest example of growing public outrage
over pollution in China. Last month, thousands of demonstrators forced the closure of a paraxylene plant in northeastern China’s Dalian.
15 Sep 2011:
Evaporation from Trees
Helps Cool the Global Climate, Study Says
Water that evaporates from trees and forests not only has a significant local cooling effect, but also plays a role in cooling the global climate
, according to a new study by scientists at the Carnegie Institution's Global Ecology department. Reporting in Environmental Research Letters,
the scientists found that evaporation from trees cooled the global climate by causing clouds to form low in the atmosphere, which reflects the sun’s rays back into space. Scientists have long known that evaporation had a local cooling effect, but have been unsure of the global effect of evaporation from trees, since water vapor also acts as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. But Carnegie scientists devised a climate model on the impact of tree evaporation showing that the overall global impact of evaporation is to stimulate the formation of more low-level clouds. This finding has important implications for land-use decision-making and underscores the importance of preserving forests and planting trees, the researchers said. “This shows us that the evaporation of water from trees and lakes in urban parks, like New York’s Central Park, not only help keep our cities cool, but also helps keep the whole planet cool,” said Carnegie scientist Ken Caldeira
12 Sep 2011:
Decades of Deforestation
Contributed to Africa Famine, Group Says
Decades of forest destruction have turned once-productive lands into desert across the Horn of Africa, worsening a devastating famine
that has killed tens of thousands of people in Somalia and elsewhere, forestry experts say. A new study by the Center for International Forestry Research, conducted in 25 countries, shows that forests provide about one-quarter of household income for people living in or near them, offering a critical defense against poverty. In parched regions like the Horn of Africa, forests help retain moisture and soil nutrients, providing a defense against wind erosion and a source of food and energy. According to an international coalition, the clear-cutting of forests and degradation of land across the region have done more than the drought to convert once-productive grazing areas into a barren landscape. The group, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, has called for increased investments in reforestation and agroforestry projects across the region, saying similar efforts in Kenya and Niger have revitalized forests and provided critical food and other resources.
18 Aug 2011:
Extreme Weather Disasters
Take Record Toll in U.S. in 2011
The U.S. has already tied the record for the number of extreme weather events causing more than $1 billion in damage in one year, with the cumulative tab so far reaching $35 billion
, government officials said. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there have been nine separate natural disasters
causing damages that totaled more than $1 billion, including summer flooding along the Missouri River, a crippling drought across the southern plains and Southwest, and a series of devastating tornadoes across the Midwest in April. “I don’t think it takes a wizard to predict 2011 is likely to go down as one of the more extreme years for weather in history,” Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service, told reporters, noting that the hurricane season has barely begun. While NOAA officials said there is an urgency to make the U.S. more “weather ready,” its administrator, Jane Lubchenco, warned that failure to fund a new satellite would make it impossible to forecast severe weather events
far enough in advance to save lives. In Texas, this summer’s record drought has caused an estimated $5.2 billion in crop and livestock losses
, by far the largest annual loss in state history.
18 Aug 2011:
UK Otter Populations Rebound
Two Decades After Near Extinction
Environmental officials say otter populations have returned to every county in the United Kingdom
, just two decades after pollution had nearly wiped them out. At least two otters have been found building homes
along rivers in Kent, the last county where the animals had not been found in recent decades, according to the UK’s Environment Agency. Wildlife experts say the animal began disappearing in the mid-1950s, probably as a result of powerful organochlorine pesticides washing into their river habitats. While the chemicals were banned in the mid-1960s, populations of the animal continued to decline; by the late-1970s, a study found otters in only 5 percent of sites where they once lived. Programs to clean up England’s rivers, which brought back fish to once-polluted waterways, and legal protection of the otter began to reverse the trend in the 1990s, as otters began to return eastward from strongholds in the west. The latest survey of otter populations, conducted between 2009 and 2010, found the animal in 60 percent of 2,940 locations where they were once found.
17 Aug 2011:
Water Risk Mapping Project
Attracts Major Global Companies
Several global corporations have joined a World Resources Institute project that is developing a new database and mapping tools to help companies manage their water resources and reduce risk. The Aqueduct project
— which so far has enlisted companies such as Coca-Cola, General Electric, and Dow Chemical
use hydrological modeling and a wide range of data to identify water supplies globally, track water use trends, and provide insights into regions facing potential risks, including physical, regulatory and socioeconomic factors. So far, the project has developed a water risk atlas that calculates risks associated with the Yellow River Basin in northern China. Later this year, the project will release similar mapping tools for other high-priority river basins, including the Colorado River in the U.S., the Murray Darling River in Australia, the Orange-Sequ River in Africa, and China’s Yangtze River. In addition to helping heavily water-dependent companies identify potential supply problems, the tool is expected to assist water and wastewater solutions companies in identifying regions and clients in need of risk mitigation.
11 Aug 2011:
U.S. Panel Endorses Fracking
As Members Are Faulted for Industry Ties
A U.S. Energy Department advisory panel has issued a qualified endorsement of the controversial shale gas exploitation technique of hydraulic fracturing,
but a group of scientists charges that the panel’s recommendations are tainted because six of its seven members have current financial ties to the natural gas industry. The panel’s report says that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could be a productive way of extracting natural gas if the industry follows a set of strict guidelines. These include disclosing the chemicals used in the fracking process, adopting rigorous standards for air pollution emissions from fracking wells, and monitoring nearby water supplies for contamination from fracking. But the panel is largely silent on which state or federal agencies should regulate fracking, and whether regulators should apply to it laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued a letter, signed by 28 scientists from 22 universities, criticizing the panel for its industry ties,
including more than $1.4 million paid to panel chairman John Deutch of MIT from 2006 to 2009. The EWG accused the panel of conducting “advocacy-based science” and said that at a minimum Deutch should be replaced by a person with no industry ties.
09 Aug 2011:
Israel Expands Desalination;
Study Touts New Salt-Removing Technology
Israel has announced plans to build a $423 million (1.5 billion shekel) desalination plant in the Mediterranean coastal city of Ashdod that officials say will provide 100 million cubic meters of water annually
, or about 15 percent of the nation’s drinking water needs. When completed in 2013, the reverse osmosis plant will join four other Israel plants that combined will meet three-quarters of the nation’s household water needs. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said expansion of desalination operations is critical as Israel looks to prevent depletion of its main freshwater source, the Sea of Galilee. Meanwhile, a recent Yale University study
found that desalination technology could provide the best hope for meeting the world’s growing water needs. But rather than using reverse osmosis technology, which researchers say is nearing its potential for maximum energy efficiency, researchers suggest that the greatest efficiency gains could occur in pre- and post-treatment stages of desalination. “All of this will require new materials and a new chemistry, but we believe this is where we should focus our efforts going forward,” said Menachem Elimelech, a Yale professor of chemical and environmental engineering.
05 Aug 2011:
Rising CO2 Levels Could Offset
Drying Effects of Higher Temperatures
As the world warms, rising temperatures are expected to dry out the planet’s semi-arid rangelands. But a new study by U.S. scientists suggests that the effects of that drying are likely to be offset
by the way in which plants react to elevated concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. Higher temperatures increase water loss to the atmosphere, but scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that higher CO2 levels also cause leaf pores, or stomata, to partially close, which actually slows the evaporation process. The scientists are conducting an 8-year study on dry grasslands in Wyoming, and are simulating future climate conditions — when temperatures could rise by 5 degrees F and atmospheric CO2 concentrations could soar from today’s 390 parts per million to 600 ppm — by using infrared heaters and CO2 piped into experimental plots. The preliminary results of their studies, published in the journal Nature
, show that dry grasslands are likely to experience no change in soil water and that warm season grasses may actually grow more quickly under future climate conditions. Dry rangelands make up roughly one third of the Earth’s surface and USDA scientists say their research may help ranchers and farmers plant grasses and crops that are likely to fare better as temperature and CO2 levels increase.
03 Aug 2011:
Crops With Deeper Roots
Could Boost CO2 Storage, Study Says
Breeding crops with deeper roots could significantly reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide
and make crops more drought resistant, according to a study by a researcher at the University of Manchester. Reporting in the journal, Annals of Botany
, professor Douglas Kell calculated that breeding crops whose roots extend 2 meters underground, rather than the 1-meter roots common to many crops, could double the amount of carbon captured from the atmosphere. Kell reported that creating crops and plants with deeper and bushier roots would also lead to more water and nutrient retention and produce more sustainable plant yields as the world warms and droughts increase in water-stressed regions. “This doubling of root biomass from a nominal 1 meter to 2 meters is really the key issue,” said Kell.
25 Jul 2011:
U.S. Land in Flood Plains
Could Increase 45 Percent, Study Says
The amount of U.S. land located within flood plain zones is expected to increase by 40 to 45 percent
by the end of this century, according to a study of the impacts of climate change on the federal flood insurance program. The study, which will be released later this summer, projects that a widening threat of rising waters along ocean coastlines and in river valleys as a result of climate change — including rising seas, greater downpours and more intense coastal storms — could double the number of policies in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by 2100, ClimateWire
reports. The federal program now insures about 5.6 million homes and businesses and is valued at $1.2 trillion. Mark Crowell, a geologist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told a conference that the findings suggest “a need for FEMA to incorporate the effects of climate change more directly into various aspects of the NFIP.” A recent study predicted that rising sea levels could inundate 9 percent of the land in 180 U.S. cities
14 Jun 2011:
Severe Drought in Europe
Threatens Crops and Nuclear Power Output
One of Europe’s most severe droughts in a century is threatening crop production, shrinking some rivers to near-record low levels, and raising the specter that France may experience blackouts as some river-cooled
nuclear power plants may be forced to shut down
. In France, the warmest and driest spring in half a century may significantly slash wheat yields. In addition, with 44 of France’s 58 nuclear reactors cooled by river water, officials are closely monitoring whether power production may have to be reduced, since sending overheated water from the plants back into low, warm rivers could cause major ecological problems. In Germany, where spring water levels in many rivers are the lowest they’ve been in a century, yields of crops such as rapeseed oil are expected to drop by 20 percent. And England’s southeast, the country’s breadbasket, is experiencing a severe drought, while many other parts of the UK are on the brink of drought. Overall, rainfall across Europe this year is only 40 to 80 percent of the average precipitation from 1951 to 2000.
17 May 2011:
New Geothermal System Taps
Heat Without Geological Risks, Firm Says
A U.S. startup says it has developed an enhanced geothermal system (EGS) that engineers say can tap into heat from the Earth’s interior without any associated risks of triggering earthquakes or polluting underground aquifers
. While typical EGS processes require developers to pump liquids into deep wells at high pressure, a process that has on occasion trigged small earthquakes, GTHerm
has developed an approach that doesn’t require fracturing or water cooling. Instead, the process includes installation of a solid-state heat exchanger, or “heat nest,” at the bottom of the well that can more efficiently draw heat from surrounding rock with the help of a highly conductive grout encasing the heat exchanger. Fluid is sent down the well in a closed loop that carries the heat back to the surface, where it creates steam that drives electricity-generating turbines. “We’re basically a heat pump on steroids,” said Michael Parrella, CEO and founder of the Connecticut-based company. The company, which is now testing the commercial feasibility of the technology, hopes to have demonstration plants in place as early as 2012.
26 Apr 2011:
Future Water Stress
Detailed In U.S. Report on Western States
A new U.S. government report on water in the American West in the 21st century forecasts that temperatures in the region will soar by 5 to 7 degrees F., major rivers such as the Rio Grande and Colorado could
Click to enlarge
U.S. Department of Interior
Projected precipitation change, 2070-2099
see reductions in flow of up to 20 percent
, and less snow will fall and will melt earlier. The report
, released by the U.S. Department of the Interior, said that while the Pacific Northwest is likely to see an increase in precipitation in the 21st century, the southwestern U.S. will become even drier, seriously straining water supplies in a region whose population has been rising rapidly in recent decades. The report, presented by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, analyzed future water conditions in eight major western river basins, from the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border. Overall, the report said, the region can expect a decline in the April 1st snowpack, which means that many western rivers are likely to experience significant reductions of flow in the summer. The report also said that the increasing use of water in drilling for natural gas in underground shale formations is likely to further strain the West’s water supplies.
25 Apr 2011:
U.S. Company Halts “Fracking”
While It Investigates Causes of Blowout
A large U.S. producer of natural gas from underground shale formations says it will suspend the controversial drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing
, or fracking, at seven well sites until it has investigated the causes behind a drilling accident last week. Chesapeake Energy has halted its fracking operations following a blowout in Bradford County in northeastern Pennsylvania that led to a spill of thousands of gallons of drilling fluid. Fracking — which involves blasting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals deep underground to shatter shale formations and free natural gas trapped within — now accounts for 23 percent of U.S. natural gas production. But the rapid spread of hydraulic fracturing is causing increasing concern among environmentalists and some local residents
, who contend the process is leading to pollution of water supplies in regions rich in shale-gas. Chief among these regions is the Marcellus Shale formation, which extends across various eastern states, including Pennyslvania. Because of these concerns, fracking is currently banned in some regions, including the watershed for New York City’s water supplies
Invasive Mussels Trigger
Major Ecological Shift in Great Lakes
The rapid spread of non-native mussels in the Great Lakes has caused an unprecedented ecological shift in lakes Michigan and Huron
, stripping the massive freshwater lakes of life-supporting algae, according to a new study by University of Michigan researchers. While
Michigan Sea Grant
A quagga mussel
the increased number of zebra mussels has been observed in the lakes for decades, an even greater threat in recent years has been the spread of the closely related quagga, a fingernail-sized mussel that thrives in the lakes’ deep muddy bottoms. Each quagga mussel, billions of which now blanket the bottoms of lakes Huron and Michigan, filters about a quart of water daily, and feeds on algae that is a critical food source for other lake organisms — including the shrimplike Diporeia, which has long been a pillar of the Great Lakes’ food chain. Researchers say algal production in both lakes in 2008 was 80 percent lower than in the 1980s, a phenomenon that coincided with the spread of the quagga. “These are astounding changes, a tremendous shifting of the very base of the food web in those lakes into a state that has not been seen in the recorded history of the lakes,” said Mary Anne Evans, lead author of the study, which will be published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology
17 Mar 2011:
Canada’s Boreal Forest Holds
Largest Store of Unfrozen Freshwater
Canada’s 1.3 billion-acre boreal forest contains more unfrozen freshwater than any other ecosystem on the planet
, according to a new report by the Pew Environmental Group. With about 25 percent of the world’s wetlands, millions of lakes, and thousands of rivers, the boreal forest contains about 197 million acres of freshwater. Its extensive undammed rivers are a refuge for many of the planet’s sea-run migratory fish, including half of the remaining populations of North Atlantic salmon. And its role as a massive carbon vault provides an estimated $700 billion annually as a buffer to climate-related food and water shortages globally, according to the report, which is the first of its kind. But the Canadian boreal has also been increasingly targeted for large-scale industrial activities, with more than 180 million acres already affected by forestry, road building, mining, oil and gas extraction, and hydropower. While more than 12 percent of the boreal is already strictly protected, the report recommends more water-focused conservation efforts, including conservation of the entire Mackenzie River watershed.