e360 digest


26 Aug 2014: Meat Production, Especially
Beef, Strains Land and Water, Study Says

Global meat production has expanded more than four-fold over the last 50 years — and 25-fold since

Beef cattle graze in Colombia
1800 — due to growing purchasing power, urbanization, and changing diets, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute. Consumers in industrial countries still eat much larger quantities of meat (75.9 kilograms per person) than those in developing nations (33.7 kilograms), though that gap is beginning to close, the report says. Nearly 70 percent of the planet's agricultural land and freshwater is used for livestock, with additional land and water used to grow grains for livestock feed. Beef production alone uses about three-fifths of global farmland and yields less than 5 percent of the world's protein, according to the report. Sustainable agricultural practices such as feeding livestock with grasses instead of grains and using natural fertilizers could reduce these impacts, the report notes, but alternative dietary choices hold the most immediate promise for reducing the environmental footprint of meat production.
PERMALINK

 

25 Aug 2014: Health Care Savings Can Far
Outweigh Costs of Carbon-Cutting Policies

Implementing policies to curb carbon emissions dramatically cuts health care costs associated with poor air quality — in some cases, by more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change. Policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions are as effective as laws targeting polluting compounds like ground-level ozone, also known as smog, and fine particulate matter, the MIT researchers say. An analysis of three climate policies — a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy, and a cap-and-trade program — found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost of implementing a transportation policy, and up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program. A cap-and-trade program would cost roughly $14 billion to implement, whereas a transportation policy with rigid fuel-economy requirements could cost more than $1 trillion, according to the analysis. Policies targeting specific sources of air pollution, such as power plants and vehicles emissions, did not lead to significantly larger benefits than cheaper policies, such as a cap-and-trade approach, the study found.
PERMALINK

 

22 Aug 2014: Drought in Western U.S.
Has Caused Land to Rise, Researchers Say

The western U.S. has lost so much water during the ongoing severe drought that the land has sprung up by

GPS station in California's Inyo Mountains
as much as 15 millimeters (0.6 inches), according to a study in the journal Science. Water at the surface of the earth typically weighs down the land, but the region has lost enough water that the tectonic plate underlying the western U.S. has undergone rapid uplift, much like an uncoiling spring, researchers explain. California's water deficit over the past 18 months has caused some of its mountain ranges to rise by more than half an inch, and the West overall has risen by 0.15 inches, according to the study. Using ground positioning data from GPS stations throughout the region, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, estimate the water loss to be 240 gigatons (63 trillion gallons) — equivalent to a nearly four-inch layer of water spread out over the entire western U.S.
PERMALINK

 

21 Aug 2014: Antarctica and Greenland
Losing Ice at Fastest Rate Ever Recorded

Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at an unprecedented rate of 500 cubic kilometers per

Click to Enlarge

Antarctic ice elevation
year — enough ice to cover the Chicago metropolitan area with a layer of ice 600 meters thick — according to German researchers. Using data from the European Space Agency's CryoSat 2 satellite from 2011 to 2014, the team created the most detailed maps to date of ice elevations across Antarctica and Greenland, accurate to a few meters in height. The results reveal that Greenland alone is losing ice volume by about 375 cubic kilometers per year, doubling since 2009, the scientists report. Ice loss in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has increased by a factor of three over the same period. Combined, the two ice sheets are thinning at the highest rate observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago, the study found. Data show that East Antarctica is gaining ice volume, but at a moderate rate that doesn’t compensate the losses on the continent's other side.
PERMALINK

 

20 Aug 2014: Exporting Coal to Korea Could
Slash Emissions by 21 Percent, Analysis Says

Exporting U.S. coal to South Korean power plants could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent compared to burning it at less efficient U.S. plants, according to researchers at Duke University. The strategy could also generate more than $25 billion in economic activity in the U.S. and cut emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter, the researchers say. For those benefits to occur, however, U.S. plants would need to replace the exported coal with natural gas, and South Korea must use the imported coal to replace dirtier sources of coal. South Korea's coal-fired power plants are newer and significantly more efficient than those in the U.S. — efficient enough to offset emissions associated with shipping the coal across the globe, the researchers say. However, they also caution that further studies are needed to assess the scenario's full environmental impacts, including water use, land use, and the degradation of vital habitats.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Drones Are Emerging
As Valuable Conservation Tool

Ecologist Lian Pin Koh is co-founder of a project called ConservationDrones.org, which is pioneering the use of
Lian Pin Koh
Lian Pin Koh
low-cost drones in conservation efforts and biological research across the globe. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Koh, a researcher at the University of Adelaide, explains how drones – also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – can help monitor protected areas, collect data in inaccessible regions, and even deter poachers. “In just the last couple of months,” he says, “there has been tremendous interest from universities and other research institutes that finally see the value in this technology.”
Read the interview.
View a gallery.
PERMALINK

 

19 Aug 2014: Wind Energy Prices at
All-Time Low, According to U.S. Report

The cost of wind power in the U.S. is at an all-time low of 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a new report

Click to Enlarge

Major U.S. wind farms
from the U.S. Department of Energy, and utility companies are in some cases electing to use wind as an energy source over fossil fuels because of its low cost. Although wind power grew modestly in 2013 — installations were only 8 percent of those seen in the record year of 2012 — it now meets 4.5 percent of U.S. energy needs, producing enough electricity to power 16 million homes. The country ranks second only to China in installed wind capacity, the report says, and wind power accounts for 33 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity additions since 2007. That progress has been heavily dependent on federal, state, and local incentives, however, and wind power's growth could slow if those incentives expire. Its viability could also fall if natural gas becomes more affordable than wind, the report cautions.
PERMALINK

 

18 Aug 2014: Recent Glacier Losses Are
Mostly Driven by Human Activity, Study Says

Roughly one-quarter of the global glacier mass loss between the years 1851 and 2010 can be attributed to

Artesonraju Glacier in Cordillera Blanca, Peru
human activities, and that fraction increased to more than two-thirds between 1991 and 2010, according to research published in the journal Science. The study is the first to document the extent of human contribution to glacier mass loss, which is driven by both naturally caused climate factors, such as fluctuations in solar radiation, and anthropogenic influences. “In the 19th and first half of 20th century we observed that glacier mass loss attributable to human activity is hardly noticeable but since then has steadily increased,” the lead researcher said. The analysis was based on data from the recently established Randolph Glacier Inventory and included all glaciers outside of Antarctica. Changes in glaciers in the Alps and North America were particularly well documented and seem to be definitively influenced by human activities, the researchers said.
PERMALINK

 

15 Aug 2014: New Citizen Science Software
Aims to Document and Curb Illegal Fishing

Citizen scientists can now report — and potentially help stop — illegal fishing with the snap of a photo thanks to

Illegal shark fin catch
a new smartphone app developed by the Nature Conservancy. The software, called ShipWatch, was developed this summer during a "Fishackathon," a series of workshops hosted by the U.S. State Department to foster technology development and collaboration among computer programmers. ShipWatch allows users to upload photos of illegal fishing activities to a database, where they are labeled with date and location information and plotted on a central map. The developers hope the data will help authorities enforce existing fishing laws by, for example, developing flight maps for surveillance drones or strategically deploying enforcement authorities. "There are laws in place to say [the fishing] is illegal. The problem is they lack any kind of reporting mechanism," developers told Fast Co.Exist.
PERMALINK

 

14 Aug 2014: Some Chemicals in Fracking
Fluids Raise Red Flags, Researchers Say

Of the more than 200 compounds used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, eight are toxic to mammals and the

A Marcellus Shale fracking operation
health risks of roughly one-third are unknown, according to researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is a drilling technique that releases natural gas and oil by injecting fluids with chemical additives deep into rock formations. The research team tracked down substances commonly used as fracking additives and found they include gelling agents to thicken the fluids, biocides to inhibit microbial growth, and compounds to prevent pipe corrosion. The industry claims the additives are non-toxic and food-grade, and while that is true in some cases, the researchers note, most fracking compounds require treatment before they can be safely released into the environment. Moreover, a number of chemicals that could pose health risks, such as corrosion inhibitors and biocides, are used in reasonably high concentrations in fracking fluids, the researchers note.
PERMALINK

 

13 Aug 2014: New Maps Show Flooding
Risks for Critical U.S. Energy Facilities

A new mapping tool shows critical energy infrastructure in the U.S., such as power plants, refineries, and crude oil rail terminals, that may be vulnerable to coastal and

Click to Enlarge

Brooklyn, NY, flood risks
inland flooding, as well as areas that may be prone to flooding in the future. The maps, created by the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, let users see which energy facilities could be in danger of flooding caused by hurricanes, flash floods, and other weather events, including street-level results for a particular address. The maps show areas that have a 1-in-100 (1 percent) and 1-in-500 (0.2 percent) chance of flooding annually, as well as areas that might be identified in the future as having a 1-percent annual flood hazard.
PERMALINK

 

12 Aug 2014: Media Still Disproportionately
Including Views of Climate Change Skeptics

Despite strong agreement among a majority of climate scientists that human activities are contributing to

Click to Enlarge

Media coverage of climate scientists
global warming, media coverage still disproportionately includes the views of contrarian scientists, according to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology. In a survey of roughly 1,900 scientists, 90 percent of the respondents who had published more than 10 peer-reviewed climate science articles "explicitly agreed with anthropogenic greenhouse gases being the dominant driver of recent global warming." However, when asked how often they were contacted by the media to comment on climate change issues, 30 percent of scientists who view greenhouse gases' impact to be “insignificant or cooling” reported being featured frequently or very frequently in the media, as opposed to 15 percent of scientists who view greenhouse gases as strongly contributing to warming.
PERMALINK

 

11 Aug 2014: Climate Effects of Keystone XL
Significantly Underestimated, Study Finds

The U.S. State Department's final environmental review of the Keystone XL Pipeline may have underestimated carbon dioxide emissions associated with the pipeline by as much as four times, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change. The addition of Keystone XL crude oil to the market will drive global oil prices down, the authors say, which in turn will increase demand for oil worldwide — by as much as 0.6 barrels for every barrel of Keystone XL oil added to the market. The extra oil consumption could add up to 110 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year, an amount four times larger than the State Department's estimate of up to 27 million tons annually, according to the study. President Obama has said he will let the pipeline proceed only if it will not "significantly exacerbate" greenhouse gas emissions. The State Department's final review determined that the pipeline's effect on climate change would be negligible, but that analysis did not take into account the increase in crude oil demand that could be sparked by Keystone XL, the authors of the new study say.
PERMALINK

 

08 Aug 2014: China Added Large Amount
Of Solar Power in First Half of 2014

In the first half of 2014, China added 3.3 gigawatts of solar power — as much as is installed in the entire

Distributed solar in Kunming, China
continent of Australia — China's National Energy Administration reports. The country now has 23 gigawatts of solar power installed, which is nearly twice that of the United States. China, the world's largest carbon emitter, has set a goal of 35 gigawatts of installed solar power by the end of next year. The nation's push toward solar energy will include distributed solar, such as rooftop and ground-mounted installations near homes and municipal buildings, Chinese officials say, and the government could announce distributed solar incentive programs later this month, Bloomberg News reports. Renewable energy, especially solar, has become a high priority for the Chinese government as major cities and industrial areas have experienced choking air pollution. Earlier this week, officials announced that Beijing would ban coal use by 2020.
PERMALINK

 

07 Aug 2014: Mercury Pollution in Oceans
Has Tripled Since Industrial Revolution

Globally, oceans contain roughly 60,000 to 80,000 tons of mercury pollution, according to a report published this week in Nature detailing the first direct calculation

Ahi tuna has very high mercury concentrations.
of mercury pollution in the world's oceans. Ocean waters shallower than about 300 feet (100 meters) have tripled in mercury concentration since the Industrial Revolution, the study found, and mercury in the oceans as a whole has increased roughly 10 percent over pre-industrial times. North Atlantic waters showed the most obvious signs of mercury pollution, since surface waters there sink to form deeper water flows. In contrast, the tropical and Northeast Pacific were relatively unaffected. "We don't know what that means for fish and marine mammals, but likely that some fish contain at least three times more mercury than 150 years ago," and possibly more, the lead researcher said. "The next 50 years could very well add the same amount we've seen in the past 150."
PERMALINK

 

06 Aug 2014: Western U.S. In Its Quietest
Fire Season In A Decade, Officials Report

The western U.S. is in the midst of its quietest wildfire season in a decade, according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). With 1.7 million acres burned through August 4, the 2014 fire season has destroyed well below the average of 4.4 million acres for the previous nine years through the same date. Fire season still has a few months left, however, and the year's good fortune may not last: Above normal fire potential is expected to continue over most of California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, according to the NIFC. Average temperatures have been 2 to 4 degrees above normal for most of the West; portions of the western Great Basin, northern California, and Pacific Northwest were 6 to 8 degrees warmer than normal; and exceptional drought conditions continue in California, western Nevada, and the Texas Panhandle, the center says.
PERMALINK

 

Green Innovations Are Bringing
Energy-Saving Technology Home

Advances in technology and consumer demand for energy-saving devices have made green technology

Solar shingles
increasingly accessible. Many innovations are geared toward homeowners looking to lower not only their energy bills, but also the carbon footprints of their homes and daily activities. From solar-harvesting shingles and windows to shoe insoles that can power a smartphone, this Yale Environment 360 gallery explores a few of these energy-saving technologies.
View the gallery.
PERMALINK

 

05 Aug 2014: Forests Already Seeing Effects of
Climate Change, European Researchers Say

Damage from wind, bark beetles, and wildfires has increased drastically in Europe's forests in recent years, and climate change is the driving factor, according to

Click to Enlarge

European forest damage
research published in Nature Climate Change. These disturbances have become increasingly acute over the last 40 years, damaging 56 million cubic meters of timber per year from 2002 to 2010. And researchers estimate that an additional million cubic meters of timber — roughly 7,000 soccer fields of forest — will likely be destroyed each year over the next 20 years if climate change trends continue. Damage from forest fires in particular is expected to increase on the Iberian Peninsula, while bark beetle damage will likely increase most strongly in the Alps. Wind damage is predicted to rise most notably in Central and Western Europe, the study found. To compound the problem, as more forests are damaged, there will be fewer healthy trees available to remove the climate-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the researchers note.
PERMALINK

 

04 Aug 2014: California Takes Steps to
Curb Lawn Watering During Severe Drought

In the midst of a severe, long-term drought, California is taking unprecedented steps to discourage watering of

A drought-resistant yard
residential lawns, with some areas offering residents substantial cash incentives for installing water-saving landscaping, AFP reports. The "Cash in Your Lawn" program in Los Angeles offers residents up to $6,000 ($3 per square foot) for replacing their lawns with drought-tolerant plants, rocks, and pebbles. Throughout the state, Governor Jerry Brown recently prohibited lawn watering more than two times per week and banned fines for brown lawns, which homeowner associations sometimes impose with the intent of improving a neighborhood's appearance. The drought, currently in its third year, threatens the water supply of California's 38 million residents. Agricultural regions have already seen severe water reductions, placing extra pressure on the state's groundwater reserves.
PERMALINK

 

31 Jul 2014: U.S. Public and Congress Similarly
Split on Environmental Spending, Study Says

American citizens are increasingly divided over the issue of environmental protection and seem to be taking their cue primarily from Congress, according to new research from Michigan State University. The gap between conservatives who oppose environmental protection and liberals who support it has risen drastically in the past 20 years, the study found. A national poll from 2012 (the most recent data in the study) with a question on environmental spending indicated that 68 percent of Democrats believe the country has spent too little on the environment, versus only 40 percent of Republicans. The polling data, which reach back to 1974, indicate the gap started growing particularly wide in 1992, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union. At that point, the researchers say, the conservative movement replaced the “Red Scare” with the “Green Scare” and became increasingly hostile toward environmental protection, a trend amplified in recent years by the Tea Party.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Making the Rights of
Farm Animals a Basic Green Issue

Conservation organizations have long sought to protect pandas, polar bears, and pelicans, but the welfare of
Wayne Pacelle
Wayne Pacelle
farm animals has largely been left to activist animal-welfare groups like the Humane Society of the United States. For the past 10 years, that organization has been headed by the politically savvy Wayne Pacelle, who has greatly increased its visibility and influence. Under his leadership, the society has lobbied successfully to curb what it calls the worst excesses of “factory farms.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Pacelle talked about how treatment of farm animals is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, why his group is promoting “meatless Mondays,” and why consumers should be willing to pay more for products from animals that are sustainably raised.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

30 Jul 2014: New Maps of Peru Forests
Could Help Set Conservation Priorities

New, highly detailed maps of Peru's vegetation show that three-quarters of the country's forests — a biomass

Click to Enlarge

Carbon stocks across Peru
stock that sequesters more carbon than the combined annual CO2 emissions of the U.S. and China — lie outside of protected areas and are vulnerable to deforestation, according to an analysis by researchers in the U.S. and Peru. The maps, which should prove helpful to scientists, conservationists, and policymakers working to protect the forests, offer the most detailed view to date of the different types of vegetative cover and above-ground carbon stocks across Peru, with resolution at the one-hectare scale. The analysis found that the lowlands of southern Peru, which contain extensive bamboo cover, harbor significantly less carbon than other rainforest areas, and forests in active floodplains appear to store half as much carbon as other forests.
PERMALINK

 

29 Jul 2014: Danish Wind Power To Be Half
The Price of Coal and Natural Gas by 2016

Wind power has overtaken all other energy sources as the cheapest form of electricity in Denmark, with a cost

Frederikshavn, Denmark
roughly half that of coal and natural gas projected by 2016, according to an analysis by the Danish Energy Association (DEA). Home to major turbine manufacturers Vestas and Siemens, the country has been investing steadily in wind power since the 1970s and seems to be reaping the benefits of those investments now, analysts say. Electricity from two new onshore wind power facilities set to begin operating in 2016 will cost around 5 euro cents per kilowatt-hour, according to DEA calculations. The Danish government aims to meet 50 percent of the country's total electricity needs with wind power by 2020, and another 20 percent with other renewable sources. By 2050, the government aims to produce all electricity from renewable sources.
PERMALINK

 

28 Jul 2014: Trees Save Lives and Billions in
Health Costs Annually, Forest Service Finds

Trees are saving more than 850 human lives each year and preventing 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms in the U.S., according to the first broad-scale

Click to Enlarge
Pollution removal by trees

Pollution removal by trees
estimate of trees' air pollution removal by U.S. Forest Service researchers. Looking at four common air pollutants — nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 microns — researchers valued the human health benefits of the reduced air pollution at nearly $7 billion annually in a study published in the journal Environmental Pollution. The benefits of trees vary with tree cover across the nation, the researchers note. Tree cover in the United States is estimated at 34.2 percent overall, but varies from 2.6 percent in North Dakota to 88.9 percent in New Hampshire. While the pollution-removal capabilities of trees led to an average air quality improvement of less than 1 percent, the impacts are substantial, the study found.
PERMALINK

 

25 Jul 2014: Southwestern U.S. Aquifers
Are Extremely Low, NASA Data Show

Groundwater reserves in the U.S. Southwest are severely low and prospects for their long-term viability are bleak as persistent drought continues to parch the

Click to Enlarge
Groundwater aquifer levels

U.S. groundwater stores
land and prevent recharging, according to an assessment from NASA. As shown in this map, many underground aquifers in the Southwest are extremely dry compared to average conditions over the past 60 years. Deep red areas on the map, such as in southern California and Nevada, depict aquifers that are so dry there's less than a 2 percent chance they could have experienced such levels of drought-related depletion since 1948. Although the Pacific Northwest is experiencing drought-related wildfires, its aquifers appear to be well-stocked, according to the map. The discrepancy is likely due to the long lag between dry conditions at the surface and depletion of groundwater reserves, researchers say.
PERMALINK

 

24 Jul 2014: Protecting Community Forests
Is a Major Tool in Climate Fight, Study Says

Expanding and strengthening the community forest rights of indigenous groups and rural residents can make a major contribution to sequestering carbon and

The Brazilian Amazon
reducing CO2 emissions from deforestation, according to a new report. The World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Rights and Resources Initiative said that indigenous people and rural inhabitants in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have government-recognized rights to forests containing nearly 38 billion tons of carbon, equal to 29 times the annual emissions of all the world’s passenger vehicles. By enforcing community rights to those forests, the study said, governments can play a major role in tackling climate change. In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, deforestation rates are 11 times lower in community forests than in forests outside those areas. In areas where community forest rights are ignored, deforestation rates often soar. The report made five major recommendations, from better enforcement of community forest zones to compensating communities for the benefits their forests provide.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

23 Jul 2014: "Inglorious" Produce Campaign
Is Major Success for French Grocer

A major French grocery chain, Intermarche, has launched a novel campaign to curb food waste and

Watch Video
Grotesque apple

"Grotesque Apple" poster
market visually flawed produce. The "Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables" campaign aims to revamp the image of imperfect and non-conforming produce, much of which is thrown away by growers because it doesn't meet grocery retailers' standards. Intermarche began welcoming the "Grotesque Apple," "Ridiculous Potato," "Hideous Orange," and other infamous items to its shelves, created posters to explain that the produce is as nutritious and flavorful as the more attractive versions, and reduced prices by 30 percent. The campaign was an "immediate success," Intermarche says: Stores nationwide sold 1.2 million tons of "inglorious" fruits and vegetables in the first two days, and overall store traffic increased by 24 percent.
PERMALINK

 

23 Jul 2014: Earth Observation Satellites Help
Scientists Understand Global Change


Global warming is affecting more than just atmospheric temperatures — it is also changing water cycles, soil conditions, and animal migrations. Earth observation satellites aid scientists in measuring and monitoring these changes so societies can better adapt. Although there are well over 1,000 active orbiting satellites, less than 15 percent are used to monitor Earth’s environment. Yale Environment 360 presents a gallery of satellites that scientists are using to better understand how the planet is changing.
View the gallery.
PERMALINK

 

22 Jul 2014: Costs of Urban Light Pollution
Highlighted in Citizen Science Effort

A recently launched citizen science project aims to highlight the environmental, social, and financial impacts of excessive nighttime lighting in cities around

Click to Enlarge
Shanghai, China, at night

Shanghai, China, at night
the world. The project, called Cities at Night, enlists people to help identify the cities pictured in thousands of blindingly lit photos taken by astronauts orbiting the earth. Organizers hope that when residents and officials see the bright photos of their cities at night, they will be prompted to cut nighttime light use and energy consumption. Widespread artificial lighting has made light pollution a growing problem in urban areas by disrupting behavioral patterns of people and wildlife, wasting millions of dollars in energy costs, and adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Some solutions are relatively inexpensive and straightforward, the organizers say, such as using shields to direct light down to street-level, which can allow a city to use lower-wattage streetlights.
PERMALINK

 

21 Jul 2014: India Doubles Coal Tax to
Fund Ambitious Clean Energy Initiatives

India's finance minister has doubled the tax on coal imported to or mined in the country, raising the tariff from $0.83 to $1.67 per metric ton, with plans to use the revenue to fund a host of renewable energy projects over the next decade, Clean Technica reports. The revenue will be added to the National Clean Energy Fund, which was established to provide low-cost financing for renewable energy projects. The fund's scope will be expanded to include environmental projects as well as clean energy research and development, including a national wind energy program, four major solar power projects, and an initiative that aims to establish transmission corridors for distributing electricity from renewable energy sources. The revenue will also be used to fund a new, separate ministry focused on cleaning the heavily polluted Ganges River. The tax could raise as much as $1.2 billion in the first year, according to estimates.
PERMALINK

 

18 Jul 2014: Germany Tops Energy-Efficiency
Ranking and U.S. Scores Near Bottom

Germany tops a new energy efficiency ranking of the world’s major economies, followed by Italy, China, France, and Japan, according to the American Council

Click to Enlarge
International energy-efficiency rankings

Energy-efficiency rankings
for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The United States ranked 13th out of 16 nations, behind countries such as India, China, and Canada, although new carbon pollution standards proposed this June for existing power plants would be a major stride in the right direction, the ACEEE said. The group also admonished Australia, which ranked 10th, for demonstrating "a clear backward trend" in adopting energy efficiency measures. Germany took the top spot largely due to regulations it has imposed on commercial and residential buildings. And China, despite lax enforcement of building codes, uses less energy per square foot than any other country, the analysis found.
PERMALINK

 

17 Jul 2014: Google Street View Maps
Show Extent of Methane Leaks in Cities

New maps from Google reveal the locations of natural gas leaks in U.S. cities and highlight the extent of

Click to Enlarge
Natural gas leaks in Boston

Boston's natural gas leaks
"fugitive" methane emissions associated with the nation's aging infrastructure. The Environmental Defense Fund partnered with Google Street View to map leaks in the nation's natural gas system, using cars equipped with air-quality sensors that collected millions of readings across Boston, Indianapolis, and Staten Island. The analysis found thousands of methane leaks in highly-populated areas — particularly in Boston, where half of the pipes are more than 50 years old and leaks were detected every few blocks. Although the leaks did not appear to pose explosion hazards, their prevalence highlights the potential for fugitive methane — a greenhouse gas with an impact 20 times that of carbon dioxide — to contribute to global warming.
PERMALINK

 

16 Jul 2014: Politics and Education Affect
When People Search for Climate Information

People across the United States search the Internet for information on climate change when they experience unusual or severe weather events, but the timing of their searches differs based on political ideology and education levels, according to research published in the journal Climatic Change. An analysis of Google searches and weather patterns between 2004 and 2013 found that Democratic-leaning regions and those with higher education levels were more likely to seek information about climate change when average summer temperatures were above normal, whereas those in Republican and less educated areas sought climate change information when they experienced extreme heat. Searches peaked during weather consistent with climate change as well as during cold snaps, the study found. This could indicate that people who observe unusual extreme weather conditions are genuinely interested in learning more about climate change, or that climate deniers, when experiencing unusually cool weather, go online to confirm their skeptical views, the researcher speculated.
PERMALINK

 

15 Jul 2014: California Agriculture Relying
Too Heavily on Groundwater in Drought

California's agriculture industry is relying too heavily on groundwater to irrigate drought-stricken farmlands — a trend that will not be sustainable long-term, according

Central Valley orchard
to a study by the University of California, Davis. The drought, which is the third most severe on record, is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture, with river water for Central Valley farms reduced by roughly one-third, the study found. Groundwater pumping will likely replace most river water losses, and some areas have more than doubled their pumping rate over the previous year. If the drought continues for two more years, the report says, groundwater reserves will continue to be depleted to replace surface water losses and pumping ability will slowly decrease, which could affect crop production. So far in the current drought, 428,000 acres of cropland — roughly 5 percent — has been made fallow across the Central Valley, Central Coast, and Southern California.
PERMALINK

 

Five Questions for Jeffrey Sachs
On Decarbonizing the Economy

Thirty scientific institutions from 15 countries recently released a report for the United Nations outlining how
Jeffrey Sachs
Jeffrey Sachs

e360 Five Questions
the world’s major carbon dioxide-emitting nations can slash those emissions by mid-century. Called the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, the initiative aims to provide leaders with a plan of action in advance of a UN summit in September and climate negotiations in Paris in late 2015. Yale Environment 360 asked Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and a key player in the decarbonization project, five questions about the initiative and the prospects for global action on the climate front.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

14 Jul 2014: Human Activity Has Caused
Long-term Australian Drought, Model Shows

A new high-resolution climate model shows that southwestern Australia's long-term decline in fall and winter rainfall, which began around 1970 and has increased over the last four decades, is caused by

Click to Enlarge
Projected drying in Australia

Projected rainfall trends in Australia
increases in man-made greenhouse gas emissions and ozone depletion, according to research published in Nature Geoscience. Simulating both natural and man-made climate effects, scientists showed that the decline in rainfall is primarily driven by human activity. Rises in greenhouse gas emissions and thinning of the ozone hole have led to changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation, including a poleward movement of the westerly winds and increasing atmospheric surface pressure over parts of southern Australia. This has led to decreased rainfall, the study said. The drying is most severe over southwest Australia, where the model forecasts a 40 percent decline in average rainfall by the late 21st century, with significant implications for regional water resources.
PERMALINK

 

11 Jul 2014: Helsinki Aims to Slash Car Use With New Apps and Transit Services

The Finnish capital is developing a new “mobility on demand” transport network that it hopes will sharply reduce personal car use and ownership by 2025, the Guardian reports. Helsinki officials say they will transform the existing public transportation system by using smartphone apps and new transit services that will provide convenient, relatively inexpensive, and often personalized transportation options. Central to their plan is a smartphone app that will enable users to specify a destination and then get there via a new minibus system, bike share services, ferries, trams, ride sharing, and, eventually, driverless cars. Officials say the app will serve both as a journey planner and a universal payment platform. Helsinki will expand an innovative new minibus system called Kutsuplus that lets riders specify a desired pick-up point and destinations via their smartphone; these requests are aggregated and the app calculates an optimal route that most closely satisfies the various requests.
PERMALINK

 

10 Jul 2014: A Possible Advance in Fight
To Combat a Deadly Amphibian Fungus

Scientists have discovered that a certain kind of toad can acquire immunity to the deadly chytrid fungus, which has caused widespread mortality among amphibians worldwide. Reporting in Nature, the scientists say they have conferred immunity in oak toads to the chytrid fungus after repeatedly exposing them to the organism that causes the disease. The lead author of the study, Jason Rohr of the University of South Florida, said the discovery means it might be possible to confer immunity on entire communities of amphibians in the wild by lacing local water sources with dead versions of the fungus that could be absorbed by the amphibians. But Rohr said many questions remain, including how long immunity lasts, what concentration of released antigen would confer immunity, and whether such releases would harm other organisms. The chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, attacks the skin of amphibians, thickening it and preventing the animals from absorbing water and vital salts.
PERMALINK

 

09 Jul 2014: One-third of German Power
Came from Renewables in First Half of 2014

Thanks to abundant sunshine and wind, renewable energy generated 31 percent of Germany’s electricity in the first six months of this year, according to a new report. The report, released by the Fraunhofer Insititute, said that 27 percent of the country’s electricity production came from wind and solar, and four percent from hydropower. Solar power generation grew by 28 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the first six months of 2013, and wind power grew by 19 percent over the same period. On a couple of particularly windy and sunny days in May and June, renewable energy accounted for 50 to 75 percent of Germany’s electricity production, the report said. The Fraunhofer Institute said that as Germany continues to phase out its nuclear power plants, it remains reliant on highly polluting “brown coal” to produce electricity. A substantial portion of German coal-generated electricity is being exported, the report said.
PERMALINK

 

08 Jul 2014: Protection of Parrotfish
Could Slow Decline of Caribbean Reefs

The steady loss of coral reefs in the Caribbean could be partially reversed by taking a number of relatively simple steps, including stronger measures to protect the region’s parrotfish, according to a new study. In a review of trends in Caribbean coral reefs from 1970 to 2012, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network said that live coral only makes up about 17 percent of the region’s reef surfaces today. If present trends continue, the study said, coral reefs in the Caribbean will “virtually disappear within a few decades” because of foreign pathogens, algae invasions, pollution from tourism development, over-fishing, and warming waters. A key step in halting the decline is protecting parrotfish, which eat the algae that have been smothering coral reefs. The study said conservation measures, such as banning fish traps, have helped parrotfish populations rebound in some parts of the Caribbean, including Belize and the Bahamas.
PERMALINK

 

07 Jul 2014: A Strong Rebuke for Paper
That Forecasted `Climate Departure’

Thirteen climate scientists and meteorologists have published a sharp criticism of a paper in Nature by University of Hawaii biogeographer Camilo Mora, who calculated dates when earth’s climate will move into a new state caused by human-driven global warming. Mora and his ideas were featured in an interview last week at Yale Environment 360. In a comment article in Nature, the 13 scientists say that Mora and his colleagues used faulty methodology that produced artificially early dates when specific regions would reach “climate departure.” They also said Mora underestimated the uncertainty involved in forecasting the time of emergence of a new climate regime. “This overconfidence could impair the effectiveness of climate risk management decisions,” the 13 scientists said in their comment. In his own comment in Nature, Mora defended his methods, saying, “Our findings are conservative and remain unaltered in the light of their analysis.”
PERMALINK

 

03 Jul 2014: Human Activity Has Boosted
Plant Growth Globally, NASA Data Show

On a global scale, the presence of people corresponds to more plant growth, according to an analysis of three decades of global vegetation greenness data from

Agriculture has increased global vegetative cover.
satellites. More than 20 percent of global vegetation change can be attributed to human activities, such as agriculture, nitrogen fertilization, and irrigation, rather than climate change, researchers report in the journal Remote Sensing. The findings suggest that global climate change models, which typically don't consider human land use, should take into account the relatively large impact human settlements can have on vegetative cover, the researchers say. From 1981 to 2010, areas with a human footprint saw plant greenness and plant productivity increase by up to 6 percent, while areas with a minimal human footprint, such as rangelands and wildlands, saw almost no change. Most increases in growth and greenness were seen near rural areas and villages, where agriculture is more intense.
PERMALINK

 

02 Jul 2014: Roughly $80 Billion Wasted on
Power for Networked Devices, Report Says

The world’s 14 billion online electronic devices, such as modems, printers, game consoles, and cable boxes, waste around $80 billion in electricity annually because of inefficient technology, according to a new reportby

Click to Enlarge
Game console energy consumption

Energy consumption of a typical game console.
the International Energy Agency (IEA). In 2013, networked devices consumed around 616 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity, with most of that used in standby mode. Roughly 400 TWh — equivalent to the combined annual electricity consumption of the United Kingdom and Norway — was wasted because of inefficient technology. The problem will worsen by 2020, the agency projects, with an estimated $120 billion wasted as devices such as refrigerators, washing machines, and thermostats become networked. Much of the problem boils down to inefficient “network standby,” or maintaining a network connection while in standby mode. Most network-enabled devices draw as much power in this mode as when fully active, the report notes. Using today's best technology could cut energy consumption by 65 percent, the IEA said.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Where Will the Earth
Head After Its ‘Climate Departure’?

The term “climate departure” has an odd ring, but its meaning is relatively straightforward. It marks the point at which the earth’s climate begins to cease resembling
“Camilo
Camilo Mora
what has come before and moves into a new state where the extreme becomes the norm. Camilo Mora — a University of Hawaii biogeographer, ecologist, and specialist in marshaling big data for climate modeling — has calculated a rough idea for the time of the earth’s climate departure: 2047. That date varies depending on region, he says. But in a widely publicized paper published in the journal Nature last year, Mora and 13 colleagues explored the concept of climate departure and what it will mean for our planet. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Mora explains why tropical regions will be most profoundly affected by climate change, why controlling population growth is at the core of the challenge posed by global warming, and the frustrations he and other scientists feel as their warnings about rising temperatures are ignored.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

01 Jul 2014: Small Island Nation of Kiribati
Purchases Foreign Land as Climate Refuge

The small island nation of Kiribati has purchased a swath of land in Fiji as a refuge for citizens who may be displaced by rising sea levels, marking the first time a
retail greenhouse
Kiribati's location (red) in the Pacific Ocean.
country has taken such actions as a defense against climate change, the Guardian reports. Kiribati, home to 110,000 people scattered across 33 islands in the Pacific Ocean, is one of several small island nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans that could be extensively or completely submerged within a few decades. The cost of protecting such countries often far outweighs their national incomes. Kiribati, with a GDP of under $200 million, ranks among the 10 countries facing the most severe financial impacts of climate change. The tract of 20 square kilometers on the island of Vanua Levu, Fiji, could provide a future refuge for all of Kiribati's citizens, the nation's president said.
PERMALINK

 

30 Jun 2014: Antarctica's Emperor Penguins
To Be in Serious Decline By 2100, Study Says

Antarctica's Emperor penguins are facing dramatic declines by the end of the century and should be given endangered species status because of the threats posed
retail greenhouse

Sea ice loss threatens Emperor penguins.
by climate change, according to an international group of scientists. If sea ice declines at the rates projected by current climate models, at least two-thirds of the colonies will likely shrink by more than 50 percent by 2100, the researchers report in Nature Climate Change. That conclusion follows a 50-year study in eastern Antarctica of Emperor penguins, an iconic Antarctic species with 45 known colonies. Emperor penguins' survival is highly dependent on sea ice concentrations because they breed on the ice, and too little sea ice reduces the habitat for krill, a critical food source for the penguins. Granting the species protected status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act will provide tools for improving fishing practices of U.S. vessels in the Southern Ocean and potentially for reducing CO2 emissions in the U.S. under the Clear Air Act, the researchers say.
PERMALINK

 

27 Jun 2014: Going Vegetarian Could Halve
A Consumer’s Food-related CO2 Footprint

A new study of more than 50,000 people in the United Kingdom shows that going vegan, vegetarian, or even “pescatarian” can drastically reduce people’s carbon footprints. Published in the journal Climatic Change, the study concluded that if people eating more than 100 grams of meat a day went vegan, their food-related carbon footprint would shrink by 60 percent. If a person eating more than 100 grams of meat per day — and U.S. consumers eat about 225 grams daily — cut down to 50 grams per day, their food-related CO2 emissions would fall by a third, the study said. Pescatarians, who eat fish but no other meat, generate only 2.5 percent more CO2 emissions than vegetarians, according to the study. The research also concluded that vegans produce 25 percent fewer CO2 emissions than vegetarians, who still eat eggs and dairy. “In general there is a clear and strong trend with reduced greenhouse gas emissions in diets that contain less meat,” said Oxford University researcher Peter Scarborough, a co-author of the study.
PERMALINK

 

26 Jun 2014: Major U.S. Retailers to Limit
Pesticides That May Be Harmful to Bees

Home Depot and other U.S. retailers announced new policies to help limit the use of a group of pesticides suspected of contributing to widespread declines in bee
retail greenhouse

New warnings on plants aim to protect bees.
populations, Reuters reports. Under the new rules, suppliers will be required to label any plants treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, or "neonics," that are sold in home and garden stores. Home Depot will require labeling by the fourth quarter of 2014, a company vice president said, and the retailer is testing to determine whether it's feasible to eliminate neonics altogether without compromising plant health. Another retailer, BJ's Wholesale Club, which has more than 200 East Coast locations, said it will ask suppliers to eliminate neonics by the end of the year, or label plants treated with them as requiring "caution around pollinators." An analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies released this week by an international group of scientists found that neonics have been a key factor in bee declines.
PERMALINK

 

25 Jun 2014: Blizzard Helps Scientists
Visualize Airflow Around Wind Turbines

A Minnesota blizzard has helped scientists understand airflow patterns around large wind turbines, paving the way for more efficient turbine designs and wind farm

Watch Video
wind turbine airflow during blizzard

Airflow patterns are visible during blizzard.
configurations, researchers report in Nature Communications. Wind farms lose roughly 10 to 20 percent of the potential energy they could harvest, and complex airflow patterns play the largest role in those energy losses. Studying airflow around large turbines, which can be more than 100 meters tall, is not feasible in lab settings, so scientists typically test smaller turbine models in wind tunnels and use tracer particles to visualize airflow patterns. Researchers from the University of Minnesota realized they could scale up their experiments to real-world conditions by using heavy snowfall during a blizzard to trace airflow patterns, as shown in this video. Their findings show that airflow patterns under real-world conditions differ from smaller-scale laboratory tests in important ways, and those differences should be taken into account when designing turbines and wind farms.
PERMALINK

 

24 Jun 2014: Concentrated Solar Power
Could Compete with Natural Gas, Study Says

Concentrated solar power (CSP) could meet a substantial percentage of current energy demand in some parts of the world, according to research
CSP plant near San Bernardino, CA

CSP plant in San Bernardino County, CA
published in the journal Nature Climate Change. In the Mediterranean region, for example, the study shows that a grid-connected CSP network could provide 70 to 80 percent of current electricity demand, at no extra cost compared to natural gas-fired power plants. CSP could also feasibly meet energy demands in parts of southern Africa, according to researchers. CSP systems use mirrors or lenses to concentrate solar rays into a small area. The concentrated energy heats a liquid that produces steam to drive turbines, which means that the collected energy can be stored as heat and converted to electricity when needed — a major advantage over solar panels, which store energy much less efficiently.
PERMALINK

 

23 Jun 2014: How Citizen Scientists Are Using
The Web to Track the Natural World


By making the recording and sharing of environmental data easier than ever, web-based technology has fostered the rapid growth of so-called citizen scientists — volunteers who collaborate with scientists to collect and interpret data. Numerous Internet-based projects now make use of citizen scientists to monitor environmental health and to track sensitive plant and wildlife populations. From counting butterflies, frogs, and bats across the globe, to piloting personal drones capable of high-definition infrared imaging, citizen scientists are playing a crucial role in collecting data that will help researchers understand the environment. Here is a sampling of some of these projects.
View the gallery.
PERMALINK

 

20 Jun 2014: Summer Temperatures in U.S.
Have Risen Up To 5 Degrees Since 1970

Summer temperatures in the U.S. have been rising on average 0.4 degrees F per decade since 1970, or about

Click to Enlarge
U.S. summertime temperatures

Average summertime temperature increases
2 degrees F overall, but the Southwest and West regions have borne the brunt of those increases, according to an analysis by Climate Central. In the Southwest, temperatures have risen an average of 0.6 degrees per decade, with a few localized areas warming as much as 0.9 degrees per decade. In the West, some parts of California and Nevada have warmed 1.32 degrees F per decade, or more than 5 degrees total since 1970. On the other end of the spectrum, the Upper Midwest has seen the lowest increases. Temperatures in that region have increased only 0.1 degree F per decade on average. The National Climate Assessment, released last month, found that annual average temperatures in the U.S. could increase by 10 degrees F before the end of the century if the rate of greenhouse gas emissions doesn't slow.
PERMALINK

 

19 Jun 2014: Rerouting Flights to Avoid
Contrails Would Slow Climate Change

Rerouting the flight paths of commercial aircraft to minimize the condensation trails, or contrails, they leave behind would help slow global warming, even if

Click to Enlarge
Flight paths to avoid contrails

Alternate flight paths to avoid contrail formation
the new flight path is longer, according to research published today. Contrails, thin clouds composed of ice crystals condensed from an aircraft's exhaust, can persist for 17 hours or more and are likely the single largest contributor to climate change associated with aviation. They form when a plane passes through parts of the atmosphere that are very cold and moist, usually near high pressure systems. The new research shows that avoiding contrail formation has greater climate benefits than avoiding additional carbon dioxide emissions associated with slightly longer flight routes. For example, for a small aircraft that is predicted to form a contrail 20 miles long, an alternative path that adds less than 200 miles will have a smaller climate impact than the contrail. For a larger aircraft, which emits more CO2 per mile than a smaller plane, the alternative route is preferable if it adds less than 60 miles, according to researchers from the University of Reading.
PERMALINK

 

18 Jun 2014: Global Energy Systems Must
Prepare for Climate Change, Study Says

Power plants and energy systems around the world will experience potentially disastrous effects from climate change and should develop plans for dealing with those effects, according to a report released today by the World Energy Council and European researchers. Long-term droughts, for example, could threaten water supplies needed to cool large power plants as they produce electricity, the report notes. Many energy facilities are also lacking protection from floods, rising seas, and severe weather events — a problem highlighted by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Strong global political action could have major impacts on the energy sector, the report says, especially if governments make a coordinated effort to invest in renewable and low-carbon energy and upgrades to power distribution grids.
PERMALINK

 

17 Jun 2014: Livestock Maps Highlight
Regions Prone to Disease and Pollution

A new mapping tool shows the global distribution of cattle, pigs, and other livestock in high-resolution, 1-square-kilometer detail. Created by the International

Click to Enlarge
China pig density

Density of pigs in China.
Livestock Research Institute, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and British and Belgian researchers, the maps are the most detailed renditions ever produced of the planet's billions of cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, and ducks. They reveal several notable trends, such as the high density of pigs in China, India's relatively high sheep and goat populations, and the affinity of the southeastern U.S. for chickens. Researchers say they will be powerful tools for tracking and predicting livestock-borne disease outbreaks, such as avian flu strains that have been linked to dense poultry markets. The maps could also predict where major livestock operations are most likely to harm the environment, researchers say. As livestock production increases, demands on land, water, and energy intensify, and so does pollution from livestock waste.
PERMALINK

 

16 Jun 2014: Skyscraper-Size Ice Structures
Discovered at Base of Greenland Ice Sheet

Melting and refreezing at the base of the Greenland ice sheet has created massive, complex structures the height of skyscrapers and the width of Manhattan, according to research published in Nature Geoscience.

Click to Enlarge
Ice structures at base of Greenland ice sheet

Massive structures below Greenland ice sheet.
The hidden formations more than a mile below the surface stand in stark contrast to the nearly flat, smooth exterior of the ice sheet and may accelerate its flow toward the sea, researchers say. Scientists had previously interpreted the irregular topography at the base of the ice as hills or mountains, but ice-penetrating radar revealed that the structures were made of ice rather than rock. Scientists from Columbia University explained that as meltwater at the bottom refreezes over hundreds or thousands of years, it radiates heat into the surrounding ice sheet, making it pick up its pace as the ice becomes softer and flows more easily. Greenland's glaciers appear to be moving more rapidly toward the sea as climate warms, but it's unclear how the refreezing process will influence this trend, researchers said.
PERMALINK

 

13 Jun 2014: U.S. Energy System Depicted
In New Mapping Tool from Federal Agency

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently launched a mapping system that allows users to

Click to Enlarge
Natural gas power plant locations

Natural gas power plant locations
explore the landscape of energy sources and power plant distribution across the nation. Among the most striking visualizations is this map showing the widespread distribution of natural gas power plants, marking the fossil fuel's growing use as an energy source. The U.S. had 1,714 natural gas power plants in 2012, accounting for 30 percent of the country's electricity generation, Vox reports. Natural gas plants are easier to build and emit fewer pollutants and roughly half as much CO2 as coal-fired plants. The EIA maps depict numerous aspects of the U.S. power system, including the distribution of wind turbines, solar installations, nuclear power plants, coal-fired plants, hydropower stations, and pipelines. More energy maps are available at Vox, or users can create their own with the EIA's tool.
PERMALINK

 

12 Jun 2014: U.S. Breweries Cut Water
Use Amid Widespread Drought Conditions

Major breweries in the U.S. are cutting back on the amount of water they use to brew beer as drought threatens their water supplies, the Associated Press reports. MillerCoors, headquartered in Chicago, has reduced its water use by 9.2 percent since 2012, a company sustainability report said. Earlier this month St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch, the largest U.S. brewer, reported that it has cut water use by 32 percent in the last five years. Employing strategies such as fueling boilers with wastewater, recycling water used to clean bottles and cans, and installing sensors to fine-tune irrigation in hop and barley fields, MillerCoors has cut water use to 3.48 barrels of water for each barrel of beer, the company says. The company is also giving $700,000 to landowners in the watershed of its Fort Worth brewery who make efforts to curb erosion and runoff by, for example, planting native grasses or rotating cattle grazing lands. Craft breweries typically use twice as much water as major breweries per barrel of beer, the AP notes, because they are smaller in scale and don't have access to the same technology.
PERMALINK

 

11 Jun 2014: Group Will Pay Farmers
To Create Temporary Migratory Bird Habitat

A program started by The Nature Conservancy aims to enlist California farmers in creating temporary habitats for migrating birds — a partnership that could become

Click to Enlarge
California migratory bird habitat

Migratory bird habitat needs in California
more important as the state's long-term drought continues and the birds' wetland habitats dwindle. Using crowdsourced data, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) tracks the paths of migratory birds on their annual journey from Canada to South America to determine where and when the birds will need suitable wetland habitat for stop-overs in California's Central Valley. Then, in a sort of reverse auction, TNC asks farmers how much they would charge to temporarily flood their land to accommodate the birds, and pays farmers with the lowest bids to do so for a few weeks or months. The Nature Conservancy says the year-old program has been a success, enabling the organization to rent habitat for roughly 0.5 to 1.5 percent of what permanent protection costs. The program's budget is $1 million to $3 million annually. Forty farmers flooded roughly 10,000 acres last year, and sightings of key migratory bird species were 30 times above average, according to TNC.
PERMALINK

 

10 Jun 2014: Air Pollution Smartphone App
Seeks to Shame China's Polluting Factories

A new smartphone app seeks to shine a spotlight on major Chinese polluters by letting users see in real-time which factories are violating air pollution emissions
China air pollution app

App monitors factories' air pollution in China.
limits. The app, developed by the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), uses data from some 15,000 factories throughout China that are now required to report emissions to local officials and the Environment Ministry on an hourly basis. The government made all the data public at the beginning of this year, but now, for the first time, those data are available in one place through IPE's app and website. The app allows users to check air quality data for 190 cities and share air emissions data from polluters in those areas. Factories producing excessive emissions are shown in red. "If the air quality is bad you can switch (to the factory map) and see who is in your neighborhood," IPE's senior project manager explained.
PERMALINK

 

09 Jun 2014: Air Conditioning Can Raise
Urban Nighttime Temperature by 2 Degrees

Excess heat from air conditioners raises outdoor temperatures at night by nearly 2 degrees F (1 degree C), worsening the urban heat island effect and increasing cooling demands, according to research from Arizona State University. Studying the Phoenix metropolitan area, researchers found that air conditioning systems pumped more waste heat into the air during the day, but the effect on near-surface temperatures was negligible. The same was not true for nighttime temperatures, however, when waste heat significantly boosts air temperatures because of nighttime atmospheric conditions. Air conditioning systems can consume more than 50 percent of total electricity during extreme heat, the researchers note, and summertime extreme-heat days are projected to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change. Redirecting waste heat from air conditioning systems to household appliances such as water heaters, for example, could help alleviate the problem, the scientists say. They project that such strategies would save at least 1,200 to 1,300 megawatt-hours of energy per day in the Phoenix metropolitan area alone.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: The Small College That
Launched Fossil Fuel Divestment

When Stanford University announced in May that it would divest its endowment of coal mining companies, it was following the lead of a tiny college in rural Maine
“Stephen
Stephen Mulkey
that dubs itself “America’s environmental college.” A year and a half earlier, Stephen Mulkey, the president of Unity College stood on a stage with Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org and lead cheerleader for the divestment movement, to announce that his college would be the first institution of higher learning to rid its endowment of all fossil fuel holdings. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Mulkey, a climate scientist, talks about the ethical imperative behind the decision to divest, and his vision for, as he puts it, a re-engineering of the way the environmental sciences are taught.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

06 Jun 2014: Brazil Leads the World
In Cutting Deforestation, Analysis Finds

Brazil has become the world leader in reducing deforestation and, at the same time, has increased its soy and beef production, researchers report in the
Amazon rainforest near Manaus, Brazil

Amazon rainforest near Manaus, Brazil
journal Science. The country has cut its forest loss by 70 percent since 2004, sparing more than 86,000 square kilometers of rainforests and keeping more than 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Brazil's decline in deforestation in 2013 alone represented a 1.5 percent reduction in global emissions that year, the report says; globally, tropical forest loss accounts for 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. The analysis credits the success to bold government policies, pressure from environmental groups, and market fluctuations in the price of soy and beef, but the authors warn that these wins may be short-lived without more positive incentives for farmers. “These gains are globally significant, but fragile,” one researcher explained. “We’re bumping up against the limits of what can be achieved through punitive measures.”
PERMALINK

 

05 Jun 2014: Coating for Roof Tiles Could
Help Clear Smog-Causing Air Pollutants

Engineering students have created a roof tile coating that, when applied to an average-sized residential roof,
Titanium-dioxide coated roof tiles

Coated tiles (left) and an uncoated tile (right).
breaks down the same amount of smog-causing nitrogen oxides per year as a car driven 11,000 miles makes. If applied to one million roofs, the titanium-dioxide based coating, which costs roughly $5 per roof, could clear 21 tons of nitrogen oxides each day, the team calculated. That could put a noticeable dent in atmospheric levels of the pollutant; in Southern California, for example, an average of 500 tons of nitrogen oxides are emitted daily. The team, which was recently recognized in a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency student design contest, showed that their tiles could remove 88 to 97 percent of nitrogen oxides in laboratory tests — a feat that other roof tile prototypes have not demonstrated.
PERMALINK

 

04 Jun 2014: New Ozone-Depleting Gases
Discovered in Atmosphere, Researchers Say

Researchers this week identified three new ozone-depleting gases in the atmosphere, bringing the total number of such gases discovered this year to seven.
Ozone hole, September 2013

Ozone hole as of September 2013
Alone, none of the three gases were found in concentrations high enough to harm the ozone layer, researchers from the University of East Anglia. But the scientists believe more such gases will likely be discovered, and, cumulatively, they could have a significant impact. Two of the newly discovered gases are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and one is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), both of which were once widely used in refrigerants. All three of the newly discovered gases are likely man-made, researchers said. Both CFCs and HCFCs fall under the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement that bans the use of 13 such compounds. Including the four new gases discovered earlier this year, there are now a total of 20 known ozone-depleting gases.
PERMALINK

 

03 Jun 2014: Developing Countries Lead
Global Surge in Renewable Energy Capacity

The number of developing nations with policies supporting renewable energy has surged more than six-fold in just eight years, from 15 developing countries

Click to Enlarge
Countries with renewable energy policies

Countries with renewable energy policies in place
in 2005 to 95 early this year, according to a report from REN21, an international nonprofit renewable energy policy network. Those 95 developing nations today make up the vast majority of the 144 countries with renewable energy support policies and targets in place. The report credits such policies with driving global renewable energy capacity to a new record level last year — 1,560 gigawatts, up 8.3 percent from 2012. More than one-fifth — 22 percent — of the world's power production now comes from renewable sources. Overall, renewables accounted for more than 56 percent of net additions to global power capacity in 2013, the report says. Although financial and policy support declined in the U.S. and some European countries, China, the U.S., Brazil, Canada, and Germany remained the top nations for total installed renewable power. China's new renewable power capacity surpassed new fossil fuel and nuclear capacity for the first time, the analysis found.
PERMALINK

 

02 Jun 2014: New U.S. Coal Plant Rules
Could Lead to a Steep Drop in Emissions

The Obama administration today unveiled a sweeping new plan that aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants by roughly a third. Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the new rules would give states maximum flexibility to achieve the goal of reducing power plant emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Hundreds of coal-fired power plants are expected to close under the EPA plan. But rather than immediately shutting down plants, states would be allowed to reduce emissions by making changes across their electricity systems — by installing new wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, continuing to expand the use of natural gas, and by starting or joining state and regional “cap and trade” programs. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution ... so each state’s path can be different,” said McCarthy. The proposed regulations could be held up by legal challenges. Obama administration officials said the rules would lift the U.S. into a clear global leadership position on combating global warming.
PERMALINK

 

30 May 2014: New Battery Technology
Could Offer Cheap Renewable Energy Storage

New battery technology that uses cheaper and safer materials to store large amounts of energy may soon enable utility companies to use more renewable power,
Enervault iron-chromium flow batteries
Iron-chromium flow battery technology
according to MIT Technology Review. The new device is a type of flow battery, and it uses liquid materials that rely on iron-chromium chemical reactions to store energy. California-based startup Enervault, developer of the new battery, figured out how to use materials that had been tried in batteries decades ago; Enervault overcame a key technical challenge that had caused the earlier batteries to quickly degrade. The new battery is large — it can store one megawatt-hour of electricity, or enough to run 10,000 100-watt light bulbs for an hour — and the materials last more than 20 years, according to its developer. Although the battery is inefficient compared to conventional batteries — it loses 30 percent of the energy used to charge it — it is still economically viable, the company says. The iron-chromium flow battery costs 80 percent less than vanadium flow batteries, a competing technology. The batteries are currently in use at a small power plant near Modesto, California.
PERMALINK

 

29 May 2014: Electric Airplane Debut
Offers Hopes for Cutting Emissions

The aircraft manufacturing giant Airbus recently unveiled a fully-electric aircraft which, if widely adopted, could reduce the aerospace industry's carbon
Airbus E-Fan electric plane
The recently debuted, fully-electric E-Fan
dioxide emissions by an order of magnitude. The E-Fan aircraft has two, 30-kilowatt electric motors powered by a series of lithium-ion batteries in the wings of the plane, as well as a 6-kilowatt electric motor in the wheel to provide extra power during takeoff and taxiing. Despite incorporating highly energy-efficient and aerodynamic design elements, however, the E-Fan has only a one-hour range and cannot leave the vicinity of the airport. Airbus says that future designs will rely on electric-hybrid engine technology and that by 2050 such airplanes should be able to accommodate 70 to 80 passengers on a three-hour flight. The plans were spurred, in part, by the European Union's Flight Path 2050, which aims to reduce the aviation sector's nitrous oxide emissions by 90 percent, noise pollution by 65 percent, and carbon dioxide emissions by 75 percent by 2050. "It's a very different way of flying," said Jean Botti, a technology officer at Airbus Group, "absolutely no noise, no emissions."
PERMALINK

 

Video Report: Americans on the
Front Lines of Climate Change


A fire chief in Colorado whose department is battling increasingly intense blazes in the American West. A Texas rancher struggling to operate in the face of years of drought. Oyster farmers in Washington state scrambling to adapt to increasingly acidic waters that are damaging their harvests. These Americans are the subjects of videos created by The Story Group, a non-profit journalism initiative. The videos are meant to put a human face on the science behind the recently released National Climate Assessment, which stressed that global warming is already having a major impact on the United States.
Watch the videos.
PERMALINK

 

27 May 2014: To Sway the U.S. Public,
‘Global Warming’ Beats out ‘Climate Change’

If politicians and scientists want to convey the urgency and importance of a warming world, they are far better off using the term "global warming" than “climate change,” according to a new report. Produced by researchers at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University, the report says that Americans are much more familiar with the term “global warming” and that it engenders more negative associations and concern. Based on recent surveys, the report said moderates, women, Hispanics, political independents, and younger Americans associate “global warming” with alarming developments such as melting glaciers and extreme weather. Among many groups, “global warming” also creates a greater sense of threat to one’s family and future generations. “Scientists often prefer the term climate change for technical reasons, but should be aware that the two terms generate different interpretations among the general public and specific subgroups,” the report said. The survey found that among Republicans the two terms are generally synonymous.
PERMALINK

 

23 May 2014: Oil Drilling Permits
Issued for Key Area of Yasuni Park

The Ecuadorean government has issued permits to begin oil drilling in a key area of the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve and National Park, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Environment Minister Lorena

Watch e360 Video
Ecaudor's Yasuni Biosphere Reserve and National Park

Yasuni Biosphere Reserve
Tapia said the government had signed permits to begin preparations for drilling in the so-called ITT section of the park, which contains two uncontacted indigenous tribes; drilling itself could begin as early as 2016, the government said. Ecuador’s President, Rafeal Correa, had offered to ban drilling in large sections of the park if the international community raised $3.6 billion to compensate the country for leaving the oil in the ground. But after only $13 million was raised, Correa gave the green light to drilling, saying “the world has failed us.” Oil drilling has already taken place in some areas of the 6,500-square-mile park. As this Yale Environment 360 video shows, Yasuni is home to a remarkable array of species, including roughly 400 species of fish, 600 species of birds, and thousands of species of vascular plants and trees.
PERMALINK

 

22 May 2014: Donors Commit $220 Million
To Protect and Expand Huge Amazon Reserve

A coalition of private donors and government funders has pledged $220 million over the next 25 years to better protect the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA), the world’s largest protected area network. WWF, the World Bank, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Inter-American Development Bank, and more than a dozen other donors are contributing funds to the initiative, which also will add another 8.9 million hectares of Amazon rainforest to the ARPA program, driving the total to more than 60 million hectares. That’s 232,000 square miles, an area larger than France. Most of the funds will be used to better police and enforce environmental laws on ARPA territory, which includes 90 parks and comprises 15 percent of the Brazilian Amazon. "The explosion in demand for natural resources has made our parks and world heritage sites vulnerable," said WWF president Carter Roberts. The initiative is also upgrading long-neglected parks and creating sustainable-use reserves for local communities and indigenous people.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Putting San Francisco
On the Road to Zero Waste by 2020

For 20 years, Jack Macy has spearheaded San Francisco’s efforts to become a global leader in recycling. In an interview with Yale Environment 360,
Jack Macy
Jack Macy
Macy describes how San Francisco has succeeded in reusing or composting 80 percent of its garbage and how the city has engaged the public in a recycling crusade, allaying initial fears of “trash police” sifting through residents’ garbage. While San Francisco has made tremendous progress, Macy says further changes are needed. “Part of the principle of zero waste is that the local government can’t shoulder all the burden,” he says, “so it’s important that we encourage consumers to take responsibility for what they buy ... and producer responsibility for the products they design and market.”
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

21 May 2014: Trash-scooping Water Wheel
Cleans up Garbage From Baltimore Harbor

A new contraption in a Baltimore river is helping to clear trash and debris — up to 50,000 pounds of it each day — from the city's Inner Harbor. The 50-foot-long

Click to Enlarge
Trash-collecting water wheel in Baltimore

Baltimore's trash-scooping water wheel
"water wheel" gathers garbage floating in the Jones Falls River, which runs through the city to the Baltimore Inner Harbor, and deposits it in a large dumpster so the trash can be hauled away. Two large booms funnel debris toward a conveyor belt powered by the wheel, which itself is powered primarily by the flowing river. When the flow isn't strong enough to turn the wheel, water pumps, run by solar panels lining a canopy over the wheel, turn on and push water up to spin the wheel. The water wheel was designed to handle the heavy debris and larger pieces of trash that the river often carries, said its designer, Baltimore-based Clearwater Mills. It began operating earlier this month and cost $750,000, with $500,000 of that contributed by the Maryland Port Administration, Co.Exist reports.
PERMALINK

 

20 May 2014: Widespread Greenland Melting
Due to Forest Fires and Warming, Study Says

Rising temperatures and ash from Northern Hemisphere forest fires combined to cause large-scale surface melting of the Greenland ice sheet in 2012, an

Click to Enlarge
NASA Greenland Ice Melt July 2012

Extent of Greenland ice melt, July 8-12, 2012
echo of a similar event that occurred in 1889, a new study finds. The massive Greenland ice sheet — the second largest ice body in the world after the Antarctic ice sheet — experiences annual melting at low elevations near the coastline, but surface melt is rare in the dry snow region in its center. In July 2012, however, satellites observed for the first time surface melt across more than 97 percent of the ice sheet, generating reports that the event was almost exclusively the result of climate change. In the new report, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that in both 2012 and 1889 exceptionally warm temperatures combined with black carbon sediments from Northern Hemisphere forest fires to darken the surface of the ice sheet to a critical albedo threshold, causing the large-scale melting events. Since Arctic temperatures and the frequency of forest fires are both expected to rise with climate change, large-scale melt events on the Greenland ice sheet may begin to occur almost annually by 2100, the researchers say.
PERMALINK

 

19 May 2014: India's New Prime Minister
Plans To Make A Major Push on Solar Energy

India's new government plans to bring electricity to the homes of its entire population of 1.2 billion within the next five years, largely through solar panel installations,
India's prime minister Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi
Bloomberg News reports. Although nearly 400 million Indians do not have access to electricity, newly elected prime minister Narendra Modi, who won an overwhelming victory in last week's national vote, has pledged to enable every household to run at least one light bulb by 2019. If all goes well, household solar projects would allow every home to run two light bulbs, a solar cooker, and a television, one of Modi's energy advisers said. The plan follows an unfulfilled pledge from the previous administration to bring electricity to all homes by 2012. Modi, who pioneered India's first incentive program for large-scale solar projects when he was chief minister of Gujarat state, has made expanding solar a top priority because it has the potential to create jobs and supply power to millions of households, many of which are scattered throughout rural areas and not connected to the grid. "We look upon solar as having the potential to completely transform the way we look at the energy space," said the energy adviser.
PERMALINK

 

16 May 2014: U.S. Honeybee Death Rate
Too High for Long-term Survival, Study Says

Honeybees in the United States are dying at a rate too high to ensure their long-term survival, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Click to Enlarge
“Honeybee

U.S. honeybee deaths
(USDA). Over the past winter — a season when honeybee hives are most vulnerable — the U.S. lost 23.2 percent of its hive honeybee population. That is lower than the previous winter's 30.5 percent death rate, but the cumulative impact on honeybee populations over the past eight years poses a major threat to their long-term survival, as well as the country's agricultural productivity, the USDA said. Roughly a quarter of U.S. crops depend on honeybees for pollination. "Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee heath has become," said a USDA researcher, citing factors such as viruses, pathogens, and pesticides. One class of pesticides in particular, neonicotinoids, has been implicated in honeybee deaths. The European Union banned three widely used neonicotinoids last year, but they are still used in the U.S.
PERMALINK

 

15 May 2014: Intensity of Hurricanes
Now Peaking Farther From the Equator

Powerful, destructive tropical cyclones are now reaching their peak intensity farther from the equator and closer to the poles, according to a new study in the journal
Hurricane Sandy's progression
Hurricane Sandy's progression in 2012
Nature. Over the last 30 years, tropical cyclones, also known as hurricanes or typhoons, have moved poleward at a rate of roughly 33 miles per decade in the Northern Hemisphere and 38 miles per decade in the Southern Hemisphere. Ocean temperatures between 82 and 86 degrees F seem to be "ideal for the genesis of tropical cyclones," said MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel, who co-authored the study, "and as that belt migrates poleward, which surely it must as the whole ocean warms, the tropical cyclone genesis regions might just move with it." The poleward shift of hurricanes and typhoons could lead to "potentially profound consequences to life and property" in regions that previously had not been hit by tropical cyclones.
PERMALINK

 

Five Questions for John Holdren
On the U.S. Climate Assessment

The federal government this month released its National Climate Assessment, the most comprehensive report to
John Holdren
John P. Holdren

e360 Five Questions
date on the climate impacts already being felt in the U.S. Saying climate change “has moved firmly into the present,” the report documented how drier regions are growing drier, heat waves more intense, and large swaths of forest dying from insect infestations. Yale Environment 360 asked John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, five questions about the report and about plans by President Obama to intensify actions to rein in CO2 emissions and adapt to rising seas and other changes.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

14 May 2014: Early El Niño Conditions
May Spell Big Weather Impact This Year

Indications are growing that an El Niño weather pattern may be forming in the Pacific Ocean, which could have a profound impact on global weather. El Niño events are spawned by unusually warm ocean waters in the Pacific,

Click to Enlarge
“sea

Sea surface height
and these NASA satellite images are one indication of warmer waters. The images depict sea-surface height anomalies, with above average sea-surface height shown in various shades of brown. Above average sea-surface heights are an indication of warmer waters, which expand as temperatures rise. These two images compare conditions in 1997 — a year with one of the most powerful El Niño events of the 20th century — with conditions this May. If an El Niño pattern does develop this year, it could lead to wetter conditions in western North America and South America, which could help end a severe drought now plaguing the U.S. West. The 1997/98 El Niño also created warmer and drier conditions in much of Asia. Other evidence, including data from a network of buoys in the Pacific, also shows a deep pool of warm waters sliding east across the Pacific since January.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Can Marine Life Adapt
To the World’s Acidifying Oceans?

As the world’s oceans grow more acidic from increased absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide, marine scientists are confronting a key question: How well can
Gretchen Hofmann
Gretchen Hofmann
organisms like mollusks, crustaceans, and corals adapt to these more corrosive conditions? One of the leading authorities in this field is University of California, Santa Barbara marine biologist Gretchen Hofmann. Her work in recent years has shown, in fact, that some sea organisms that build shells do seem to have some ability to acclimate to more acidic waters. But in an interview with Yale Environment 360, Hofmann cautions that this adaptive capacity has its limits. The continuing burning of fossil fuels, she says, could push ocean acidity past a tipping point, rendering some mollusks and other organisms unable to build shells.
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

13 May 2014: Half of U.S. is Experiencing
Some Degree of Drought, Analysis Finds

Half of the United States is in the midst of a drought, a recent analysis from the U.S. National Drought Monitor found, with nearly 15 percent of the nation in extreme to

Click to Enlarge
“Drought

U.S. drought conditions
exceptional drought. Dry conditions are pushing north rapidly, along with warmer temperatures, and soil moisture and groundwater levels are low far in advance of the agricultural peak demand season, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. Much of the Southwest and Great Plains regions have been in a persistent drought for several years, and as this map prepared by federal agencies shows, an exceptional drought is currently plaguing parts of those regions. The entire state of California is experiencing some level of drought, much of it extreme to exceptional. Snowpack is at half its typical level in many parts of the West and much of the snow has completely melted before it normally would, researchers say. The map is based on measurements of climate, soil, and water conditions from more than 350 federal, state, and local observers around the country.
PERMALINK

 

12 May 2014: Global Renewable Energy Jobs
Grew by 14 Percent in 2013, Report Says

Renewable energy jobs grew by 14 percent to 6.5 million employees worldwide last year, led by the solar panel industry, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency. Employing a

Click to Enlarge
“Global

Renewable energy jobs by country
total of 2.6 million workers in renewable energy jobs, China led in hiring last year, followed by Brazil and the United States. The solar industry — spurred by increasing photovoltaic panel installations in Asia and falling prices — employed 2.27 million workers at the end of 2013, largely concentrated in China, the report said. The biofuel industry, with 1.45 million employees, and wind energy, with 830,000, were the second- and third-largest employers. Although policy changes in several countries have reduced wind energy installation jobs, operations and maintenance positions have experienced some growth, according to the report.
PERMALINK

 

09 May 2014: Biodiversity, But Not Community
Composition, Surprisingly Stable Over Time

A major turnover of species in habitats around the globe is underway, resulting in the creation of novel biological communities, but overall species diversity is much more

Click to Enlarge
Biodiversity studies around the globe

Locations of biodiversity surveys across the globe
stable than scientists had believed, according to a new report in the journal Science. In a survey of 100 long-term biodiversity monitoring projects in a variety of habitats around the world, the authors found that the majority of those studies (59 percent) documented increasing species richness. Biodiversity declined in 41 percent of the studies, but, in all cases the overall change in biodiversity was modest, the researchers said. When looking at changes in the species constituting those communities, however, the researchers found a surprisingly high rate of change — an average of about 10 percent change per decade. "A main policy application of this work is that we're going to need to focus as much on the identity of species as on the number of species," one of the study's authors said. "The number of species in a place may not be our best scorecard for environmental change."
PERMALINK

 

08 May 2014: Natural Variations May Account
For Up to Half of Greenland's Warming

Up to half of the recent climate change in Greenland and surrounding regions — which have warmed at roughly twice the pace of the rest of the planet since 1979 — may be due to natural climate variations that originate in the tropical Pacific and are not connected
Melt from Greenland's Russell Glacier
Meltwater from Russell Glacier
with the overall warming of the Earth, a new study says. Still, at least half the warming remains attributable to rising global carbon dioxide emissions, according to research published in the journal Nature. Climate data and advanced computer models show that changes in the western tropical Pacific Ocean, which has been about 0.3 degrees warmer than normal, have caused shifts in atmospheric pressure over the North Atlantic. Those changes set off a stationary wave in the atmosphere that arcs in a great circle from the tropical Pacific toward Greenland, pulling warmer air over that massive island. "Along this wave train there are warm spots where the air has been pushed down, and cold spots where the air has been pulled up," one author explained. "And Greenland is in one of the warm spots."
PERMALINK

 

07 May 2014: Stanford Drops Coal Stocks
From Its $18.7 Billion Endowment Portfolio

Stanford has become the first major U.S. university to divest its shares in coal-mining companies from its endowment funds, lending support to a growing nationwide movement calling for universities and
Fossil Free Stanford
Fossil Free Stanford
pension funds to drop investments in fossil fuel companies. Citing guidelines that allow trustees to weigh whether “corporate policies or practices create substantial social injury” when choosing investments for the university's $18.7 billion endowment, the board decided, after five months of deliberation, to purge stakes in up to 100 companies worldwide that derive profits primarily from coal mining. A Stanford spokeswoman said that coal companies constitute a small fraction of the university's total endowment investments, “but a small percentage is still a substantial amount of money." Board members said their decision was made partly because coal is the most carbon-intensive of any major fossil fuel and that less carbon-intensive energy sources are available.
PERMALINK

 

06 May 2014: Darwin's Finches Fight Off
Parasitic Maggots with Treated Nest Fibers

Researchers apparently have discovered a unique way to help Darwin's finches on the Galápagos Islands fight off the parasitic maggots threatening their survival, according to a new report in the journal Current Biology. While working in the Galápagos, scientists
Darwin's finch with treated cotton
A Darwin's finch collects treated cotton for its nest
from the University of Utah noticed that the finches often collected cotton and other fibers to weave into their nests. The researchers decided to provide the birds with cotton treated with permethrin — a mild pesticide, commonly used to treat head lice in children, that is safe for birds — hoping the finches would incorporate the fibers in their nests. Finches near the test sites did just that, and their "self-fumigated" nests contained about half as many parasitic maggots — which infest and can kill newly-hatched chicks — compared to nests with untreated cotton. Darwin's finches and other bird species in the Galápagos have suffered steep population declines since the flies showed up in large numbers in the 1990s.
PERMALINK

 

05 May 2014: New European Satellites
To Give More Detailed Views of Earth

The European Space Agency has begun launching a series of satellites designed to collect detailed environmental data around the globe — from radar-based, high-definition imagery to information about the

Click to Enlarge
ESA satellite image of Brussels

Land use near Brussels, Belgium.
atmosphere's chemical composition. The first satellite in the ESA's Copernicus program, the Sentinel 1A, was launched last month and has already returned many striking images based on radar data, such as this view of Brussels, Belgium, in which the dense urban area contrasts with the city's heavily vegetated surroundings. Once Sentinel satellite 1B is launched next year, the two will be able to map the entire globe in six days, giving researchers and conservationists a powerful way to monitor both short- and long-term changes in the environment. Four additional groups of satellites are set to launch this year. Those arrays will focus on high-resolution photo imagery, topography, surface temperatures, and atmospheric chemistry.
PERMALINK

 

02 May 2014: Fracking May Induce Quakes at
Greater Distance than Previously Thought

Hydraulic fracturing and underground wastewater disposal may trigger earthquakes at tens of kilometers from the wells in which water is injected — a greater range than previously thought, according to new research from seismologists. In one case, an earthquake
Fracking well
Fracking injection well in Louisiana
swarm in Oklahoma has been linked to a cluster of fracking injection wells up to 50 kilometers (31 miles) away, Cornell University researchers report. So-called "induced seismicity" — when human activity causes tremors in the earth's crust — is gaining attention as reports of earthquakes within the central and eastern U.S. have increased dramatically over the past few years. The rise coincides with increased hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas, and the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells in many locations, including Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), an average rate of 100 earthquakes per year above a magnitude 3.0 occurred in the three years from 2010-2012, compared with an average rate of 21 events per year observed from 1967-2000.
PERMALINK

 

01 May 2014: Extent of Marine Litter
Documented in Major Seafloor Survey

A major survey of the ocean floor has found trash piling up throughout the Atlantic and Arctic oceans and Mediterranean Sea, reaching depths of nearly 3 miles below the surface, according to scientists from 15
Marine litter
Marine litter from study
European research organizations. Litter was located at each of the 600 sites surveyed, with plastic accounting for 41 percent and derelict fishing gear 34 percent. Glass, metal, wood, cardboard, clothing, pottery, and unidentified materials were also found. Garbage accumulated at sites as far as 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) from land and at depths up to 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles), according to the report. Seafloor litter is a major problem since it can accumulate in and kill marine animals that mistake it for food. The trash can also entangle fish, seabirds, and coral. "This survey has shown that human litter is present in all marine habitats, from beaches to the most remote and deepest parts of the oceans," one author said. "These were [humans'] first visits to many of these sites, but we were shocked to find that our rubbish has got there before us."
PERMALINK

 

Russian-American Collaboration
Carries on in Key Arctic Ecosystem

At a time of rapidly deteriorating relations between Russia and America, U.S. scientist Joel Berger continues his work with his Russian counterparts

Joel Berger Arctic Field Notes

Joel Berger Arctic Field Notes 3
Third in a series of blog posts from the Russian Arctic
on Siberia's Wrangel Island. In the third of three blog posts for Yale Environment 360, Berger — a biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Montana — writes about efforts to better understand how rapid climate change might affect muskoxen and other wildlife in the Russian and North American Arctic. As Berger explains, a key focus of Russian-American scientific cooperation is Beringia, the region of northwestern Alaska and extreme northeastern Russia where two countries — and continents — are divided by the Bering Sea.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

29 Apr 2014: Exxon Mobil Arctic Project
Possibly At Risk Over Russia Sanctions

Exxon Mobil's development of a Russian Arctic oil project valued at nearly $900 billion is at risk following recent U.S. sanctions on Russian officials as a result of Ukraine's ongoing political crisis, Bloomberg News reports. Exxon Mobil has partnered with the Russian state-controlled oil company OAO Rosneft to drill an oil-rich geological structure known as Universitetskaya, which contains an estimated 9 billion barrels of oil, valued at $900 billion at current market prices. Rosneft's CEO, Igor Sechin, a longtime member of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, was sanctioned by the U.S. yesterday, exposing the partnership with Exxon Mobil to additional scrutiny. Exxon Mobil and Rosneft are set to invest an estimated $600 million in drilling at the site in the Kara Sea, which would make the project Exxon's most expensive to-date. A U.S. Treasury official said yesterday that U.S. companies can still do business with Rosneft, but some analysts say Russian companies could become wary of working with Western corporations in the future. Exxon said last week that the project is on schedule.
PERMALINK

 

28 Apr 2014: Economic Viability of Nuclear
Power Under Threat, Energy Group Says

Nuclear reactors in the U.S. need a boost — either through carbon taxes or regulations forcing coal-fired plants to slash emissions — or economic factors will force many to close, according to a report released today

Click to Enlarge
Replacing lost nuclear power

Replacing nuclear power
from a non-profit group. Nuclear power — currently the only major zero-carbon, around-the-clock baseload power source — supplies 19 percent of U.S. electricity and is key to meeting President Obama's pledge to reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. The economic viability of the 100 nuclear reactors in the U.S. is worsening, the report says, because of the abundance of cheap natural gas and rising wind energy production. A carbon tax or some form of carbon trading — for instance, requiring coal-fired plants to purchase and blend their electricity output with nuclear power — will be essential to keeping nuclear plants from closing before the end of their lifespans, the report contends. Four power companies recently announced the early retirement of five nuclear reactors, which constitute more than 4 percent of U.S. nuclear capacity, the group says.
PERMALINK

 

25 Apr 2014: Soils Release Far More CO2
Than Previously Thought, Researchers Find

As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, soils will likely store less carbon than scientists and climate models had predicted, according to new research published in Science. Scientists have long understood that rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere spur
Soil carbon storage
photosynthesis and plant growth, adding more carbon to the soil. Scientists had thought this soil carbon was relatively stable and could remain locked away for centuries. But the new study, from researchers at Northern Arizona University shows that increasing soil carbon actually spurs microbes to produce more CO2. Higher atmospheric CO2 levels added roughly 20 percent more carbon to the soil, through increased photosynthesis, but they also increased carbon turnover by microbes by 16.5 percent. Many climate models had assumed that far more of the carbon absorbed by soils stayed there for long periods of time. "Our findings mean that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought," the lead researcher said.
PERMALINK

 

24 Apr 2014: Browning of Congo Rainforest
Is Depicted in NASA Satellite Data

Persistent drought has taken a major toll on Africa's Congo rainforest, with large-scale browning intensifying and affecting a growing portion of the forest over the past decade, an analysis of NASA satellite data shows. A

Click to Enlarge
Browning of Congo rainforest

Browning of Congo rainforest
browning trend significantly dwarfed smaller areas of "greening" — a satellite-derived indicator of forest health — during April, May, and June each year from 2000 to 2012, according to research published in Nature. The browning of Congo's rainforest is significant, researchers said, because most climate models forecast that tropical forests may face increasing stress and rainfall shortages in a warmer and drier 21st century. A continued drying trend might alter the composition and structure of the Congo rainforest, affecting its biodiversity and carbon storage, according to the study. "Recent climate anomalies as a result of climate change and warming of the Atlantic Ocean have created severe droughts in the tropics, causing major impacts on forests," a NASA researcher said.
PERMALINK

 

Five Questions for IPCC Chairman
On Future of Climate Change Action

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report last month on steps the world can take
Rajendra Pachauri
Rajendra Pachauri

e360 Five Questions
to avoid the worst impacts of future climate change. It was the final interim report before the IPCC’s major Fifth Assessment Report due to be released in October. Yale Environment 360 asked Rajendra K. Pachauri, who has served as IPCC chairman since 2002, five questions about the latest report and about the prospects that the international community will finally take decisive action to address climate change at talks scheduled in Paris in 2015.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

22 Apr 2014: Run-of-River Hydropower Set
For Big Gains, Turbine Maker Predicts

A type of hydroelectric technology known as "run-of-river" hydropower is set to grow 10-fold over the next decade, potentially becoming a $1.4 billion industry,
Hugh Keenleyside Dam, a run-of-river hydropower station
Hugh Keenleyside Dam
according to Dutch turbine maker Tocardo International BV. Run-of-river hydropower stations redirect part of a waterway through a diversion to spin turbines and generate electricity. Run-of-river is considered a more benign type of hydropower than large dam projects because it is a smaller-scale technology that doesn't create large upstream reservoirs that flood ecosystems and disrupt a river's natural flow. Some conservation groups are concerned that problems with migratory fish passage and other environmental issues could outweigh the power-generating potential of run-of-river hydro projects. The company implemented its first project to harness tidal streams at Den Oever, Holland, and it has been operating for five years.
PERMALINK

 

21 Apr 2014: Massive Data Crunch
Shows Steady Rise in Warmer Days

The proportion of days in the United States that are warmer than the long-term average increased from 42 percent in 1964 to 67 percent today, according to an analysis of 3.2 million temperature anomalies over the last

Click to Enlarge
US temperature anomalies since 1964

U.S. temperature anomalies since 1964
50 years. Enigma.io, a New York City-based company that specializes in searches of information from public databases, examined data from 2,716 U.S. weather stations to track the temperature anomalies. The company found that since 1964, temperature anomalies characterized as warm or “strong warm” have increased by an average of .5 percent a year. Enigma’s data show, for example, that in 2012, 84 percent of temperature anomalies in the U.S. skewed on the warm side. The company forecast that by the 2030s more than 70 percent of anomalous temperatures in the U.S. are likely to be higher than the historical average, rather than colder.
PERMALINK

 

18 Apr 2014: Scale and Extent of Dam Boom
In China Is Detailed in Mapping Project

China is planning to build at least 84 major dams in its southwest region, as shown in a map from the Wilson Center, eventually boosting its hydropower capacity by more than 160 gigawatts. By next year China's capacity

Click to Enlarge
China dams

Dam projects in China
will surpass Europe's, and by 2020 it's projected to be larger than that of the U.S. and Europe combined. An interactive map shows the scale and number of major dams proposed, under construction, existing, and canceled. The dam rush is part of an ongoing effort by China to increase non-fossil energy sources to 11.4 percent of the country's total energy consumption — a goal that has gained urgency due to severe air pollution in many northern Chinese cities. However, the hydropower push is not without its own major environmental consequences, the Wilson Center notes. The cascades of planned dams will submerge important corridors connecting tropical rainforests to the Tibetan Plateau that allow wildlife to migrate as temperatures rise.
PERMALINK

 

17 Apr 2014: Five Kamchatka Volcanoes
Erupt Simultaneously, NASA Images Show

A NASA satellite passing over Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula this week photographed five simultaneous volcanic eruptions. The erupting volcanoes, from north

View Gallery
Karymsky volcano

Karymsky, most active of the five volcanoes
to south, are Shiveluch, Klyuchevskaya, Bezymianny, Kizimen, and Karymsky. Karymsky, a 1,536-meter (5,039-foot) peak that has erupted regularly since 1996, is the most active of the five. The tallest, Klyuchevskaya, is 4,750 meters (15,580 feet) high. Of the planet's roughly 1,550 volcanoes that have erupted in the recent geologic past, 113 are found on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in Russia's far northeast, according to NASA. Forty volcanoes on Kamchatka are active, meaning they are either erupting now or capable of erupting at any time. Kamchatka's fiery landscape is driven by plate tectonics: The Pacific Plate is slowly colliding with and sliding beneath the Okhotsk Plate. As the Pacific Plate melts, magma migrates up toward the surface, causing volcanic eruptions.
PERMALINK

 

Studying a Polar Menagerie
On an Island in Arctic Russia

Ninety miles from the Russian mainland and 300 miles above the Arctic Circle, Wrangel Island is home to an eclectic assortment of fauna and flora — muskoxen,

Joel Berger Arctic Field Notes

Joel Berger Arctic Field Notes 2
Second in a series of blog posts from the Russian Arctic
polar bears, wolves, reindeer, wolverines, walruses, Asia’s only population of snow geese, and 417 plant species. Joel Berger, a field biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Montana, spent several weeks on Wrangel Island this spring. In the second of three blog posts for e360, he describes the arduous conditions under which Russian and U.S. scientists collect data on the island’s odd assortment of creatures.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

15 Apr 2014: Solar-Harvesting Windows
Possible with Advances in Semiconductors

New semiconductor technology is advancing the development of house windows that could double as solar panels, according to scientists from Los Alamos National Lab and Italy. Their research into so-called
Solar-harvesting materials under UV light
Solar-harvesting materials under UV light
"quantum dots" — ultra-small bits of semiconductors that transmit energy extremely efficiently and can be tuned toward specific colors — shows that quantum dots can be used in transparent materials to harvest sunlight with efficiencies comparable to standard solar panels. When highly transparent materials are embedded with quantum dots, they are known as luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs); the structures can absorb sunlight and re-radiate it at longer wavelengths directed toward the edge of the slab, where the energy is collected by a solar cell. In tests using large LSC slabs (sized in tens of centimeters), researchers reported harvesting photons at roughly 10 percent efficiency. Typical photovoltaic solar panels have an average efficiency of about 15 percent.
PERMALINK

 

14 Apr 2014: Despite Stark Warnings,
UN Panel Finds Signs of Hope on Climate

Although greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at an alarming rate, governments are beginning to embrace carbon-cutting initiatives, while technological advances are sharply reducing the cost of deploying solar and wind power, according to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The working group report on climate mitigation, released in Berlin, said that global CO2 emissions have risen about 2.2 percent a year this century — twice the rate of the last few decades of the 20th century — and that holding temperature increases to 2 degrees C (3.6 F) can only be achieved through an intensive push over the next 15 years. But the report also said that the political will to reduce carbon emissions seems to be rising around the world, and that shifting the global energy system from fossil fuels to zero- or low-carbon sources would reduce economic growth by only about .06 percent per year. “The loss in consumption is relatively modest,” said IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri. “The longer we delay the higher would be the cost.”
PERMALINK

 

11 Apr 2014: Parasitic Flatworm Could Be
Major Threat to Coral Reefs, Scientists Say

A coral-eating flatworm with a unique camouflaging strategy could be a major threat to the world's coral reefs, according to researchers in the U.K. The parasite, called Amakusaplana acroporae, infects a type of staghorn coral known as acropora, a major component
Parasitic flatworm Amakusaplana acroporae
Amakusaplana acroporae, a parasitic coral flatworm
of reefs, and can destroy its coral host very quickly. The parasite has been detected at the Great Barrier Reef, and because it has no known natural predators, researchers are concerned it could spread quickly and decimate reefs worldwide. A novel camouflaging strategy makes the flatworm difficult to detect and monitor, the researchers say. When eating the coral tissue, the worm also ingests the coral's symbiotic algae. Instead of digesting the algae completely, the worm keeps a fraction of them alive and distributes them, along with the fluorescent pigments that give coral its characteristic hue, throughout its gut so that it perfectly mimics the appearance of the coral. The parasite has been identified in numerous aquarium-based corals, and biologists worry that it could spread rapidly if aquarium-raised coral, fish, or seaweed are introduced to natural reef environments.
PERMALINK

 

10 Apr 2014: Mapping Program Helps
Cities See Money Saved by Planting Trees

New open-source software is helping cities better understand the benefits trees provide by calculating the value of the trees' ecosystem services, such as air quality improvements and CO2 storage. More than a dozen

Click to Enlarge
San Diego trees

San Diego's mapped trees
cities have undertaken tree inventory initiatives, thanks to the OpenTreeMap software, and residents have helped map more than 1.1 million trees worldwide. In addition to plotting a tree's location, users record its size, species, and other parameters that allow the software to calculate the tree's ecological value in terms of dollars saved through such benefits as cleaner air. San Diego's more than 340,000 mapped trees, for example, are estimated to provide the city more than $7 million in benefits each year, including $4 million in air quality benefits and $2 million in reduced energy costs. In the coming months, the software will allow city managers to decide where to plant trees for maximum environmental benefit.
PERMALINK

 

On Far-Flung Wrangel Island,
A Scientist Sizes up Muskoxen

As a field biologist for the University of Montana and the Wildlife Conservation Society, Joel Berger has been to his share of end-of-the-earth places. But few have

Joel Berger Arctic Field Notes

Joel Berger Arctic Field Notes
Muskoxen on Wrangel Island
rivaled Wrangel Island, the rugged, frozen outpost located 300 miles above the Arctic Circle in Russia’s extreme Far East. In the first of three reports for Yale e360, Berger describes the arduous trip to Wrangel and the scientific work that has taken him there — research with Russian colleagues on the island’s 900 muskoxen, a shaggy beast that is a relic from the Pleistocene era. In subsequent reports, Berger will describe the motley assortment of wildlife that has colonized Wrangel and the contrasting impacts of climate change on eastern Siberia and Arctic Alaska.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

08 Apr 2014: 'Living Fences' Dramatically
Cut Livestock and Lion Killings in Tanzania

A novel, low-tech idea is helping Tanzania's lion population rebound: So-called "living fences" — which enclose livestock and are constructed of actively growing trees and chain-link fencing — have cut lion
“Masai
A Masai villager installs a living fence.
attacks and retaliatory killings by more than 85 percent in the areas they've been installed, the Guardian reports. Traditionally, the Masai have built livestock enclosures out of thorny acacia trees, but those fences are relatively fragile. Chain-link fencing alone is more durable, but leopards and small lions can scale the fences, and hyenas can tunnel in below. By interweaving actively growing African myrrh trees with the chain link fencing, the Masai have created a barrier that lions can't climb over, and their root systems prevent predators from digging under the fence. Because livestock predation has been cut, communities that had been killing six or seven lions annually now kill, on average, less than one, leading to a rebound in lion populations.
PERMALINK

 

A Personal Note on Peter Matthiessen,
Who Wrote Eloquently of the Natural World

For an editor, the prospect of working with Peter Matthiessen was intimidating. He was one of our finest writers, and he wrote with such poetic precision and lyrical grace that at first it felt presumptuous to propose
Peter Matthiessen
Peter Matthiessen
any changes to his writing at all. That feeling was heightened by his strong physical presence — an odd mix of Manhattan patrician, rugged outdoorsman, and Zen priest (all of which he was). And yet when I worked as his editor on several magazine articles in the 1990s, it was an immensely satisfying experience. He listened Zen-like, carefully considering all my editing suggestions (with him, they were suggestions only), and to my delight, accepted almost all of them. Matthiessen died on April 5 at the age of 86, near the Long Island waters he so loved to fish. Read more of e360 editor Roger Cohn’s appreciation of Matthiessen.
PERMALINK

 

07 Apr 2014: Newfound Atmospheric 'Hole'
Threatens Polar Ozone Layer, Scientists Say

Researchers have discovered a large opening in the Earth's atmosphere that is enabling pollutants to rise
Elevator to the stratosphere
Pacific atmosphere hole an elevator to the stratosphere
into the stratosphere and destroy ozone. The hole, which is in a part of the lower atmosphere called the "OH shield," is several thousand kilometers long and is centered over the tropical west Pacific Ocean. It's relatively close to Southeast Asia, a region with a booming population and rapidly increasing air pollution. The hole is a major concern because the OH shield usually scrubs air of chemical compounds emitted near the ground before they can reach the stratosphere, where those compounds can persist for long periods of time, reacting with and destroying ozone, say researchers at Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute who identified the hole. The newly discovered phenomenon acts as a sort of elevator, researchers say, drawing chlorofluorocarbons, sulfur dioxide, and other contaminants straight up to the stratosphere and bypassing the OH shield scrub.
PERMALINK

 

E360 Announces Contest
For Best Environmental Videos

Yale Environment 360 is holding a contest to honor the best environmental videos. Entries must be videos that focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and are a maximum of 15 minutes in length. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, and two runners-up will each receive $500. The winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360. The deadline for entries is June 6, 2014. Read further contest information.
PERMALINK

 

04 Apr 2014: Solar Panels Could Beam Power
From Space Down to Earth, U.S. Navy Says

Researchers from the U.S. military are developing technology that would harvest solar energy in space and beam it down to Earth, according to the Naval Research Laboratory. Although the concept seems futuristic, the
Space solar satellite concept
Navy is currently testing two prototype designs, both of which combine solar panels with electronic components that convert the energy to radio waves and transmit it to Earth. Eventually, engineers plan to use robotic vehicles to transport the panels to space and assemble them into a 1-kilometer wide satellite orbiting the planet. Theoretically, harvesting solar energy in space is more efficient than on Earth, because panels can collect sunlight around the clock and regardless of weather conditions. The U.S. military, currently the world's largest oil consumer, is eager to develop the technology to save money on fuel and simplify military deployments. But the private sector also has plans for the technology: California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric plans to buy space solar power by 2016.
PERMALINK

 

03 Apr 2014: Deforestation of Sandy Soils
Increases the Release of CO2, Study Finds

The texture of the soil that microbes live in determines how much carbon they release after deforestation, with sandy soils sending the most carbon into the atmosphere, according to research led by Yale scientists.
Soil susceptibility to deforestation
Soils most affected by forest loss in red; least in yellow.
Subterranean microbes regulate carbon emissions from soil, and drastic changes to the microbial community, such as those that follow deforestation, can allow more CO2 to escape into the atmosphere and exacerbate global warming. The texture of soil, rather than such factors as temperature or nutrient concentrations, was the most important factor governing the release of CO2, the researchers found. Muddy, clay-like soils provide the most stable environment for microbial communities, likely because they're better at retaining nutrients than loose, sandy soils. The team used the findings to map areas in the U.S. where soil microbial communities would be most and least affected by deforestation, which could help inform land management practices.
PERMALINK

 

Comment: e360 Point/Counterpoint Debate
On University Fossil Fuel Divestment

Scientists Charles H. Greene, of Cornell University, and Daniel M. Kammen, of the University of California, Berkeley, offer commentary on the recent Yale Environment 360 Point/Counterpoint articles on the
Divestment protest
James Ennis/Flickr
Student protest at Tufts University last spring
issue of whether universities should take a stand against climate change by divesting from companies that produce oil, natural gas, or coal. Greene and Kammen make the case that the movement to divest is gaining ground on U.S. campuses and will eventually succeed because fossil fuels are increasingly seen as a potentially risky investment. "We predict that divestment at the nation’s colleges and universities will occur much more rapidly than anybody imagined at the start of the campaign just over a year ago," they write. Read their comment.
PERMALINK

 

01 Apr 2014: Delaware River Watershed
Is Focus Of Large-Scale Restoration Project

A Philadelphia foundation is providing $35 million to launch a host of programs aimed at better protecting the Delaware River, which flows through the heart of
Delaware River Trenton
David Olah
Delaware River at Trenton, New Jersey
the populous U.S. eastern seaboard and provides drinking water for 15 million people. The William Penn Foundation, working with nonprofit groups such as The Open Space Institute, says its Delaware River Initiative will protect more than 30,000 acres of land, launch 40 restoration projects, create incentives for businesses and landowners to protect the watershed, and set up a comprehensive program of water quality monitoring that will enable the foundation and its partners to measure the success of their programs and the overall health of the river. A cornerstone of the foundation’s initiative will be its restoration and protection work in eight so-called “sub-watersheds” that feed into the Delaware River.
PERMALINK

 

31 Mar 2014: IPCC Issues Stark Report
On Present and Future Climate Impacts

Rapidly rising levels of greenhouse gases are already having a major impact on the earth’s natural systems and the problem is likely to grow significantly worse unless these emissions are brought under control, according to a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report, released in Yokohama, Japan, said that steadily rising temperatures are melting polar ice caps, sharply diminishing Arctic sea ice, intensifying heat waves and heavy rains, causing the death of coral reefs, and placing water and food supplies under stress. The report on climate impacts, drafted by several hundred of the world’s leading climate scientists, emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk. Already, the report said, heat waves and water stress are affecting the output of wheat and corn on a global scale, impacts that are only expected to intensify in the future, further exacerbating food shortages. “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said IPCC chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri.
PERMALINK

 

28 Mar 2014: West Antarctic Glacial Loss
Is Rapidly Intensifying, New Study Shows

Six massive glaciers in West Antarctica are dumping far more ice into the Southern Ocean than they were 40
Pine Island Glacier
NASA
An 18-mile crack in the Pine Island Glacier
years ago and now account for 10 percent of the world’s sea level rise, according to a new study. Reporting in Geophysical Research Letters, an international team of scientists said that the amount of ice draining from the six glaciers has increased by 77 percent since 1973. The scientists said that the ice loss from the six glaciers is so substantial that it equals the amount of ice draining annually from the entire Greenland Ice Sheet. The scientists used satellite data from 1973 and 2013 to gauge the ice loss from the six glaciers. The Pine Island Glacier is moving more rapidly to the sea than any of the other six, with its speed increasing from 1.5 miles per year in 1973 to 2.5 miles per year in 2013. The glaciers are dumping more ice into the sea primarily because warmer ocean waters are loosening the ice sheets’ hold on the sea floor, which speeds up glacial flow.
PERMALINK

 

27 Mar 2014: Wind Turbine in a Blimp
Can Bring Power to Remote Locations

A Massachusetts company will soon deploy a portable wind energy system using a conventional turbine blade inside a cylindrical blimp that floats about 1,000 feet above the ground, drawing on the stronger winds at that altitude. The Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), developed by Altaeros, is designed to be used in off-the-grid locations where importing diesel fuel or other energy is expensive. The company recently announced a $1.3 million demonstration project in Alaska that will supply power to about a dozen homes. Altaeros says it is also working on deals to install projects in remote locations in Canada and Australia. The BAT, made of industrial fabric, sends power back via high-strength tethers that hold it to the ground. Altaeros is one of several companies developing wind turbines that hover above the earth or fly, including Makani, which has invented a turbine that looks like a flying wing. Makani was acquired last year by Google X.
PERMALINK

 

26 Mar 2014: New Satellite Tracks Global
Precipitation in Unprecedented Detail

Launched into space late last month, a new Earth-observing satellite from NASA and the Japan space agency has captured its first images, which show an

Click to Enlarge
GPM cyclone image

Cyclone cross-section
extra-tropical cyclone off the coast of Japan at unprecedented resolution. The satellite, called the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, combines two powerful instruments that allow scientists to monitor precipitation around the globe in great detail, as the cyclone image demonstrates. One instrument, the Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar, captured a three-dimensional cross-section of the storm, with the heaviest precipitation shown in red and yellow. The second tool, a GPM Microwave Imager, observed different types of precipitation across a broad swath of the storm. Together, the instruments will help scientists more accurately predict rainfall and calculate how much precipitation falls to the Earth's surface.
PERMALINK

 

25 Mar 2014: Consumer Products Giants
Commit to Deforestation-Free Palm Oil

Two major consumer products companies — General Mills and Colgate-Palmolive — have committed to using palm oil in their products that does not come from lands cleared from tropical forests, adding to the wave
Deforestation in Malaysian Borneo
Mongabay.com
of corporations that have pledged measures to protect southeast Asian rainforests. The consumer giants' new policies go beyond standards set by the industry's main certification body and include provisions to protect wildlife-rich rainforests, carbon-dense peatlands, and the rights of local communities. Environmental groups are welcoming the commitments, though some believe the companies' pledges should go further. The Union of Concerned Scientists questions General Mills' definition of "high carbon stock" forests, while Greenpeace is urging Colgate-Palmolive to move implementation up to 2015 from 2020. Environmental groups are hopeful that new commitments will pressure Proctor & Gamble, the last remaining consumer products giant without a similar pledge, to adopt deforestation-free palm oil policies.
PERMALINK

 

Five Questions for Mario Molina
On Climate Science’s PR Campaign

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific society, recently launched the “What We Know” campaign, designed to cut through the fog of misinformation about climate change and convey to the public the current state of climate science. Chairing that effort is Mario J. Molina, a chemist who won a 1995 Nobel Prize for his work on the threat to the world’s ozone layer. Yale Environment 360 asked Molina five questions about the AAAS campaign and why it might succeed where previous efforts have failed.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

24 Mar 2014: Ride-Sharing Could Cut Taxi
Trips by 40 Percent in NYC, Analysis Shows

New interactive maps from MIT analyze the potential environmental and economic savings of ride-sharing in dense urban areas — in particular, the benefits of sharing taxicabs in New York City. The project, called

Click to Enlarge
Hubcab map of NYC taxi routes

Potential taxi-sharing benefits in NYC
HubCab, uses data from 170 million trips made by New York City's 13,500 taxis in 2011. High-resolution GPS coordinates and timestamps for each trip allowed researchers to pinpoint locations in the city that are high-traffic hubs for taxi pick-ups and drop-offs, as well as calculate fare savings, decreases in total miles traveled, and cuts in CO2 emissions if ride-sharing existed. The researchers found that taxi-sharing could reduce the number of trips by 40 percent with only minimal inconvenience to the passengers. The findings highlight the potential benefits of ride-sharing in New York and other cities, including lower vehicle emissions, reduced congestion, and savings in time and money.
PERMALINK

 

21 Mar 2014: Koch Brothers Biggest Lease
Holders in Alberta Tar Sands, Report Finds

The largest lease holder in Canada's oil sands is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the conglomerate that is the source of the fortune owned by the controversial conservative political donors, Charles and David Koch. The Koch's holdings in the tar sands were disclosed by an activist group that analyzed mineral records of the Alberta government. The Koch subsidiary holds leases on at least 1.1 million acres in the northern Alberta oil sands, which span roughly 35 million acres; other industry experts estimate the total Koch holdings could be closer to 2 million acres. That puts Koch Industries ahead of energy heavyweights Royal Dutch Shell and Conoco Phillips, both of which lease significant acreage in the oil sands. The findings are likely to inflame the debate surrounding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — which would transport tar sands oil to refineries in Texas — although the Koch's company has not reserved space in the pipeline. Activists argue that the Kochs do have a stake in the outcome of the Keystone XL battle because the pipeline would drive down crude oil transportation costs, benefiting all lease holders.
PERMALINK

 

20 Mar 2014: The 2013-2014 Winter Was
The 34th Coldest on Record in U.S., NASA Says

Although many residents of eastern North America may feel like they’ve just suffered through a winter of record cold, the fact is that the winter of 2013-2014 was only

Click to Enlarge
North American winter temperatures

North American winter temperature anomalies
the 34th coldest in 119 years of record keeping in the U.S. As this map from the U.S. National Climatic Data Center shows, temperatures in the eastern and southern U.S. from Dec. 1, 2013, to Feb. 28th, 2014, were as much as 8 degrees C (14 F) colder than the 2000 to 2013 average for those months. But the western U.S. and Alaska saw unusually warm weather, with California experiencing its hottest winter on record. Overall, temperatures this past winter in the U.S. were about 1 degree F above average. Meanwhile, temperatures in Russia, Asia, and much of Europe were well above average this winter, and land temperatures globally for December, January, and February were the 10th warmest on record.
PERMALINK

 

19 Mar 2014: CO2 Levels Have Crossed
400 ppm Threshold Far Earlier This Year

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have reached the 400 parts per million threshold two months earlier this year than last, an indication that the planet will soon experience the 400 ppm level year-round, according to scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Last year was the first time in hundreds of thousands of years that the 400 ppm threshold was crossed. Scripps scientists expect CO2 levels to hover around 400 ppm for the next two months, when the Northern Hemisphere spring will go into full bloom and plants will suck CO2 from the atmosphere until going dormant in the fall. "It’s just a matter of time before it stays over 400 forever," said Ralph Keeling, who took over the CO2 monitoring program from his father, Charles David Keeling, who started it in 1958. Since then, atmospheric CO2 levels have risen steadily from 313 ppm as the world continues to burn fossil fuels. Scientists estimate it's been 800,000 to 15 million years since the planet has seen concentrations this high.
PERMALINK

 

18 Mar 2014: Wildflower Season in Rockies
Is 35 Days Longer as Climate Warms

A warming climate has extended the wildflower season in the Rocky Mountains by 35 days since the 1970s, according to a 39-year study of more than two million blooms. The bloom season, which used to run from late May to early September, now lasts from late April to late
Rocky Mountain wildflowers
David Inouye
Crested Butte, Colorado
September, the researchers say. Previous, less extensive studies seemed to indicate most wildflowers simply shift their bloom cycles to earlier in the year, but new findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that the changes are more complex, with the flowers reaching peak bloom sooner and flowering later in the year. The shift in the timing of blooms could have a major impact on pollinating insects and migratory birds. For example, hummingbirds that summer in the Rocky Mountains time their nesting so that their eggs hatch at peak bloom, when there is plenty of flower nectar for hungry chicks. As the bloom season lengthens, the plants are not producing more flowers. The same number of blooms is spread out over more days, so at peak bloom there may be fewer flowers and less food for hummingbirds, the researchers say.
PERMALINK

 

17 Mar 2014: Northeast Greenland Glaciers
Are Now Melting Rapidly, Study Finds

The glaciers of northeast Greenland, long thought to be the most stable part of the massive Greenland ice sheet, are melting at an accelerating pace, losing roughly 10

Click to Enlarge
Greenland ice velocities

Ice surface velocities in Greenland
billion tons of ice annually for the past decade, say researchers from the U.S. and Denmark. The finding will likely boost estimates of global sea level rise, which had previously not accounted for massive ice loss from that region, scientists say. The Zachariae ice stream in northeast Greenland, which drains 16 percent of the ice sheet, has retreated roughly 12.4 miles in the past decade, outpacing the fast-moving Jakobshavn glacier, which has retreated 21.7 miles over the last 150 years. Ice loss from the region is likely accelerating, the researchers say, because ice dams in nearby bays that had been blocking the glaciers' paths are now also melting, freeing the way for the glaciers to flow into the ocean.
PERMALINK

 

14 Mar 2014: Major Winds Have Lashed
North Atlantic This Winter, NOAA Map Shows

Forty-three hurricane-force winter storms have lashed the North Atlantic since late October, boosting the region's average wind speed in January and February by more than 12 miles per hour, as shown in this map from

Click to Enlarge
North Atlantic wind speeds

January-February wind speed anomalies
the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The blue colors indicate areas where wind speeds exceeded the 1981-2010 average; browns indicate winds that were lower than average. In the North Atlantic, an unusually high number of hurricane-force storms, with winds exceeding 74 mph, battered southeastern Greenland, Norway, and the coast of western Europe. The U.K. Met Office recently issued a report on the December and January storms that ravaged the British coast, saying, "For England and Wales this was one of, if not the most, exceptional (two month) periods of winter rainfall in at least 248 years." No studies have confirmed a link between these intense winter storms and climate change, but some scientists think climate-driven changes in the jet stream may be behind the wild weather.
PERMALINK

 

13 Mar 2014: Solar City Partnering With
Best Buy to Sell Residential Solar Leases

Solar City, a company that installs and leases solar panels to homeowners, is partnering with big-box electronics seller Best Buy in hopes of boosting solar sales in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon, and New
Solar City Hawaii
A Solar City residential installation in Hawaii
York. Solar City will station salespeople in 60 stores throughout those states to pitch the benefits of their 20-year solar contracts directly to consumers, and Best Buy will take a cut of the sales. Based on a homeowner's utility company and monthly electric bill, Solar City representatives will be able to quickly give potential customers an estimate of the costs and savings associated with a solar lease. Leasing enables a homeowner to avoid the large upfront costs associated with purchasing and installing solar panels by spreading those investments over a 20-year lease and locking in a set rate for electricity generated by the panels. Residential solar installations have accelerated in recent years due largely to the popularity of leasing programs, with 2013 showing the fastest growth ever.
PERMALINK

 

12 Mar 2014: Nine Chinese Cities Outpaced
Beijing in Air Pollution in 2013, Report Says

China's air pollution problems are more severe and widespread than previously thought, with nine cities experiencing more days of extreme air pollution than Beijing in 2013, according to a new analysis by Greenpeace's Energy Desk. Fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution plagued dozens of cities and millions of people in China — most of them outside of Beijing, although the Chinese capital captured the most air pollution headlines last year. The city of Xingtai, southwest of the capital, fared worst, with 129 days of emergency air pollution — more than doubling Beijing's 60 days. More than half of the cities in the top 10 are in Hebei province south of Beijing, where many steel, cement, and coal-fired power plants are located. "There are now millions of Chinese people living in cities with air pollution above emergency levels for a third of the year, while other urban areas have gone a whole 12-month period with hardly any days of good-quality air," said a member of Greenpeace's East Asia climate and energy campaign. Beijing had only 13 days ranked as "good" on the U.S. air quality scale, along with one day considered "beyond index," or off the pollution scale.
PERMALINK

 

11 Mar 2014: 'Space Frame' Wind Tower
Allows Turbines to Be Built in Remote Places

New wind power technology could bring turbines to hard-to-reach locations, according to engineers from General Electric. The company has developed a new type of wind tower, dubbed the "Space Frame Tower," consisting of metal latticework wrapped in weather-resistant fiberglass. Unlike conventional steel tube wind towers, the latticework can be bolted together on-site, which means the tower's framework can be transported using standard shipping containers and trucks, allowing taller wind towers to be installed in locations previously inaccessible to the longer trucks needed to transport conventional towers. The Space Frame Tower also has a five-leg base that's wider than conventional towers, increasing stability and ultimately allowing it to reach heights up to 450 feet — an advantage at sites where higher turbines can reach stronger winds. A 318-foot tall prototype is up and running in Tehachapi, California, with a 2.75 megawatt turbine nearly 400 feet wide.
PERMALINK

 

10 Mar 2014: Arsenic Remediation Project
Will Begin Decontaminating Water in India

New technology that removes arsenic from drinking water is set to be deployed on a large scale in India, according to researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and an India-based water technology company. The device removes arsenic by passing electricity through steel plates submerged in a water reservoir. The electric current causes the plates to rust more quickly than they would under normal conditions, and the rust chemically binds to arsenic in the water and sinks to the bottom of the reservoir. The precipitated sludge can be removed from the tank, rendering the water safe to drink. Notoriously high levels of arsenic, a tasteless and odorless contaminant, naturally occur in groundwater sources in India, Bangladesh, and even California's Central Valley. Long-term exposure can cause cancer and severe damage to organs. A commercial plant is set to begin operations in West Bengal, India, this year and researchers estimate the drinking water can be sold for as little as eight cents per gallon.
PERMALINK

 

07 Mar 2014: U.S. Car-Sharing Programs Have
Taken 500,000 Cars off Roads, Report Says

The rapid growth of car-sharing programs has cut the number of vehicles on U.S. roads by more than half a million, according to new research by AlixPartners, a consultancy group with clients in the automotive industry. The trend will continue beyond 2020, the group projects, at which point 4 million people will be participating in car-sharing programs and 1.2 million fewer cars will be on the road. Of the 10 cities surveyed, residents of Boston, home of the Zipcar company, were most aware of car-sharing programs. Young people and, surprisingly, households with children were least likely to own their own cars, the survey said. Roughly half of the people who had tried car-sharing had already decided not to purchase or lease their own car, and did not plan to do so in the future. Rather than environmental concerns, nearly 60 percent of interviewees said cost and convenience led them to participate in car-sharing.
PERMALINK

 

06 Mar 2014: Warm River Water Plays Major
Role in Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Study Finds

Relatively warm water flowing into the Arctic Ocean from rivers contributes significantly to Arctic sea ice melt each summer, a phenomenon that will intensify as the region warms, according to NASA researchers. The river discharge not only melts coastal sea ice, it also has

Click to Enlarge
Arctic river water

Warm river water entering Arctic Ocean
a wider climate impact as it creates more open water, which is darker than ice and absorbs more heat from sunlight. As these NASA images show, when water from Canada's Mackenzie River flowed into the Beaufort Sea in the summer of 2012, average surface temperature of the open water rose by 6.5 degrees C (11.7 degrees F) after the pulse of river water. Flow from the Mackenzie raised sea surface temperatures as far as 350 kilometers (217 miles) from the coast. The researchers note that river discharge is becoming an increasingly important contributor to melting Arctic sea ice because the volume and temperature of fresh water discharge is increasing as inland Arctic areas warm more each summer.
PERMALINK

 

An e360 Interview with Wendell Berry:
Strong Voice for Local Farms and the Land

Author Wendell Berry wrote about and practiced “sustainable agriculture” long before the term was widely used. His early writings in the 1970s, in which he argued against industrial agriculture and for small-scale, local-based farming, strongly influenced the U.S.
Wendell Berry
© Counterpoint Press
Wendell Berry
environmental movement. At age 79, Berry still speaks eloquently about the importance of local communities and of caring for the land, while warning about the destructive potential of industrialization and technology. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talked about his Kentucky farm and why he has remained there, why sustainable agriculture faces an uphill battle, and why strong rural communities are important. “A deep familiarity between a local community and a local landscape is a dear thing, just in human terms,” Berry said. “It’s also, down the line, money in the bank, because it helps you to preserve the working capital of the place.”
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

05 Mar 2014: Routes of Young Sea Turtles
Shed Light on Mystery of Turtles' Lost Years

By placing satellite tags on newborn sea turtles along the coast of Florida and tracking them in the western Atlantic Ocean, researchers have gained new insights into the early migrations of threatened and endangered

Click to Enlarge
turtle tracks

Sea turtle tracks
turtles during their so-called "lost years" between hatching and returning to coastal waters as large juveniles. Rather than swimming in the currents of the North Atlantic gyre, as scientists had assumed, the young turtles actually leave the gyre and travel to the Sargasso Sea, which lies in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. While there, sensors on the turtles' shells registered more heat than the scientists expected, leading them to believe that the young turtles swim near the surface of the Sargasso, basking in sunlight and feeding on a type of seaweed that grows in deep ocean waters. "From the time they leave our shores, we don't hear anything about them until they surface near the Canary Islands, which is like their primary school years," said an author of the study.
PERMALINK

 

04 Mar 2014: Atlanta Leads U.S. in
Electric Vehicle Sales Growth

Atlanta is the fastest growing market for electric cars in the U.S., according to an analysis by the electric vehicle charging network ChargePoint. Electric vehicle (EV) sales in Atlanta jumped by 52 percent from the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2013, with more than

Click to Enlarge
EV market growth

U.S. EV market growth
3,000 EVs sold in the final three months of the year, according to state motor vehicle records. Washington, D.C., was the second-fastest growing market, with a 21 percent increase in sales, and Portland, Oregon, had the third-fastest growth, at 19.4 percent. While Los Angeles added the most EVs — more than 5,000 — to its streets, for a 19 percent growth rate, Atlanta outpaced it on a per capita and percent growth basis. Nationally, EV sales grew by nearly 450 percent in the first three quarters of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. ChargePoint's CEO speculated that popularity is increasing because charging station networks have expanded and EV designs have improved. "We’re well on our way to having twice the number of EVs on the road by the end of 2014," he said.
PERMALINK

 

03 Mar 2014: Harsh Winter Causing Large
Die-off of Invasive Insects, Researchers Say

As a frigid winter takes a toll on the United States and Canada, invasive insect populations are also taking a hit. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that up to 80 percent of emerald ash borers, which have been decimating ash tree populations, were killed by long
Emerald ash borer
Emerald ash borer
stretches of bitter cold in the the upper Midwest this year. Several other insect pests, many of which have migrated northward because of milder winters in recent years, also are faring poorly this winter, including corn earworms and gypsy moths. Researchers remain skeptical, however, that the die-offs will have lasting effects on pest populations. Emerald ash borers in Chicago, for example, survived the sub-zero weather because Chicago temperatures fell only to -17 degrees F, rather than Minnesota's -20 degrees F, which seems to be a critical temperature threshold for the pests.
PERMALINK

 

28 Feb 2014: Seafaring Drones Could Reveal
Mysterious Lives of Sharks, Researchers Say

New automated watercraft are helping scientists understand the secret lives of great white sharks, which gather in large numbers each winter in an area nicknamed the "White Shark Cafe." Although this stretch of ocean between Baja California and Hawaii

Watch Video
“great

Shark migrations to Hawaii and the “Cafe”
contains relatively few food sources, the sharks congregate and display strange behaviors, perhaps related to mating or feeding, one researcher explained to the San Francisco Chronicle. Scientists haven't had a way to efficiently track and observe sharks in this environment, but new seafaring drone technologies might change that. For example, drones could follow migrations by homing in on acoustic tags on the sharks themselves. Marine biologists at Stanford were recently able to track two great whites on their journeys from California to Hawaii and the White Shark Cafe, as the map shows, but current technology only allows scientists to recreate the sharks' journeys after monitoring tags pop off and are recovered. The new drones may prove useful not only for tracking sharks and other pelagic fish in real time, but also for collecting important ocean data such as temperature, acidity, and salinity, researchers said.
PERMALINK

 

27 Feb 2014: Pine Forest Aerosols Play
Significant Role in Climate, Study Says

Pine forest vapors form small aerosol particles that may significantly cool the climate by reflecting the sun's energy back into space, according to new findings. Scientists have known for decades that gases from pine
Finland pine forest
Hyytiälä pine forest in Finland
trees can form particles that grow from just 1 nanometer in diameter to 100 nanometers in about a day. The new research, published in Nature, shows the rapid growth of these particles relies on a chemical chain reaction among pine-scented molecules and atmospheric ozone and oxygen. The growing particle then grabs others like it, eventually snowballing into a 100-nanometer particle — one that's large enough to condense water vapor, prompt cloud formation, and, ultimately, influence climate. Boreal or pine forests give off the largest amount of these compounds, so the finding is especially relevant for the northern parts of North America, Europe, and Russia. But other types of forests emit similar vapors, and the scientists think these may undergo similar rapid chemical reactions.
PERMALINK

 

26 Feb 2014: Large Offshore Wind Farms
Could Soften Blow of Hurricanes, Study Says

Offshore wind farms with thousands of wind turbines could have sapped much of the power of hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and Isaac, significantly slowing their wind speeds, decreasing their accompanying storm surges, and possibly preventing billions of dollars in damages, according to a new study. Computer models

Click to Enlarge
“Katrina

Hurricane Katrina wind speeds at landfall
used in the study said that deploying tens of thousands of offshore wind turbines could absorb enough energy from a hurricane to reduce peak wind speeds by 56 to 92 mph and storm surges by 6 to 79 percent. "We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane," said Stanford engineer Mark Jacobson, who led the research. "This feeds back to decrease wave height ... which in turn slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster." For Hurricane Katrina, a massive turbine array could have slowed wind speeds by 58 percent and storm surge by 79 percent, and for Sandy wind speeds could have been cut by 14 percent and storm surge by 34 percent, according to findings published in Nature Climate Change.
PERMALINK

 

25 Feb 2014: Massive Alaska Avalanche
Depicted in NASA Satellite Photograph

Southeastern Alaska recently experienced the largest landslide the planet has seen since 2010, and the aftermath is captured in this NASA satellite image. Triggered by the collapse of a near-vertical mountain face on the flanks of Mount La Perouse, 75 million tons of snow and sediment formed a debris flow nearly five miles long. The avalanche material appears light brown in contrast to the snow in the photo. Researchers at Columbia University first detected the event when seismic records from the region showed a large number of low-frequency waves; this satellite image and other aerial photos confirmed their hunch. The American Geophysical Union also posted this blog featuring photographs from an Alaskan pilot who flew over the landslide.
PERMALINK

 

24 Feb 2014: Maps Show Extent of
Oil and Gas Drilling in Southwest Wyoming

Oil and gas wells, including those involved in hydraulic fracturing operations, scar a major portion of southwest Wyoming, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey. Nearly 17,000 well pads and former

Click to Enlarge
Oil and gas well scars in Wyoming

Well scar locations
drilling areas associated with oil and natural gas production were identified in satellite images across a 30,000-square-mile region. The maps include well scars dating from around 1900, when oil drilling started in the region, up to 2009, at which point natural gas extraction far outweighed oil production. Since then, production has only intensified in Wyoming, a leading state in the U.S.'s unconventional oil and gas boom. The mapping effort, a first step in determining how oil and gas drilling operations impact wildlife and ecosystems, focused on southwestern Wyoming because it not only has some of the nation's largest natural gas reserves, but also because the region has high-quality wildlife habitat and encompasses a major portion of the country's remaining intact sagebrush steppe.
PERMALINK

 

21 Feb 2014: Rewritable Paper and Water Ink
Could Cut Paper Waste, Scientists Report

A new type of rewritable paper that uses water as ink could slash the amount of paper that's wasted daily, researchers say. The paper contains hydrochromic dyes — chemicals that change color when wet — and a single

Click to Enlarge
Document printed on rewritable paper

Printed document
page can be reused dozens of times, the scientists report in Nature Communications. Other types of rewritable papers have been developed, but they are all more expensive and energy-intensive to produce, and some versions use inks that pose environmental and safety hazards. The new system costs less than 1 percent of standard inkjet printing, the researchers estimate, primarily because ink cartridges are expensive. The researchers found they could refill cartridges with water and use them, along with the rewritable paper, in typical desktop printers. Print on the rewritable paper is only visible for about 22 hours, or as long as it takes the paper to dry completely. The scientists note that, while 90 percent of business information is retained on paper, most printed documents are read only once before being discarded.
PERMALINK

 

20 Feb 2014: Global Forest Watch Tool
Allows 'Near-Real Time' Forest Monitoring

A new online tool called Global Forest Watch employs a trove of high-resolution NASA satellite imagery and large amounts of computing power to help governments, conservation organizations, and concerned citizens monitor deforestation in "near-real

Click to Enlarge
Sumatra forest loss since 2000

Forest loss in Sumatra
time." Organized by the World Resources Institute (WRI), Global Forest Watch uses satellite data to track changes in forest cover since 2000. It's the first tool with the capability of monitoring forests on a monthly basis, potentially allowing groups to take action against deforestation while it's in progress. Businesses committed to eliminating deforestation from supply chains can also use the tool to verify that vendors are not engaging in practices that harm forests. A custom alert feature can also notify a user when there are signs of deforestation in a region the user has selected. "Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests," said WRI president Andrew Steer. "Now, they have it."
PERMALINK

 

19 Feb 2014: Loss of Arctic Sea Ice
Has Greater Warming Impact Than Expected

The steady disappearance of Arctic sea ice, which is causing the exposed and darker surface of the Arctic Ocean to absorb more sunlight, is having a more profound impact on global warmingthan previously

Click to Enlarge
“Sea

Sea ice extent in 2012
estimated, according to a new study. The decline of albedo, or reflectivity, from the Arctic Ocean equals roughly 25 percent of the warming caused by rising carbon dioxide levels, according to scientists at the University of California, San Diego. The impact of this "albedo feedback," in which the highly reflective white surface of sea ice is replaced by heat-absorbing open ocean, is considerably stronger than climate models had predicted, according to the UCSD research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers had thought increasing Arctic cloud cover might slow the albedo feedback, but this study indicates that is not happening.
PERMALINK

 

18 Feb 2014: Website Allows Whistleblowers
To Report Wildlife and Forest Crimes

A new whistleblower site offers people a secure and anonymous way to report incidents of poaching, wildlife trafficking, and illegal logging around the world. The site is called WildLeaks, a nod to the well-known WikiLeaks site, and it's backed by the California-based Elephant Action League. Users can upload documents, video, or images detailing the crimes, and submissions will be encrypted so data and identities remain secure. The aim is to provide a safe way for citizens to report these illegal activities so that local and federal governments can take action. Prosecuting wildlife crimes and illegal logging is often a low priority in countries where some of the worst offenses occur; moreover, local government corruption often deters people from reporting such crimes, organizers say. "We [will] work to transform this information into a verified and actionable item, a point for launching an investigation or sharing it with the media or, when possible, with selected and trusted law enforcement officers, always aiming at exposing wildlife crimes and bringing the responsible individuals to justice," said the WildLeaks project leader.
PERMALINK

 

17 Feb 2014: New Maps Pinpointing Wind
Turbines Will Help Track Effects on Wildlife

More than 47,000 wind turbines dot the U.S. landscape, predominantly clustered in the Midwest and Great Plains, as a new interactive tool developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows. The maps — the first

Click to Enlarge
U.S. wind turbine locations

Wind turbines in the U.S.
publicly-available, nationwide data set for wind energy generation — show the locations of every turbine in the U.S., from large wind farms to single turbines, and are accurate to within 10 meters. The maps are part of the USGS's effort to assess how wind turbines impact wildlife, and they show detailed technical information such as the make, model, height, area of the turbine blades, and capacity of each turbine. Turbine-level data will improve scientists’ ability to study wildlife collisions, the wakes causes by wind turbines, the interaction between wind turbines and ground-based radar, and how wind energy facilities overlap with migratory flyways, the USGS says.
PERMALINK

 

Five Questions for Elizabeth Kolbert
On Facing Up to the Sixth Extinction

Elizabeth Kolbert's new book, The Sixth Extinction, focuses on one of the most troubling realities of our age: We are living in a period when, for only the sixth time in earth’s history, the diversity of species is contracting suddenly and rapidly — but now, we humans are the cause. For her reporting, Kolbert, an e360 contributor and New Yorker staff writer, traveled from the Peruvian Andes to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, probing the fate of a dozen species. Yale Environment 360 asked Kolbert five questions about the book and what she discovered in researching it.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

14 Feb 2014: Climate Benefits of Natural Gas
Are Questioned in A Major New Report

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been underestimating methane leaks from natural gas production and use by 25 to 75 percent, according to a comprehensive assessment of more than 200 studies. When the methane leaks are accounted for, natural gas contributes to climate change more than industry and the EPA have claimed, concludes the report by a team of U.S. scientists. In some cases, natural gas contributes to warming more than other fossil fuel sources. For instance, fueling trucks and buses with natural gas instead of diesel likely increases emissions, because diesel engines are relatively efficient, according to the researchers. Natural gas has been touted as an important "bridge fuel" because it emits less CO2 during combustion than oil and coal. Recently, though, studies have indicated that leaks of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, during natural gas production, transportation, and consumption may offset its climate benefits. The new report, published in Science, synthesized the results of 20 years' worth of methane leakage studies.
PERMALINK

 

13 Feb 2014: Australian Bushfire Has Grown
To Size of Melbourne, NASA Image Shows

A fire rivaling the size of the city of Melbourne is raging in southeastern Australia, as a NASA satellite image taken at night earlier this week shows. The Snowy River Complex Fire, which is burning mountain forests near a

Click to Enlarge
Australian fire the size of Melbourne

Australian bushfire and Melbourne at night
remote national park, is one of three bushfires that flared up last weekend. Fueled by strong winds combined with a heat wave and prolonged dry conditions, the three fires have consumed more than 180,000 hectares (695 square miles), about 100,000 (390 square miles) of which burned in the Snowy River Complex. That fire's dense, opaque smoke is visible from space during night and day, and satellite images show the smoke plume stretching across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. The Snowy River blaze includes fires that ignited on February 9, as well as fires that were started by lightning in January. Though stunningly large in this view, they do not pose much of a threat to people or infrastructure.
PERMALINK

 

12 Feb 2014: Despite Costs, Most Americans
Want Action on Climate Change, Report Finds

A large majority of Americans — 83 percent — say the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if those efforts have economic costs, according to a new report from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. As many as 56 percent of Americans would be willing to pay an extra $100 each year if their power company would generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Corporations and industry should be doing more to stave off climate change, according to 65 percent of people interviewed in a national survey, and 61 percent believe individual citizens should also be taking a more active role. Many of the survey's findings are similar across Democratic and Republican party lines. Tax rebates for energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels are popular among people aligned with both parties, for example, as well as funding renewable energy research and regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. And people from both parties are generally supportive of ending all fossil fuel subsidies, although Democrats (67 percent) are more supportive of that policy than Republicans (52 percent).
PERMALINK

 

11 Feb 2014: Shrinking Household Size
May Offset Progress in Curbing Population

Household size — the number of people living together under one roof — has been shrinking worldwide, and the trend could have major consequences for resource consumption, new research finds. Although global population growth has been somewhat curbed in the developed world, the number of households has continued to grow at a much faster pace in nearly all countries, Michigan State University researchers found. Average household size in developed nations declined from approximately five members in 1893 to 2.5 in 2000, while the rapid decline in household size in developing nations began around 1987, according to the research, which analyzed trends between the years 1600 and 2000. Smaller households are typically less efficient, with fewer people using proportionally more land, water, and energy. Constructing housing units also consumes lumber and building supplies, and generally requires building more roads and commercial areas. "This will put enormous strain on the environmental life support system we rely on, even if we achieve a state of zero population growth," one study author said.
PERMALINK

 

10 Feb 2014: New Plant Found in Andes
Supports up to 50 Species, Researchers Say

Researchers working in the Ecuadorian Andes have discovered a new species of black pepper plant that is a nexus of biodiversity. The plant, named Piper kelleyi, supports roughly 40 to 50 insect species, the scientists estimate, many of which are entirely dependent on the
P. kelleyi caterpillar
Specialist herbivore Eios feeds on P. kelleyi
plant for survival. P. kelleyi produces chemical compounds that are known to deter most herbivores, but a single type of caterpillar has adapted to overcome the toxicity of the plant's defenses. That caterpillar, in turn, is preyed upon by species of wasps and flies dependent on that specific caterpillar species — and ultimately the plant — for survival. Altogether, an assemblage of up to 50 species of herbivorous and predatory insects are dependent on P. kelleyi, the researchers report in the journal PhytoKeys.
PERMALINK

 

Photo Essay: In New Orleans, an
Architect Makes Water His Ally


In Flood-Prone New Orleans, an Architect Makes Water His Ally
Dutch Dialogues II

No city in the United States faces as grave a threat from flooding, hurricanes, and rising seas as New Orleans, part of which lies below sea level. But New Orleans architect David Waggonner and his associates, learning lessons from the Dutch, have proposed a revolutionary vision for New Orleans that seeks to make an asset of the water that surrounds the city, remaking unsightly canals into an important and scenic part of the landscape and mimicking nature to store rainfall. Waggoner’s firm has been chosen to help develop a Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, a first step in what could be a multi-billion dollar project to redesign the ways in which the region co-exists with water. “To sustain the city in this difficult site in an era of rising seas and more extreme weather, we must convert our necessities into niceties, into desirable places that connect with people and culture,” Waggonner says.
View the Photo Gallery
PERMALINK

 

07 Feb 2014: Chimpanzee 'Mega-Culture'
Documented in Remote Forest in Congo

Researchers have documented a huge population of chimpanzees in the Democratic Republic of Congo — a community of perhaps tens of thousands of individuals with its own unique customs and behaviors, the Guardian reports. The so-called "mega-culture," which spans 50,000 square kilometers of virtually untouched

Watch Video
Chimps in DRC

Chimps are thriving in a remote Congo forest.
forest, is thought to be the largest population of chimps in Africa and one of the last remaining continuous populations of chimpanzees in the wild, the scientists report in the journal Biological Conservation. The researchers first reported on this community in 2007, but their new survey includes detailed videos of the thriving population and its unique behaviors, which include feasting on leopards, using tools to harvest giant African snails and swarming insects, and building ground nests far more frequently than other chimps. While the find is heartening in terms of chimpanzee conservation, the researchers and wildlife advocates fear the population could be decimated by habitat loss and poachers, who stand to make huge profits in the bushmeat trade.
PERMALINK

 

06 Feb 2014: Maps Show Tropical Corridors
Important to Wildlife As Climate Changes

A new set of maps highlights the importance of habitat corridors in helping wildlife deal with the effects of climate change and deforestation. The series of maps shows more than 16,000 habitat corridors— swaths of

Click to Enlarge
South America habitat corridors

Protected areas and corridors in South America
land that connect forests or protected areas and allow animals to move between them — in tropical regions of Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. High-resolution data on biodiversity, endemism, and vegetation density allowed the researchers, led by Patrick Jantz of the Woods Hole Research Center, to determine which corridors are most important for maintaining biodiversity under changing climate conditions. The maps also highlight which corridors are most important for sequestering carbon and averting carbon emissions associated with deforestation. Researchers hope the findings will help guide wildlife protection plans and serve as a framework prioritizing the conservation of habitat corridors.
PERMALINK

 

05 Feb 2014: Vast Forests and Frequent
Fires Were Key Causes of Ancient Warming

The release of volatile organic compounds from forests and smoke from wildfires had a far greater impact on global warming 3 million years ago than ancient atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a new study finds. During the mid-Pliocene epoch, forests covered a much larger percentage of the planet, releasing large amounts of volatile organic compounds, according to Nadine Unger of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Those compounds are precursors to ozone and organic aerosols, which are both potent greenhouse gases. The dark foliage of the planet's abundant forests also absorbed large amounts of solar energy, another reason why the Pliocene was a relatively warm era even though atmospheric levels of CO2 were not exceptionally high. The research — based on earth-system modeling that used a supercomputer capable of processing 52 trillion calculations per second — provides evidence that dynamic atmospheric chemistry played an important role in past warm climates, underscoring the complexity of climate change, the authors write in Geophysical Research Letters.
PERMALINK

 

04 Feb 2014: NASA Image of Alaska
Depicts Spring-like Temperatures and Thaw

As the continental U.S. faced frigid weather and major winter storms in January, Alaska experienced record high temperatures. A map based on NASA satellite data

Click to Enlarge
“Alaska

Alaska’s warm January
shows that the last half of January was one of the warmest winter periods in Alaska’s history, with temperatures as much as 40 degrees F (22 C) above normal on some days in the central and western portions of the state. A high pressure system off the state's western coast sent warm air and rain through Alaska instead of down into California, which is in the midst of a record drought. The warmest January temperature ever observed in Alaska was tied on January 27, when the thermometer hit 62 F (16.7 C) at Port Alsworth, in southern Alaska. Combined with rainstorms, the heatwave set off a host of spring-like effects, including avalanches and swollen rivers, which carried major sediment loads into the Gulf of Alaska. Inland, Arctic lakes are also seeing consequences of Alaska's long-term warming trend. A new study found that lakes in the region froze almost six days later and broke up about 18 days earlier in the winter of 2011 compared to the winter of 1950.
PERMALINK

 

03 Feb 2014: Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier
Is Moving at Record Speeds, Study Finds

Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier is flowing into the ocean at a record pace of more than 17 kilometers per year, according to research by U.S. and German scientists. The glacier, which drains 6 percent of the

Click to Enlarge
Jakobshavn Glacier

The calving front of Jakobshavn Glacier
massive Greenland ice sheet, moved at a rate of 46 meters per day in the summer of 2012 — four times the glacier's 1990s summer pace. The unprecedented speed appears to be the fastest ever recorded for any glacier or ice stream in Greenland or Antarctica, the researchers report in the journal The Cryosphere. Scientists estimate the glacier added about 1 millimeter to global sea levels from 2000 to 2010; its faster flow into the ocean means Jakobshavn will add even more water over the current decade. Widely thought to be the source of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic in 1912, the researchers say Jakobshavn is flowing at record speeds because its front edge, called the calving front, now overlies a particularly deep spot on the ocean floor. "As the glacier’s calving front retreats into deeper regions, it loses ... the ice in front that is holding back the flow, causing it to speed up," the lead researcher explained.
PERMALINK

 

31 Jan 2014: U.S. State Department Report
Boosts Prospects of Keystone XL Pipeline

In a long-awaited report, the U.S. State Department has concluded that the carbon-heavy oil from Alberta's tar sands will be extracted whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline is built, improving the prospects that the highly controversial project will be built. In an environmental impact statement that was six years in the making, the State Department concludes that the process of extracting and burning tar sands oil creates 17 percent more greenhouse gases than traditional oil, but that the heavily polluting oil will be brought to market with or without the pipeline. "It's unlikely for one pipeline to change the overall development of the oil sands," said a State Department official. If completed, the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama will make the final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and he vowed last year that he would approve the pipeline only if it would not "significantly exacerbate" the problem of carbon emissions. Environmental activists such as Bill McKibben of 350.org have said it would be "game over" for the climate if Keystone XL is built.
PERMALINK

 

30 Jan 2014: NASA Animation Shows
Relentless Pace of Warming Since 1950

A 15-second NASA animation shows the steady and rapid warming of the planet since the middle of the 20th century, with regions in the Arctic and Siberia warming as much as 2 to 4 degrees C (3.6 to 7. 2 degrees

View Animation
Global temperatures 2013

Temperatures show long-term increases.
F) above a long-term average. The animation begins in 1950, but the intensity of the yellow, orange, and red colors shows how much temperatures have increased compared to baseline temperature data collected from 1880 to the present. NASA said that nine of the planet's 10 warmest years have occurred since 2000, and worldwide surface temperatures continued to rise in 2013, according to satellite and meteorological data. Since 1880, when atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were 285 parts per million (ppm), the average global temperature has risen 1.4 degrees F; atmospheric CO2 concentrations crossed a milestone of 400 ppm last year. "Long-term trends in surface temperatures are unusual and 2013 adds to the evidence for ongoing climate change," NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt said.
PERMALINK

 

29 Jan 2014: Driven by State Incentives
Electric Cars Top Vehicle Sales in Norway

Norwegians have been snapping up electric cars: In the last three months of 2013, the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf outsold all other cars, including conventionally fueled models. But rather than environmental concerns,
Oslo EV
An EV charges up in Oslo
a host of government incentives — totaling an estimated $8,300 per vehicle — are largely driving the boom, the Guardian reports. Norway, a country of only 5 million people, currently has around 21,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads, compared to 70,000 EVs among 313 million Americans and 5,000 EVs among 63 million people in the UK. More than 1,200 EVs are being sold in Norway per month thanks to incentives that include free electricity for recharging, lower sales tax rates, waived tolls, free parking, insurance discounts, and permission to drive in bus lanes, which are less crowded. The EV rush is expected to slow, however, as bus lanes become more crowded, and the government plans to end financial incentives once 50,000 EVs are registered, which could occur by 2016.
PERMALINK

 

28 Jan 2014: Peru Park Holds Record
Reptile and Amphibian Diversity, Study Finds

A new study crowns Peru's Manu National Park as the place with the world's most diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians — 287 species in all. The park's 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species outnumber those in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park, which, with 271 reptile
Manu glass frog
Alessandro Catenazzi
A glass frog from Manu's cloud forests
and amphibian species, was previously believed to contain the world's most diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians. Although Manu National Park represents only 0.01 percent of the world's land area, it houses 2.2 percent of all amphibian species and 1.5 percent of all reptile species, the researchers note. They attribute the rich diversity to the park's elevation gradient, which spans the Western Amazon's tropical rainforest up through high Andean cloud forests, providing a wide range of habitats. Manu also has record bird diversity — with 1,000 species, or 10 percent of the world's total species — and tremendous butterfly diversity, with 1,200 species. Scientists say the inventory of the national park's richness is far from complete. DNA analyses, frog call studies, and other techniques will likely reveal even more diversity, the authors note in the journal Biota Neotropica.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: How Citizen Science Is
Aiding and Democratizing Research

When biologist Caren Cooper carries out her avian studies, she’s aided by thousands of assistants, none of whom are paid for their work. That’s because Cooper, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, relies on the help of so-called citizen scientists, volunteers from across the country who contribute data
Caren Cooper
Caren Cooper
to her research projects. These lay people provide information that enables her and other scientists to study bird life in ways that would otherwise be impossible. But, as Cooper notes in an interview with Yale Environment 360, the uses of citizen science go well beyond bird research. Bushmen in the Kalahari are using apps to document wildlife and natural resources that need to be protected. Environmental activists also are employing open-source technology to measure and monitor pollution, including the deployment of kites and balloons to document such events as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “A lot of the ways for us to move forward in certain fields require massive collaboration,” says Cooper. “And so we’re building all the infrastructure for these collaborations, all of the web tools — whatever we need to make that happen.”
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

27 Jan 2014: Changes in Humidity
Are Used to Generate Electricity

Researchers have created a new kind of generator that uses bacterial spores to harness the untapped power of evaporating water. Scientists from Harvard and Columbia universities have created small, prototype generators by coating a sheet of rubber with a soil
Vancouver 2010 Olympics
Bacillus subtilis bacterial spores
bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, that greatly expands and contracts with changes in humidity. Building a generator out of Legos, a miniature fan, a magnet, and the spore-covered sheet of latex, the researchers used the humidity-driven flexing of the rubber sheet to drive the movement of the magnet, which generated electricity. The developers of the potential renewable energy technology said that large electrical generators could one day be powered by changes in humidity from sun-warmed ponds and harbors. The scientists said that moistening and then drying a pound of the spores produces enough force to lift a car one meter. “If this technology is developed fully, it has a very promising endgame,” said Columbia University researcher Ozgur Sahin.
PERMALINK

 

24 Jan 2014: Future Olympic Winter Games
At Risk as Climate Warms, Researchers Warn

As few as six of the world's previous 19 Olympic Winter Games sites will likely still be wintry enough to host snow sports at the end of the century, according to a report by Canadian and Austrian researchers. Iconic locales such as Squaw Valley, Utah, and Vancouver,
Vancouver 2010 Olympics
Vancouver, 2010 winter games host, is warming.
Canada, will likely be too warm by the middle of this century. Even under conservative climate change scenarios, only 11 of the 19 sites would remain climatically stable enough to reliably host the games, the study found. Olympic organizing committees consistently cite poor weather as a major challenge for the winter games, and it's likely to get more challenging: The average February daytime temperature of winter games locations has steadily increased — from 0.4 degrees C at games held in the 1920s to 1950s, to 3.1 degrees C in the 1960s to 1990s, to 7.8 degrees C so far in the 21st century. These sites will likely warm by an additional 2.7 to 4.4 degrees C by the end of the century, according to the report.
PERMALINK

 

23 Jan 2014: NASA Images Show Severity
Of California's Record-Setting Drought

A pair of NASA images, taken a year apart, show the profound impacts of California's current drought, which Gov. Jerry Brown said yesterday poses a major threat to California's environment and economy. A satellite image taken last Saturday shows virtually no snow cover

Click to Enlarge
California drought 2014

California has almost no snowpack this January.
in the Coast Range and Cascade Mountains, and only a modest amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada. Officials say the snowpack is only 10 to 30 percent of normal levels. In addition, California's vital agricultural areas in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, which lie west of the Sierra Nevada, are a parched brown. By contrast, a satellite image taken in January 2013 shows significant snowpack in the mountains and a swath of green in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. Half of California's yearly precipitation falls between December and February, so January's record dry conditions threaten water supplies for the entire year.
PERMALINK

 

22 Jan 2014: New Virus Associated With
Massive Bee Die-Offs, Researchers Report

A rapidly mutating virus may be partially responsible for the massive bee die-offs known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), which has wiped out a third of commercial bee colonies annually for the past seven years, a group of U.S. and Chinese researchers reports. Most scientists, including the study's authors, believe CCD is triggered when colonies are weakened by a combination of factors, such as viruses, parasites, and perhaps pesticides. The study, published in the journal mBio, found in bees a variant of the tobacco ringspot virus, an RNA virus that likely jumped from tobacco plants, to soy plants, to bees. Weak bee colonies began succumbing to massive die-offs in autumn, and the researchers found those bees were heavily infected with tobacco ringspot — which is believed to affect honeybees' nervous systems — and other viruses. Strong colonies that made it through the winter showed no evidence of infection by tobacco ringspot. The researchers believe the virus jumped from plants to bees through "bee bread," a concoction of pollen, nectar, and saliva they feed their larvae. Bee infection by tobacco ringspot is the first known instance of a virus from pollen jumping to bees.
PERMALINK

 

21 Jan 2014: More Crude Oil Spilled by
U.S. Trains in 2013 Than Previous 40 Years

U.S. trains spilled 1.15 million gallons of crude oil in 2013 — more than was spilled in the nearly 40 years since officials began tracking such accidents, federal data show. The majority of that volume came from two major derailments: a November incident in Alabama that spilled 750,000 gallons and a December incident in North Dakota that officials estimate spilled 400,000 gallons. Those incidents, as well as smaller spills, have added to growing concerns over the safety of using railways to transport crude as U.S. oil production surges in the upper Midwest. From 1975 to 2012, a total of 800,000 gallons of crude were spilled during rail transport. Excluding the two major derailments from the 2013 total, 11,000 gallons of crude were spilled last year — more than the previous two years combined. The data do not include a 1.5 million-gallon spill that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July.
PERMALINK

 

20 Jan 2014: Soil Microbes Can Alter DNA
In Response to Climate Change, Study Says

A 10-year study of soil ecosystems has determined that microbes alter their genetic code in response to a warming climate so they can process excess carbon being absorbed by plants from the atmosphere, a team of U.S. researchers reports in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. A 2-degree Celsius temperature increase spurred microbes in soil ecosystems to, over many generations, tweak their DNA, amping up their respiratory systems and converting extra organic carbon in the soil to CO2. The soil contained extra carbon because the 2-degree temperature increase made plants grow faster and higher; when those plants began to die, the carbon in their leaves, stems, and roots was added to the soil and taken up by the microbial community. Understanding the "black box" of carbon's fate in soil ecosystems holds important clues for better forecasting an ecosystem's response to climate change, says Georgia Institute of Technology researcher Kostas Konstantinidis, an author of the study. "One reason that models of climate change have such big room for variation is because we don’t understand the microbial activities that control carbon in the soil," he said.
PERMALINK

 

17 Jan 2014: More Than 1,000 Rhinos
Poached in 2013, South African Officials Say

More than 1,000 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa last year, a record total and an increase of more than 50 percent from 2012, South African officials say. South Africa is home to nearly all of the
Black rhino
Adam Welz
world's 20,000 rhinos, which are targeted by poachers because their horns are highly valued and believed to contain medicinal properties. Although those claims are scientifically unfounded, demand from increasingly wealthy consumers in China and Vietnam has driven the price of rhino horns to over $65,000 per kilogram — more valuable than gold, platinum, or cocaine. South Africa has tried to stem the crisis by training park rangers to use arms, drones, and helicopters, but those anti-poaching efforts have shown limited success. Rhino poachings in 2012 also increased by 50 percent over 2011 totals, and 37 have been poached so far in 2014, officials report. Most of the killings are taking place in South Africa's Kruger National Park, where 606 rhinos were killed last year and 425 in 2012.
PERMALINK

 

16 Jan 2014: Pebble Mine Would Endanger
Alaska's Bristol Bay, Major EPA Study Finds

A three-year study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that mining in Alaska's Bristol Bay area would pose significant dangers to the environment, a potentially fatal setback for plans
Bristol Bay watershed
Mulchatna River, part of Bristol Bay watershed
to develop Pebble Mine, a major open-pit mining project that aimed to exploit one of the largest and richest mineral deposits in the world. The EPA study cited concerns for the region's thriving sockeye salmon population and its native people, saying the mine would destroy 24 to 94 miles of salmon streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds, and lakes. Pebble Mine proponents, including Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, criticize the study as flawed and rushed, since the development company wasn't allowed to submit its mining plan before the EPA study. Native groups, fishermen, and environmental organizations are applauding the study. The proposed mine — which seeks to exploit gold, copper, and other metals — was already in trouble, with one of two major partners withdrawing from the project last year.
PERMALINK

 

15 Jan 2014: West African Lions Are
Critically Close to Extinction, Study Says

West African lions are close to extinction, and vulnerable populations could be wiped out in the next five to 10 years, according to new research led by the wild cat conservation group Panthera. West African lions, which are genetically distinct from other African lions, once numbered in the tens of thousands. Now the
West African lion
Philipp Henschel/Panthera
Male West African lion
population has been reduced to around 400 individuals spread across 17 countries, largely due to habitat loss, a shortage of prey, and poaching, according to the study published in PLOS ONE. Of the remaining lions, only about 250 are mature enough to reproduce, but in many cases those individuals are spread too far apart to breed. West African lions are now present in only 1.1 percent of their original habitat and should be considered "critically endangered," according to the study. Running low on habitat and prey, the lions sometimes kill livestock. Villagers then kill the lions in revenge. "It's become very complicated for this carnivore at the top of the food chain to find enough space and food to survive," one scientist told Reuters.
PERMALINK

 

14 Jan 2014: Google's Acquisition of Nest
Expected to Boost Smart Grid Expansion

Google's purchase of Nest, a leading manufacturer of smart thermostats, further deepens the Internet search giant's involvement in the green energy sector and is likely to help accelerate development of a more efficient
Smart thermostat
smart grid, experts say. Google has already invested $300 million in distributed solar companies, which have been helping homeowners install photovoltaic panels to offset their conventional grid-based power consumption. The success of distributed solar hinges on effective smart-metering, and acquiring Nest — whose thermostats can be controlled remotely and can track and reduce energy consumption — could help Google gain valuable insight into millions of individuals' daily power consumption patterns, Quartz reports. As power grids and meters get "smarter," demand for technology like Nest's thermostats will likely grow; incorporating distributed solar energy sources should become easier for households, as well. The $3.2 billion deal will also give Google access to Nest Energy Services, a branch of the company that manages partnerships between Nest and U.S. power companies.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Activist Kumi Naidoo
On Russia and the Climate Struggle

Kumi Naidoo, the international executive director of Greenpeace, is intimately familiar with the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform in the Russian Arctic. In 2012, he and five other Greenpeace activists were hosed down with frigid water and pelted with pieces of metal as they attempted to climb aboard the platform.
“Kumi
Kumi Naidoo
Greenpeace and Prirazlomnaya were back in the news recently when 28 Greenpeace members were arrested and held for several months for storming the rig before being released in December. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Naidoo talks about what’s needed to get global climate talks off the ground and launch a green energy revolution, and the reason his activist organization has decided to take such a strong stand against oil drilling in the rapidly melting Arctic Ocean. "We went back [to Prirazlomnaya]," says Naidoo, "because we’re trying to draw a line in the ice, because once this starts it will have breached another threshold of meeting our rapacious appetite for oil and gas in the most fragile of environments."
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

13 Jan 2014: Pine Island Glacier Has
Melted Beyond Tipping Point, Study Says

A major Antarctic ice mass, the Pine Island Glacier, is melting irreversibly and could add as much as a centimeter to global sea level rise over the next 20 years alone, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change. Calculations show that the Pine Island Glacier's "grounding line" — where land-based ice meets a floating ice shelf that is an extension of the

Click to Enlarge
Pine Island Glacier velocities

Pine Island Glacier ice flow velocities
glacier — has retreated roughly 10 kilometers in the past decade. Scientists say that the grounding line is in the process of a 40-kilometer retreat that could push it beyond an important tipping point. Pine Island Glacier is a major contributor to global sea level rise and has been losing massive amounts of ice for decades, accounting for 20 percent of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet's total ice loss. An international research team says that the Pine Island Glacier has been losing 20 billion tons of ice annually for the past two decades and could lose 100 billion tons annually over the next 20 years. The glacier "has started a phase of self-sustained retreat and will irreversibly continue its decline," says Gael Durand, a glaciologist with France's Grenoble Alps University.
PERMALINK

 

10 Jan 2014: Natural Gas Has Sharply
Reduced Emissions from Power Plants

The dramatic increase in using natural gas to produce electricity in the United States has led to an equally dramatic decline in the amount of pollutants and carbon dioxide emitted from the nation’s power plants, according to a new study. The study, conducted by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, showed that the switch from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power plants has reduced CO2 emissions by 23 percent and emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by 40 and 44 percent, respectively. Examining power plant emissions from 1997 to 2012, the scientists found that new combined-cycle natural gas-fired power plants — which use two heat engines in tandem to convert a higher fraction of heat into electrical energy — emit less than half the amount of CO2 as coal-fired power plants. The study, to be published in the journal Earth’s Future, said that the fraction of electricity produced in the U.S. from coal fell from 83 percent in 1997 to 59 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, the fraction of electricity generated by combined-cycle natural gas plants rose from zero to 34 percent.
PERMALINK

 

09 Jan 2014: Faced With Sea Ice Loss,
Emperor Penguins Alter Breeding Tactics

Confronted with the loss of sea ice in some parts of Antarctica, four colonies of emperor penguins have come up with an innovative breeding strategy to adapt to their changing environment. Using satellite images,
Emperor penguin
an international team of scientists tracked the four colonies from 2008 to 2012. In the first three years, the emperor penguins hatched and incubated eggs in their customary fashion — atop the sea ice that freezes during the Antarctic winter and spring. But in 2011 and 2012, sea ice did not form until a month after the breeding season began. As a result, the emperor penguins, which are the largest penguin species on earth, did something never before witnessed by scientists: They climbed the nearly sheer walls of large, floating ice shelves — huge structures, often hundreds of square miles in extent, that flow from land-based glaciers into the sea. In the region of the four colonies, the ice shelf walls reach as high as 100 feet. The scientists say the altered breeding behavior could demonstrate how ice-dependent emperor penguins may adapt to a warming world.
PERMALINK

 

08 Jan 2014: China Approves Major
Increase in Huge Coal Mining Projects

In 2013, the Chinese government approved 15 large coal mining projects that will produce more than 100 million new tons of coal a year. The expansion will lead to a 2 to 3 percent growth in coal production over the next several years, even as the country announced moves to reduce the severe air pollution choking major cities such as Beijing. Chinese officials will increase coal production while reducing pollution in population centers by closing outdated coal plants and creating huge “coal bases” that will mine and burn coal in remote regions of northwestern China, such as Inner Mongolia. Those bases, which will cost $8.9 billion to build, will generate electricity that will be transferred over an improved electricity grid to cities in China’s central and eastern regions. Deng Ping, an environmental campaigner with Greenpeace, said the scale of the new coal bases is unprecedented for China, adding, “Despite the climate change pressure, water resource scarcity, and other environmental problems, the coal industry is still expanding fast in northwest China.”
PERMALINK

 

07 Jan 2014: Suburbs Offset Low Carbon
Footprints of Major U.S. Cities, Study Finds

City-dwellers in the U.S. have significantly smaller per-capita carbon footprints than their rural counterparts, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley. But the carbon-intense suburbs surrounding major cities essentially cancel out the small carbon footprints of city residents,

Click to Enlarge
NYC metro carbon footprints

Carbon footprints in the NYC metro region.
the study found. Vehicle emissions accounted for the majority of carbon dioxide produced in the suburbs, reflecting suburbanites' longer commutes to work, school, and stores. The study looked at 37 factors — including weather, income, home size, and transportation data — to estimate household carbon footprints. The average carbon footprint of households living in the center of large, densely populated cities is about 50 percent below the national average, while households in distant suburbs have carbon footprints up to twice the national average, according to the study published in Environmental Science & Technology.
PERMALINK

 

06 Jan 2014: China Crushes Six Tons
Of Ivory to Stem Elephant Poaching

In an effort to stem elephant poaching, Chinese authorities have crushed six tons of confiscated ivory, the first such effort in the country's history. Coordinated by the State Forestry Administration and the General Administration of Customs, the event was widely publicized and aimed at spreading awareness in China of the scale of the global poaching crisis. Conservation
China's ivory crush
groups consistently name China as a major driver of elephant poaching, as the country's growing middle class has increasingly sought to buy ivory ornaments and ivory-based medicinal therapies, which have no scientific or medical basis. The six tons of ornaments and tusks that were crushed represent only a fraction of China's ivory stockpile, which is probably more than 45 tons, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) estimates. Still, many conservation groups are applauding China's efforts. "This destruction of ivory by China is a symbol of the government's growing responsiveness to the ivory crisis," the WCS said.
PERMALINK

 

03 Jan 2014: North Dakota Bakken Crude
More Explosive Than Expected, Officials Say

Crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken field may be more flammable and explosive than previously thought, officials now say after a series of fiery railroad accidents. The crude may contain more flammable gasses, be highly corrosive, or more sulfurous than crude from other oil fields, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The agency is warning Bakken oil producers to "sufficiently degasify" the crude oil before loading it into rail cars. On Monday, several tank cars carrying Bakken crude exploded after a collision on a remote stretch of track in North Dakota, and last July a runaway train carrying the crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. U.S. railroads have asked manufacturers for safety upgrades to tank cars that carry Bakken crude, which could cost the industry roughly $3 billion, Reuters estimates. Trains carried nearly 700,000 barrels of Bakken crude each day in October, a 67 percent increase over the previous year.
PERMALINK

 

02 Jan 2014: Stranded Antarctic Expedition
Rescued After Being Icebound for Nine Days

Passengers trapped on an icebound Russian research ship off the coast of Antarctica were rescued today after being stranded for more than a week. A helicopter from China shuttled the 52 scientists, journalists, and tourists to an Australian icebreaker. The chartered ship was attempting to recreate the century-old travels and scientific work carried out by the East Antarctic research expedition led by Douglas Mawson in 1911. The Russian ship, which set out from New Zealand on December 8, became trapped in thick pack ice that even icebreakers could not penetrate. Because it was a privately chartered expedition, the voyage was not subjected to the same rigorous safety requirements that a research trip funded by government agencies would have been, scientists said. Some scientists contended that the lack of preparation sparked a rescue effort that diverted ships, crew, and other important resources from other research efforts elsewhere in Antarctica.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: A Legal Call to Arms to
Fix Environmental and Climate Ills

University of Oregon law professor Mary Wood has an unsparing view of the state of environmental protection in the United States today: On a host of fronts — from climate change to the nationwide fracking boom —
Mary Wood
Mary Wood
the federal and state governments are failing to protect ecosystems and resources vital to current and future generations. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Wood discusses why she believes the judiciary needs to step in to force the executive and legislative branches to protect natural resources that are part of the “public trust.” She also explains why she supports ongoing litigation to reduce carbon emissions under a related doctrine to safeguard the "atmospheric trust." Says Wood, "The political branches of government are doing next to nothing to address this crisis ... Across the board, agencies are not using the statutes to protect nature — they’re using statutes to permit damage to the environment."
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

31 Dec 2013: Atlantic Ocean Zooplankton
Are Now Reproducing in Arctic Waters

For the first time, scientists have discovered species of Atlantic Ocean zooplankton reproducing in Arctic waters. German researchers say the discovery indicates a possible shift in the Arctic zooplankton community as
amphipod
The amphipod Themisto compressa
the region warms, one that could be detrimental to Arctic birds, fish, and marine mammals. Studying traps that have been suspended for 13 years in the Fram Strait, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute found that small species of crustaceans common to the Atlantic are increasingly moving into Arctic waters. The researchers found fertile females as well as individuals at all stages of development, showing that the Atlantic species is reproducing in the frigid waters. The one-centimeter amphipods are smaller than respective Arctic species, meaning that the spread of the Atlantic crustaceans northward could reduce the volume of food available to Arctic predators. The research was published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.
PERMALINK

 

30 Dec 2013: Hydropower "Battery" Could
Even Out Wind Energy Supply, Scientists Say

Norwegian hydropower stations could be linked to wind farms and serve as giant "batteries" to even out power supply fluctuations, a Scandinavian research organization says. A major hurdle for renewable energy suppliers is intermittent power production — sometimes too much power is generated, other times too little, and periods of peak demand often don't coincide with periods of peak supply. By using excess electricity from windy periods to pump water uphill into reservoirs, hydroelectric power stations could smooth out the intermittent power supplied by large wind farms, Scandinavian researchers from the firm SINTEF say. At times of low wind energy supply, the stored water could be released through dam turbines and hydroelectricity would fill the gap. The plan requires updating and refurbishing existing Norwegian hydropower plants, which could increase their output potential by 11 to 18 gigawatts, enough to provide an adequate backup power supply.
PERMALINK

 

26 Dec 2013: Solar Activity Not a Major
Factor in Climate Change, Study Finds

Solar activity has had minimal impact on climate over the past millennium, new research from the United Kingdom indicates. The findings counter the long-held view that periodic fluctuations in the sun's energy output have led to lengthy periods of warm or cold weather in the past. Looking at climate records from the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,000 years, the scientists found that greenhouse gases have been the primary drivers of climate change since about 1900. Volcanic activity, which adds particles to the atmosphere that block sunlight, dominated climate patterns until roughly 1800, the study found. "Until now, the influence of the sun on past climate has been poorly understood," said Andrew Schurer of the University of Edinburgh and lead author of the study, which was published in Nature Geoscience. "We hope that our new discoveries will help improve our understanding of how temperatures have changed over the past few centuries, and improve predictions for how they might develop in future."
PERMALINK

 

23 Dec 2013: Russian Oil Giant Becomes
First in World to Pump Oil From Arctic

The Russian national oil company Gazprom has begun drilling for oil at a highly contested site in the Arctic. The oil field, an offshore site in the Russian Arctic known as Prirazlomnoye, drew international attention in September when a contingent of Greenpeace members boarded the platform in protest and were jailed in Russia for two months before being granted amnesty last week. The project, which is several years behind schedule, is the first in Russian history aimed at "developing the resources of the Arctic shelf," Gazprom said. Environmental groups say that no company has the technology or resources to deal with a massive oil spill in the harsh conditions of the Arctic Ocean. The oil giant Shell had planned exploratory drilling in the Arctic off the coast of Alaska, but temporarily shelved those plans last year after a series of mishaps. Gazprom says it has taken all necessary precautions to deal with a spill, Mongabay reports.
PERMALINK

 

20 Dec 2013: Renewable Energy Comprised
Total U.S. November Power Generation Gains

All of the additional electricity-generating capacity added by the U.S. last month came from renewable energy sources, according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, and hydropower projects provided 394 megawatts — 100 percent — of all new electricity generation that went on line in November. No new capacity was added from fossil fuels or nuclear power, FERC reported. Renewable energy sources also provided 99 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity in October. Although natural gas has been the biggest player in added capacity so far this year (52 percent), solar also made gains. It alone has made up roughly 21 percent of new power capacity so far in 2013, two-thirds more than its year-to-date total in 2012. Renewable sources now account for 15.9 percent of total U.S. generating capacity, which is more than nuclear (9.2 percent) and oil (4.05 percent) combined.
PERMALINK

 

19 Dec 2013: Los Angeles Becomes First
Major U.S. City to Adopt Cool Roof Rule

The Los Angeles City Council has voted unanimously to require "cool roofs" for all new and refurbished homes, becoming the first major U.S. city to do so. "Cool roofs" incorporate light- and heat-reflecting building materials, which can lower the surface temperature of the roof by up to 50 degrees F on a hot day, according to Climate Resolve, the local organization that pushed for the ordinance. Such roofs do not necessarily need to be white, the Global Cool Cities Alliance says; they can also be shades of gray, or even red. Research suggests that by mid-century temperatures in Los Angeles will increase by 3.7 to 5.4 degrees F, with the number of days above 95 degrees F tripling in the city's downtown. "The changes our region will face are significant, and we will have to adapt," said UCLA scientist Alex Hall, who led the research. The mandate will not cost homeowners additional money because of expanded incentives.
PERMALINK

 

18 Dec 2013: Mapping Course and Software
Make Forest Monitoring Widely Accessible

Citizen scientists interested in tracking the health of the planet's forests have a new tool at their disposal. New software that uses satellite technology to map and

Watch Video
Forest mapping video

A video explains the mapping software.
monitor changes in forested areas is being made available to the public through a free online course. Users who complete the course, hosted by Stanford University, can receive a license to operate the software, called CLASlite. CLASlite, or the Carnegie Landsat Analysis System lite, is a highly automated system for converting satellite imagery from its original, raw format into maps that can be used to detect deforestation, logging, and other disruptions. It was developed by Carnegie researcher Greg Asner to help governments, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions conduct high-resolution mapping and monitoring of forests. "We are making the science of forest monitoring broadly available to people who want and need to participate in tracking and managing the health of their forests," said Asner.
PERMALINK

 

Photo Essay: Documenting the Swift
Change Wrought by Global Warming


Documenting global warming photo essay
Peter Essick

For 25 years, photographer Peter Essick has traveled the world for National Geographic magazine, with many of his recent assignments focusing on the causes and consequences of climate change. In a Yale Environment 360 photo essay, we present a gallery of images he took while on assignment in Antarctica, Greenland, and other far-flung locales affected by climate change.
View the photo gallery.
PERMALINK

 

17 Dec 2013: Australian Coal Projects
Threatened by Drop in Demand From China

Major Australian coal projects risk losing value due to falling demand from China, where leaders are increasingly concerned about growing public anger over severe air pollution, a new analysis from Oxford University has found. Future coal mining projects are vulnerable to being "stranded" by a range of policy changes from the Chinese government, including environmental regulation, carbon pricing, investment in renewable energy, and energy efficiency, the report said. One expert told The Guardian that global investors are already questioning the prudence of financing new fossil fuel projects. Backers of a handful of upcoming Australian coal projects "should seek clarity" on the associated costs, the Oxford analysis warns. It also cautions that Australian state governments could suffer if projects are mothballed or abandoned. Of particular concern are two mega-mines supported by Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott slated for development in Queensland. Once running at full capacity, the two projects combined would produce enough coal to emit more than 70 millions tons of CO2 a year.
PERMALINK

 

16 Dec 2013: Volume of E-Waste
Projected to Soar by 2017, Study Says

The volume of electronic waste generated worldwide is expected to climb by 33 percent by 2017 to 65 million tons, according to a study conducted by a partnership of United Nations organizations, industry, governments, and scientists. So many computers, televisions, mobile
E-waste landfill
phones, and other devices are being tossed away annually that within four years the volume of e-waste would fill a 15,000-mile line of 40-ton trucks, the report said. The report, released by a group called StEP ( Solving the E-Waste Problem Initiative) said that in 2012, 50 million tons of e-waste was generated worldwide, about 15 pounds for every person on the planet. China generated the most electronic waste last year, with 11.1 million tons, followed by the U.S. with 10 million tons. But in per capita generation, the U.S. dwarfed China and most other countries, with each American producing 65 pounds of e-waste, the study said. “The explosion is happening because there is so much technical innovation,” said Ruediger Kuehr, executive secretary of StEP.
PERMALINK

 

13 Dec 2013: U.S. Energy Department
Invests in Small-Scale Nuclear Reactors

Small, nearly meltdown-proof nuclear reactors are receiving a big boost from the U.S. Department of Energy. The department will give a company in Corvallis, Oregon, as much as $226 million to develop so-called "small modular reactors," which can be used with many local power grids that can't accommodate conventional nuclear reactors. Because of the extremely low likelihood of meltdown, the next-generation, small-scale reactors are safer than many currently operating reactors, engineers say. The company, NuScale Power, plans to encase their reactors in something akin to a large thermos, which would sit at the bottom of a pool. If a reactor fails and threatens to overheat, the container would fill with water and remove excess heat without pumps or valves, which can sometimes fail. The Energy Department's investment is the second one in a $452 million, multi-year program to accelerate the development of such reactors. The reactor designs use water as a coolant, which is technologically conservative and increases the likelihood that the small modular reactors would be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory commission, The New York Times reports.
PERMALINK

 

12 Dec 2013: Household Solar Panel
Installations up 52 Percent in the U.S.

Household solar power is on the rise throughout the U.S., a new report shows, with installations in the third quarter of 2013 up 52 percent over the same period last year. Those installations generate a total of 930 megawatts of power, a 35 percent increase over third quarter 2012. The U.S. has likely surpassed Germany to
household solar panel
become the world's leader in solar power generation, the report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association says. California leads the country in the number of installations, followed by Arizona and North Carolina. Residential solar power is still a small slice of the total solar power market, but it's showing the strongest growth as household solar installation costs fell 9.7 percent over the past year. Of those costs, hardware expenses, including solar panels and transmission equipment, are steadily shrinking. But so-called "soft costs," such as financing and labor, now account for 64 percent of the price of household solar power installations, according to new research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
PERMALINK

 

11 Dec 2013: Final Shipment of Russian
Warhead Uranium Set to Reach U.S. Today

A U.S. nuclear storage facility today will receive the final shipment of decommissioned nuclear warheads from Russia, NPR reports. Since 1993 the Russian uranium has been generating 10 percent of all electricity consumed in the U.S., part of a deal struck with the former Soviet state when its nuclear industry, crippled by arms reduction agreements, was struggling to make
Uranium cylinder
Russian uranium ready for shipment to U.S.
ends meet. Negotiations began when a U.S. official visited Russia in the early 1990s and found bomb-grade uranium from thousands of decommissioned warheads lying around in crumbling storage facilities. Concerned that the radioactive material was unsecured and vulnerable to theft, the U.S. asked to buy it. Russian officials reluctantly agreed to convert roughly 500 tons of bomb-grade uranium into nuclear fuel and sell it to the U.S. Experts say it was a win-win scenario: Russia made a substantial profit ($17 billion), U.S. power plants could buy the uranium at a good price, and 20,000 bombs' worth of radioactive material was converted into relatively clean electricity. The deal will go down in history as one of the greatest diplomatic achievements ever, one expert told NPR.
PERMALINK

 

10 Dec 2013: Chinese State Media
Criticized for Touting Benefits of Smog

For Chinese citizens worried about smog, which has been blanketing major cities and smashing air pollution records recently, China's state media has some advice: Look on the bright side. State broadcaster CCTV and a Communist Party tabloid, Global Times, yesterday published editorials attempting to put a positive spin on China's air pollution crisis. The state-run outlets said smog has military benefits because it can interfere with the guidance systems of foreign missiles, as well as personal benefits such as bolstering Chinese citizens' sense of humor, making them more united, more sober, better informed, and more equal because smog "affected the lungs of both rich and poor," The Telegraph reports. Internet commenters and other media outlets, including several state-run publications, were outraged. "Is the smog supposed to lift if we laugh about it?" asked the official publication Beijing Business Today. The pro-smog pieces have both been deleted from the publications' websites.
PERMALINK

 

09 Dec 2013: Intensifying Storms Are
Contributing To Ongoing U.S. Wetlands Loss

The U.S. is losing wetlands at a rate of 80,000 acres per year, in part because of intensifying coastal storms and sea level rise, according to a new government study. From 2004 to 2009, the country lost more than 360,000 acres of freshwater and saltwater wetlands, a decline driven both by traditional factors, such as coastal development, as well as worsening storms and slowly rising seas, the study says. The rate of loss is a signal that government efforts to protect and restore wetlands are failing to keep pace with major environmental changes, experts told The Washington Post. The most pronounced wetlands losses were along the Gulf of Mexico, where major hurricanes have wreaked havoc on coastal lands. Along the Atlantic coast, a rapid increase in coastal development is funneling stormwater runoff into wetlands that cannot handle it, the study said. The loss rate of 80,000 acres annually represents a 25 percent increase over the rate of wetlands loss during 1998-2004, the last time government agencies examined the problem.
PERMALINK

 

Five Questions For Jerry Brown
On the West Coast Climate Pact


California Governor Jerry Brown was one of the moving forces behind a new agreement among three Western states and British Columbia to align their policies to combat climate change. Under the pact, signed on Oct. 28 by Brown and the governors of Oregon and Washington, the states and the province agreed to a series of actions, including putting a price on carbon and adopting a low-carbon fuels standard. Yale Environment 360 spoke with Brown and asked him five questions about the pact and overall efforts to tackle climate change.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

06 Dec 2013: China Doubles Pace
Of Renewable Energy Installation in 2013

Over the past 10 months China has added renewable energy sources to its power grid at double the pace of 2012, according to its National Energy Administration (NEA). The renewable energy push, part of a massive effort to cut air pollution in China's large cities, has added more than 36 gigawatts of clean energy capacity
Shanghai, December 3, 2013
Shanghai, Dec. 3, 2013
so far this year, Bloomberg News reports. Hydroelectric power grew by 22.3 gigawatts in the first 10 months of 2013, new nuclear energy installations totaled 2.2 gigawatts, solar 3.6 gigawatts, wind 7.9 gigawatts. China's solar energy capacity could triple from 2012 levels to 10 gigawatts by the end of the year, while wind and nuclear power capacity could increase by 22 and 17 percent, respectively, the NEA said. That should offer some relief from China's choking air pollution. In Shanghai, schoolchildren were ordered indoors today as air pollution reached extremely hazardous levels, exceeding World Health Organization health guidelines for fine particulate matter by 24 times.
PERMALINK

 

05 Dec 2013: Urban Car Use Declines
As Biking and Public Transit Rise in the U.S.

Americans in urban areas are driving less, biking more, owning fewer cars, and using public transportation more frequently, according to new research by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). The number of people driving to work fell in 99 of 100 major urban areas between 2006 and 2011, and the number of miles driven by car fell in three-quarters of the cities studied over that time, the PIRG study showed. The proportion of people biking to work increased in 85 of 100 cities, while the number of miles traveled on public transit increased in 60 of 98 cities. Meanwhile, the number of people working from home grew in all 100 cities, the report said. From 2004 to 2012, the average number of vehicle-miles driven per person decreased by 7.6 percent nationwide. "There is a shift away from driving,” said Phineas Baxandall, an analyst for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. "Instead of expanding new highways, our government leaders should focus on investing in public transit and biking for the future."
PERMALINK

 

04 Dec 2013: New Paper Offers Sweeping
Plan to Decarbonize the Global Economy

Eighteen prominent international climate scientists and economists have authored a paper that seeks to answer the most vexing environmental question facing the planet: How to reverse soaring carbon dioxide emissions and prevent the world from experiencing destabilizing climate change. Their answer, presented in the journal PLOS One, boils down to this: Offer global leaders a detailed blueprint for decarbonization that involves setting a steadily rising price on carbon, the large-scale deployment of nuclear power and renewable energy, increased research into low-carbon energy technologies, and a reform of forestry and agricultural policies that leads to massive sequestration of CO2 — all while not spending more than 1 percent of global gross economic output. “In terms of economics, comparing a path to decarbonization versus a path of wrecking the planet are not even close,” economist Jeffrey Sachs, a co-author of the paper and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said at a press briefing. “We haven’t shown the path of decarbonzation clearly enough (and) what the real choices are.”
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

03 Dec 2013: Microplastic Pollution Harms
Worms at Bottom of Food Chain, Study Finds

As plastic trash accumulates in ocean ecosystems, it may be damaging worms and other sensitive marine life at the bottom of the food chain, scientists report. Two British studies found that microplastics — tiny remnants, less than 5 mm in diameter, from the breakdown of plastic trash — made seafloor worms eat
Jezzdk/Wikimedia
Beach sediments churned by a lugworm
less and transferred pollutants from the plastics to the worms. Because they ate less, the worms had less energy to invest in important functions such as growth, reproduction, and churning sediments, one of their most important roles in the ocean ecosystem. The worms also absorbed harmful chemicals from the debris, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, and flame retardants, researchers said. Lugworms, often called the "earthworms of the sea," are considered an indicator species because they feed on ocean floor sediments. Microplastics have been accumulating in those sediments since the 1960s, and, although each particle is nearly invisible, taken together microplastics are the most abundant form of solid-waste pollution on the planet.
PERMALINK

 

02 Dec 2013: Poachers Killed 22,000
Elephants in Africa Last Year, Group Says

Poachers slaughtered 22,000 elephants in 27 African countries last year, according to a new report. Officials with The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and two conservation groups said that 15,000 elephant
Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay
A herd in Namibia
deaths from poaching were officially reported in Africa and that another 7,000 deaths went unreported. Although that number is a slight decrease from the 2011 estimate of 25,000 poaching deaths, CITES officials warn that poaching rates are far too high and could soon lead to local extinctions. Africa, which is currently home to roughly 500,000 elephants, could lose a fifth of its elephant population over the next 10 years, CITES says. "The estimated poaching rate of 7.4 percent in 2012 remains at an unsustainably high level, as it exceeds natural population growth rates (usually no more than 5 percent)," the report says.
PERMALINK

 

29 Nov 2013: Wide Mangrove Destruction
Is Documented Along Coast of Myanmar

Rapid agricultural expansion destroyed nearly two-thirds of the mangrove forestsin Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta between 1978 and 2011, increasing the region’s vulnerability to cyclones and typhoons, according to a new study. Using remote sensing imagery

Click to Enlarge
Mangrove destruction map

Webb et al., 2013
Mangrove forest loss
and field data, researchers from Myanmar and Singapore said that the dense mangrove cover in the Ayeyarwady Delta declined from 2,623 square kilometers to 1,000 square kilometers in that 33-year period. The main cause was agriculture expansion and the researchers said that if rates of destruction continue at their current pace the delta’s mangroves could be completely deforested by 2026. Reporting in the journal Global Environmental Change, the scientists said the loss of mangroves in the Ayeyarwady Delta could put the region at greater risk of major storms such as Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 people in Myanmar in 2008. But the researchers said the destruction could be slowed if Myanmar creates coastal protected areas.
PERMALINK

 

27 Nov 2013: China Set to Open
World's Second Largest Carbon Market

China is in the midst of launching seven carbon markets, the largest of which will open next month in Guangdong, the country's most populous province. The carbon markets are a key element of China's plan to cut carbon emissions by up to 45 percent per unit of GDP by 2020. The Guangdong carbon permitting scheme will cap 2013 emissions at 350 tons for 202 companies in the heavily industrialized province. Twenty-nine million permits will be auctioned in the market this year and next, which will be the world's second largest carbon market after the European Union's, dwarfing carbon markets in Australia and California. In 2015 the number of permits auctioned will more than triple, officials said. Shanghai's carbon market launched yesterday and a similar market, about a quarter of the size of Guangdong's, is set to open in Beijing tomorrow. China's seven carbon markets together will regulate roughly 700 to 800 million tons of CO2 annually, roughly equal to the annual emissions of Germany.
PERMALINK

 

26 Nov 2013: Updated Conservation List
Finds Forest Giraffes on Brink of Extinction

In an updated list released today, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) noted some significant successes and failures in global wildlife
Okapi, forest giraffe
Wikimedia Commons
Okapi, or forest giraffe
conservation efforts. A major success story is the leatherback sea turtle, whose Atlantic population has recovered enough for the species to be considered only vulnerable, rather than critically endangered. The IUCN attributed the leatherback rebound to better protection of nesting beaches and reduced fisheries bycatch. The updated Red List contains more somber news, though, for the blue-tongued forest giraffe, the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The striped-legged forest giraffe, a species of okapi, is on the brink of extinction due mainly to the long, ongoing civil war in that country, which has led to increased poaching and loss of habitat. The Red List's ranks of threatened species have grown by 352 species since this summer, Mongabay reports, with roughly 21,000 species now listed as threatened.
PERMALINK

 

25 Nov 2013: Despite Discord, Climate Talks
in Warsaw End With Last-Minute Deals

After more than 36 hours of continuous negotiations, delegates at the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw agreed to two last-minute deals that kept alive hopes for staving off climate change. At talks that ended Saturday, delegates agreed to a proposed system for pledging cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. They also gave support to a new treaty mechanism for tackling the human cost of the effects of global warming, including floods, rising seas, and stronger storms, The New York Times reports. Parties also agreed that countries will have until early 2015 to lay out their plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Those plans are to be published in advance of a major U.N. climate meeting in Paris, set for late 2015, at which international leaders hope to reach an agreement to curb global emissions starting in 2020. Discord and acrimony characterized the talks, during which a vocal negotiating bloc emerged among developing countries, including India, China, and Saudi Arabia. This bloc forced the watering down of key aspects of the deal, according to the Guardian.
PERMALINK

 

Fish 2.0: A Contest Seeks to Foster
A More Sustainable Seafood Industry

Twenty pioneers in the sustainable seafood business climbed a stage at Stanford University in November in an effort to woo the judges at the Fish 2.0 contest

Click to Enlarge
Oyster harvesting

HM Terry Co.
The winning project connects fishermen directly to customers.
with proposals on how to change the way the U.S. catches, distributes, and markets fish. A business competition at heart, Fish 2.0 brought together entrepreneurs and investors to spur innovation in the tradition-bound seafood industry. Competitors's proposals ranged from converting waste at fish processing plants to expanding a Hawaiian network of aquaponic growers, who raise fish and vegetables together in tanks, into the developing world. One proposal aimed to create a data system to track catches in real time, enabling fisheries managers to hold the line on harvests. Contestants headed home with more than $75,000 in prize money.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

22 Nov 2013: Majority of Americans
Uninformed About Fracking, Survey Finds

Most Americans are uninformed and lack opinions on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used to extract oil and gas from rock formations, a new survey says. Fifty-eight percent of people surveyed specifically reported that they knew nothing at all about fracking, and the same percentage said they didn't know whether they supported fracking or opposed it. Seven percent said they were aware of some of the process's environmental impacts, and 3 percent said they knew of positive economic and energy supply impacts of fracking. Of those who held an opinion on it, 20 percent were opposed to fracking and 22 percent supported it. "Broadly speaking, our results paint a picture of an American populace that is largely unaware and undecided about this issue," the study says. The study — conducted by researchers at Oregon State, George Mason, and Yale universities — was recently published in the journal Energy Policy.
PERMALINK

 

21 Nov 2013: U.K. Government Pledges
To Stop Backing Foreign Coal Power Plants

The United Kingdom has joined the U.S. in pledging to stop using government funds to finance coal-fired power plants in other countries. "The two governments are going to work together to secure the support of other countries ... and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies," Britain's energy secretary told journalists gathered in Warsaw at the U.N. climate talks. The U.S. made the same pledge last month in an attempt to slow CO2 emissions from the world's coal-fired power plants. The International Energy Agency reports that coal accounted for 44 percent of global carbon emissions in 2011, and the fossil fuel remains the world's largest source of electricity and heat. While many diplomats applaud the U.K.'s move, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and environmental groups are pushing for even stronger action, including more spending on renewable energy. "The rapid development of low-carbon infrastructure needs large injections of public capital," Ki-moon said.
PERMALINK

 

20 Nov 2013: Low-Income Solar Project
Is Recognized at U.N. Climate Talks

An Australia-based solar start-up company was recognized at the U.N. climate change talks in Warsaw for its work replacing highly polluting kerosene lamps with solar lighting in low-income regions of India. The company, Pollinate Energy, trains members of local communities to install household solar-powered lights in India's slums, where families often rely on kerosene for lighting. So far the project has installed solar-powered lighting systems for 10,000 people in 250 of Bangalore’s slum communities, in turn saving 40,000 liters of kerosene and 100,000 kilograms of carbon emissions, RenewEconomy reports. The solar lighting systems are cheaper to operate than kerosene lamps and are less polluting and dangerous than kerosene, which can cause house fires and severe burns. The nonprofit project started in Bangalore — home to some of India's worst slums — as a way for children to do schoolwork after sunset. Pollinate Energy trains local installers to distribute and install the lighting systems as micro-entrepreneurs, which they call "pollinators."
PERMALINK

 

19 Nov 2013: Pollution From Plastic Trash
May Make Tiny Island a Superfund Site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to study whether plastic pollution on a small island in the Pacific Ocean is severe enough to warrant listing it as a Superfund clean-up site. Tern Island, a 25-acre strip of land about 500 miles northwest of the Hawaiian island

Click to Enlarge
Tern Island debris

Duncan Wright, USFWS
Tern Island marine debris
Oahu, is home to millions of seabirds, sea turtles, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity asked the EPA to add the entire Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and parts of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the list of federal Superfund sites due to extreme marine debris pollution, but the agency has only agreed to undertake an environmental study on Tern Island. The island is awash with debris ranging from plastic water bottles and bits of plastic to discarded fishing gear and home appliances. Studies have shown the trash can take a heavy toll on wildlife — seabirds, for example, often ingest bits of plastic after mistaking them for food and eventually die of starvation. The EPA study is the first step of a potentially years-long process to determine if the island qualifies for listing under the 1980 Superfund law.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: How Big Agriculture
Has Thwarted Factory Farm Reforms

In 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a landmark report that condemned the way the U.S. raised its cattle, pigs, and
Robert Martin
chickens and made a sweeping series of recommendations on how to reduce the severe environmental and public health problems created by the current system. Last month, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future released a study analyzing the fate of these reforms and reached a stark conclusion: The power of the industrial agriculture lobby had blunted nearly all attempts at change. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Robert Martin, co-author of the Johns Hopkins report, discusses what went wrong and how reforms can proceed. One hopeful sign, says Martin, is "there are more and more people who are concerned about where their food comes from and how it’s produced."
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

18 Nov 2013: U.N. Climate Chief Says
Many Coal Reserves Must Be Left in Ground

United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres said that coal power can be part of the solution to curbing global warming, but it would require shuttering older coal power plants, advancing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, and resolving to leave much of the planet's existing coal reserves in the ground. Her remarks, given at the International Coal and Climate Summit in Warsaw, are drawing criticism from environmentalists who oppose continued reliance on coal power. John Gummer, the chair of the U.K.'s climate advisers and former U.K. environment minister, told the Guardian that "calling coal a clean solution is like characterizing sex trafficking as marriage guidance." Figueres said that coal power holds promise as a means of helping poorer countries develop their economies and reduce poverty, but said that the industry "must change." Figueres joins the growing list of climate leaders who say that more than half of remaining fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground in order to avoid massive carbon emissions that could destabilize the climate.
PERMALINK

 

15 Nov 2013: Groundbreaking Mapping Project
Depicts Forest Change Around the Globe

Scientists from Google, U.S. universities, and federal agencies have for the first time produced a high-resolution global map showing in striking detail the extent of deforestation across the globe. The project — which relied heavily on expertise from the computing

View Animation
Indonesia forest loss

Hansen, et al./Science
Forest loss in Indonesia
center Google Earth Engine — documents a loss of 888,000 square miles of forest between 2000 and 2012, along with a gain of 309,000 square miles of new forest. The rate of deforestation is equal to losing 68,000 soccer fields of forest every day for the past 13 years, or 50 soccer fields every minute, says the World Resources Institute. Brazil, once responsible for a majority of the world's tropical forest loss, is now the global leader in scaling back forest destruction, cutting its deforestation rate in half over the past decade, researchers report in Science. Over the same period, Indonesia has more than doubled its annual rate of forest loss, despite a supposed 2011 Indonesian government moratorium on new logging licenses.
PERMALINK

 

14 Nov 2013: U.S. Crushes Six Tons
Of Illegally Trafficked Elephant Ivory

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) destroyed six tons of elephant ivory today that field agents seized over the past 25 years. The U.S. Ivory Crush event, which took place in Denver, Colorado, marked the first time the FWS has destroyed large quantities of ivory. The move was an attempt to send a clear message that the U.S. will not tolerate illegal ivory trafficking and the toll it's taking on elephant populations in Africa and Asia, the FWS said. Seized ivory is usually kept as evidence for prosecuting traffickers, then later used for education and training, but the FWS had accumulated far more ivory than it needs. The ivory that was crushed included full tusks, carved tusks, jewelry, carvings, and other objects, and came from at least 2,000 poached elephants, the FWS estimates.
PERMALINK

 

13 Nov 2013: Plastic Debris in Ocean
Has Spawned a 'Plastisphere' of Organisms

The plastic debris that litters the world's oceans has developed its own unique and diverse microbial ecosystem, researchers report. The microscopic community, which scientists dubbed the "plastisphere,"

Click to Enlarge
Diatom on plastic debris

Zettler, et al./ES&T
Diatom and bacteria on plastic debris
includes more than 1,000 species of algae, bacteria, microscopic plants, symbiotic microbes, and possibly even pathogens, the researchers say in Environmental Science & Technology. Some of the plastisphere microbes, many of which had never before been documented, contain genes that could help break down hydrocarbons, indicating the microbes may play a role in degrading the debris, the research shows. Plastic trash is the most abundant type of debris in the ocean, inflicting harm on fish, birds, and marine mammals that are entangled by it or ingest it. Until now, researchers hadn't looked at microbes living on the debris, which make up a sort of artificial "microbial reef," one of the scientists said.
PERMALINK

 

12 Nov 2013: China's Renewable Power
Sector Set to Outpace Rest of World by 2035

China is on track to generate more electricity from renewable energy by 2035 than the U.S., the European Union, and Japan combined, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a new report. In its World Energy Outlook report, the IEA also said that by 2035 renewable energy sources — wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass — will make up more than 30 percent of the world's electricity supply, surpassing natural gas and rivaling coal as the leading energy source. Wind and solar photovoltaic power will see especially large gains, helping renewable energy account for nearly half the increase in global power generation over the next two decades, the IEA said. Carbon emissions related to energy generation will likely rise by 20 percent over that time, the report said, but policies and initiatives in the U.S., China, Europe, and Japan may help limit those emissions. "The right combination of policies and technologies is proving that the links between economic growth, energy demand and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions can be weakened," the IEA said.
PERMALINK

 

11 Nov 2013: Ozone Treaty From 1987
Has Also Slowed Global Warming

The 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by banning chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), has also slowed global warming since the mid-1990s, a new analysis has found. The ban has lowered global temperatures by about 0.2 degrees F since it was enacted, scientists report in the journal Nature Geoscience. Researchers say that's a significant decline considering the planet has warmed by an average of 1.6 degrees F since 1900. CFCs, a class of refrigerants banned because of their ozone-depleting qualities, are also powerful greenhouse gases, with warming potentials many thousands of times higher than CO2. A widely used replacement for CFCs — hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — are less powerful greenhouse gases, but negotiations are underway to amend the Montreal Protocol to apply to HFCs as well. The study's lead author, Francisco Estrada of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Climate Central that by "pure luck" the Montreal Protocol has effectively slowed global warming, even more so than the Kyoto Protocol, which was was directly aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
PERMALINK

 

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

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

 

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

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

Click to Enlarge
Antarctic glacier velocities

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

05 Nov 2013: Beijing To Limit New Cars
By 40 Percent in Anti-Pollution Drive

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Above a Whole Foods Market,
A Greenhouse Grows in Brooklyn

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Click to Enlarge
Asiatic cheetah mother and four cubs

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

 

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

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

Click to Enlarge
Amazon vegetation index

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Click to Enlarge
Team Austria Solar Decathlon House

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

 

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

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

 

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


China environmental problems
Sean Gallagher

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Click to Enlarge
Hurricane Sandy model

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

 

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

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

 

02 Oct 2013: Excess Radioactivity and Metals
Found in Pennsylvania Fracking Wastewater

Researchers found high levels of radioactivity, metals, and salts in sediments and water downstream from a Pennsylvania facility that treats fracking wastewater. Radioactivity levels downstream of the treatment plant were about 200 times higher than in surrounding areas, and concentrations of some salts and metals were also higher than background levels, the scientists reported in Environmental Science and Technology. The Duke University team traced the radioactivity's source to the Marcellus Shale formation, which is naturally high in salts and radioactivity. Although the treatment plant removes more than 90 percent of the radioactive metals radium and barium, the effluent still exceeds federal limits for radioactive waste disposal, the researchers said. Plants, fish, and other organisms near the facility are potentially at risk for radium bioaccumulation. Downstream, carcinogenic byproducts can form when water with excess levels of the salt bromide mixes with disinfection chemicals at municipal drinking water plants, the study said. A mile downstream from the treatment facility, bromide levels were 40 times higher than background levels, the researchers reported.
PERMALINK

 

01 Oct 2013: Small Rainforest Predators
Are Photographed and Studied in Gabon

The west African country of Gabon is known for its gorillas, elephants, and other large animal species, but a recent study has shed light on little-known rainforest predators that could face increasing pressure from the

View Gallery
African civet

Laila Bahaa-el-din
African civet
bushmeat trade. Using camera traps, bushmeat surveys, and DNA analyses, researchers from Panthera, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and other groups completed the first-ever survey of 12 small carnivore species throughout the country. The study found two species — the common slender mongoose and the Cameroon cusimanse — that hadn't been found in Gabon before, and it documented an extended range for the Egyptian mongoose. “It appears that these species are widespread and not currently threatened, but the proximity of many small carnivores to human settlements and the growing bushmeat trade could potentially impact these populations," said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Fiona Maisels, who co-authored the study. "These new findings will help inform future management."
PERMALINK

 

30 Sep 2013: Ikea to Sell Home Solar Panels
In All British Stores Within a Year

The Swedish furniture retailer Ikea will begin selling residential solar panels in its 17 UK stores within the next 10 months. The basic package's $9,500 price tag will include 18 panels, installation, maintenance,
Ikea rooftop solar
Elisseeva/Shutterstock
design consultation, and energy monitoring. With energy savings and current green energy subsidies in the UK, consumers should typically earn as much as $1,244 per year and break even in about seven years, Ikea said. Great Britain's heavily subsidized green energy market is smaller than other European countries', but it has shown steady growth, rising 25 percent in the last year, the Guardian reports. The decision by the world's largest furniture retailer comes after a successful test run at a store outside London, where solar panel sales averaged one unit per day. Ikea has not announced plans to sell units in the U.S., where some utility companies have sought an end to public subsidies of residential solar installations.
PERMALINK

 

27 Sep 2013: IPCC Scientists Warn
Of Upper Limit on CO2 Emissions

Saying it is 95 percent certain that humans have caused most of the global warming of the last half-century, scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned today that the world can afford to burn about 1 trillion tons of carbon before facing extreme climate change. The IPCC’s working group on the physical sciences for the first time set an upper limit on CO2 emissions, contending that humanity can combust only one-third of the 3 trillion tons of fossil fuels that still remain in the ground. If carbon emissions continue at their current pace, IPCC scientists forecast that the trillionth ton of carbon will be released around 2040, and beyond that the world will face potentially destabilizing temperature increases exceeding 2 degrees C, or 3.6 degrees F. The physical sciences report, compiled by hundreds of scientists and released in Stockholm, marked the first time that the IPCC had forecast that sea levels could rise by as much as three feet this century. The physical sciences report is the first of several to be released in the next year in advance of the 2014 publication of the IPCC’s fifth report on global climate change.
PERMALINK

 

26 Sep 2013: Major Initiative Announced
To Help Curb Elephant Poaching in Africa

The Clinton Global Initiative and 16 conservation organizations have announced that they are investing $80 million over three years to stem the epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa, which has surged recently due to increasing demand for ivory in Asia. The Partnership to Save Africa's Elephants, which includes the governments of seven African nations, will fund programs that scale up anti-poaching enforcement, combat trafficking at ports and markets with more enforcement and harsher penalties, and curb the demand for illegal ivory with ad campaigns aimed at consumers in China, Vietnam, and other nations. "We cannot hope to reverse the dramatic decline in elephant populations without addressing all three parts of the problem," said Patrick Bergin, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation. 
PERMALINK

 

25 Sep 2013: More Than 80 Elephants Dead
From Cyanide Poisoning in Zimbabwe Park

Poachers poisoned watering holes with cyanide in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, killing 81 elephants in the latest wave of slayings to supply the trade in illegal ivory. The cyanide, poured into remote watering
Hwange National Park
JackyR/Wikimedia
Hwange National Park
holes in the park, also killed smaller animals and vultures that ate the poisoned carcasses. Park rangers arrested nine alleged poachers after following them to a cache of ivory tusks hidden in the park. The elephant death toll of 81 includes 41 carcasses found earlier this month following another cyanide poisoning incident in Hwange park. Zimbabwe's new environment minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, has pledged to make jail penalties for poachers harsher. Elephant and rhino poaching in Africa has accelerated in recent years due to increasing Asian demand for ivory and rhino horn, which is used in traditional medicines, even though it has no proven medicinal properties. Officials estimate tens of thousands of elephants are being slaughtered each year in the worst wave of poaching in decades.
PERMALINK

 

24 Sep 2013: Major Wind and Rain Belts
Could Shift North as Earth Warms

A study of warming at the end of the last Ice Age indicates that future warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels will likely shift the planet's rain and wind belts northward, say researchers at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Regions that are already dry — including the western U.S., western China, and the Middle East — could grow drier, while equatorial Africa and monsoonal Asia may become wetter. An examination of data such as polar ice cores and ocean sediments shows that as the last Ice Age ended 15,000 years ago, northward shifts in the tropical rain belt and mid-latitude jet stream occurred as the temperature gradient between the northern and southern hemispheres increased. That sharper gradient came about because the land mass-dominated northern hemisphere warmed faster than the ocean-dominated southern hemisphere, according to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers say a similar pattern could develop in years to come as the northern hemisphere continues to warm faster than the southern hemisphere.
PERMALINK

 

23 Sep 2013: Cleaner Air from Curbing CO2
Emissions Would Save Lives, Study Finds

Gains in air quality that would come from reducing greenhouse gas emissions could save up to three million lives per year by 2100, according to U.S. researchers. Their findings, published in Nature Climate Change, come ahead of an important interim report by the

Click to enlarge
Air pollution deaths prevented

Nature Climate Change
Deaths prevented by cleaner air in 2100
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, set to be released on Friday. Cutting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, vehicles, and other sources would reduce particulate matter and ozone emissions, which are tied to cardiovascular distress, respiratory illnesses, lung cancer, and strokes. The study estimated that by 2100, 1.4 million to 3 million premature deaths a year could be avoided thanks to cuts of CO2 emissions. The researchers calculated that health care savings alone would outweigh the projected costs of cutting carbon emissions over the next few decades.
PERMALINK

 

20 Sep 2013: U.S. Places CO2 Limits
On New Coal-Fired Power Plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will for the first time begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions from new coal- and natural gas-fired power plantsunder the Clean Air Act, EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy announced. Speaking in Washington, McCarthy said, “Climate change is real, human activities are fueling that change,
Gina McCarthy
epa.gov
Gina McCarthy
and we must take action to avoid the most devastating consequences.” The EPA regulations, which the coal industry vows to challenge in court, will require new coal plants to emit fewer than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, considerably lower than the average 1,800 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour currently produced by coal-fired power plants. Such limits would require the new plants to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which has not been used on a wide scale. The difficulty of using CCS technology will be at the heart of lawsuits challenging the EPA move, industry officials say. 
PERMALINK

 

19 Sep 2013: Fracked Shale Formations
Could Store Carbon Dioxide, Study Says

Storing carbon dioxide in the same shale formations that produce natural gas may be an effective way to sequester carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel-burning power plants, according to a U.S. study. Computer models by researchers at the University of

Click to enlarge
Marcellus Shale wells

U.S. Energy Info Admin
Marcellus Shale and well locations
Virginia suggest the Marcellus Shale, a 600-square-mile formation in the northeastern U.S. that is a center of hydrofracturing natural gas, is capable of storing half the CO2 emitted by U.S. coal plants from now to 2030. Fracked shale wells are good candidates for carbon storage because CO2 can be injected in much the same way that natural gas was extracted, the researchers say. Fracking involves injecting pressurized fluids in wells to fracture the shale rock, which creates cracks that let gas seep out. The authors of this study suggest those networks of cracks could be filled with CO2 before sealing the natural gas wells. 
PERMALINK

 

18 Sep 2013: Climate Change Reporting
Focuses on Disasters and Uncertainty

Nearly 80 percent of news articles about climate change either warn of current or future disaster scenarios related to global warming, or contain discussions about the uncertainty of climate science, an Oxford study of 350 news articles from 2007 to 2012 has found. Fewer than two percent of the articles from the media in six countries discussed opportunities to be gained from switching to a lower-carbon economy. Journalists were attracted to "gloom and doom" stories about climate-related disasters, the team wrote, which is in line with findings from previous studies. Uncertainty was discussed in nearly 80 percent of the articles, which the researchers say poses a problem for dealing with climate change because it keeps debate focused on what's considered conclusive proof of global warming, rather than directing discussion toward the comparative costs and risks of different policy options. 
PERMALINK

 

17 Sep 2013: Major Company Backs Out
Of Pebble Mine Project in Alaska

A major mining company has withdrawn its participation in Alaska's Pebble Mine project, dimming the controversial project's prospects of moving forward, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The British Mining giant, Anglo American, said it was pulling out of the project to focus on lower-risk mining ventures — a tacit acknowledgment that opposition among fishermen,
Bristol Bay watershed
commerce.gov
Bristol Bay watershed
indigenous groups, and environmentalists was making it increasingly unlikely that the Pebble Mine would receive the necessary state and federal approvals. The opposition is focused on concerns that the massive gold and copper mine would threaten Bristol Bay and endanger the world's richest wild salmon fishery. Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian company, continues to back the project, but a company official said the firm would have trouble moving forward without a partner. 
PERMALINK

 

16 Sep 2013: Canadian Scientists Fight Back
Against Government Censorship Rules

Recent rules silencing government researchers in Canada have sparked protests in 16 major cities, the Guardian reports. The Harper administration over the past few years has ordered scientists at Canada's National Research Council, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and other government research agencies not to discuss work on a number of climate- and environment-related issues with journalists, the public, or even fellow researchers. Scientists have been asked not to comment on topics ranging from snowflakes to salmon, even after results have been published in major scientific journals. Critics charge that the Harper administration has a track record of muzzling environmental research. Earlier this month the administration was accused of stalling a major report on greenhouse emissions — widely expected to document significant rises in carbon pollution — because the study could deal a blow to Harper's efforts to secure U.S. approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Guardian reports.
PERMALINK

 

13 Sep 2013: Warmer Ocean Water Is Key
Factor in Melting Ice Shelves, Study Says

Recent research into one of West Antarctica's most rapidly melting glaciers and ice shelves has shown that rising ocean temperatures and a series of channels lacing the underside of
Edge of PIG ice sheet
NASA
Edge of Pine Island ice sheet
the shelf are the key factors in the rapid thinning of the shelf and the swift advance of the glacier behind it. Reporting in Science, U.S. scientists said that instruments deployed on and under the Pine Island Glacier and ice shelf over the past two years have shown that warmer ocean water has been flowing through a series of channels under the shelf, causing the 31-mile-long floating slab of ice to thin at the alarming rate of 2.4 inches per day and loosening the shelf's hold on the bedrock below. The melting ice shelf itself doesn't contribute to sea level rise, but as it thins it allows more of the land-based Pine Island Glacier to flow into the sea, which is contributing to sea level rise.
PERMALINK

 

12 Sep 2013: Migration of Trees Is
Not Keeping Pace with Warming

Most tree species in the U.S. aren't migrating northward as rapidly as predicted in response to climate change, a new study says. Looking at 65 species across
Kilmer Memorial Forest, NC
Brian Stansberry
Kilmer Forest, North Carolina
31 eastern states, the team found no consistent, northward migration of tree species, as many other climate studies have predicted. Rather than shifting northward by dispersing seeds to cooler climates, the researchers found, tree species are responding by speeding up their life cycles. "Most trees are responding through faster turnover," says lead scientist James Clark of Duke University, "meaning they are staying in place but speeding up their life cycles in response to longer growing seasons and higher temperatures." The results appear in Global Change Biology.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Finding a Better Message
About the Risks of Climate Change

It’s a common refrain: If people only knew more about the science, there wouldn’t be so much polarization on the issue of climate change. But Dan M. Kahan’s
Dan Kahan
Dan Kahan
groundbreaking work has gone a long way to prove that idea wrong. In fact, he’s found, it’s not the lack of scientific understanding that has led to conflict over climate change, but rather the need to adhere to the philosophy and values of one’s “cultural” group. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale Law School, maintains that in order to break down the polarization, the issue needs to be reframed in a way that minimizes the likelihood that positions on climate change will be identified with a particular group. “Are there ways to combine the science with meanings that would be affirming rather than threatening to people?” he says. “I think if somebody believes that there just aren’t any, I think that person just doesn’t have much imagination.”
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

11 Sep 2013: Arsenic in Vietnam Groundwater
Slowly Moving Toward Hanoi, Study Says

As the population and water needs of Hanoi mushroom, the capital city of Vietnam is slowly drawing poisonous arsenic into the aquifer that supplies its drinking water, say researchers from the U.S. and Vietnam. Water contaminated with arsenic has moved more than a mile
Red River Vietnam
Benjamin Bostick/LDEO
The Red River
closer to the aquifer over the last 40 to 60 years, the researchers report in Nature, due to the city's increasing water demand; municipal pumping in Hanoi doubled between 2000 and 2010. The good news, says lead researcher Alexander van Geen of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is the contaminated groundwater "is not moving as fast as we had feared it might.” This will give Hanoi officials time, perhaps decades, to determine how to best deal with the problem. The study also determined why arsenic is leaching into the groundwater: As water containing arsenic mixes with high levels of organic carbon from the Red River and other surrounding aquifers, the chemistry changes and arsenic dissolves in the water.
PERMALINK

 

Counterpoint: Two Scientists Offer
A Dissenting View on Ascension Island

Ecologists Daniel Simberloff, of the University of Tennessee, and Donald Strong, of the University of California, Davis, have written a critical appraisal of a recent Yale Environment 360 article by Fred Pearce about Ascension Island. In their critique, the two scientists contend that Pearce failed to accurately describe what has occurred on the island and misrepresented the science of restoration ecology.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

10 Sep 2013: New Prize is Created to
Improve Measurements of Ocean Acidity

Philanthropist Wendy Schmidt is offering $2 million in prize money to inventors who can develop inexpensive and easily deployable sensors to measure ocean acidification. The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X Prize is offering $1 million to the team that invents the most accurate sensors to measure the ocean’s acidity and $1 million to the team that devises the most affordable and easy-to-use sensors. Biologist Paul Bunje, a senior executive for oceans at the X-Prize Foundation, said that because current ocean acidity sensors can cost more than $5,000, very little is known about the pace of ocean acidification in various regions and depths. The goal, said Bunje, is to deploy many thousands of sensors worldwide. Rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide mean that more CO2 is being dissolved in the oceans, steadily making them more acidic.
PERMALINK

 

09 Sep 2013: Grid-Scale Batteries Make Sense
For Solar Energy, But Not Wind, Study Says

When renewable energy sources such as solar and wind farms generate more electricity than consumers need, storing the excess doesn't always make sense, say researchers from Stanford University. Large, grid-scale batteries capable of storing the extra electricity are resource-intensive and costly to manufacture and maintain — sometimes more so than the energy they're used to store. "You wouldn't spend a $100 on a safe to store a $10 watch," said Michael Dale, who co-authored the study in the journal Energy & Environmental Science. "Likewise, it's not sensible to build energetically expensive batteries for an energetically cheap resource like wind." Economically, it makes more sense to shut down wind energy production when consumer demand is low than it does to maintain battery systems to store excess wind energy, the study said. But battery storage does make sense for photovoltaic systems, the researchers say, because solar panels and solar farms require more energy to build and maintain.
PERMALINK

 

Yale Environment 360 Articles Are
Now Available in Spanish and Portuguese

Yale Environment 360 has increased its international reach with a new partnership launched this month with Universia, a Spanish online education network. As part of this joint effort, Universia will translate selected Yale Environment 360 articles into Spanish and Portuguese
e360 Universia banner
and feature them on its website, which has more than 10 million unique viewers each month. The articles will be featured on a special e360 page on the Universia site at e360yale.universia.net. Universia is an institutional network of 1,242 universities in Spain, Portugal, and 21 countries throughout Latin America, and through this partnership, Yale Environment 360 will significantly expand its international audience and influence. You can find the new e360/Universia page at e360yale.universia.net.
PERMALINK

 

06 Sep 2013: Immense Pacific Volcano Is
Among The Largest in the Solar System

A massive underwater volcano the size of New Mexico has been discovered 1,000 miles east of Japan, Nature Geoscience reports. Covering an area of 120,000 square

Click to enlarge
Tamu Massif Volcano

IODP/Texas A&M
Tamu Massif Volcano
miles, the volcano is 50 times larger than Hawaii's Mauna Loa, making it the largest volcano on Earth, according to a team of researchers from the U.S., Japan, and the U.K. The newly discovered volcano, named Tamu Massif, is only 25 percent smaller than the immense volcano on Mars, Olympus Mons, which is large enough to spot with a backyard telescope. Tamu Massif is a shield volcano, with a low, broad shape and gradually sloped flanks. Its name derives from Texas A&M University, where the lead researcher taught for three decades.
PERMALINK

 

05 Sep 2013: Swapping Corn for Rice Benefits
China's Miyun Reservoir, Study Shows

After years of contamination and decreasing output, China's Miyun Reservoir is rebounding, say researchers from China and the U.S. Rice farming had contaminated and tapped the reservoir, which lies 100 miles north of Beijing and is the main water source for the city's 20 million inhabitants. But four years ago, the Chinese government began paying farmers to grow corn instead, which requires less water and leads to less fertilizer and sediment runoff than rice farming. Now, water quality tests show that fertilizer runoff declined sharply, the researchers found, and the amount of reservoir water available to Beijing and surrounding areas has increased. Farmers also made more money growing corn instead of rice and were able to spend less time tending their crops, the study concluded.
PERMALINK

 

How High Tech Is Helping
Bring Clean Water to Rural India

Social entrepreneur Anand Shah runs Sarvajal, a company that seeks to bring clean water to remote villages in India by deploying solar-powered “water
Anand Shah interview
Anand Shah
ATMs,” which dispense water to residents with the swipe of a prepaid smart card. Sarvajal, launched in 2008, currently serves more than 110,000 rural customers and is now is moving into India’s urban slums, where people often spend hours a day waiting for trucks to deliver clean water. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Shah talks about the challenges of expanding access to clean water in India and the lessons his company has learned from its first five years of operation. “The solutions came from what we actually saw in the field, rather than being invented elsewhere,” he says, “and that’s what makes it work.”
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

04 Sep 2013: Scientists, Governments Question
'Blockbuster' Climate Change Reports

Scientists and government officials are questioning the way the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, widely considered the definitive authority on global climate risk, handles its major reports. The panel typically issues "blockbuster" reports every five to seven years; the next is set to be released this month in Stockholm. But The Guardian reports that international climate scientists, many of whom have been involved in drafting those major reports, are now suggesting future assessments should be more targeted in scope and released more frequently. Scientists and government officials say that narrower reports, such as studies focused on specific regions or phenomena, would be more useful to policymakers. The panel's governing body will meet in October to discuss its future.
PERMALINK

 

03 Sep 2013: Crop Pests Migrate Poleward
Due to Global Warming, Study Says

Global warming has been driving crop pests toward the North and South poles at a rate of 1.7 miles per year, according to new research from the U.K. Looking at the
Stem rust crop pest
USDA
Stem rust (Puccinia graminis fungus)
distribution of 612 crop pests over the past 50 years, the researchers found a strong correlation between warming global temperatures and increased ranges for the pests. “If crop pests continue to march polewards as the Earth warms, the combined effects of a growing world population and the increased loss of crops to pests will pose a serious threat to global food security,” said Daniel Bebber, a biologist at the University of Exeter who led the study published in Nature Climate Change. Crop pests — which include insects as well as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and nematodes — destroy 10 to 16 percent of the world's crops each year, or enough food to feed nine percent of the population, scientists estimate.
PERMALINK

 

30 Aug 2013: Greenland Ice Hides Gorge
Longer than the Grand Canyon

A massive gorge nearly twice as long as the Grand Canyon is hidden under Greenland's ice sheet, reports a team of researchers from the U.K., Canada, and Italy.

Click to enlarge
Greenland's grand canyon

NASA
Canyon below Greenland's ice
With a width of about six miles and a maximum depth of 2,600 feet, the previously undiscovered canyon is as wide as its Arizona counterpart and nearly half as deep. Flowing water likely carved the canyon long before the formation of the mile-deep ice sheet that has blanketed it for the past few million years. Researchers found the feature using ice-penetrating radar equipment, they reported in Science. The canyon does not yet have a name. "It's remarkable to find something like this when many people believe the surface of the earth is so well mapped," said lead author Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol.
PERMALINK

 

29 Aug 2013: Future Wildfire Seasons to Be
Longer, Smokier, Cover More Area

Fire seasons will be three weeks longer, generate twice as much smoke, and cover a larger area of the western U.S. by 2050, a new study from Harvard researchers finds. The risk of large fires could also increase by a
Forest fire
Petruncio Mike, USFWS
factor of two to three. In general, the biggest driver for future fires in Western states will be temperature, but driving factors can vary from region to region, the researchers say. In the Rockies, for example, moisture in the forest floor is the biggest predictor. Wildfires in the Great Basin region, however, will be more heavily influenced by relative humidity in the previous year. The results, published in Atmospheric Environment, are based on records of past fire activity, decades of meteorological data, and a set of internationally recognized climate scenarios.
PERMALINK

 

28 Aug 2013: Illegal Slash-and-Burn Fires
Are Causing Smog Problem in Indonesia

Skies above Indonesia have been blanketed with smog as wildfires burn throughout its forests. Ignoring

Smog above Indonesia

Click to enlarge

Smog above Indonesia (Photo credit: NASA)
environmental laws, companies are using the practice of slash-and-burn to clear land for palm oil plantations. The illegal fires decimate rainforests and peatlands and fill the air with lethal levels of smoke, as seen in this NASA satellite image taken on August 27. Indonesia's pollution index hit a record-high 401 earlier this month; any reading above 400 is considered life-threatening to the elderly and sick. Palm oil is the world's largest vegetable oil commodity and demand is rising rapidly, causing massive damage to tropical forests, especially in Southeast Asia.
PERMALINK

 

27 Aug 2013: Mexican Gray Wolves
Granted Increased Protection in the U.S.

The U.S. government has agreed to expand the territory where a small population of Mexican gray wolves in the southwestern U.S. can be protected and reintroduced.
Mexican Gray Wolf
USFWS
Mexican gray wolf
Under a pair of agreements with the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service also has consented to a plan under which Mexican gray wolves that cross the U.S.-Mexico border and establish territories in Arizona and New Mexico will no longer be captured by U.S. authorities. The agency will also start releasing captive Mexican gray wolves into Gila National Forest and allow them to establish territories throughout much of New Mexico and Arizona. That rule, set to be finalized by January 2015, significantly expands the habitat for a beleaguered population of about 75 Mexican gray wolves in those states. Wildlife ecologists have been advocating for such measures, saying increased protections and expanded territories are essential to the recovery of the Mexican wolf population, but states in the region have strongly opposed such an expansion.
PERMALINK

 

26 Aug 2013: Ocean Acidification Could
Amplify Global Warming, Study Says

The increasing acidification of the world’s oceans caused by rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide not only poses a threat to marine creatures, but also could lead to an intensification of planetary warming, according to a new study. A team of U.S., British, and German researchers conducted experiments in seawater enclosures, known as mesocosms, showing that the increasing acidification of the ocean leads to a drop in production of an important sulfur compound, dimethylsulphide, or DMS. Marine emissions of DMS are the largest natural source of atmospheric sulfur, and those sulfur aerosols play an important role in reflecting the sun’s energy back into space and cooling the planet. Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change, the scientists found that when they created acidic conditions in the seawater enclosures that match pH levels expected in 2100, emissions of DMS fell by roughly 18 percent. The scientists said their study was the first to prove the link between rising ocean acidification and the potential decrease in planet-cooling sulfur dioxide aerosols.
PERMALINK

 

23 Aug 2013: Arsenic in Groundwater
May Affect 20 Million People in China

Nearly 20 million people in China are exposed to high levels of arsenic in the water they use for drinking and cooking, a new model based on geological and

Click to enlarge
Groundwater arsenic in China

Eawag, Science
Groundwater arsenic in China
hydrological data and well samples shows. The model predicts high arsenic concentrations (10 micrograms per liter or greater) across more than 580,000 square kilometers, according to Chinese and Swiss researchers, who published their findings in Science. Researchers had long known that some regions had high arsenic concentrations, but it would have taken several decades to test the millions of wells in China. The new prediction combined the most recent tests with data about the underlying geology, soil characteristics, and topography.
PERMALINK

 

22 Aug 2013: Satellite Images of Fire
Help Guide Restoration Projects

The U.S. Forest Service is using NASA satellite images of fires in the American West to help rapidly restore burned areas before the upcoming rainy season causes floods and washouts that could threaten lives and property.

Click to enlarge
Satellite image of Silver Fire

U.S. Forest Service
Satellite image of Silver Fire
This image of the Silver Hill fire in New Mexico, which burned 138,000 acres in June, was taken using infrared technology — mounted on NASA’s Landsat satellite — that distinguishes between vegetated and burned areas. The most severely burned areas are depicted in red, followed by areas of moderate-severity burn in yellow and low-severity burn in green. NASA began supplying the Forest Service with images as the fire raged, and in the wake of the fire the Forest Service has undertaken restoration efforts to stabilize the ground and prevent flooding during the rainy season in late summer.
PERMALINK

 

21 Aug 2013: Thai Monkeys May Abandon
Stone Tools Due to Human Disruptions

Human disturbances in Thailand’s Laem Son National Park may be causing Burmese long-tailed macaques to abandon their use of stone tools, say researchers studying the primates. The only monkeys in Asia to use

Click to enlarge
Burmese macaque stone tools

NTU
Burmese macaque cracks shells with a stone.
stone tools — and one of only three non-human primates worldwide to do so — these Burmese macaques have learned to use coastal rocks to crack the hard-shelled crabs, snails, and oysters that make up their diet. Habitat loss to rubber and oil palm farming, competition with humans for food sources, and threats from domestic dogs are forcing the macaques to change their foraging habits, researchers from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University report. The monkeys are also showing signs of acclimating to humans and becoming dependent on human food sources.
PERMALINK

 

20 Aug 2013: Google ‘Street View’ Will
Document Changes to World's Coral Reefs

Marine biologists are teaming up with Google to photograph detailed 360-degree panoramas of coral reefs around the globe. Using technology similar to

Click to enlarge
Google coral reef street view

Google
Google takes Street View to coral reefs.
Google’s Street View feature, users will be able to survey coral reefs much like they might scope out a city block. The project, Google Street View Oceans, has already surveyed a 150-kilometer stretch of the Great Barrier Reef and is now working on reefs in the Caribbean. "Only 1 percent of humanity has ever dived on a coral reef, and by making the experience easily accessible the survey will help alert millions of people around the world to the plight of coral reefs," said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia who is leading the survey. Image recognition software will log the distribution and abundance of marine organisms, and the researchers hope "citizen scientists" viewing the reefs will help assess other key measures of reef health.
PERMALINK

 

19 Aug 2013: Future Flood Losses
Could Increase Ten Times by 2050

The rapid growth of the world’s coastal cities, coupled with sea level rise and land subsidence, could mean that flood losses in major metropolitan areas could rise from

Click to enlarge
Coastal Flooding Cities

Stephane Hallegatte, et al/
Cities facing increased risk
$6 billion in 2005 to more than $60 billion in 2050, according to a new study. Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers said sea level increases of 8 to 16 inches by 2050 could cause $60 billion to $63 billion in damages in 136 of the world’s coastal cities. That figure assumes the cities will undertake some flood control measures. Cities whose infrastructure and buildings are now most at risk — including New York; New Orleans; Miami; Guangzhou, China; and Osaka, Japan — will be joined in four decades by other rapidly growing cities, such as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
PERMALINK

 

16 Aug 2013: Ecuador Abandons Moratorium
On Oil Drilling in Biodiverse Yasuni Park

The Ecuadorian government has abandoned its moratorium on oil drilling in Yasuni National Park as a proposal to protect the park with the help of international donations fell apart. In a nationally televised speech, President Rafael Correa blamed the failure of the ambitious conservation plan on a lack of funds, saying that a UN-administered trust fund had raised only $13 million of the $3.6 billion target. Located in eastern Ecuador, where the Amazon basin ascends into the Andes, Yasuni is home to an unprecedented number of animal and plant species. According to a 2010 study, one section of the park held at least 200 species of mammals, 247 amphibian and reptile species, and 550 species of birds. But Yasuni also sits atop an estimated 1 billion barrels of oil. Correa had said Ecuador would forego oil income and protect the park if foreign donors would contribute billions of dollars to compensate for the loss of oil revenue.
PERMALINK

 

15 Aug 2013: Plants in U.S. Southwest
Moving Higher as the Climate Warms

Numerous plant species on a mountain in the southwestern U.S. are migrating to higher elevationsas the climate gets warmer and drier, according to a new
Alligator Juniper on Mount Lemmon University of Arizona
University of Arizona
An alligator juniper on Mount Lemmon
study. After comparing the results of a recent survey of 27 plants found on Mount Lemmon, a 9,157-foot peak near Tucson, Ariz., with a similar survey conducted in 1963, researchers at the University of Arizona found that three-quarters of the plants have shifted their range “significantly” upslope in the last five decades. In some cases, researchers found that the plants had moved upward by as much as 1,000 feet, into a much narrower elevation range than where the plants existed in the early 1960s. Writing in the journal Ecology and Evolution, the researchers note that the lowermost boundary for 15 of the species has shifted upslope.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Scientists, Aid Experts
Prepare for a Warmer Future

Harvard University recently sponsored a conference that brought together two groups — climate scientists and humanitarian relief workers — that will undoubtedly be collaborating more closely in the future
Jennifer Leaning Interview
Jennifer Leaning
as natural disasters intensify in a warming world. The woman who was instrumental in opening a dialogue between these two factions was Jennifer Leaning, the director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Leaning says the meeting underscored the huge challenges the aid community will face in a world of more extreme weather and rising seas. But at this point, she says, climate science cannot offer the specific predictions about timing or locations of climate upheaval that the aid community is seeking. “The humanitarians found that the questions they were asking were not the ones that the climate scientists were prepared to answer,” says Leaning.
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

14 Aug 2013: Bears Using Wildlife Corridors
In Canadian Park, Genetic Tests Show

Genetic testing has revealed that bears in Canada’s Banff National Park routinely cross the bridges and underpasses along the Trans-Canada Highway, evidence that the ecological corridors provide safe
Bears Using Ecological Corridors at Banff Canada
HighwayWilding.org
A grizzly passes through a Banff underpass
passage along a busy roadway that otherwise threatens to fragment wildlife habitat. Using 420 wire snag “hair traps” and 497 rub trees at 20 crossings to collect hair from passing bears, researchers from Montana State University determined that 15 individual grizzly bears and 17 individual black bears used the passages over a three-year period. According to researchers, those accounted for about 20 percent of the park’s bear populations, suggesting the passageways are providing enough connectivity to maintain a healthy ecosystem for bears and other large mammals. Twenty-five passages were installed in the 1990s when the government widened a highway that includes a 100-mile stretch bisecting Banff.
PERMALINK

 

13 Aug 2013: Too Many Urban Beehives
May Do More Harm Than Good, Experts Say

A surge in urban beekeeping may be doing more harm than good to honeybee populations, according to UK scientists. As the number of rooftop hives increases in cities worldwide— including London, where there are
city beekeeping impacts
Matthias Walendy
A Berlin beekeeper
now 10 hives per square kilometer — two researchers from the University of Sussex warn that too many hives can be detrimental. Writing in The Biologist, the magazine of the Society of Biology, they suggest that inexperienced beekeepers can create conditions in which there isn’t enough food for their insects. “If there are too many colonies in an area, then the food supply will be insufficient,” Francis Ratnieks, a professor at the university’s Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, told the BBC. “This will mean that colonies do not thrive, and may also affect other species that also visit flowers.”
PERMALINK

 

12 Aug 2013: Live Video Stream Provides
Rare Glimpse of Deepsea Marine World

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this month is streaming online a live video feed from the deep-sea canyons off the northeastern U.S. coast, offering a real-time glimpse of the marine diversity on the ocean floor. In a 36-day expedition launched last month, NOAA researchers are using a remote-controlled vehicle tethered to the research ship Okeanos Explorer to capture video footage of rare marine creatures, deep coral communities, and cold vents, or seeps, from largely unexplored U.S. waters. NOAA is employing a remotely operated vehicle, known as Deep Discoverer, and a sophisticated camera sled to explore and broadcast video — accompanied by real-time narration from scientists — from depths of up to 6,000 meters, or nearly 20,000 feet. The project will continue until August 17.
PERMALINK

 

09 Aug 2013: Mapping of Monarch Butterfly
Migration Yields Clues About Decline

A comprehensive mapping of the North American migration patterns of the iconic monarch butterfly could help preserve a species threatened by loss of habitat and food sources, a team of international
monarch butterfly
Wikimedia Commons
A monarch butterfly
researchers says. In a study conducted across 17 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, from southern Texas to Alberta, biologists from Canada, the U.S., and Australia tracked the northward migration of the monarchs, documenting five generations in a single breeding season. By analyzing a chemical signature found on the adult butterflies’ wings that reveals their specific birthplace, scientists were able to track the different generations of butterflies as they migrated north to the U.S. Midwest, from which many butterflies then traveled to Alberta. According to Tyler Flockhart, a Ph. D. student at the University of Guelph in Canada and lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the decline in milkweed and a surge in genetically modified crops might be affecting monarch survival.
PERMALINK

 

08 Aug 2013: Conventional Hybrids Better
For Climate than EVs in Most U.S. States

Conventional gas-powered hybrid vehicles are still better for the climate than all-electric cars in most U.S. states, in part because these states still rely heavily on fossil fuels to produce electricity, according to a new report. In 39 states, high-efficiency hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, produce fewer carbon emissions during their lifecycle than the least-polluting electric cars, an analysis by Climate Central found. Although an increased reliance on cleaner energy sources in some parts of the country doubled the number of states (32) where driving electric cars would be more environmentally friendly, that advantage disappeared when analysts also considered the high emissions associated with building the batteries and other components for the EVs. In 11 states, the best all-electric cars are better for the environment than gas-powered hybrids, even when manufacturing is taken into account. In 26 states, plug-in hybrid cars are the most climate-friendly vehicles, the analysis found.
PERMALINK

 

07 Aug 2013: Mimicking Cactus Design,
Scientists Devise Oil Spill Cleanup Method

Chinese researchers have developed a method of removing oil from polluted water using tiny barbed spikes that mimic the natural design of a cactus.
Cactus pollution cleanup
Wikimedia Commons
The cactus opuntia microdasys
Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the Beijing-based researchers describe how arrays of tiny copper spikes, similar to the cone-shaped spikes of a type of cactus known as Opuntia microdasys, are able to collect micron-sized oil droplets that might otherwise be difficult to remove from water. The copper spikes are extremely thin at their point but get wider as they get closer to the base, creating a pressure difference that pulls droplets of oil toward the artificial skin-like surface. The oil then coalesces at the base of the cone, which can then be removed from the water. “Each conical needle in the array is a little oil collection device,” said Lei Jiang, lead author of the report. In tests, the researchers found that the needle arrays were able to remove about 99 percent of oil content from water, suggesting that the design could lead to new methods of cleaning up oil spills.
PERMALINK

 

06 Aug 2013: Timelapse Map Illustrates
Steep Growth of U.S. Wind Energy

The U.S. installed more than 13 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity in 2012, nearly doubling the amount of wind power installations added in 2011 and pushing the

Click to enlarge
Department of Energy Wind US

Department of Energy
Wind energy projects in the U.S., 1992-2012
total capacity connected to the grid nationally to 60 gigawatts, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). That capacity represents enough electricity to power 15 million homes annually, officials say, adding that for the first time wind energy has become the top source of new electricity generation in the U.S. To coincide with the report, the DOE published an interactive map illustrating the steep growth in wind projects nationwide, particularly in the last decade. The map shows that until the mid-1990s, only a few dozen wind projects existed, all in California. But by 2000, projects started appearing in states nationwide, particularly in Texas and Iowa. In the past two decades the number of wind energy projects has increased from 49 to 815, the DOE said.
PERMALINK

 

05 Aug 2013: New Deep-Rooted Rice
Shows Greater Resistance to Drought

Japanese scientists say they have developed a rice plant with deeper roots that could yield a more drought-resistant variety of rice. Writing in the journal Nature Genetics, a team of scientists describes the discovery of gene that causes a rice strain known as Kinandang Patong, grown in the dry upland of the Philippines, to send longer roots into the soil, allowing the plant to extract water from deeper soil layers. After splicing the gene with a commonly grown rice strain, called IR64, the scientists found that the maximum root depths were more than twice those of the typical plants. After exposing both strains to moderate and severe drought conditions, the researchers found that yields of the standard variety fell significantly in moderate drought conditions and collapsed altogether in severe drought, while the modified strains were not affected by moderate drought and yields declined only 30 percent in severe drought.
PERMALINK

 

02 Aug 2013: Prolonged Heat Wave Leaves
Russian Arctic Vulnerable to Wildfires

An enduring high-pressure weather system over the Russian Arctic has led to a prolonged heat wave, creating conditions for another surge in wildfires a year after a particularly extreme wildfire season. NASA

Click to enlarge
Temperature Anomalies Russia Arctic NASA 2013

NASA
Temperature anomalies in Russian Arctic, July 20-27
scientists say that a so-called “blocking high” system — in which rain-bearing systems are blocked from moving west to east — has caused temperatures to reach 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) in the northern city of Norlisk, where daily highs in July typically average 61 degrees F (16 degrees C). Using satellite data, NASA produced a map that vividly depicts the land surface temperature anomalies in the region during the week of July 20-27, with temperatures soaring as high as 37 degrees F above normal. A separate satellite image shows smoke billowing from several fires burning in one of the areas, in the Khanty-Mansiyskiy and Yamal-Nenetskiy districts. According to scientists, the Siberian fires are burning in areas far north of where summer wildfires typically occur.
PERMALINK

 

01 Aug 2013: Whales Shown to Flee
From Mid-Frequency Military Sonar

Two new studies show that the use of military sonar can provoke whales to flee, providing evidence that the naval operations may be a factor in mass strandings of whales and dolphins worldwide. According to one study,
Blue whale sonar study
Wikimedia Commons
A blue whale
most marine mammal strandings related to naval sonar exercises involve beaked whales, a notoriously shy species that responds to noise levels well below those used by the U.S. Navy. Scientists believe the beaked whales may interpret the sonar noises as the sounds of killer whales. A separate study found that even mid-frequency sonar affected the behavior of blue whales, the largest animals on earth, especially during feeding. After exposing tagged blue whales to simulated military sonar and other mid-frequency sounds, the animals often ceased feeding, increased swimming speeds, and traveled away from the sound. “Noise pollution threatens vulnerable populations, driving them away from areas important to their survival, and at worst injuring or even causing the deaths of some whales and dolphins,” Sarah Dolman of the non-profit group Whale and Dolphin Conservation told the Guardian.
PERMALINK

 

31 Jul 2013: Desert Tree Plantings
Could Lower Atmospheric CO2 Levels

The large-scale planting of jatropha trees in the world’s arid regions could help reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a new study says. Using computer models and data from plantations in Egypt, India, and
Jatropha
Jatropha.org
Jatropha tree
Madagascar, a team of German scientists calculated that plantations of the durable, scrubby jatropha — which can also be used as a biofuel — could capture 17 to 25 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare annually. Jatropha is particularly suited for so-called “carbon farming” because it can grow in hot, dry regions where the soil is unsuitable for food crops, according to the study, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics. In addition, the researchers estimate that there are about 1 billion hectares of “unused and marginal” land suitable for cultivating such tree plantations. Since jatropha trees do require some water, the authors suggest they should be planted near coastal regions where desalinated seawater could be accessible.
PERMALINK

 

In Vermont Boat Project, A New
Model for Carbon-Free Shipping

A new sailing barge was launched last month that its backers hope will soon be in the vanguard of a new carbon-neutral shipping alternative. The Vermont Sail Freight Projecthopes to prove that carbon-neutral boats
Vermont Sail Freight Project
Vermont Sail Freight Project
The Ceres will haul produce to New York.
can be a viable shipping method for the 21st century, connecting small-scale farmers in Vermont and upstate New York with customers along the Hudson River south to New York City — all while reducing the substantial greenhouse gas emissions that come from conventional shipping of produce by trucks. If all goes as planned, the 39-foot Ceres sailing vessel will this fall begin its 300-mile voyage to New York, delivering pre-ordered produce to customers along the route. This project is one of a growing number of efforts to revive sail-powered transport in connection with sustainable agriculture in the U.S. and Europe.
Read more
PERMALINK

 

30 Jul 2013: Return of Yellowstone Wolves
Triggers Surge in Grizzly's Prized Berries

The reintroduction of wolves at Yellowstone National Park has caused a cascade of ecological effects that has led to the regrowth of berries, an important food source for the park’s grizzly bears, scientists say. Writing in the
Grizzly Bear Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park
Grizzly bear at Yellowstone Park
Journal of Animal Ecology, scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Washington report that the percentage of fruit found in bear scat has nearly doubled during the month of August in recent years. According to researchers, this reflects a recovery of berry bushes triggered in large part by the wolves, which have reduced overbrowsing by the park’s elk herds. The removal of wolves for most of the 20th century triggered the demise of the park’s young aspen and willow trees, as well as berry-producing shrubs, scientists say. According to the report, berries may be so important to the health of bear populations that their recovery could mean a lifting of the species’ “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act.
PERMALINK

 

29 Jul 2013: Wired Honeybees Show
Harmful Impacts of Pesticides on Navigation

Using tiny radar antennae glued to the backs of honeybees, European scientists have found that bees exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides were more likely to become disoriented and separated from their hives.
Honeybee Radar Study
Handout
Honeybee wired with radar antennae
After attaching the small transponders to 200 bees, including some that were fed pesticide-laced syrup, scientists discovered that the exposed bees had difficulty navigating and were unable to retrace the path back to their hives. “We find the control bees are just fantastic — they use their landscape and their vector memory and they do fine,” Randolf Menzel, an insect neurobiologist at the Free University in Berlin, told the London Telegraph. “The treated bees, depending on the doses of the substance, are more confused.” The findings appear to support a theory that neonicotinoids make bees more vulnerable to pathogens and could be a factor in so-called “colony collapse disorder,” a phenomenon that has decimated honeybee populations in recent years.
PERMALINK

 

26 Jul 2013: Parched New Mexico Reservoir
Reveals Effects of Prolonged Drought

A pair of satellite images released by NASA this week shows the effects of a severe drought on New Mexico’s largest reservoir, where water levels are at their lowest

Click to enlarge
Drought at Elephant Butte Reservoir New Mexico

NASA
Elephant Butte reservoir, 1994-2013
levels in four decades. Earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that Elephant Butte reservoir in southern New Mexico was holding about 65,057 acre-feet of water, only 3 percent of its capacity of 2.2 million acre-feet, largely as a result of prolonged drought conditions and unusually low spring snowmelt from nearby mountains. That represents the lowest water levels in the reservoir since 1972. From the mid-1980s to 2000 the reservoir was nearly filled to capacity, as illustrated in a 1994 satellite image, top, released by NASA. The reservoir, fed by the Rio Grande, provides water for about 90,000 acres of agricultural land and about half the city of El Paso, Tex.
PERMALINK

 

25 Jul 2013: Mapping of Oil Palm Genome
Could Boost Productivity of Key Crop

Scientists say they have identified the gene responsible for the yield of oil palm crops, a discovery that could boost the productivity of the world’s top source of

Click to enlarge
Malaysian Palm Oil Board

Malaysian Palm Oil Board
Two varieties of palm oil fruit.
vegetable oil and help reduce the size of oil palm plantations in the world’s tropical regions. Writing in the journal Nature, Malaysian and U.S. researchers describe the mapping of the genome of the oil palm, whose products are used in everything from food to cosmetics to biofuels. According to the scientists, the so-called “shell gene” controls “how the thickness of its shell correlates to fruit size and oil yield.” The fruit of the African palm oil tree comes in three varieties: a thick-shelled dura, a shell-less pisifera, and a thin-shelled tenera, which produces a greater oil yield. According to scientists, the shell gene plays a key role in a mutation that produces the more commercially productive tenera variety.
PERMALINK

 

24 Jul 2013: European Investment Bank
Will Not Finance Most Coal Power Stations

The European Investment Bank (EIB), the main lending arm of the European Union, has decided to stop financing most coal-fired power plants, part of an effort to help the 28-nation bloc meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2030. The EIB says that new and refurbished coal-fired power stations will be ineligible for funding unless they emit less than 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, a standard that traditional coal power plants would be unable to meet. Power stations that burn coal would only be able to meet the standards if they also produce heat for municipal or commercial heating systems or burned biomass. The EIB says it plans to further tighten its emissions standards for coal- and natural gas-fired power plants in the future.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Leaving Our Descendants
A Whopping Increase in Sea Levels

Last week, a group of scientists led by Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research released a paper that made a stark forecast:
Anders Levermann Interview
Anders Levermann
For every 1 degree Celsius of temperature increase, the world will eventually experience a 2.3-meter increase in sea level. That means that should carbon emissions continue to rise at or near current rates, and temperatures soar 4 to 5 degrees C in the next century or two, the world could well experience sea level increases of many meters — dozens of feet — in the centuries and millennia to come. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Levermann discusses how he and his colleagues reached their conclusions, how much disruption such large sea level increases might cause, and why we need to ponder the effect of our actions on future generations. “Society needs to decide about how much damage it wants to do in the future and how much damage future generations can actually cope with,” he says.
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

23 Jul 2013: Booming Cashmere Market
Is Threatening Snow Leopards, Study Says

A surging global market for cashmere is pushing several iconic species, including the snow leopard and wild yak, toward the margins of survival in remote regions where wool-producing goats are raised, according to a new
Snow Leopard
Anna Yu
A snow leopard in the mountains of Central Asia
study. Demand for the luxurious wool, which has spurred a multibillion-dollar industry, has encouraged herders in Asia to drastically increase their livestock, which are devouring a growing share of the grass that had previously been eaten by antelope, wild asses, and their predators. In an analysis conducted in Mongolia, India, and China’s Tibetan Plateau, a team of researchers concluded that 95 percent of forage is now consumed by domestic animals, leaving just 5 percent for wild species, the Guardian reports. In addition, the researchers noted a rise in the killing of leopards and wolves by herders following predator attacks on livestock, as well as the transfer of disease from livestock to wild animals. “Rather than serving as symbols of success, these species will become victims of fashion,” the researchers write in the journal Conservation Biology.
PERMALINK

 

22 Jul 2013: ‘Demand Response’ Programs
Saved Crucial Electricity During Heat Wave

As electricity producers struggled to supply power during last week’s heat wave along the U.S. East Coast, so-called “demand response” programs — which enable utilities to remotely reduce power usage in participating businesses and homes — were vital in avoiding blackouts, utility officials said. The Wall Street Journal reports that as electricity usage in New York state set a record on Friday, demand response programs produced energy savings equivalent to the output of two large power plants, just as the state was running dangerously low on power. Demand response programs enable utilities to dim lights, turn down air conditioners, and delay freezer-defrost cycles in the freezer cases of stores. Participating businesses and individuals get credits on their utility bills. Numerous states have demand response programs, and federal officials say these programs are capable of cutting peak U.S. electricity demand by 72,000 megawatts, or 9.2 percent.
PERMALINK

 

19 Jul 2013: European Fish Stocks
Show Signs of Recovery, Study Says

A major assessment of fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic Ocean shows that many species are recovering and are now being fished sustainably. The surprising findings, reported in the journal Current Biology, are based on data from government research institutes that collected millions of measurements of fish, both at sea and in markets. The study showed that for the first time in decades the majority of fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic are recovering, thanks to reforms instituted by individual nations and the European Union in 2002. This good news comes amid widespread criticism of EU fisheries policies, which recently have undergone further reform. “We should be aware that low fishing pressure needs to be maintained until stocks recover,” said researcher Robin Cook of the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. “This is only the first step. Now we need to see numbers increase as a result of continued low fishing pressure.”
PERMALINK

 

18 Jul 2013: Malaysian Borneo Plundered
As 80 Percent of Rainforests Are Logged

The first comprehensive, satellite-based assessment of industrial logging practices in Malaysian Borneo has shown that more than 80 percent of the region’s forests have been heavily impacted by logging. Reporting in the journal PLOS One, researchers from Australia, New Guinea, and the U.S. say that Malaysian Borneo — which just 30 years ago was considered one of the wildest places on Earth — now has been eaten away by 226,000 miles of roads that have enabled companies to legally and illegally log most of the territory, which consists of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. At best, only 17,500 square miles of forest ecosystems remain intact, the study said. “The extent of logging in Sabah and Sarawak documented in our work is breathtaking,” said study co-author Phil Shearman of the University of Papua New Guinea.
PERMALINK

 

17 Jul 2013: New App Identifies Species
By Recordings of Their Vocalizations

A new app is enabling scientists and the public to automatically identify frogs, birds, insects, monkeys, and other animals by recording their vocalizations. Scientists at the University of Puerto Rico have created a system called the Automated Remote Biodiversity Monitoring Network (ARBIMON) that enables them to place inexpensive, solar-powered technology in the field and record the sounds of creatures that are often difficult to see or locate in their natural environment. The devices, which include I-Pods, can make 144 one-minute recordings per day and transmit them to a base station miles away. Using the ARBIMON system, scientists have already made more than 1 million recordings in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Arizona, Costa Rica, and Brazil that can be listened to online. Researchers say the new system will greatly enhance their ability to do field research and to monitor the presence and activity patterns of species.
PERMALINK

 

16 Jul 2013: Russia Blocks Plans to Create
Massive Marine Reserve in Antarctica

Russian officials have blocked plans to establish the world’s largest marine reserve in the waters off Antarctica, citing concerns that it would restrict their
Ross Sea Antarctica Pew Trust
John B. Weller/The Pew Charitable Trusts
Ross Sea pack ice
fishing interests in the region, according to news reports. The plan, which was proposed by the U.S. and New Zealand, would have protected a total of 2.3 million square miles in the Ross Sea, a deep, high-latitude body of water in the Southern Ocean. But during a meeting of the 25-member Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, Russia questioned whether the organization had the legal right to create such a haven. A key sticking point for the Russians was the potential loss of the fishery for krill, a shrimp-like creature that is a critical food source for penguins, seabirds, seals, and whales, but is netted for use in Omega-3 dietary supplements.
PERMALINK

 

15 Jul 2013: Map Shows Possible Link
Between Warmer Springs and Large Fires

An interactive tool produced by the group Climate Central illustrates how rising temperatures and reduced snowpack in the western U.S. have corresponded with an increase in wildfiresin recent decades. Based on federal wildfire data from 1970 to 2012, the graphic shows how large fires in some western states — including Arizona, Colorado, and Idaho — have doubled or even tripled in four decades, a period when the average spring and summer temperatures in 11 states increased by more than 1.5 degrees F. According to the Climate Central analysis, Arizona has experienced the highest average increase in spring temperatures, about 1 degree F, which has likely been a key factor in the steep increase in fires covering more than 1,000 acres. Another key factor has been the decrease in mountain snowpack. During several seasons, unusually low amounts of spring snow caused extended droughts that helped drive more big fires.
PERMALINK

 

12 Jul 2013: Europe’s Offshore Wind Sector
Is Growing, But Troubles Lie Ahead

European nations installed a record number of offshore wind turbines during the first half of 2013, adding more than twice the capacity installed during the same period in 2012, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), an industry group. A total of 277 new turbines in seven wind farms were fully connected to the grid during the six-month period, adding 1,045 megawatts of capacity, with another 130 turbines installed but awaiting connection, the group says in a new report. Although the new turbines bumped Europe’s total offshore wind energy capacity to 6,040 megawatts, officials say the sector’s growth is already slowing as a result of regulatory uncertainty in key countries. While European nations such as Germany and the UK have relied on large-scale wind projects to achieve renewable energy targets by 2020, the lack of a binding target for 2030 will cause growth to stall, said Justin Wilkes, EWEA’s policy director. “Financing of new projects has slowed down with only one project reaching financial close so far this year,” he said.
PERMALINK

 

11 Jul 2013: ‘Peak Oil’ Concerns Overstated
As Demand Will Fall, Study Predicts

Researchers say concerns that humanity will inevitably reach a moment of “peak oil,” which would be followed by a crippling decline in supplies, are unwarranted

Click to enlarge
Peak Oil Demand

Stanford University
Oil demand, 1990-2100
because global demand for oil is approaching its own peak. Writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers from Stanford University and the University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC) say that dire projections of peak oil mistakenly assume that an increasingly wealthy planet will continue to rely heavily on oil. On the contrary, they say, the link between economic growth and oil is breaking down as a result of increased energy efficiency, lower prices for alternative fuel sources, urbanization, and limits on consumption by the wealthy. While the researchers project surging global demand for airline travel and various forms of freight transportation, there will be less reliance on oil, with conventional oil demand declining after 2035.
PERMALINK

 

10 Jul 2013: Massive Iceberg Calves
Off Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier

A massive chunk of Antarctica’s fastest-moving ice stream, the Pine Island Glacier, dropped into the Amundsen Sea this week, nearly two years after

Click to enlarge
Pine Island Glacier

Alfred Wegener Institute/German Space Agency
Pine Island Glacier, 2011-2013
scientists first observed a crack in the glacier tongue. German scientists, who have been tracking the progress of the ice mass since NASA satellites first observed the crack in 2011, say the calved iceberg measured 720 square kilometers (278 square miles). There is no conclusive proof that climate change triggered the ice break, said Angelika Humbert, an ice researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute. But shifting wind patterns around Antarctica are bringing warmer waters to the surface of the Southern Ocean in West Antarctica, which is hastening the thinning of some glaciers. Humbert said those warmer waters are causing the Pine Island Glacier to flow more rapidly into the Amundsen Sea.
PERMALINK

 

09 Jul 2013: Coal Emissions in China Slash
5.5 Years off Life Expectancy, Study Says

The life expectancy of people living in northern China is 5 ½ years less than in southern China as a result of the north’s notoriously bad air pollution, largely due to the burning of coal, according to a new study. In an analysis
Air Pollution in China
Getty Images
of air quality recordings from 90 Chinese cities from 1981 to 2000 and mortality data from the 1990s, a team of researchers estimated that high air pollution will cost the roughly 500 million people living north of the Huai River a combined 2.5 billion years of life expectancy compared with people living in the south. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers say increased mortality, attributable to cardiorespiratory illness, is the unintended consequence of a Chinese policy that from 1950 to 1980 provided free coal for boilers in cities north of the Huai, but not for those living in the south.
PERMALINK

 

08 Jul 2013: Crowdsourcing Project Targets
Open-Source Tool for Ocean Research

A team of marine researchers is developing a blueprint for an inexpensive tool to collect oceanographic data, a venture they hope will make ocean science more accessible to other scientists, educators, and marine enthusiasts. Using an open-access model, the researchers hope to build their own CTD, a widely used oceanographic instrument that collects information on ocean temperature, depth, salinity, and density. While CTDs are vital to marine research, the technology can be prohibitively expensive for some “citizen scientists,” with costs running $5,000 to $25,000 per instrument. Traditional CTDs are small, cylindrical instruments that are dropped from boats and relay data back to shipboard computers. Using a crowdsourcing website, organizers of the so-called OpenCTD project are raising funds to design a CTD capable of collecting ocean data down to 200 meters at a cost of about $200.
PERMALINK

 

05 Jul 2013: Largest Offshore Wind Farm
Opened in North Sea Off British Coast

British Prime Minister David Cameron has inaugurated the world’s largest offshore wind farm, a 630-megawatt project capable of producing enough electricity to power 500,000 homes. The $2.3 billion project — located 12 miles offshore in the North Sea, east of London — is being operated by an international consortium that includes China’s Dong Energy, German’s E.ON, and Abu Dhabi’s Masdar. The so-called London Array project, which contains 175 turbines, began producing energy in April but was officially inaugurated yesterday by Cameron. The project’s opening solidifies the UK’s position as a global leader in offshore wind energy. The country currently produces 3 gigawatts of power from wind energy and by 2020 aims to develop 18 gigawatts, much of it from offshore wind power installations.
PERMALINK

 

03 Jul 2013: Flexible Glass Solar Cells
Could Boost Effectiveness of Solar Shingles

U.S. researchers have developed a solar shingle made of flexible glass that could emerge as an alternative to conventional roof shingles and drive down the costs of
Corning Willow Glass
Corning
Corning’s Willow Glass
rooftop solar energy systems. Unlike conventional solar panels, which are bulky and breakable, the new solar cell built by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is durable enough to last for decades, according to MIT’s Technology Review. While typical panels must be mounted on top of asphalt shingles, the glass solar shingles can be nailed directly onto a roof instead of conventional shingles. The cells are made of a pliable material called Willow Glass, which was developed by Corning, the company that also makes the so-called Gorilla glass for iPhone screens. According to researchers, the glass can also utilize cadmium telluride — which can compete on a cost basis with more widely used silicon solar cells — as the solar cell material.
PERMALINK

 

02 Jul 2013: Drought Tolerance in Plants
Boosted by New Synthetic Chemical

Scientists have identified a chemical that helps plants better tolerate drought conditions, a discovery they say could help boost crop production as extreme weather

Click to enlarge
Drought tolerance crops quinabactin

Cutler Lab/UC Riverside
Soybean plant, right, treated with quinabactin
conditions become more common. After testing thousands of different molecules, researchers at the University of California, Riverside found and named a chemical, quinabactin, that caused the pores, or stomata, in Arabidopsis plants to close firmly, thus preventing water loss. The action is similar to the way a naturally occurring stress hormone, known as abscisic acid (ABA), performs in drought-tolerant plant varieties. While it was previously known that ABA triggers the closing of stomata pores during dry periods, the hormone is far too expensive to apply in agricultural fields, scientists say. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that the synthetic chemical mimics the effects of ABA but is much simpler chemically and cheaper to produce.
PERMALINK

 

01 Jul 2013: Climate Change Driving
More Active El Niño Cycles, Study Says

A new analysis of tree-ring data indicates that the climate cycle known as the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has been more active during the latter part of the 20th century than at any other time during the past seven centuries, suggesting that global warming is affecting this climate phenomenon. Using data from 2,222 tree-ring chronologies from the tropics and mid-latitudes in both the northern and southern Hemispheres, a team of scientists determined that ENSO-related behavior in the late 20th century was far greater than the natural variability reflected in data going back to 1300. A naturally occurring climate cycle, ENSO is characterized by warmer ocean temperatures off the west coast of South America, a phenomenon that can cause major droughts, floods, and extreme weather across the Pacific. According to Jinbao Li, a scientist at the University of Hawaii and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, greenhouse gases are altering the planet’s radiation balance and thus intensifying ENSO cycles.
PERMALINK

 

28 Jun 2013: Global Biodiversity Maps
Show Species Health Down to Local Level

U.S. researchers have published a series of data-rich maps that identify the world’s conservation priority

View gallery
Global biodiversity map

Saving Species/Globaïa
Density of biodiversity, South America
hotspots with a level of detail they say is 100 times finer than previous assessments. Using the latest data on more than 21,000 species of mammals, amphibians, and birds, the maps produced by North Carolina State University researchers provide a snapshot of biodiversity health at a 10-kilometer-by-10-kilometer scale, comparable to the geographic scale at which critical conservation decisions are made. The color-coded maps reveal patterns of biodiversity for the different types of species. Researchers hope the information will help policymakers make best use of scarce conservation resources to protect the world’s most vulnerable species. The paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
PERMALINK

 

27 Jun 2013: New Bird Species Identified
In Crowded Outskirts of Phnom Penh

A team of scientists in Cambodia has identified a new species of lowland tailorbird recently captured in the densely populated outskirts of Phnom Penh. Originally
Cambodia tailorbird
J.A. Eaton/WCS
An adult male Cambodia tailorbird
caught and photographed in 2009 during a routine sampling for avian influenza, the small wren-sized bird was initially misidentified as a known type of tailorbird until the photographs caught the attention of scientist Simon Mahood of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Following genetic analysis of other individuals collected in the region, scientists confirmed that the bird — which has white cheeks, a rich cinnamon-colored crown, and distinct vocal characters — was indeed a new species. According to an article co-authored by Mahood in Forktail, a journal of the Oriental Bird Club, the so-called Cambodia tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk) is known to exist only in a dense, lowland scrub ecosystem that is declining in size and quality.
PERMALINK

 

26 Jun 2013: Exposure to Lead Costs
Developing Nations $1 Trillion Annually

The exposure of children to toxic lead, and the subsequent declines in IQ and earning potential, costs the developing world nearly $1 trillion annually, according to a new report. Based on the average lead levels in children under the age of 5, researchers from New York University found that Africa suffers the greatest costs from lead exposure, losing an estimated $137.7 billion annually, or about 4 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). In Latin America, the costs are about $142.3 billion, the study found, while in Asian nations the costs are about $699.9 billion. By comparison, the annual costs in the U.S. and Europe, where exposure to lead has decreased significantly in recent decades, are about $50 billion and $55 billion, respectively. The report said lead consumption has increased worldwide since the early 1970s, largely because of rising demand for lead batteries. The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
PERMALINK

 

25 Jun 2013: President Obama Unveils
Sweeping U.S. Plan To Tackle Climate Change

President Obama today unveiled a long-awaited national strategy to tackle climate change, a sweeping plan that will include cutting carbon emissions at power plants, protecting the coastline from rising seas, and a greater U.S. role in global climate talks. Calling the need to address climate change a “moral obligation,” Obama asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop strict new standards on carbon pollution from existing power plants, the largest source of emissions, by June 2014, and complete standards for new plants by October. He also committed $7 billion for climate mitigation and adaptation projects, and $8 billion in incentives for energy efficiency and other innovations, including carbon capture technologies. Overall, the president’s strategy aims to cut U.S. carbon emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
PERMALINK

 

24 Jun 2013: Houston to Buy Half of its
Electricity From Renewable Sources

The city of Houston has agreed to purchase half its electricity from renewable energy sources, a step that makes the Texas city the nation’s largest municipal buyer of green energy. In a contract signed with Reliant Energy, Houston committed to buying more than 140 megawatts of renewable power from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2015, locking in nearly 623,000 megawatts of clean power annually. According to city officials, the government committed $2 million — less than 1 cent per kilowatt-hour — through the purchase of renewable energy credits that will be used to fund alternative energy projects. “Houston is already known as the energy capital of the world, but we are committed to becoming the alternative energy capital of the world as well,” Mayor Annise Parker said in a statement. In addition to investing in wind energy, the city touted major solar projects at municipal sites and efforts to streamline its solar power-permitting process.
PERMALINK

 

21 Jun 2013: Illegal Fires in Sumatra
Send Dangerous Pollution to Singapore

Billowing smoke from illegal fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra has engulfed Singapore this week, pushing air pollution to record levelsfor three

Click to enlarge
Satellite Smoke Engulfs Singapore

NASA
Smoke engulfs Singapore
consecutive days. The smoke, which is captured in a new NASA satellite image, has created an acrid blanket of smog across the region and historic levels of air pollution. According to government officials, Singapore's air pollution index reached 401 on Friday, a level considered hazardous for breathing. Before this week, the previous high was 226. The smoke has been blowing east toward southern Malaysia and Singapore from Sumatra, where farmers set illegal fires to clear land for new crops during the mid-year dry season. The fires are yet another sign of the large-scale deforestation taking place on Sumatra.
PERMALINK

 

20 Jun 2013: Global Reports Underline
Threats to Planet’s Bird Species

New global research underlines the rising threats facing the world’s bird species, with three reports providing evidence that climate change, overfishing, and unsustainable agriculture are taking a heavy toll on
Maine puffins
USFWS
Puffins along the Maine coast.
avian populations worldwide. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reports that numbers of some migratory bird populations in Maine — including Arctic terns and puffins — have plummeted in recent years because their food supplies are disappearing as a result of commercial fishing and the shifting of fish to cooler waters, which is making it more difficult for some birds to feed their young. In a separate study, scientists predict that rising sea levels will devastate habitat for some migratory shore birds in the coming decades. Higher sea levels, the study predicts, will flood 23 percent to 40 percent of the intertidal habitats for several shorebird species, triggering population declines of as much as 70 percent. Overall, one in eight bird species globally is at risk of extinction, according to a new report by BirdLife International.
PERMALINK

 

19 Jun 2013: Study Maps Likely Wildlife
Migration Corridors as Climate Warms

The southeastern U.S., eastern Canada, and the Amazon Basin could become three of the more heavily used wildlife thoroughfares as species are forced to relocate

Click to enlarge
Wildlife Corridors University of Washington

University of Washington
Wildlife corridors in the southeastern U.S.
in response to warming temperatures in the future, according to a new study. In an analysis of how nearly 3,000 species of mammals, birds, and amphibians in the Western Hemisphere will have to travel to find more hospitable climes — and the human-built barriers, such as cities and agricultural land, that could stand in their way — scientists from the University of Washington found that some regions will see far more animal movement than others. In the southeastern U.S., the Appalachian Mountains are expected to provide a conduit for species movement, as are northern regions of the eastern U.S., including the area around the Great Lakes, the study found. According to the study, published in Ecology Letters, the findings can help guide conservation and land use planning along these critical migration corridors.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Coal-Fired Plants and the
Struggle for Environmental Justice

As the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Director, Jacqueline Patterson often finds her work questioned by constituents of the venerable civil rights
Jacqueline Patterson Interview
Jacqueline Patterson
organization. “Some of the communities I work in were like, ‘Well, we’re dealing with double digit unemployment and people dying of AIDS, people being racially profiled, high murder rates. How is melting ice caps and polar bear extinction going to become a priority for us?’” In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Patterson discusses how she answers that thorny question and outlines the reasons behind the NAACP’s campaign to shut down coal-fired plants, which disproportionately affect minority communities. She also talks about the often-difficult relationship between environmental justice organizations and major U.S. green groups. “We need more joint strategizing on how we can collaborate more effectively," she says.
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

18 Jun 2013: Low-Cost Deals and Incentives
Drive Record Sales of Electric Cars

After years of sluggish sales, the market for electric vehicles has surged in recent months in response to an escalating price war among automakers that has helped reduce the high up-front costs that have slowed the emerging EV sector. Since Nissan reduced the price of its electric Leaf by $6,400 to $19,000 earlier this year — a move that tripled sales of the car compared with the same time period last year — competitors such as Chevy, Fiat, Mitsubishi, Honda, and Toyota have responded with similar low-cost deals and buyer incentives, Time magazine reports. Within days of cutting the lease price for its Fit EV from $389 per month to $259 per month, Honda dealerships in California sold every model of the EV, forcing the automaker to apologize to customers who were then placed on a waiting list. But while the price war is driving EV sales and boosting consumer interest in the emerging green technologies, it is unclear whether it will be good for business in the long term. Chrysler, which owns Fiat, reported earlier this year that the company loses $10,000 for each Fiat 500e EV it sells.
PERMALINK

 

17 Jun 2013: Changes in Jet Stream Triggered
Record Greenland Melt in 2012, Study Says

An unusual shift in the jet stream triggered the historic level of surface ice melt that occurred across Greenland last summer, a new study says. Using satellite data and a computer model simulation, scientists from the University of Sheffield found that a high-pressure system developed in the mid-troposphere over Greenland for much of the summer, pushing warm southerly winds over the western edge of the ice sheet and creating a “heat dome” over Greenland. According to the study, published in the International Journal of Climatology, this unprecedented event caused record melting across virtually the entire ice sheet, including on Summit Station, Greenland’s highest peak. Ocean temperatures and Arctic sea ice retreat, meanwhile, played a minimal part in the record surface ice melt, the scientists reported. The study predicted that the record ice melt of 2012 is not likely to be “climatically representative of future ‘average’ summers” during the coming century.
PERMALINK

 

14 Jun 2013: Nicaragua Approves New Canal
Linking Atlantic and Pacific Oceans

Nicaragua has approved plans to build a $40 billion cross-country canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a project that would rival the Panama Canal but is raising major concerns about impacts on regional

Click to enlarge
Nicaragua Canal Feasibility Study Routes

Gran Canal Interoceánico por Nicaragua
Possible canal routes
water supplies and the environment. Lawmakers yesterday granted Hong-Kong-based HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. a 50-year concession to study, and possibly construct, a 180-mile canal that advocates say would better accommodate the massive cargo ships and supertankers needed to handle the increased trade between Asia and the Americas. Major questions remain, however, about whether the canal will ever be built. Environmental advocates warn that water needed to operate the massive infrastructure project would deplete the region’s freshwater supplies.
PERMALINK

 

13 Jun 2013: Population Could Be 11 Billion
By End of the Century, UN Report Says

A new United Nations report projects that the world population could reach nearly 11 billion by 2100, about 8 percent more than predicted just two years ago. The projected increase largely stems from the fact that the fertility rate in Africa has declined more slowly than expected, with demographers now forecasting that the number of people on the continent could nearly quadruple this century, from from about 1.1 billion today to about 4.2 billion. “The fertility decline in Africa has slowed down or stalled to a larger extent than we previously predicted, and as a result the African population will go up,” said Adrian Raftery, a professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington, who helped develop the statistical method used in the report. The total world population passed 7 billion in 2011. According to the new report, 8 of the top 10 increases in national populations by 2100 will occur in Africa, led by Nigeria, where the number of people is expected to jump from 184 million to 914 million.
PERMALINK

 

12 Jun 2013: Bird-Mimicking Mobile Apps
Harmful to Species, UK Groups Say

Wildlife officials in the UK are urging people not to use mobile phone apps that mimic bird songs in nature reserves, warning that the devices can harm some sensitive species, particularly during breeding season.
Chirp Bird Song App
iSpiny
Icon for Chirp! app
The increasingly popular apps, which use recordings of bird calls to lure the birds closer for photographs or better viewing, can distract birds from critical tasks, such as feeding their young, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT), a conservation group that oversees 42 reserves, is discouraging the use of the mobile apps at its reserves, calling it an intentional disturbance of sensitive species such as the Nightjar, a nocturnal bird that has experienced a recent recovery in the area. “I’m sure visitors would be devastated if they realized the possible disturbance they were causing to wildlife,” said Chris Thain, a manager at DWT’s Brownsea Island reserve.
PERMALINK

 

11 Jun 2013: Growing Number of Pests
Developing Resistance to GM Crops

An increasing number of pest species are developing resistance to crops genetically engineered to be toxic to insects, according to new research. In an analysis of 77 studies conducted in eight countries, a team of U.S. and French scientists found that five of 13 major pest species had become resistant to so-called Bt cotton or corn plants, which are genetically modified to exude a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, that is toxic to insects. While researchers say all insects inevitably adapt to threats such as pesticides, the study found that farmers who planted non-Bt crops in nearby “refuges” were more likely to slow that resistance. “Either take more stringent measures to delay resistance, such as requiring larger refuges, or this pest will probably evolve resistance quickly,” said Bruce Tabashnik, a professor at the University of Arizona and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The total land area planted annually with Bt crops has increased from 1.1 million hectares in 1996 to more than 66 million hectares in 2011.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: How Detergent Became
A Catalyst for Green Innovation

Adam Lowry is the co-founder and “chief greenskeeper” of Method, a small but rapidly growing company that has been a leader in the field of manufacturing
Adam Lowry
Adam Lowry
environmentally friendly cleaning and personal care products. Indeed, it was Method that pioneered the use of concentrated laundry detergent, an environmentally beneficial innovation that has been embraced by all the giant brands. Lowry and his partner, Eric Ryan, founded Method in 2001 and today the firm has more than $100 million in revenues and sells its products in retailers like Target and Whole Foods. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Lowry discusses how his company has managed to profit from sustainability, why major corporations have been slow to embrace environmental innovations, and how plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean made its way into Method’s bottles of hand soap. Early on, says Lowry, “we recognized that our little business had the ability to catalyze much bigger change.”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

10 Jun 2013: Carbon Emissions Increased
1.4 Percent in 2012, IEA Reports

Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.4 percent in 2012, a pace that could lead to a temperature increase of as much as 5.3 degrees C (9 degrees F) over pre-industrial times, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest World Energy Outlook. Despite significant improvements in some regions, including the U.S. and Europe, a record 31.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide were emitted worldwide during the year, including a 5.8-percent increase in Japan, where more fossil fuels were burned to compensate for reductions in nuclear power. While the rate of emissions growth in China was dramatically lower than in recent years, it still emitted 3.8 percent more carbon dioxide in 2012 than in 2011. In its report, the IEA encouraged four strategies to prevent what it says will be a catastrophic temperature increase: improved energy efficiency in buildings, industry, and transportation; a reduction in construction and use of coal-fired plants; reduced methane emissions; and a partial phaseout of fossil fuel consumption subsidies.
PERMALINK

 

07 Jun 2013: New Map of Antarctica Provides
Clearest Glimpse of Subglacial Continent

British scientists have unveiled the most detailed topographical map available yet of Antarctica, a vast dataset that provides a penetrating 3-D view of the

Click to enlarge
Antarctica Map

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Antarctica's subglacial terrain
frozen continent down to the bedrock level and could offer insights into how it will respond to climate change. Based on millions of measurements collected over decades, the British Antarctic Survey’s Bedmap2 project illustrates the continent with a level of clarity not previously available, including a vivid look at the mountain landscapes buried in ice and valleys that run deeper than had been known. The scientists say better understanding the landscape will help them predict the behavior of Antarctica’s ice sheet in future decades and the extent to which melting could increase sea levels. The map was based on data collected by satellites, land-based surveys, and ice-penetrating measurements of the subglacial bedrock.
PERMALINK

 

06 Jun 2013: Carbon Emissions in Brazil
Dropped 39% from 2005 to 2010, Report Says

Greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil fell by nearly 39 percent from 2005 to 2010, largely because of reductions in the amount of forest loss, according to a new government report. Overall, Brazil emitted the equivalent of 1.25 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, which was more than 10 percent lower than 1990 levels. About 76 percent of the reductions were the product of a dramatic decline in deforestation across the Amazon and surrounding savannahs, according to the government inventory. That decline was driven by the country’s conservation policies, including stricter enforcement of land use laws, expansion of protected regions, and stronger local incentives to achieve environmental goals. For the first time, agriculture accounts for the largest share of emissions. In fact, rising emissions from agriculture and the energy sector threaten to offset improvements achieved through reduced forest loss, experts warn.
PERMALINK

 

05 Jun 2013: First Amphibian Declared Extinct
‘Rediscovered’ in Israel’s Hula Valley

A team of scientists says it has “rediscovered” in northern Israel the first amphibian declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a species of frog that turns out to be the only

Click to enlarge
Hula painted frog

Sarig Gafny
A Hula painted frog
surviving member of an extinct genus of frogs. First discovered in Israel’s Hula Valley in the 1940s, the Hula painted frog was presumed gone when Hula Lake dried up in the late 1950s, and it was declared extinct in 1996. But since an individual frog was discovered during a patrol in Hula Nature Reserve in 2011, an additional 10 specimens have been found, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. And while the frog had originally been categorized as a member of the Discoglossus group of painted frogs, which are found across northern and western Africa, genetic analysis has revealed that the Hula frog is more closely related to a genus of frogs, Latonia, that were common across Europe during prehistoric periods but considered extinct for a million years. “In other words,” the study says, “the Hula painted frog is a living fossil.”
PERMALINK

 

04 Jun 2013: Nanofilter System Can Deliver
Clean Water to Rural Families for $2.50

Indian scientists have developed a filter system they say can provide clean water to rural families for less than $2.50 per year and help reduce incidences of diarrhea that cause tens of thousands of deaths in the developing world annually. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) describe the filter, which contains a composite of nanoparticles, held within a sieve, that emit a stream of silver ions that eradicate water-based microbes. In producing the filter, the team used a material called aluminium oxyhydroxide-chitosan, which, because of its structure and the diameter of the silver nanoparticles, is optimal for releasing the silver ions at temperatures of between five to 35 degrees C. In addition, the material is widely available, and environmentally friendly, and it keeps concentrations of the silver ions below safe drinking water standards, lead author Thalappil Pradeep told ScieDev.Net. So far, the scientists have installed the filters in water treatment plants in West Bengal, but are now seeking a company to produce the devices for widespread use.
PERMALINK

 

03 Jun 2013: Genetic Study Reveals Cheaper
Process to Convert Sawdust to Biofuel

A team of genetic engineers reports it has developed an inexpensive process that uses fungus to convert raw materials such as straw and sawdust into a productive biofuel. While it was previously known that the Trichoderma fungus produces the enzymes needed to break down such lignocellulosic wastes into a form of biofuel, the process was prohibitively expensive since the molecular switch required stimulation from a pure substance known as disaccharide sophorose, which is worth 60 times more than gold. Through genetic analysis, scientists from the Vienna University of Technology identified the specific gene that triggers the process — as well as the protein that the gene mutation affects — enabling them to mimic the same mutation in other strains of fungus. “We have understood the mechanism of this molecular switch and, consequently, many wonderful possibilities are opening up for us,” said Astrid Mach-Aigner, leader of the study published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels.
PERMALINK

 

31 May 2013: Getting More ‘Crop-per-Drop’
In World’s Driest Agricultural Regions

Improvements in irrigation in the world’s driest regions could significantly boost food production and water sustainability, according to a new study. In an analysis of how water is used for 16 staple food crops worldwide, including in regions with similar climates, a team of researchers identified specific areas where major efficiency improvements can be made in the so-called “crop per drop” — or the amount of food produced per liter of water. According to their findings, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, about 40 percent of the available water in some dry regions is used to produce about 20 percent of the food calories. But in other regions with similar climate conditions, the productivity is much greater, said Kate A. Brauman, a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. If these less-productive regions could improve their crop-per-drop productivity by even a modest amount, she said, “this would increase annual production on rain-fed croplands by enough to provide food for about 110 million people.”
PERMALINK

 

30 May 2013: Nuclear Power Has Prevented
1.84 Million Premature Deaths, Study Says

The use of nuclear power from 1971 to 2009 prevented more than 1.8 million premature deaths related to air pollution and 64 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, a new study says. Using historical production data and estimates of mortality per unit of electricity generated, scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University calculated that replacing nuclear energy sources with fossil fuel-burning sources during that period would have caused about 1.84 million premature deaths. By midcentury, they project, nuclear power could prevent an additional 420,000 to 7 million deaths, depending on which fossil fuels it replaces, and 80 to 240 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. “By contrast, we assess that large-scale expansion of unconstrained natural gas use would not mitigate the climate problem and would cause far more deaths than the expansion of nuclear power,” said Pushker A. Kharecha, who, along with NASA’s James Hansen, co-authored the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The study calculated that nuclear power plant accidents caused about 4,900 deaths during the same period.
PERMALINK

 

29 May 2013: Genetically Modified Salmon
Can Breed with Wild Fish and Thrive

Fast-growing, genetically modified salmon can interbreed with wild brown trout and produce offspring that grow rapidly and out-compete other wild salmon in streams, according to a new study. Researchers from Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, found that so-called “Frankenfish” — which are close to being approved for sale in the United States — can easily interbreed with brown trout in the wild, creating offspring that aggressively compete for food with salmon. In settings that simulated real streams, the offspring of the genetically modified (GM) salmon and brown trout were so aggressive that they suppressed the growth of GM salmon by 82 percent and wild salmon by 54 percent. “These findings suggest that complex competitive interactions associated with transgenesis and hybridization could have substantial ecological consequences for wild Atlantic salmon should they ever come into contact [with GM salmon] in nature,” the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The creator of the GM salmon, Aqua Bounty, said the risks were minimal since all the GM salmon will be female, sterile, and produced in tanks on land.
PERMALINK

 

28 May 2013: Electricity Availability Growth
Must Double to Achieve Global Access

The rate of expansion of access to electricity will have to double over the next 17 years if the world's population is to achieve 100 percent access to modern energy, a new report says. While about 1.7 billion people became connected to electricity sources worldwide between 1990 and 2010, that increase barely outpaced population growth during that period, according to Sustainable Energy for All, a group lead by the World Bank and the United Nations. More than 1.2 billion people still do not have access to electricity, and 2.8 billion still rely on burning wood or other biomass for household fuel, a source of pollution that causes about 4 million premature deaths annually. Achieving universal access to modern energy will require investments of $45 billion annually, which is five times the current levels. If combined with an expansion of renewable energy sources and improved efficiencies, however, achieving this growth in energy access would increase CO2 emissions by less than 1 percent, the report says.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Pollan Explores Links
Between Biodiversity and Health

In his new book, Cooked, author Michael Pollan once again delves into issues relating to the connections
Michael Pollan
Photo by Fran Collin
Michael Pollan
between the environment and what we eat, and, more broadly, to humanity’s relationship to the natural world. Taking control of cooking, he argues, may be the single most important step an individual can take to help make the food system healthier and more sustainable. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Pollan talks about how his research led him on a journey that ranged from the monoculture fields of U.S. commodity agriculture to the bacterial world inside the human body. And he notes the fundamental importance of biodiversity — in the landscape and the farm field, as well as in people’s diets. “This may prove to be the key legacy of ecology — what it teaches us about health,” Pollan says. “Who would have thought?”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

24 May 2013: Majority of Earth’s Population
Faces Water Shortages by Mid-Century

A conference of 500 of the world’s leading water scientists issued a stark declaration at the end of a four-day meeting in Germany, warning that within two generations a majority of the people on the planet will face problems obtaining ample supplies of clean water. At the meeting, “Water in the Anthropocene,” the scientists said that the of over-pumping of underground aquifers, soaring populations, pollution, the over-use of fertilizers, and climate change are seriously threatening supplies of freshwater around much of the globe. Continuing on the current path will mean that most of Earth’s population “will be living under the handicap of severe water pressure,” the scientists said, adding, “This handicap will be self-inflicted and is, we believe, entirely avoidable.” The conference proposed a wide range of solutions, including better study and monitoring of water supplies, basic reform in irrigation and agriculture, and innovation in the institutions that set national and global water policy.
PERMALINK

 

23 May 2013: China Poised to Launch
Much-Anticipated Carbon-Trading Project

China has revealed details of a carbon cap-and-trade pilot project that will be launched next month, a much-anticipated market attempt to rein in carbon dioxide emissions by the world’s biggest emitter. The first phase of the program, which will be implemented in the southern city of Shenzhen, will cover 638 companies that produce 38 percent of the city’s carbon emissions, according to the city branch of the government’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The system will impose caps on the companies’ CO2 emissions and establish a market for the buying and selling of emissions permits. Eventually, the program will be expanded to include the transportation, manufacturing, and construction sectors, the Guardian reports. By 2014, the experimental scheme will be expanded into six other designated cities and provinces, including Beijing and Shanghai. Earlier this week, the Chinese newspaper 21st Century Business Herald reported that the NDRC is contemplating a nationwide system to control CO2 emissions by 2020.
PERMALINK

 

22 May 2013: Whale’s Battle with Nets
Is Revealed Through Monitoring Device

A small monitoring tag attached to an entangled North Atlantic right whale revealed just how much fishing gear impairs a whale’s ability to swim, dive, and feed, scientists say. After locating a two-year-old whale,
Entangled Right Whale EcoHealth Alliance
EcoHealth Alliance, under permit number 594-1759
The entangled whale
dubbed Eg 3911, with fishing gear entangled around her mouth and pectoral fins, a team of scientists was able to attach a so-called Dtag in January 2011 that recorded her movements before, during, and after the team removed the nets. The whale “altered its behavior immediately following the disentanglement,” according to the study published in the journal Marine Mammal Science. She swam faster, dove twice as deep, and stayed underwater for longer periods. Scientists say the added buoyancy, increased drag and reduced speed caused by such gear may overwhelm an animal's ability to forage for preferred prey, delay its arrival to feeding or breeding grounds, and ultimately drain its energy. Indeed, two weeks after disentangling Eg 3911 from the nets, an aerial survey spotted her dead at sea.
PERMALINK

 

21 May 2013: Large Majority of Americans
Believe Global Warming Should be a Priority

Roughly 70 percent of Americans say global warming should be a priority for President Obama and Congress and 61 percent support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax that would be used to help reduce the national debt, according to a new survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. In a national survey conducted in April, 87 percent of respondents said that the president and Congress should make developing clean sources of energy a priority, 68 percent favored regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and 71 percent supported providing tax rebates for people who buy solar panels and energy-efficient vehicles. Seventy percent said global warming should be at least a “medium” priority, while 28 percent said it should be a low priority. The poll showed that 7 in 10 Americans support funding more research into green energy sources.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: For Solar Sisters,
Off-Grid Electricity is Power

For Katherine Lucey, the lack of electricity in many parts of the developing world is not just an economic issue, it is a gender issue. A former investment banker,
Solar Sister Africa
Solar Sister
Mother in Uganda with a solar lamp.
Lucey is the founder and CEO of Solar Sister, a nonprofit that uses a market-based approach to provide solar power to communities in sub-Saharan Africa through a network of women entrepreneurs. Access to energy is critical to alleviating poverty, and women must be at the heart of any solution, says Lacey, since they are the family’s “energy managers,” responsible for cooking and heating needs. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Lucey explains how Solar Sister’s operations rely on selling inexpensive solar energy systems to households to power lamps and recharge cell phones. Since 2010, Solar Sister has created a network of 401 businesswomen in three countries that has provided electricity to 54,000 people. Lucey says the model can be rapidly expanded and can transform lives. “We’ve got to find a way to tap into market resources and let people in their own communities solve their own problems," she says.
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

20 May 2013: System Converts Pig Waste
Into Biogas at Chinese Pig Farms

An international team of researchers has developed a system that will help Chinese farmers convert massive amounts of pig waste into a renewable source of energy
Pig Waste Biogas
Getty Images
and fertilizer. The project, led by Australia-based Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE), uses a two-step anaerobic biodigester that is able to treat 73,000 tons of waste annually, producing 380 cubic meters of biogas daily and about 5,600 tons of fertilizer per year. According to its developers, it will also provide a solution to a growing waste disposal challenge in China, where pigs generate more than 1.4 million tons of excrement annually. “Only 10 percent of this waste is currently treated, posing a considerable disposal headache, as well as health and water quality risks,” said Ravi Naidu, managing director of CRC CARE. While the system is being introduced at pig farms across China, Naidu says the technology could eventually help solve critical waste management challenges worldwide and make the pork industry more sustainable.
PERMALINK

 

17 May 2013: ‘Artificial Forest’ Nanosystem
Mimics Photosynthesis, Researchers Say

U.S. scientists have developed what they say is the first integrated nanosystem capable of replicating the process of photosynthesis, a sort of “artificial forest” that could one day lead to the production of hydrogen that could be used to power fuel cells. Composed of nanowire structures — including silicon “trunks” and titanium oxide “branches” — the system mimics the role played by chloroplasts in promoting photosynthesis in green plants. By assembling the “trees” in a dense array, resembling a miniature forest, the network lowers sunlight reflection and provides more surface area for hydrogen-producing reactions, the scientists say. “We’ve integrated our nanowire nanoscale heterostructure into a functional system that mimics the integration in chloroplasts and provides a conceptual blueprint for better solar-to-fuel conversion efficiencies in the future,” said Peidong Yang, a chemist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of the study, published in the journal NANO Letters. The lab of Daniel Nocera at Harvard University is doing related research into so-called artificial leaves.
PERMALINK

 

16 May 2013: Scientist’s U.S. Road Trip
Reveals Unexpected Methane Emissions

Methane measurements collected during a scientist’s road trip across the U.S. indicate that local emissions of the potent greenhouse gas are higher than previously known in many regions. Using a gas chromatograph mounted to the roof of a rented camper, Ira Leifer of the University of California, Santa Barbara, collected air samples from Florida to California, finding the highest methane concentrations in areas with significant refinery activity — such as Houston, Texas — and in a region of central California with oil and gas production. He found that methane concentrations exceeded the levels estimated by the U.S. Department of Energy, particularly in areas near industrial fossil fuel extraction sites. The results point to the importance of targeting these “fugitive” methane emissions in parallel with efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. Leifer's findings were published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.
PERMALINK

 

15 May 2013: Glaciers on Everest Disappearing
As Temperatures Rise, Snowfall Declines

The glaciers on Mount Everest and the surrounding region have shrunk by 13 percent in the last five decades as temperatures have risen and snowfall has declined in
Mount Everest
Pavel Novak
that section of the Himalaya, according to a new study. Using satellite imagery and topographic maps, a team of scientists found that the majority of glaciers on Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, and in the surrounding Sagarmatha National Park are retreating at an accelerating rate. In the last 50 years, the snowline in the Everest region has shifted up by an average of 590 feet (180 meters), said Sudeep Thakuri, a Ph. D. student at the University of Milan and leader of the research team, which presented its findings at a conference in Cancún, Mexico. Because glaciers are melting faster than they are being replenished, researchers say, rock and debris that were previously hidden under snow are now exposed and absorbing heat.
PERMALINK

 

14 May 2013: Shifting Petrel Diets Suggest
Effect of Humans on Ocean Food Web

An analysis of the bones of ancient and modern Hawaiian petrels has revealed that modern petrels, which forage in the open ocean, are eating prey lower on the food chain than in centuries past, a dramatic shift
Hawaiian Petrel
USGS
that coincides with the rise of industrial fishing. In tests conducted on petrel bones collected over three decades in the Hawaiian islands, a team of scientists found that the bones from 4,000 to 100 years ago contained higher ratios of nitrogen-15 and nitrogen-14 isotopes than the more recent bones, suggesting that the earlier birds ate bigger prey before changes in the food web composition of the Northeast Pacific. According to the scientists, the nitrogen ratio started to decline in the decades after the early 1950s, when industrial fishing started to extend beyond the continental shelves. “Our bone record is alarming because it suggests that open-ocean food webs are changing on a large scale due to human influence,” said Peggy Ostrom, a zoologist at Michigan State University and co-author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Climate Pioneer’s Son
Ponders a Worrisome CO2 Milestone

Climate scientist Ralph Keeling has followed in the footsteps of his renowned father, Charles David Keeling, who in 1958 became a pioneering figure in humanity’s struggle to combat climate change when he developed an accurate method of measuring CO2 in the atmosphere and
Ralph Keeling Curve
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Ralph Keeling
tracking its increase. Today, his son is the director of the Scripps CO2 Program, which was founded by his father and this month reported that global carbon dioxide concentrations had passed an alarming milestone of 400 parts per million. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Ralph Keeling discusses his father’s work, reflects on the meaning of CO2 levels climbing higher than they’ve been in at least 800,000 years, and expresses hope that crossing the 400 ppm mark may play a role in awakening the public to the dangers of runaway climate change. “It feels a little bit like we’re moving into a new era,” said Keeling. “Bringing about change requires people to be aware of what’s going on.”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

13 May 2013: Project Looks to Quantify
Power Emissions Through Crowdsourcing

A team of scientists is enlisting public support to help produce a more comprehensive inventory of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants globally, urging citizens to identify power plants in their communities with a new digital app. While data from some of the
Ventus Carbon Dioxide Map
Google Earth
world’s industrialized regions — including the U.S. and Europe — are already widely available, researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) say specific information on carbon emissions from most parts of the world is difficult to obtain. “It turns out that we know far less about fossil fuels than we thought we did,” Kevin Gurney, an emissions modeler at ASU and co-leader of the so-called Ventus Project, told Nature. “We could use some help.” Using a simple Google Earth application, the technology enables users to upload exact coordinates of local power plants, and, if possible, information on the type of fuels used or the quantity of CO2 emissions. Organizers hope that the crowdsourcing initiative will fill data gaps on the world’s roughly 30,000 power plants.
PERMALINK

 

10 May 2013: U.S. Web Tool Aims to Bolster
Research on Climate and Health Links

The Obama Administration this week introduced an online tool to improve research into the link between climate change and human health and promote innovative responses to future threats. As climate change triggers more extreme weather events and temperature shifts, it is becoming increasingly important to determine how these changes will affect respiratory illnesses, infectious diseases, allergies, and other human ailments, said Tom Armstrong, executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Writing on the department’s blog, Armstrong said the so-called Metadata Access Tool for Climate and Health, or MATCH, will provide an accessible portal of metadata from more than 9,000 health, environment and climate science data sets. “MATCH will help researchers and public health officials integrate the latest information from across environmental and health disciplines in order to inform more effective responses to climate and health threats,” he said.
PERMALINK

 

09 May 2013: Third Coal Export Proposal
Falls By Wayside in Pacific Northwest

A large U.S. pipeline developer has dropped plans to build a $200-million coal export facility in northern Oregon, the third major terminal proposal to be shelved or canceled in the Pacific Northwest. Officials at Houston-based Kinder Morgan say the Columbia River site could not optimally accommodate the 30 million tons of coal that were expected to run through the site annually, largely for markets in Asia. While the company said the decision had nothing to do with public opposition to transporting massive amounts of coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to the coast, critics of the plan say growing protests affected the decision. “If that site didn’t meet their physical constraints, they would have known that… years ago when they proposed this,” Brett VandenHeuvel, director of the group Columbia Riverkeeper, told the Los Angeles Times. Thousands of residents have signed petitions to block the project, citing concerns that the coal trains would cause pollution from coal dust and create traffic congestion. Three other coal export projects — two in Washington and one in Oregon — are still on the table.
PERMALINK

 

08 May 2013: Declining Snow Cover Imperils
Plant and Animal Species, Study Says

Declining winter and spring snow cover in parts of the Northern Hemisphere poses a growing threat to the plant and animals species that depend on the snow to survive harsh winters, a new study says. Writing in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a
Solar Impulse
Shutterstock
team of scientists reports that shorter snow seasons and decreased snow depths are altering the so-called subnivium, a seasonal microenvironment beneath the snow that provides refuge for a variety of life forms, from microbes to bears. In the last four decades, snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has declined by as much as 3.2 million square kilometers during the months of March and April. Spring melting has accelerated by nearly two weeks, and the period of maximum snow cover has shifted from February to January, the scientists say. If exposed to temperature fluctuations as a result of disappearing snow, reptiles and amphibians could emerge from winter torpor prematurely, and plant species would be subject to harmful freeze-thaw cycles.
PERMALINK

 

07 May 2013: Battery-Equipped Wind Turbine
Better Integrates Green Energy Onto Grid

General Electric recently introduced a wind turbine equipped with a storage battery, creating a type of “hybrid” turbine that industry leaders hope will improve the integration of intermittent energy sources onto the grid and reduce the costs of wind power. The GE battery is able to store less than one minute of the turbine’s energy potential, but by pairing the battery with advanced wind-forecasting algorithms, wind farm operators could guarantee a certain amount of power output for up to an hour, MIT’s Technology Review reports. Even small amounts of storage are able to compensate for rapid changes in output from renewable sources — such as when wind speeds fall — and thus exert less stress on conventional power plants in responding to the variability of wind and solar. This flexibility will become increasingly important as renewable energy accounts for a greater share of grid capacity, since major shifts in output can trigger voltage problems or blackouts.
PERMALINK

 

06 May 2013: Solar-Powered Airplane Finishes
First Leg of Coast-to-Coast U.S. Trip

A Swiss pilot this weekend completed the first portion of a five-leg trip across the U.S. in an airplane powered by solar energy. The so-called Solar Impulse aircraft, which runs on energy collected from 12,000 solar cells
Solar Impulse
Solar Impulse
View from the cockpit
in its long wings, flew from San Francisco to Phoenix in 18 hours and 18 minutes. The solar cells simultaneously power four batteries with the storage capacity of an electric car, which allows the plane to fly in darkness. The airplane, with a 208-foot wingspan, is made of lightweight, carbon fiber materials that help it conserve energy, but its spindly structure also makes the plane unable to fly in windy or stormy conditions. Project organizers hope the five-leg journey — which will include stops in Dallas, St. Louis, and Washington and end in New York — will demonstrate the feasibility of long-distance air travel without fuel. By 2015, the project's co-founders, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, hope to complete a flight around the world.
PERMALINK

 

03 May 2013: Seawater Energy Technology
Is Focus of Pilot Project in China

The U.S. defense and aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin, is partnering with a major Chinese company to build a pilot project off the southern Chinese coast that will use temperature differentials between the deep and shallow ocean to generate electricity. The technology, known as ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), uses the heat from warm surface waters to boil a fluid with a low boiling point, such as ammonia, producing steam to drive turbines. Colder water is then pumped from 2,500 to 3,000 feet under the sea, which condenses the steam into liquid; the liquid can then be boiled again to produce more steam and power. Lockheed Martin and its Chinese Partner, the Beijing-based Reignwood Group, said their project — the largest OTEC plant ever built — will produce 10 megawatts of power when it opens in 2017, enough to provide electricity for a large, planned resort that Reignwood is building.
PERMALINK

 

02 May 2013: Five Southeast Asian Nations
Have Lost One-Third of Forests in 33 Years

Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam have lost one-third of their forests since 1980 and could be left with only 10 to 20 percent of their original forest cover by 2030, according to a review of satellite data by WWF. The conservation group warned that if present trends continue only 14 percent of the greater Mekong region’s remaining forest cover will consist of contiguous habitat capable of sustaining viable populations of many wildlife species, such as tigers and Asian elephants. The WWF researchers calculated that since 1980, Thailand and Vietnam have lost 43 percent of their forests, Laos and Burma have lost 24 percent, and Cambodia has lost 22 percent. Since 1973, areas of core, undisturbed forest — defined as having at least 3.2 square kilometers of uninterrupted forest — have declined from 70 percent to 20 percent of the region. Peter Cutter, landscape conservation manager with WWF-Greater Mekong, said the region is at a crossroads and that to preserve its remaining forests and biodiversity it must expand protected areas and better safeguard those that already exist.
PERMALINK

 

01 May 2013: Program Targeting Diesel
Emissions Will Be Cut by 70 Percent

A federal program that has cleaned up or removed 50,000 high-polluting diesel engines from U.S. roads is scheduled to be cut by 70 percent under President Barack Obama’s latest budget. The program eliminated 230,000 tons of soot and smog-causing pollutants, slashed more than two million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and saved 205 million gallons of fuel. But the program’s budget has faced steady cuts in recent years, falling from $50 million in fiscal year 2011, to $20 million in 2013, to a proposed $6 million in fiscal year 2014. The diesel cleanup program has succeeded in removing only a fraction of the 11 million dirty, pre-2006 diesel vehicles on the road. But environmentalists say that the program has been successful in helping clean the air in low-income communities that often are situated near ports, highways, and other areas with high diesel traffic.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Telling the Life Story of
Ginkgo, the Oldest Tree on Earth

Botanist Peter Crane sees the ginkgo as more than just a distinctive tree with foul-smelling fruits and nuts prized
Ginkgo Leaves
AJYI
Ginkgo leaves in autumn
for reputed medicinal properties. To Crane, author of a new book, Ginkgo, the tree is an oddity in nature because it is a single species with no known living relatives; a living fossil that has been essentially unchanged for more than 200 million years; and an inspiring example of how humans can help a species survive. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Crane, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, talks about what makes the ginkgo unique and what makes it smell, how its toughness and resilience has enabled it to thrive as a street tree, and what the ginkgo’s long history says about human life on earth. The ginkgo, which co-existed with the dinosaurs, “really puts our own species — let alone our individual existence — into a broader context,” says Crane.
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

30 Apr 2013: U.S. Government Backs
New Way to Make Diesel from Biomass

The U.S. Energy Department is investing up to $4.3 million in a pilot biomass project that will convert the stalks and leaves of corn plants into diesel fuel using a new chemical process. The pilot plant in Indiana will be run by Mercurius Biofuels, whose goal is to convert the corn biomass into fuel at prices cheap enough to compete with petroleum. Mercurius’s process uses recyclable acids to break down cellulose and make a chemical called chloromethylfurfural, which can be converted into diesel or jet fuel. The inventor of the process, Mark Mascal, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Davis, says the technology makes more efficient use of the carbon in cellulose and avoids the significant releases of carbon dioxide involved in a common way of making fuel from biomass — converting the cellulose into sugar and fermenting it to make ethanol. Mercurius says the corn stalks and leaves can be converted into chloromethylfurfural at small, local plants and then shipped to larger refineries to make diesel fuel, thus avoiding the high cost of shipping the biomass itself to a central refinery.
PERMALINK

 

29 Apr 2013: Ocean off the U.S. Northeast
Was Warmest in 150 Years, Report Says

Sea surface temperatures along the northeastern U.S. were warmer in 2012 than during any year in the last 150 years, a new report finds. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) latest Ecosystem Advisory for the Northeast Shelf, sea surface temperatures across the region — which extends from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to the Gulf of Maine — averaged 14 degrees C (57.2 degrees F) last year, significantly higher than the average temperature over the last three decades, which was 12.4 degrees C (54.3 degrees F). It was also the biggest one-year increase since records were first kept in 1854. While the data historically has been collected by ship-board instruments, NOAA now also incorporates satellite remote-sensing technology. “Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing and strength of spring and fall plankton blooms could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature,” said Kevin Friedland, a NOAA scientist.
PERMALINK

 

26 Apr 2013: NASA Tests Affirm Viability
Of Biofuel-Powered Commercial Jets

In recent test flights, NASA researchers have confirmed that commercial airliners can safely fly on an alternative jet fuel blend and that under some conditions the biofuel mix produced 30 percent fewer emissions than
NASA Biofuel Test Flight
NASA
Contrails from a NASA DC-8 aircraft
typical jet fuel. After flying DC-8 aircraft using a biofuel blend containing 50 percent camelina plant oil, scientists from Langley Research Center in Virginia say they observed no noticeable difference in the jets’ engine performance. And specially equipped planes that measured the exhaust emissions from the jets’ contrails found the biofuel blend produced fewer emissions, according to NASA. “In terms of these fuels being acceptable for use in commercial aircraft, they’re quite acceptable,” Bruce Anderson, a senior research scientist at Langley Research Center, told the Associated Press. “But we’re still digging into the data.” But while camelina plant oil might eventually emerge as an attractive biofuel source, since it can be grown in arid regions, researchers noted that it is currently cost-prohibitive. Currently, Anderson said, camelina oil costs about $18 per gallon, compared to $4 per gallon for typical jet fuel.
PERMALINK

 

25 Apr 2013: Metal Demand Could Increase
Nine-Fold as Developing Economies Grow

Global demand for metals could increase nine-fold in the coming years as the world’s developing economies continue to grow, a trend that could have profound negative environmental impacts, a new UN report says. As populations in these countries continue to adopt modern technologies, and nations increasingly construct metal-intensive renewable energy projects, the need for raw metal materials will likely be three to nine times larger than the current global demand, said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). While the current demand is typically met by mining for more metals, large-scale mining operations can have adverse environmental consequences, and the supply of some rare earth metals is running low. Saying that there is an urgent need for a more sophisticated approach to recycling the planet's increasingly sophisticated products, the UN suggested that mining companies be enlisted to help sort out valuable metals when the products reach the end of their usefulness.
PERMALINK

 

24 Apr 2013: New Web Site to Track
CO2 Levels As Planet Approaches 400 PPM

As atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide approach the milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm), a scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography has launched a Website that will publish daily readings of CO2 concentrations, an online resource he hopes will drive home the urgent threat of rising greenhouse gas emissions. Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps CO2 program and son of the first scientist to measure CO2 concentrations, hopes the daily tracker will attract more attention than weekly or monthly postings, providing a stark index of humanity's effect on the global climate. “I hope that many people out there in decades to come will say, ‘Gosh, I will remember when it crossed 400,’” Keeling told ClimateWire. The measurements will come from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. Keeling’s father, Charles David Keeling, first started collecting CO2 concentrations in the 1950s from the same observatory, when few believed that carbon dioxide concentrations were in fact rising. His ongoing recording of CO2 concentrations came to be known as the “Keeling Curve.” As of April 22, CO2 concentrations had reached 398.36 ppm, according to the site, well above pre-industrial concentrations of about 280 ppm.
PERMALINK

 

23 Apr 2013: Conservation of Forests
Can Prevent Malaria Spread, Study Says

The conservation of woodlands and biodiversity can actually help prevent the spread of malaria in tropical forests, a new study says. Using a mathematical model of different conditions in a forest region of southeastern Brazil, scientists found that the circulation of the parasite Plasmodium vivax — which is associated with 80 million to 300 million malaria cases worldwide — is likely to decrease in less developed forests where populations of non-malarial mosquitoes and warm-blooded animals are abundant. While no malaria cases have been reported in 30 years within the biodiverse study area, located in the Atlantic Forest, researchers say a primary malaria mosquito is found nearby. According to their study, published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the findings suggest that malarial and non-malarial mosquito populations are likely to compete for blood feeding, and that the animals act as “dead-end reservoirs” of the malaria parasite. “These aspects of biodiversity that can hinder malaria transmission are services provided by the forest ecosystem,” Gabriel Zorello, an epidemiologist at the University of Sao Paulo and lead researcher of the study, told ScieDev.Net.
PERMALINK

 

22 Apr 2013: Green Energy Investments
To Triple by 2030, Analysis Predicts

Annual investment in renewable energy is predicted to triple between now and 2030, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In an analysis of several factors shaping the global energy future —
First Solar Panels
First Solar Inc.
including economic conditions, market demands, and the evolution of technologies — the group predicted that annual spending may increase from $190 billion last year to $630 billion by 2030. A key factor in the growth is the plunging cost of wind and solar energy, which in the short term has bankrupted many manufacturers. The Bloomberg report also forecast significant growth in hydropower, geothermal, and biomass sources of energy. In the most likely scenario, 70 percent of new power generation capacity between 2012 and 2030 would come from renewable sources — with wind and solar accounting for 30 and 24 percent, respectively — while only 25 percent would come from fossil fuel sources.
PERMALINK

 

19 Apr 2013: New Solar Cell Process
Achieves Record Efficiency, MIT Says

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they have achieved a major breakthrough in the conversion of sunlight into electricity, surpassing what was long believed to be an absolute limit to the efficiency of solar cell devices. While the process used in the typical photovoltaic (PV) cell process knocks loose one electron inside the PV material to produce an electrical current — but wastes any excess energy carried by a photon — a new process described in the journal Science utilizes that extra energy to produce two electrons. That exploits so-called singlet exciton fission and makes the process far more efficient, creating more electrical energy. An exciton is the excited state of a molecule after absorbing energy. While the material used in the organic solar cell, known as pentacene, was previously known to produce two so-called excitons from one photon, researchers say this is the first time anyone has demonstrated the principle within a photovoltaic device. While the typical solar panel achieves efficiencies no greater than 25 percent, the scientists believe this process can be utilized to achieve efficiencies of more than 30 percent.
PERMALINK

 

18 Apr 2013: Reducing Short-Lived Pollutants
Could Slow Sea Level Rise, Study Says

Reducing the emissions of four critical pollutants in the coming decades could at least temporarily slow the rate of global warming and reduce projected sea level rise by as much as 50 percent, according to a new study. Building on previous research that found that reducing the emissions of four short-lived pollutants — tropospheric ozone, hydrofluorocarbons, black carbon, and methane — could slow the rate of global warming by 50 percent, the new study projects that sea-level rise could, in turn, be reduced by 24 to 50 percent by 2100, depending on the level of emissions cuts. Unlike carbon dioxide, which persists in the atmosphere for centuries, these four pollutants remain in the atmosphere anywhere from a week to a decade, so altering their atmospheric concentrations can have a more immediate effect on the global climate, scientists say. “Society can significantly reduce the threat to coastal cities if it moves quickly on a handful of pollutants,” said Aixue Hu, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
PERMALINK

 

17 Apr 2013: Outdated Management, Drought
Threaten Colorado River, Report Says

Drought, mismanagement, and over-exploitation of its waters have made the Colorado River — the lifeblood of the arid Southwest and drinking water source for 36 million people — among the most vulnerable rivers in the U.S., according to the group American Rivers. In its annual report on “America’s Most Endangered Rivers,” the organization placed the 1,400-mile Colorado at the top of the list of threatened rivers, saying the iconic river “is so dammed, diverted, and drained that it dries to a trickle before reaching the sea.” Proposals to remove more than 300,000 acre-feet of new water from the river and its tributaries, coupled with a projected reduction in its flow of 10 to 30 percent because of global warming, will add further stress to the Colorado system. According to the report, outdated water management systems also threaten the Flint River in Georgia, the San Saba River in Texas, and the Little Plover River in Wisconsin. In the U.S. Southeast, storage ponds for coal ash pose a threat to the Catawba River, a major source of drinking water for parts of North Carolina and South Carolina.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Using Citizen Power
To Fund a U.S. Solar Revolution

Billy Parish is the president of Mosaic, an Internet “crowdfunding” service that lets individual investors put their money into commercial solar projects and earn a rate of return that
Billy Parish Solar Mosaic
Billy Parish
currently beats anything offered by a bank. This month, California regulators authorized Mosaic to offer up to $100 million in loans for solar projects. Its first loan under that authorization, $157,750 to install a 114-kilowatt array on the Ronald McDonald House in San Diego, was funded within six hours by 171 investors. Parish, 31, a co-founder of the Energy Action Coalition, decided after the failure of the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen that the best way to drive a clean energy transition was to dive into the renewable energy business. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Parish talks about why his generation has pursued environmental goals through entrepreneurship, how crowdfunding can fuel the solar revolution, and how he discovered “that sweet spot where making money and doing good overlap.”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

16 Apr 2013: U.S. Offshore Seismic Testing
Threatens Many Marine Species, Study Says

The proposed use of seismic air guns in the search for offshore oil and gas reserves along the U.S. East Coast could injure or kill nearly 140,000 marine animalsannually and disrupt the vital activities of other species,
North Atlantic right whale
Moira Brown/New England Aquarium
North Atlantic right whale
a new study says. The seismic testing, in which guns filled with compressed air are fired repeatedly over deep-sea target areas to provide energy companies an image of the deposits below, would threaten marine species of all sizes, from tiny fish eggs to large whales, according to an analysis by the conservation group Oceana. The group said that the powerful air gun blasts, which it describes as “100,000 times more intense than a jet engine,” could disturb the breathing, feeding, and mating habits for dolphins and whales and cause injury or death to endangered species such as the North Atlantic right whale. The analysis comes as the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completes a study of the potential impacts of seismic activities from Delaware to Florida. Oil industry officials point to other research that shows seismic testing is unlikely to threaten marine mammals.
PERMALINK

 

15 Apr 2013: Renewable Energy Generated
70 % Of Portugal’s Electricity in Quarter

Portugal generated more than 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources of energy during the first quarter of 2013, a record amount fueled largely by hydroelectric and wind energy sources, according to a report from the country’s grid operator. Hydroelectric generation provided 37 percent of the nation’s electricity from January to March, a 312-percent increase compared to last year, while wind energy accounted for 27 percent, a 60-percent increase, Redes Energéticas Nacionais (REN) reported. While favorable weather helped drive the record levels in wind and hydroelectric power, the results also reflect Portugal’s investment in renewable energy projects — including wind farms, hydroelectric, solar and wave energy — and an improved electricity grid that allows green energy providers to connect into the system. Nearly 45 percent of the country’s electricity will come from green sources this year compared with just 17 percent five years ago, ThinkProgress reports.
PERMALINK

 

12 Apr 2013: Many Marine Mammal Species
Have Rebounded Since U.S. Protections

Forty years after the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), no marine mammal species in U.S. waters has been extirpated and the populations of many marine animals are more abundant than in 1972,
Sea lions
Shutterstock
Sea lions
a new study says. While many species, including the endangered right whale, remain at significant risk, the populations of other species — including gray seals in New England and sea lions and elephant seals on the Pacific coast — have “recovered to or near their carrying capacity,” scientists say. “At a very fundamental level, the MMPA has accomplished what its framers set out to do, to protect individual marine mammals from harm as a result of human activities,” said Andrew Read, a professor at Duke University and co-author of the study, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Passed at a time when numerous species were on the edge of extinction, the MMPA imposed strict regulations against commercial killing and the incidental bycatch of marine mammals by the fishing industry.
PERMALINK

 

11 Apr 2013: Marine Council's ‘Eco-Labeling’
Process Is Too Lenient, Report Says

The process by which the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certifies seafood as sustainable is too lenient and discretionary, allowing for “overly generous interpretations” from third-party certifiers and adjudicators, a new report says. Launched in 1997, the UK-based MSC administers a well known eco-labeling process to inform consumers which fisheries are sustainable and provide incentives for better fisheries management. But in an analysis of 19 formal complaints against the council, a group of researchers found that several of the fisheries that received the MSC’s “sustainable” label — accounting for 35 percent of labeled seafood — apparently do not meet the council’s standards. For example, they found that Canada’s longline fishery for swordfish resulted in an extraordinary amount of incidental bycatch of other species, with the annual catch of 20,000 swordfish also netting 100,000 sharks, 1,200 endangered loggerhead turtles, and 170 leatherback turtles, according to the report, published in the journal Biological Conservation.
PERMALINK

 

10 Apr 2013: New Satellite-Based System Will
Track Illegal Deforestation in Real Time

A coalition of organizations has unveiled a digital tool its developers say will help governments, environmental groups, and local communities monitor illegal logging in the world’s forest regions in close to real time. Using satellite technology, data sharing, and a global network of local contributors, the so-called Global Forest Watch 2.0 system will enable users to track forest loss that has occurred within the last 30 days and allow local forest managers to upload geo-referenced photographs to support data on deforestation. Developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and other contributors — including Google, the University of Maryland, and the United Nations Environment Program — the technology was unveiled this week at a UN forum on forests and will be available next month. WRI hopes the system will allow government leaders and companies to make more timely forest management decisions.
PERMALINK

 

09 Apr 2013: Artificial Leaf’s ‘Self Healing’
Could Expand Its Practical Use Globally

The so-called “artificial leaf,” a solar cell being developed by MIT and Harvard scientists to produce low-cost electricity, is now capable of “self healing” the damage that occurs during energy production, clearing
Artificial Leaf
Dominick Reuter/MIT
The artificial leaf
a hurdle to deploying the device in the developing world, the researchers say. When dipped into water, the leaf — which is actually a catalyst-coated wafer of silicon about the size of a playing card — is able to split water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be collected and used as fuel to power a fuel cell. “Surprisingly, some of the catalysts we’ve developed for use in the artificial leaf device actually heal themselves,” Daniel Nocera of Harvard, the leader of the research team, told a meeting of the American Chemical Society. While earlier versions of the device required pure water, the self-healing properties enable users to operate the leaf using impure, bacteria-contaminated water. According to the researchers, the leaf is now able to generate 100 watts of electricity 24 hours a day with just a quart of water.
PERMALINK

 

08 Apr 2013: Project to Test Promise of
Small, Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines

A wind farm being planned in a remote Alaska village will seek to demonstrate that small, vertical-axis turbines can produce more energy than conventional wind turbines and cause less environmental damage.
Small Vertical Axis Wind Turbines
Caltech
Vertical-axis wind turbines
While the turbines used in most standard wind farm projects can produce turbulence that actually decreases the output of the turbines downstream, John Dabiri, a California Institute of Technology professor, says that small, vertical-axis turbines can create a wake that actually boosts the output of adjacent turbines if positioned strategically. In addition, the smaller turbines can be placed closer together without causing aerodynamic interference, are cheaper to produce, and are less likely to kill birds, Dabiri told MIT’s Technology Review. Dabiri says he hopes his Alaska project, which could eventually include 70 turbines in the village of Igiugig, can generate as much energy as the diesel generators currently used by the community. Critics argue that the vertical-axis turbines aren’t as efficient as conventional turbines.
PERMALINK

 

05 Apr 2013: South Africa Game Reserve
Poisons Rhino Horns to Halt Poachers

Officials at a private game reserve in South Africa say they have injected into the horns of more than 100 rhinos a parasiticide that will make humans sick if they ingest the horns. As the rhinos’ death toll continues to escalate in South Africa, where nearly 700 animals were
Injured Rhino in South Africa
Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images
Injured rhino in South Africa
poached last year to supply a growing black market for their horns, officials say bold action was necessary. “Despite all the interventions by police, the body count has continued to climb,” Andrew Parker, chief executive of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association, a group of private landowners, told the Guardian. “Everything we’ve tried has not been working and for poachers it has become a low-risk, high-reward ratio.” The group is trying to increase that risk by injecting a mix of parasiticides and pink dye into the horns of tranquilized rhinos. The poison is not lethal to humans, Parker said, but anyone who consumes it will be extremely ill. Demand for rhino horns in Southeast Asia, where the horns are believed to have healing powers, has triggered a surge in the killing of rhinos.
PERMALINK

 

04 Apr 2013: U.S. Company Shelves Solar
Thermal Plant as Utility Cancels Contract

U.S.-based BrightSource Energy has shelved its second major solar thermal project this year as the company and Pacific Gas and Electric terminated the utility’s contract to buy power generated by the plant in south-central California. In an email, a BrightSource spokesman said the $2.9 billion Hidden Hills project, which would have been built in Inyo County near the Nevada border, was suspended due to “uncertainty around the timing of transmission upgrades,” Bloomberg News reports, although regulators' environmental concerns also seemed to play a role. Like another project canceled by BrightSource earlier this year, the 500-megawatt Hidden Hills plant would have utilized thousands of mirrors reflecting sunlight onto central towers to produce steam. The California Energy Commission, which was reviewing the project, found last year that the solar installation would have “significant” environmental impacts, suggesting that the use of photovoltaic solar panels would be “environmentally superior.” Officials at BrightSource, which recently completed a solar thermal plant in the Mojave desert, disputed that analysis.
PERMALINK

 

03 Apr 2013: Arctic Air Pressure System
Causes Unusual March Temperatures

A pronounced shift in Arctic air pressure systems has triggered unusually cold temperatures across North America, Europe, and northern Asia, while allowing a

Click to enlarge
NASA Arctic Oscillation Affects Temperatures

NASA
Surface temperature anomalies, March 2013
flood of warmer air into Greenland and northeastern Canada, according to NASA. In recent weeks, the so-called Arctic Oscillation (AO) index — which tracks the relative pressure differential between the Arctic and mid-latitudes — dropped to the fifth-lowest reading ever recorded, NASA scientists said. When the AO reaches this “negative” phase, scientists say, the pressure gradient between the Arctic and mid-latitudes weakens, allowing Arctic air to stream south. This NASA graphic depicts unusual land surface temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere, with Europe, Russia, and the U.S. experiencing temperatures as high as 5 to 15 degrees C below normal, while temperatures in Greenland were as high as 15 degrees C above normal. Britain recorded its fourth-coldest March since 1962, Germany experienced its coldest March since 1883, and Moscow had its coldest March since the 1950s.
PERMALINK

 

02 Apr 2013: Air Pollution Linked to
1.2 Million Chinese Deaths in 2010

Air pollution contributed to the premature deaths of more than 1.2 million people in China in 2010, or about 40 percent of early deaths worldwide caused by dirty air, according to a newly released analysis. The findings, based on data from a study on the distribution and causes of death globally, categorized “ambient particulate matter pollution” as the fourth-leading factor in premature deaths in China, behind dietary risks, high blood pressure, and smoking. Worldwide, air pollution was the seventh-leading cause of premature death, contributing to 3.2 million deaths, according to the study. While the study was published in The Lancet, a UK-based medical journal, the summary of China statistics was reported at a forum in Beijing, the New York Times says. The findings come as public outrage grows in China as residents of many cities endure choking air far in excess of safe levels.
PERMALINK

 

01 Apr 2013: Genetic Discovery May Allow
Lettuce Growth Even in Hot Temperatures

A team of scientists has identified the specific gene in lettuce that causes the plant’s seeds to stop germinating in warm temperatures, a discovery they say could allow production of the food crop year-round even in the planet’s hotter regions. Writing in the journal The Plant Cell, the researchers say they identified a chromosome in the wild ancestor of commercial lettuce varieties that enabled seeds to germinate even in warm temperatures. When the chromosome was crossed with commercial varieties of lettuce, they too were able to germinate at warmer temperatures. After further testing, the scientists found the specific gene that governs a plant hormone known as abscisic acid — which inhibits seed germination in most lettuce plants when exposed to moisture at warm temperatures — and were able to “silence” the mechanism. Because this mechanism occurs in many plant species, the results suggest similar modifications can be made in the growth of other crops, said Kent Bradford, of the University of California Davis, who is one of the study’s authors
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Tracking Causes of
The Decline of the Monarch Butterfly

University of Kansas insect ecologist Orley R. Taylor, who has been observing monarch butterflies and their spectacular migrations across North America for
Orley Chip Taylor
Monarch Watch/ Catherine I Sherman
Orley Taylor
decades, says he has never been more concerned about their future. A new census taken at the monarchs’ wintering grounds in Mexico found their population had declined 59 percent over the previous year and was at the lowest level ever measured. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Taylor talks about the factors that have led to the drop in the monarch population. Among them, he says, is the increased planting of genetically modified corn in the U.S. Midwest, which has led to greater use of herbicides, which in turn kills the milkweed that is a prime food source for the butterflies. “What we’re seeing here in the United States,” Taylor says, “is a very precipitous decline of monarchs that’s coincident with the adoption of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans.”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

28 Mar 2013: California City to Require
Solar Energy Systems on All New Homes

A city in southern California this week passed a zoning regulation that requires developers to install solar power systems on every new house they build. Beginning next year, all new homes built on lots at least
Rooftop Solar Panel
Shutterstock
7,000 square feet in size in Lancaster, Calif. will be required to produce at least one kilowatt of solar electricity. Developers also have the option of purchasing solar energy credits from other developments within the city limits. The new zoning rules are the latest initiative in Mayor Rex Parris’s quest to make Lancaster, which has a population of 150,000 and abundant sunshine, the “solar capital of the universe.” Since 2008, the city has also introduced an initiative to attract utility-scale solar developers to the city, proposed a transmission project to deliver solar-generated power to other communities, and created a solar financing program for homeowners, businesses, and nonprofits.
PERMALINK

 

27 Mar 2013: Natural Gas Extraction
Causing More Earthquakes in Netherlands

Extraction of natural gas from the deep soil in a region of the Netherlands has triggered an increase in minor earthquakes, similar to seismic effects that have raised concerns about drilling operations, including hydraulic fracturing, in other countries. While the extraction of gas has occurred for decades in the northern Netherlands, including in the province of Groningen, quakes have become more frequent in the last few years, the New York Times reports. The region experienced as few as 20 quakes a year before 2011, but there were 18 during the first six weeks of 2013, with some strong enough to cause significant property damage. According to Chiel Seinen, a spokesman for a local gas consortium known as NAM, natural gas extraction has created at least 1,800 faults in the region’s subsoil, although he said the controversial drilling technique known as fracking is not used in the Dutch region. A new study by Columbia University’s Earth Institute found that a 5.7-magnitude earthquake that occurred in Oklahoma in 2011 may have been the largest quake yet that can be linked to the injection of wastewater as part of an energy extraction project.
PERMALINK

 

26 Mar 2013: China’s Utility Giants
Vulnerable to Water Scarcity, Report Says

China’s five largest power utilities, which depend on water-intensive, coal-fired stations to generate electricity, are vulnerable to water supply disruptions because they are centered in the country’s water-scarce northern regions, a new report says. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the five power generators — Huaneng, Datang, Huadian, Guodian, and China Power Investment — operate hundreds of gigawatts of thermal plants in the industrial northeast, where water resources are increasingly strained. Eighty-five percent of China’s power-generating capacity is in water scarce regions, said Maxime Serrano Bardisa, one of the report’s coauthors. The report said that major technical and policy shifts will be required to avert serious disruptions, including the addition of systems that use less water, such as closed-cycle or air-cooled systems. Such improvements could cost the utilities $20 billion in retrofit costs, the report said.
PERMALINK

 

25 Mar 2013: Peach Genome Offers Hints
For Better Biofuel Production, Study Says

A long-term genomic analysis of the common peach has revealed important insights into how scientists can improve the biofuel potential of other plant species, including the fast-growing poplar tree, a new study says.
Peaches
Wikimedia Commons
Three years after a team of scientists first released a draft description of the annotated peach genome, researchers make the case that the 265-million base sequence can be used to better understand the biology of related tree species, including the poplar, which like the peach is a member of the rosid superfamily. Writing in the journal Nature Genetics, the scientists describe how a comparison of the peach’s genetics with six other fully sequenced plant species revealed metabolic pathways that lead to the formation of lignin, the durable biopolymer that holds plant cells together — and a barrier to breaking down biomass into fuels. “One gene we’re interested in is the so-called ‘evergreen’ locus in peaches, which extends the growing season,” said Daniel Rokhsar, a U.S. Department of Energy scientist who leads the sequencing of the peach genome. According to Rokhsar, that gene could be manipulated to increase the biomass accumulation of related species.
PERMALINK

 

22 Mar 2013: Expansion of Chinese City Poses
Environmental and Safety Risks, Critics Say

An ambitious plan to expand the western Chinese city of Lanzhou into a regional industrial hub is raising concerns over what critics call lax government oversight of the environmental and safety impacts, including worries that it will siphon huge amounts of water from an already parched region and devastate nearby mountains. Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province, is a city of 3.6 million and a gateway to Tibet and the Xinjiang region. It is known as one of the most polluted cities in China, and now the government is working to expand the city’s footprint by at least 70 percent, according to Caixin Online. That expansion involves the flattening of mountaintops, and the additional 1 million people and increased industrial activity will draw water from the already polluted and over-stressed Yellow River. Opponents of the plan say buildings will also be constructed on loose soil that will be vulnerable to collapse. “It was a rash decision to begin construction on the new city before receiving environmental approvals or seeking opinions from the Lanzhou public,” said Zhao Zhong, a local activist.
PERMALINK

 

21 Mar 2013: U.S.-Spain Energy Companies
Plan World’s Largest Solar Towers

A U.S.-based company that will soon finish construction of one of the world’s largest solar thermal power plants in the Mojave Desert, is now looking to build an even larger plant in Southern California. BrightSource

Click to enlarge
BrightSource Energy Solar Thermal Plant in Mojave

BrightSource Energy
The Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave Desert
Energy, which is expected to begin producing up to 370 megawatts of electricity per day from its Mojave plant beginning this summer, last week announced plans to build, in partnership with Spain-based Abengoa Solar, a 500-megawatt plant in Riverside, California. Like the Mojave project, the new solar array will utilize thousands of mirrors that reflect sunlight onto central towers to produce steam. While the company's first project, the so-called Ivanpah plant, will use three towers to generate 130 megawatts each, the new $2.6 billion project involves construction of two 750-foot towers capable of producing 250 megawatts each, which combined would provide enough electricity to power 200,000 households and prevent 17 million tons of carbon emissions during the life of the plant, BrightSource says.
PERMALINK

 

20 Mar 2013: High-Speed Trains Provide
Environmental, Social Benefits, Study Says

Bullet trains fuel real-estate booms, improve quality of life, reduce air pollution and traffic congestion, and provide a “safety valve” for crowded cities, especially in the developing world, according to a study by Chinese and U.S. economists. The study was based on China’s rapidly expanding high-speed rail network, but the researchers said the benefits experienced there would be similar for California’s proposed high-speed rail system. Bullet train systems connecting China’s largest cities to nearby smaller cities have made these “second tier” cities more attractive for workers and alleviated traffic congestion and pollution in megacities, according to the study, carried out by economists at Tsinghua University and the University of California, Los Angeles. The study found that the trains created a new category of exurbs within 60 to 470 miles of urban centers such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, helping keep people from moving to already crowded megacities. The study was published in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: A Marine Biologist
Works to Create a ‘Wired Ocean’

Even as populations of sharks, bluefin tuna, and other large fish are being severely over-exploited, scientists still know surprisingly little about when and where the ocean’s biggest predators congregate to feed and spawn,
Barbara Block
Barbara Block
making it difficult to protect biological hotspots. Stanford University marine biologist Barbara Block is seeking to narrow that knowledge gap by deploying an armada of satellite tags on the backs of ocean creatures. Block envisions a wired ocean, a blue fount of data in which tags, smart buoys, and mobile robots reveal the secrets of marine life. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Block discusses the wealth of data gathered by the latest electronic tags and explains why it’s important to put the fruits of this research into the public’s hands “What we need is environmental interest and awareness that connects humans to the world,” says Block, "or else we're going to end up with the same problem we had on the continents, where the large mammals are gone."
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

19 Mar 2013: New Carbon Storage Method
Reduces Earthquake Risk, Study Says

A team of researchers says it has demonstrated a method of underground carbon storage that reduces the risk of triggering earthquakes, a safety concern cited by some scientists about the emerging field of carbon capture and sequestration. While often cited as a potentially key option in reducing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, earlier studies have suggested that the use of carbon sequestration technologies in some rock formations can result in leaks that ultimately cause minor tremors. But in a new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Yale University researchers say that storing carbon in a common type of volcanic rock, known as reactive mafic rock, offers a far safer alternative. According to their findings, injecting carbon into the mafic rock causes a chemical reaction that generates carbon minerals, creating a so-called “mineral-trapping” phenomenon that reduces fluid pressure and distributes the stress load, which in turn minimizes seismic risks.
PERMALINK

 

18 Mar 2013: New Chinese Premier
Vows To Tackle Pollution With ‘Iron Fist’

China’s new premier, Li Keqiang, has vowed aggressive government action to curb the rampant pollution that has provoked growing public outrage, saying the country would phase out “backward production
Pollution in Beijing
Getty Images
Smog covers Beijing in January
facilities” that have contributed to dangerous health conditions in numerous regions. Speaking at his first press conference, Li said the government would set deadlines to address the public health controversy, exemplified by choking air pollution over Beijing that has kept air quality at dangerous levels since the beginning of the year. Chronic air pollution problems in major metropolitan areas, coupled with a recent episode in which more than 12,000 rotting pig carcasses were discovered in a river that provides Shanghai’s drinking water, have triggered growing public protest. While Li offered few specific solutions, he promised “vigorous” efforts to tackle pollution. “We need to face the situation and punish offenders with no mercy and enforce the law with an iron fist,” he said. “We shouldn’t pursue economic growth at the expense of the environment.”
PERMALINK

 

15 Mar 2013: Obama Unveils New Actions
To Combat Climate Change in Second Term

Making good on his promise to fight climate change more aggressively in his second term, President Obama is unveiling two major initiatives to reduce the U.S.’s reliance on fossil fuels, including a new $2 billion Energy Security Trust to fund the next generation of green vehicles, as well as new reviews of federal projects to assess their climate impacts. During an appearance at Argonne National Laboratory, Obama unveiled details of the proposed energy trust, which would shift $2 billion in royalties from oil and gas operations on federal lands into research into vehicles powered by renewable energy sources. An administration official said the policy will keep the U.S. at the forefront of the emerging green technology sector and will help the nation wean itself off fossil fuels. Obama is also expected to expand a Nixon-era law to require federal agencies to assess the climate effects of large projects, including pipelines and highways.
PERMALINK

 

14 Mar 2013: U.S. Grants Will Promote
Small-Scale, Modular Nuclear Reactors

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) this week announced a new series of cost-sharing grants to promote the development of small-scale, factory-made nuclear reactors, an emerging energy source that Obama administration officials say could help replace the coal-fired plants expected to cease operations in the coming decades. The administration, which has allocated $452 million for the program, hopes to spur the production and licensing of as many as 50 so-called modular reactors annually by 2040, said Rebecca Smith-Kevern, director of light water reactor technology at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. DOE officials say these modular reactors, which would be about one-third the size of typical nuclear power plants, also include scalable designs that will provide safety and economic benefits. “We have a vision of having a whole fleet of [modular reactors] produced in factories,” Smith-Kavern said at a conference. “We envision the U.S. government to be the first users.” Citing a 2011 paper, she said plants could cost $3 billion to $5 billion apiece.
PERMALINK

 

13 Mar 2013: New Desalination Process
Slashes Costs of Producing Fresh Water

Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest military contractors, has developed a process that company officials say significantly reduces the amount of energy needed to desalinate water, an innovation that could help communities worldwide tackle the growing threat of water scarcity. According to the company, the new process uses ultra-thin carbon membranes with holes large enough to allow water to pass through, but small enough to block the salt molecules in seawater, Reuters reports. Because the membranes have holes as thin as a single atom, the process would require far less energy than existing desalination technologies, which rely on reverse osmosis, the company says. “It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,” said John Stetson, a Lockheed Martin engineer. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.” A 2011 study found that desalination technology could be the cheapest approach to meeting the planet’s growing water needs.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: An Advocate for
Environmental Justice at EPA

Matthew Tejada brings on-the-ground experience to his new job as director of the Office of Environmental Justice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Tejada, 33, took over his EPA post
Matthew Tejada
Matthew Tejada
this month after leading Air Alliance Houston, where he helped organize communities along the Texas Gulf Coast to fight air pollution from chemical plants, oil refineries, and the shipping industry. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Tejada explains how he sees his role at the EPA as an advocate for environmental justice, a concept that first emerged in the 1980s and focuses on the pollution burdens often placed on poor and minority neighborhoods. Tejada tells e360 why he thinks his work as a community advocate will help in his new job, why it is important for environmental organizations to build coalitions with grassroots groups, and how he sees “similarities across environmental justice communities, whether they’re in Puerto Rico or in Kansas.”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

12 Mar 2013: Mass Scale of Renewables Shift
Is Evident in Blueprint for New York State

A new study concludes that it would be technically and economically feasible for New York State to meet all of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030, but
Wind turbines on farm land
Shutterstock
researchers say the transition would involve building wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources on a mass scale. Writing in the journal Energy Policy, a team of researchers said that to wean itself from fossil fuels for electricity production and transportation, the state would need to build more than 4,000 onshore wind turbines, 12,700 offshore turbines, 828 photovoltaic plants, 5 million rooftop solar systems, and 2,600 one-megawatt tidal turbines. If implemented, New York would meet 40 percent of its energy needs with wind power and 38 percent from solar, the study said. While this dramatic conversion would require initial capital expenses, the study predicts that the long-term health benefits and new jobs would more than make up for those costs. The transition would also reduce end-use power demand by 37 percent, prevent 4,000 premature deaths annually, and save $33 billion in health costs each year, the researchers said.
PERMALINK

 

11 Mar 2013: New Arctic Survey Shows
Major Advances of Vegetation to North

Declining snow and ice coverage in the northern latitudes and rising temperatures have triggered a significant increase in vegetation across large swaths of the Arctic, with some circumpolar regions seeing the

Click to enlarge
NASA Vegetation shift in northern latitudes

Goddard Space Flight Center
Vegetation shift in northern latitudes
type of plant growth that just a few decades ago occurred hundreds of miles to the south, according to a new study. In a comprehensive analysis of ground and satellite-based data, a team of scientists found that across a region covering more than 9 million square kilometers — roughly equal to the size of the U.S. — vegetation is growing more vigorously and spreading north. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, said that since the early 1980s, the kind of vegetation that was once found at 57 degrees north — typified by tall shrubs and trees — is now spreading into former regions of tundra as far as 64 degrees north. The paper said that 17 climate model simulations suggested that bv the end of this century rising temperatures could lead to northward shifts of vegetation of more than 20 degrees latitude compared with the period 1951 to 1980.
PERMALINK

 

08 Mar 2013: Largest U.S. Dam Removal
Releases Huge Amount of Sediment

Scientists tracking the aftermath of the largest dam removal in U.S. history say the dismantling of a dam in northwestern Washington state has unleashed about 34 million cubic yards of sediment and debristhat built up

View gallery
Elwha River Washington Sediment

Tom Roorda
A plume of sediment at the mouth of the Elwha River.
for more than a century. While about one-third of the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River still stands, vast amounts of sediment are already flowing downstream, allowing University of Washington (UW) scientists a rare opportunity to track the discharges and study their ecological impacts. Scientists say it is unclear where much of the sediment will end up — or what the environmental consequences will be. In an ongoing study, they will use sophisticated technology to track particles in the water and monitor their accumulation on the ocean floor. Scientists say the sediment — enough to fill 3 million truckloads — could create murkier water conditions, threatening the reproduction of salmon and blocking light for marine life.
PERMALINK

 

07 Mar 2013: Shale Gas Boom Drives
Surge in Propane-Fueled Vehicles

The U.S. satellite TV provider DISH Network Corporation has announced it will introduce 200 propane-fueled vans to its fleet in 2013, another sign that propane, like natural gas, is offering an increasingly cost-effective transportation fuel alternative to gasoline and diesel. While there are already more than 13 million propane-fueled vehicles worldwide, propane historically has been considered a niche fuel because of high production costs. But driven by the surge in domestic shale oil and gas production, the wholesale cost of propane is now only about 85 cents per gallon — about half of 2011 costs. And while the vehicles cost about 10 percent more than diesel-fueled trucks, propane-fueled trucks ultimately can save $50,000 in fuel costs over the life of a vehicle, according to Reuters. In addition, DISH officials say their new propane-fueled vans will reduce the fleet’s overall emissions of carbon dioxide by 12.5 million pounds over the lifetime of the vehicles. According to Pike Research, sales of natural gas-fueled vehicles are projected to increase 10 percent annually through 2019 while propane-fueled vehicles are expected to climb 8 percent per year.
PERMALINK

 

06 Mar 2013: Atmospheric CO2 Concentration
Shows Second-Largest Annual Increase

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased by 2.67 parts per million in 2012, marking the second-biggest jump since levels were first recorded in 1959 and decreasing the chances that the planet will
Coal Burning Power Plant
Wikimedia Commons
avoid a dangerous temperature increase of 3.6 degrees F (2 C) or higher, U.S. scientists say. The new data, collected in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, suggests that levels of heat-trapping CO2 are now just under 395 parts per million (ppm) and could hit 400 ppm within two years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The one-year increase was second only to 1998, when CO2 concentrations jumped by 2.84 parts per million; pre-industrial atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were 280 ppm. Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at NOAA's Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory, attributed the latest spike to an increase in fossil fuel burning globally, particularly in China. “It’s just a testament to human influence being dominant,” he told the Associated Press.
PERMALINK

 

05 Mar 2013: African Forest Elephant
Populations Fell 62 Percent in a Decade

Populations of forest elephants in central Africa plummeted by more than 60 percent from 2002 to 2011, with dwindling habitat and an acceleration in poaching driving the elephants toward extinction, according to a

View gallery
African Forest Elephant

Elizabeth M. Rogers
A forest elephant in Gabon
new study. An international team of 60 scientists found that while elephants historically ranged across a 772,000-square-mile region in Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Republic of Congo, they now exist in just 25 percent of that area, said John Hart, scientific director for the Lukuru Foundation and co-author of the study published in the journal PLoS ONE. The decade-long survey, which involved the work of many local conservation staff members who walked more than 8,000 miles conducting censuses, is the largest ever conducted on forest elephants. According to the survey, the remaining 100,000 forest elephants are increasingly scarce in regions with high human populations, heavy poaching, and weak governance.
PERMALINK

 

04 Mar 2013: U.S. Educational Standards
To Urge Teaching About Climate Change

A new set of U.S. educational standards that is expected to be released this month will recommend that global warming be included in the science curriculum for all U.S. public schools. The Next Generation Science Standards, which are being developed by a coalition that includes the National Research Council and 26 individual U.S. states, will recommend that teachers introduce evidence of human-caused climate change in all science classes, beginning in elementary school, according to Inside Climate News. According to the standards, by eighth grade all students should understand that “human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature.” With an additional 15 states indicating that they will also adopt the standards, the report says, the U.S.’s biggest educational publishing companies are already expected to incorporate the new standards into their textbooks and other teaching materials.
PERMALINK

 

01 Mar 2013: Loss of Wild Pollinators
Affecting Global Crop Production

Research data from 600 fields in 20 countries shows that wild bees and insects are more effective pollinators than domesticated honey bees, suggesting that the continuing loss of wild insects in many agricultural
honeybee
Wikimedia Commons
landscapes has negative consequences for crop harvests. Reporting in Science, an international team of 50 scientists analyzed data from 41 crop systems around the world. They found that widespread development and modern agricultural techniques that use every available hectare of land decrease the number of key pollinators, such as wild bees, butterflies, and beetles. As the numbers and diversity of these pollinators decreases, flowering plants receive fewer visits from these insects, resulting in lower production of important crops such as tomatoes, melons, and coffee. The researchers said that using domesticated or managed honey bees did not make up for the loss of wild bees and insects. The study suggests new practices to preserve natural or semi-natural areas to support wild pollinators.
PERMALINK

 

28 Feb 2013: Earth Unlikely to Face
An Ecological Tipping Point, Study Says

A team of international scientists has rejected the idea that the planet could face a sudden and irreversible ecological shift as a result of largely human-driven pressures, suggesting that such global transformations are more likely to occur over a long period of time. While earlier studies have warned that ecological pressures — including climate change, biodiversity loss, and over-exploitation of resources — could drive the planet toward a dangerous “tipping point,” the new paper says the ecosystems of different continents are not sufficiently interconnected for such a global shift to occur. And while as much as 80 percent of the biosphere includes ecosystems that have been affected by human activities, major ecological shifts driven by these human pressures “depend on local circumstances and will therefore differ between localities,” said Erle Ellis, a scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and co-author of the paper, published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
PERMALINK

 

27 Feb 2013: Oxfam Ranks Food Giants on
Sourcing and Environmental Policies

The group Oxfam has published an online scorecard assessing the agricultural sourcing of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies, rating them on factors that include water resource management, climate
Oxfam Behind the Brands
Oxfam
awareness, and transparency. Using publicly available information, the “Behind the Brands” campaign rates the 10 companies with the largest overall revenues — including Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Mars, and General Mills — on their awareness and responsiveness to these issues and supply chain management. According to Oxfam's analysis, Europe-based companies Nestlé and Unilever earned the highest scores overall, receiving good marks for water management and workers’ rights. Seven of the 10 companies received the lowest possible score for land management. Associated British Foods, Kellogg’s, and General Mills received the lowest overall scores. Oxfam says the scoreboard will be updated regularly.
PERMALINK

 

26 Feb 2013: Major U.S. Utility Will Close
Three Coal-Burning Plants in Midwest

One of the U.S.’s largest electric utilities has agreed to close three coal-fired power plants in the Midwest, the latest sign of how the U.S.'s electricity supply is shifting away from coal to natural gas and renewable energy. American Electric Power (AEP) will shut down the three plants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky by 2015 — retiring a total of 2,011 megawatts of coal-burning capacity — and replace some of the power generation with wind and solar investments in Indiana and Michigan. According to the agreement, which settles a lawsuit originally filed in 1999 over the environmental costs of pollution that drifts east from the plants, the Ohio-based company will also spend $5 billion to install pollution-control technologies at its aging coal-burning plants in the eastern U.S. and cut its annual sulfur dioxide emissions from 828,000 tons to 174,000 tons within 12 years. With the latest shut-downs, utilities have now closed or announced the closing of 142 coal-burning plants since 2010.
PERMALINK

 

25 Feb 2013: Labor Capacity To Fall as World
Gets Warmer, More Humid, U.S. Study Says

Increasingly warm and humid conditions that are predicted in the coming decades could slash worker productivity 10 percent worldwide by mid-century and could eliminate worker capacity altogether in some regions during the hottest months, a new U.S. study predicts. In an analysis of labor capacity based on existing military and industrial heat stress standards, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the amount of work that people can do in some regions has already dropped by 10 percent over the last six decades and that the lost labor capacity could double by 2050 based on global warming projections. According to their analysis, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, a temperature increase of 6 degrees C (11 degrees F) would “eliminate all labor capacity in the hottest months in many areas,” including the U.S.’s lower Mississippi Valley. “This planet will start experiencing heat stress that’s unlike anything experienced today,” Ronald Stouffer, co-author of the study, told Reuters. According to the study, temperature increases must be limited to less than 3 degrees C (5 F) to maintain labor capacity in all areas during the hottest months.
PERMALINK

 

22 Feb 2013: A 1.5 C Temperature Rise Could
Release Greenhouse Gases in Permafrost

A global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius could unleash more than 1,000 gigatons of carbon and methane currently trapped beneath Siberian permafrost and accelerate global climate change, a new study says. In a study conducted in a frozen cave in Siberia, researchers analyzed stalactites and stalagmites which, since they form only when rainwater and snowmelt drip into the caves, provide a glimpse into 500,000 years of changing permafrost conditions. According to their findings, records of an especially warm period 400,000 years ago suggest that a 1.5-degree increase compared to current temperatures would trigger the thawing of permafrost far north of its existing southern boundary. And since permafrost covers 24 percent of the exposed land surface in the Northern Hemisphere, significant thawing could release huge amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, said Anton Vaks, a scientist at Oxford University and lead researcher on the study, published in Science Express. In addition to the effects the loss of permafrost could have on climate, it could have major regional implications, affecting roads, railways, and natural gas facilities built on the frozen landscape.
PERMALINK

 

21 Feb 2013: Chinese Air Pollution Triggers
Steep Rise in Nitrogen Deposition

A spike in Chinese air pollution over the last three decades has caused a 60 percent increase in the levels of nitrogen pollutants that ultimately end up back on the nation’s land and in its water, a new study has found. In an analysis of 270 monitoring sites across the country, researchers found that the annual deposition of nitrogen, as measured in precipitation, had increased from 13.2 kilograms per hectare in 1980 to about 21.1 kilograms per hectare in 2010. Scientists say so-called nitrogen deposition occurs when nitrogen in the atmosphere is washed back to the planet’s surface by rain and snow in the form of pollutants such as nitrates and ammonium. Elevated nitrogen levels can trigger harmful ecological effects, from soil acidification to feeding algae blooms. According to the study, published in Nature, leaves of herbaceous and woody plants absorbed 33 percent more nitrogen in 2010 than in 1980, while rice, wheat, and maize crops on unfertilized fields had a 16 percent increase. The spike in pollution levels has been driven by an increase in industrial emissions, agricultural uses, and transportation.
PERMALINK

 

20 Feb 2013: Camera Trap in Amazon
Gives Stunning Glimpse of Species Diversity

Using footage from a camera trap trained on a single “colpa” salt lick in the remote jungle of the western Amazon, a Peru-based conservationist has captured a rare glimpse into the region’s robust biodiversity, documenting an array of species, some of which are threatened, in an area now targeted by loggers, miners, and other developers. During a four-week period, Paul Rosolie’s camera collected footage of dozens of species, including a troop of howler monkeys, a giant anteater, and a host of big cats — including jaguars, pumas, and ocelots — constantly on the hunt for prey. In a short film, Rosolie, a field director at a research station for Tamandua Expeditions, documents a wide array of wildlife in a region of the lower Las Piedras River in Peru.
PERMALINK

 

19 Feb 2013: New Global Standard Aims
To Reduce Water Waste by Businesses

The UK-based Carbon Trust has introduced what it calls the first global standard on water management and reduction in hopes of encouraging more sustainable water use by businesses. The new standard, created by members of the group along with four early-adopting companies, including Coca-Cola Enterprises, will require businesses to show that they are measuring their water use and reducing consumption on a year-to-year basis, Carbon Trust executive Tom Delay told BBC News. “We look at the various water supply methods: mains, surface water abstraction, groundwater, and rainwater collection,” he said. The Carbon Trust, which already helps business and governments reduce energy use and carbon emissions, decided to expand into water issues since freshwater scarcity is closely linked with climate change. According to a 2009 report, global freshwater demand will outpace currently available supplies by 40 percent by 2030. In a survey of 475 companies in the U.S., UK, China, and Brazil, the Carbon Trust found that just one out of seven businesses have set targets for water reduction and report their performances publicly.
PERMALINK

 

18 Feb 2013: BPA Levels Found in Humans
Unlikely to Pose Health Risk, Study Says

A new U.S. analysis suggests that concentrations of bisphenol A (BPA) in the blood of the general public are significantly lower than levels shown to cause toxicity or mimic estrogen in animal studies. In an analysis of 150 BPA exposure studies — covering more than 30,000 individuals in 19 countries — toxicologist Justin Teeguarden of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that BPA levels were consistently lower than levels believed to cause biological effects. According to the study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, these findings suggest that animal studies may not be a good indicator of the human health effects of BPA, a synthetic chemical found in thousands of everyday products, from plastic bottles to cash register receipts. “At these exposure levels, exposure to BPA can’t be compared to giving a baby the massive dose of estrogens found in a birth control pill, a comparison made by others,” Teeguarden said.
PERMALINK

 

15 Feb 2013: Meteor Strike in Siberia
Rains Down Debris and Injures 1,000

A 10-ton meteor broke apart 20 to 30 miles above the ground in western Siberia, raining chunks of debris over a large area, causing a powerful boom that damaged buildings across a vast territory, and injuring more than 1,000 people, mostly from shattering glass. The Russian Academy of Sciences said the meteor, known as a bolide, streaked through the earth’s atmosphere near the Ural mountain city of Chelyabinsk, 950 miles east of Moscow, around 9 a.m. local time Friday. It lit up the sky with a fireball that could be seen for hundreds of miles and that was captured on video by scores of observers. Pieces of the disintegrating meteor fell into a lake about 50 miles west of Chelyabinsk, and scientists and local officials said the damage and injuries could have been far worse had chunks of the meteor fallen on Chelyabinsk itself. As it was, the meteor strike shattered windows, TV sets, and dishes across a wide area, which caused most of the injuries. Most meteors that strike Earth disintegrate in the atmosphere, but this meteor was made of exceptionally hard material and did not fully burn up as it approached Siberia, scientists said.
PERMALINK

 

Why I Came to Washington to
Protest the Keystone Pipeline

By Rick Bass

It’s not exactly as if hell has frozen over, for me, an oil and gas geologist to be protesting — maybe even beyond the extent allowable by law — the folly of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. I’ve hugged a tree or two before, written some letters opposing this or that dam, mine, clear-cut, or whatnot. I’ve lived the last 26 years in the backwoods of northwest Montana, writing pretty little stories, poems and essays about the million-acre garden of the Yaak Valley, a lush wild rainforest of a place, in which I’ve pleaded, argued, scolded for its protection.
Read more
PERMALINK

 

14 Feb 2013: Two New Polls Show Strong
Support for Obama Action on Climate

Roughly two-thirds of the American people support President Obama taking significant action on climate change, according to two polls released the day after Obama’s State of the Union address. A poll for the League of Conservation voters showed that 65 percent of Americans want Obama to take “significant steps” to address climate change, including 89 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of Independents, and 38 percent of Republicans. The survey said that most Americans view climate change as a tangible threat, with 61 percent saying climate change is already affecting them or will affect them sometime in their lives. A second poll, conducted for the Natural Resources Defense Council, found that 65 percent of Americans see climate change as a serious problem and that 62 percent agreed with Obama’s call for action. Obama told Congress that if it does not pass legislation to reduce CO2 emission, he will step up efforts to deal with the problem using executive actions. Despite these poll results, another recent survey showed that Americans rank climate change last on a list of 21 problems facing the U.S.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: A Conservative Who
Believes Climate Change is Real

Republican Congressman Bob Inglis lost his 2010 re-election bid after telling a campaign audience he believed in human-caused climate change.
Bob Inglis
Bob Inglis
Since then, he has served as executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, which seeks to convince conservatives that climate change is real and that free enterprise principles hold the keys for dealing with it. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Inglis talks about his own evolution from being a climate change denier; why he favors a carbon tax and the end of all fuel subsidies; why conservatives have been so reluctant to acknowledge that climate change is real; and why his group is focusing its efforts on college Republicans. “We’re trying to convince conservatives that they are more important to this than they ever imagined,” he says, “because they have the answer, which is free enterprise. And it’s a better answer than a regulatory regime.”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

13 Feb 2013: Middle East Water Loss
Is Starkly Documented by NASA Satellites

A pair of gravity-measuring NASA satellites has documented a precipitous drop in freshwater supplies in the arid Middle East over the past decade. NASA said that since 2003 parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran had lost 144 cubic kilometers of total stored freshwater, an amount roughly equivalent to the water in the Dead Sea. NASA researchers attributed 60 percent of the loss to increased pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs. An additional 20 percent of the loss came from soil drying up and snowpack shrinking, while the remaining 20 percent came from loss of surface water in lakes and reservoirs, according to the NASA study, to be published Friday in the journal Water Resources Research. A drought in 2007 exacerbated all of these trends, but even without the drought scientists said that the rapidly growing population in the heart of the Middle East was using too much water at a time of increasing concern over intensifying droughts caused by climate change. The GRACE satellites — short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment — measure changes in gravity, in this case caused by the falling of water reserves, which alters the earth’s mass.
PERMALINK

 

12 Feb 2013: Norwegian Retrofit Seeks
To Create ‘Energy-Positive’ Office Buildings

Two office buildings in Norway are being retrofitted so they will generate more power than they use when the project is completed next year. The three- and four-story buildings, in the town of Sandvika, near Oslo, will generate geothermal and solar energy on site, making the buildings “energy positive,” according to the project's backers. The retrofit will use a heat-retaining black façade, top-quality insulation to reduce energy use by up to 90 percent, and an interior design that will allow air to circulate without fans. “We believe this is the first time in the world that a normal office block is being renovated to such strict standards,” Svein Brandtzaeg, chief executive of Norsk Hydro, one of the project’s partners, told Reuters. According to the UN Environment Programme, the building industry has the greatest potential of any economic sector for large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
PERMALINK

 

11 Feb 2013: Earth-Observing Satellite
Is Launched by NASA at Crucial Moment

NASA is expected to launch today its newest Earth-observing satellite, Landsat 8, at a time when previous Landsat satellites have either stopped working or have developed serious technical problems. NASA scientists say the launch of the $855 million satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is vital to the space agency’s mission of monitoring the Earth during a period of unprecedented environmental change — from disappearing glaciers and sea ice, to widespread forest loss, to intensifying destruction from natural disasters. The first Earth-observing satellite, Landsat 1, was launched in 1972. Today, two Landsat satellites remain functional, but NASA engineers have struggled to fix problems with the satellites, including the failure of transmitters to send images back to Earth and a sensor problem on Landsat 7 that blanks out a fifth of each image it collects. Ted Scambos, a senior scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, called Landsat satelites a “phenomenal” tool for documenting the loss of ice sheets and sea ice."
PERMALINK

 

08 Feb 2013: Memory of Magnetic Landscape
Guides Salmon to Home Rivers, Study Shows

Although magnetism has been known to play a role in the remarkable homing ability of salmon, a new study clarifies just how the fish use magnetic fields to travel thousands of miles to their natal rivers to spawn. Researchers at Oregon State University solved this mystery by studying 56 years of fishery data involving the millions of sockeye salmon that annually pour into British Columbia’s Fraser River. Vancouver Island sits in front of the Fraser, and the routes the salmon took around the island in different years offered clues to how the fish decipher shifting magnetic fields. When the magnetic field of the northern passageway around Vancouver Island was similar to that experienced by the fish when they left the river two years earlier, the returning salmon tended to chose the northern route; the reverse was true when there was a more southerly magnectic field. Lead researcher Nathan Putnam said this showed that juvenile salmon imprint on the magnetic signature of their home rivers and then seek their way back using that signature. The research was published in Current Biology.
PERMALINK

 

07 Feb 2013: Wind Energy Now Cheaper
Than Fossil Fuel Power Plants in Australia

Unsubsidized wind power is now cheaper than electricity produced from new coal- and natural gas-fired power stations in Australia, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The study said that electricity can be supplied from a new wind farm at a cost of 80 Australian dollars per megawatt hour, compared to 143 Australian dollars from a new coal plant and 116 Australian dollars from a new natural gas plant. Even without a recently imposed carbon price, wind energy is 14 percent cheaper than new coal power and 18 percent cheaper than new natural gas, the study said. The analysis said that Australia’s largest banks are unlikely to finance new coal plants because of concern over emissions-intensive investments and that natural gas has become expensive as Australia exports more liquid natural gas. By 2020, the report said, large-scale solar arrays will also be cheaper than coal or gas when carbon taxes are figured in. “The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Probing Impact of
Warming on World Food Supply

It has long been thought that climate change could enhance crop growth through the fertilizing effects of carbon dioxide.
Stephen Long
University of Illinois
Stephen Long
But recent research conducted by Stephen Long, a professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, indicates that any gains from CO2 fertilization will be offset by damage to plants from higher temperatures, increases in atmospheric ozone, and the greater efficiency of crop pests in a CO2-enriched world. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Long, who recently received a $25 million research grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, talks about the impacts of climate change on some of the world’s key crops, the challenge of boosting crop yields to meet the demands of a burgeoning human population, and how tinkering with the genes involved in photosynthesis may provide the solution scientists are seeking.
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

06 Feb 2013: More than 11,000 Elephants
Killed In Gabon Park Since 2004, Study Says

Poachers have slaughtered more than 11,000 elephants in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park rainforest since 2004, according to a new study by Gabon’s government and two leading conservation groups. The study said that in the past 9 years, two-thirds of the forest elephants in Minkebe — about 11,100 animals — have been killed by poachers for their tusks. The study comes as tens of thousands of African elephants are being killed annually to feed a growing demand for ivory jewelry and ornamental items in a fast-growing Asian economy. Gabon said that many of the poachers are infiltrating Minkebe park from Cameroon and that the forest elephants’ harder and straighter tusks are coveted by poachers and dealers.
PERMALINK

 

05 Feb 2013: Sea Urchins Offer a Clue
To New Way to Capture Carbon Dioxide

British researchers have discovered that sea urchins use nickel particles on their exoskeletons to effectively capture CO2 and turn it into a solid form, an intriguing finding that could offer an inexpensive way to capture and store carbon from fossil fuel-fired power plants. Scientists from Newcastle University were studying how marine organisms absorb CO2 to make shells and skeletons when they discovered that sea urchin larvae have a high concentration of nickel on their exoskeletons, which helps them absorb CO2. When the researchers added nickel nanoparticles to CO2-saturated water, they discovered that the nickel completely removed CO2 and turned it into calcium carbonate, a chalk-like mineral. Current efforts to capture and store carbon dioxide from power plants involve either pumping it underground or using an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase to convert it to calcium carbonate. But both methods are expensive, and the Newcastle researchers say that using nickel to capture and store CO2 bubbled through water could be a thousand times cheaper than employing carbonic anhydrase. “It seems too good to be true, but it works,” said Lidija Siller, a physicist at Newcastle. The research was published in Catalysis Science & Technology.
PERMALINK

 

Orphaned Siberian Tiger Cubs
Are Readied for New Life in Wild

Last November, three Siberian tiger cubs were orphaned in the sparsely populated taiga of the Russian Far East, their mother apparently a victim of poachers.
Field Notes Siberian Tigers
Field notes Siberian Tigers
A call from local villagers to Russian wildlife officials set in motion a rescue mission that continues to this day, as Russian and U.S. scientists prepare the tigers for eventual release back into the wild. One of those scientists is Dale Miquelle, who directs the Russia program of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. He helped capture one of the cubs and is now working with Russian experts on readying the six-month-old tigers for life in the wild at a rehabilitation facility. As Miquelle explains in this report from the field, saving every Siberian tiger is vital, as fewer than 500 survive in the wild.
Read more
PERMALINK

 

01 Feb 2013: U.S. Carbon Emissions
Fall To The Lowest Level Since 1994

The continuing expansion of renewable energy technologies, advances in energy efficiency, and the rapid shift from coal to natural gas for generating electricity combined to bring down U.S. carbon dioxide emissions last year to their lowest levels since 1994, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report said that CO2 emissions fell 13 percent in the last five years alone, which means that the U.S. is now more than halfway toward reaching President Obama’s goal of cutting emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The Bloomberg report said that while the shift from burning coal to natural gas is a significant factor in the U.S.’s continued emissions reductions, the adoption of renewable energy technologies is also playing an important role. The report said the cumulative installed solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass-based energy sources in the U.S. reached 86 gigawatts last year, compared with 43 gigawatts in 2008. Another growing source of emissions cuts is adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles, with 488,000 people in the U.S. purchasing these energy-efficient cars last year.
PERMALINK

 

31 Jan 2013: Massive UK Wind Turbines
Are a Sign of ‘Super-sizing’ of Wind Power

Two of the world’s largest wind turbines, with blades 60 meters (196 feet) long, have been installed off the Yorkshire coast, a sign of a growing trend toward producing colossal wind turbines to boost generating capacity. The 6-megawatt turbines, manufactured by Siemens, are so large that they had to be installed using a specially built ship, Siemens said. The pair of turbines is being erected on an experimental basis to gauge how they perform, but the operator of the offshore wind farm, the Denmark-based DONG energy group, has plans to install dozens more so that production will reach 210 megawatts at the site, located about five miles offshore. DONG says it intends to eventually install 300 of the massive turbines by 2017 at various offshore locations in the U.K., including some in deeper waters. Energy analysts say the 60-meter Siemens turbines reflect growing interest among wind energy companies to deploy ever-larger turbines, with plans in the works to manufacture turbines 100 meters long.
PERMALINK

 

30 Jan 2013: Satellite Analysis Shows
Gulf Oil Spills Typically Underestimated

An analysis of satellite images has revealed that small oil spills that have become common in the Gulf of Mexico are often much larger than reported, U.S. scientists say. Using technology that calculates the size of oil slicks based on differences in the texture of water surface, as captured in publicly available satellite photos, a team of oceanographers at Florida State University (FSU) estimated that known human-caused spills in the Gulf were typically about 13 times larger than reported to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center. The spills are typically the result of minor drilling mishaps or fuel discharges from ships. “There is very consistent underreporting of the magnitude of [oil] releases,” Ian MacDonald, a FSU scientist and team leader, told Nature. While these relatively minor oil spills may not cause significant environmental damage, the cumulative damage is not known since officials are unaware of the true extent of the spills, said John Amos, president of SkyTruth, a nonprofit organization that participated in the study.
PERMALINK

 

29 Jan 2013: Continued Beijing Air Pollution
Triggers Online Call for Clean Air Act

As Beijing residents continue to endure choking air pollution that far exceeds safe levels, an online poll has found overwhelming support for new clean air legislation. Ten hours after real estate mogul Pan Shiyi

Click to enlarge
Air Pollution over Beijing China January 2013

NASA
Haze over Beijing, January 2013
posted the poll on the popular social media platform Sina Weibo, 99 percent of respondents (more than 32,000 people) agreed that the government should enact a Clean Air Act, with many users offering specific measures to curb pollution, including car-free days, stricter auto emissions standards, and public health protections. The dangerous cloud of pollution that has hung over Beijing for about a month now covers roughly 1.3 million square kilometers, according to the government-run Xinhua news agency. In Beijing this week, visibility fell to 500 meters, and some city natives called it the “worst fog ever,” according to China Daily.
PERMALINK

 

28 Jan 2013: Megacities Alter Weather
Across Long Distances, Study Says

Heat generated in major metropolitan areas is altering the character of the jet stream and other atmospheric systems, at times affecting the weather thousands of miles away, a new study says. Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, a team of scientists reports that so-called “waste heat” produced from buildings, cars, and other sources is altering weather patterns and increasing winter temperatures across large areas of North America and northern Asia by as much as 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F). In parts of Europe, however, the changes to atmospheric circulation are causing temperatures to fall by as much as 1 degree C., the study found. “Although much of this waste heat is concentrated in large cities, it can change atmospheric patterns in a way that raises or lowers temperatures across considerable distances,” said Aixue Hu, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the lead authors of the study. According to the study, this phenomenon is different than the so-called “heat island effect,” in which cities are warmer than surrounding areas as a result of heat collected and re-radiated by pavement, buildings, and other urban features.
PERMALINK

 

25 Jan 2013: German Plant to Produce
Methane Using Surplus Green Energy

Audi is building a plant in Germany that will use surplus power produced from renewable sources, such as wind energy generated when demand is low, to produce methane from water and carbon dioxide. The plant, which will use technology developed by Stuttgart-based SolarFuel, reportedly will produce enough methane to run 1,500 of the new natural-gas vehicles Audi is planning to start selling this year. To produce the methane, the company will utilize a combination of technologies: electrolysis, in which water is split into its hydrogen and oxygen components, and methanation, in which the hydrogen is combined with carbon from carbon dioxide to produce methane. While the combined process would normally be considered impractical because of inefficiencies, the availability of excess energy from renewable sources in Germany, which has increased from 150 gigawatt-hours per year to 1,000 in two years, makes the process economically feasible, according to a report in MIT’s Technology Review. “That’s electricity that we could use for nothing,” said SolarFuel’s Stephan Rieke.
PERMALINK

 

24 Jan 2013: Solid Electrolyte Could Lead
To Larger, Safer Lithium Ion Batteries

U.S. researchers have developed a high-performance, solid electrolyte for use in energy-dense lithium ion batteries that they say is safer than existing liquid electrolytes and could lead to batteries that are five to 10 times more powerful than existing batteries. While lithium-ion batteries typically utilize liquid electrolytes to conduct the lithium ions between the positively charged cathode and the negatively charged anode, the liquid materials pose flammability risks — especially as engineers attempt to make more powerful lightweight batteries. Utilizing a chemical process known as nanostructuring, scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) say they were able to create a nanoporous solid electrolyte that conducts ions 1,000 times faster than in its natural bulk form, enabling more energy-dense batteries. According to the researchers, this innovation could allow engineers to develop pure lithium anodes, which could yield batteries that are far more powerful than those using carbon-based anodes.
PERMALINK

 

23 Jan 2013: BPA Alternative Also Disrupts
Development At Low Doses, Study Says

A synthetic chemical developed as an alternative to the controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA), and now widely used in many products, also disrupts human development at low doses, according to a new study. Created after research indicated potential health risks associated with BPA — a component of polycarbonate plastics found in everything from plastic bottles to cash register receipts — bisphenol S (BPS) was found in the study to disrupt cellular responses to the hormone estrogen, altering biochemical pathways that affect cell growth and hormone release, according to researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. And like BPA, BPS triggers these effects at extremely low doses, the researchers found. According to UTMB's Cheryl Watson, lead author of the study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, BPS is active at doses in the range of parts per trillion or quadrillion.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Charting a New Course
For America and the Environment

Time magazine once called him the “ultimate insider,” and indeed Gus Speth has had a long career as an establishment environmentalist. And so it might be
Gus Speth
Gus Speth
surprising that his latest book, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, offers a bleak picture of what U.S. environmentalism has accomplished and calls for an overhaul of the nation’s political economy. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Speth, now a professor at Vermont Law School, discusses the evolution of his own thinking on how to address environmental problems and his frustration with continued inaction on climate change. He also talks about the links he sees between economic fairness and environmental health; why he is encouraged by new movements and lifestyles emerging in local communities; and why he rejects what he calls America’s “growth fetish.” “The first thing about growth is it doesn’t deliver,” Speth says, “and it detracts us and deflects us from investing in the things that really do need to grow — like jobs, like education, like green energy technology.”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

22 Jan 2013: Obama Emphasizes Climate
Fight In Second Inaugural Speech

In his second inaugural address, President Obama prominently cited the need to tackle climate change, a vow Democrats say the president will carry out using his executive powers to bypass Congress. After barely addressing the issue during his reelection campaign, Obama on Monday indicated that climate would be a priority in his second term, saying that failure to address the threat of a changing climate “would betray our children and future generations.” “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science,” Obama said. “But none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.” According to a New York Times report, the president’s new climate strategy will include tougher Environmental Protection Agency rules on emissions from coal plants, as well as stricter energy standards for home appliances and buildings.
PERMALINK

 

21 Jan 2013: NASA Map Shows Air Pollution
Across Asia and the Middle East

New satellite data released by NASA provide dramatic visual evidence of the dangerous air quality reported from cities across Asia and the Middle East this month.

Click to enlarge
Nitrogen dioxide levels January 2013

NASA
Nitrogen dioxide levels, January 2013
Based on data collected from its satellite-based Ozone Monitoring Instrument, a map released by NASA scientists illustrates high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) — shown in orange — over several major cities, including Istanbul, Tehran and New Delhi, during the first week of January. Satellite measurements of nitrogen dioxide concentrations are a good indicator of air quality since NO2 is produced by the same fossil fuel-burning processes that also send sulfur dioxide and aerosols into the atmosphere, such as from vehicles, industrial sites, and power plants. The high concentrations of NO2 shown in the NASA map, based on measurements from Jan. 1 to 8, coincided with reports from several cities of hazy skies, unhealthy air quality, and elevated cases of lung ailments.
PERMALINK

 

18 Jan 2013: In Kenya Reserves, Poaching
Is Leading Cause of Death for Elephants

A 14-year study of elephants in northern Kenya has found that the animals are now more likely to die at the hands of human poachers than of natural causes. When researchers began tracking 934 individual elephants at
Elephant in Kenya
TRAFFIC/Martin Harvey/WWF-Canon
African savanna elephant
two adjacent reserves, Samburu and Buffalo Springs, in 1997, elephant populations were growing and illegal killing was rare, with perhaps one animal killed per year, according to George Wittemyer, a Colorado State University wildlife biologist and lead author of the study published in PLoS ONE. But that started to change over the last decade, particularly for older elephants, which have larger tusks. In 2000, there were 38 male elephants over the age of 30 in their study population; by 2011, the number had dropped to 12. By that time, 56 percent of all elephants found dead had been poached. The long-term slaughter also altered the demographics of the population. While males accounted for 42 percent of the population in 1997, their numbers dropped to 32 percent by 2011. Ten of the family groups being tracked effectively “disappeared.”
PERMALINK

 

17 Jan 2013: Journals of Iconic Naturalists
Reveal Plants Are Blooming Much Earlier

An analysis of records kept by iconic naturalists Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold has revealed evidence that some native plants in the eastern U.S. are flowering as much as much as a month earlier in spring than they did even just six decades ago. Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, scientists from Boston and Harvard universities and the University of Wisconsin-Madison report that many plant species found in and around Concord, Mass. — including serviceberry and nodding trillium — are now blooming an average of 11 days earlier than when Thoreau kept copious notes in the 1850s. In Wisconsin, where Leopold and his students collected comprehensive data on spring blooms from 1933 to 1945, the evidence of earlier flowering is even more pronounced: During the unusually warm spring of 2012, the study says, plants bloomed an average of one month earlier than they did 67 years earlier. Scientists say the findings could provide critical insights into the effects of climate change on native plants, and the long-term implications this could have on the plants and the animals and insects that depend upon them.
PERMALINK

 

16 Jan 2013: Insecticides Pose Threat
To Bee Populations, Report Says

European scientists have found that imidacloprid, the world’s most widely used insecticide, poses “unacceptable” risks to bee populations, a finding that some groups hope will result in a ban on the chemical. Asked to assess the health risks of imidacloprid and two other neonicotinoids — clothianidin and thiamethoxam — as seed treatment or as granules, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that the chemicals should be used only on crops that are “not attractive to honeybees” because of possible risk of exposure through nectar and pollen. Some researchers have said the neonicotinoids make bees more vulnerable to pathogens and could be a factor in so-called “colony collapse disorder,” a phenomenon that has decimated honeybee populations for several years. A spokesman for Bayer, which manufactures imidacloprid, told the Guardian that the EFSA report does not alter existing risk assessments and warned against bans based on “an over-interpretation of the precautionary principle.”
PERMALINK

 

15 Jan 2013: Key Offshore Transmission Line
To Be Built For U.S. East Coast Wind Power

A group of prominent U.S. investors, including Google, is expected to announce today that it is moving forward with construction on the first leg of an ambitious $5 billion undersea transmission line that will connect
New Jersey Offshore Wind Energy Link
Atlantic Wind Connection
New Jersey Energy Link
future offshore wind farms along the mid-Atlantic coast, a project they say will avert the regulatory hurdles required in connecting each individual wind farm to land-based electricity lines. The first segment of the project, which will occur in three phases, includes construction of a 189-mile transmission cable along the New Jersey coast. Coordinators of the project, known as the Atlantic Wind Connection, say the cable would deliver more than 3,400 megawatts of electric capacity from future offshore wind projects to three locations in New Jersey. Construction is expected to begin in 2016, according to the sponsors. The project intends to eventually link offshore wind farms with electricity grids from Virginia to New York.
PERMALINK

 

14 Jan 2013: Tidal Energy Can Meet 20%
Of UK Electricity Needs, Study Says

UK officials are underestimating the vast energy potential of marine tides, a renewable and reliable energy source that could meet 20 percent of the nation’s
Tidal Energy
Kawasaki Heavy Industries
electricity needs, according to a new report. Writing in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, researchers explain that while the process of exploiting tidal energy remains expensive, it has the potential to be a more reliable energy source than wind or wave energy and to be more easily managed on electricity grids. While the technology is in the early stages, the researchers say they are optimistic that the two principle means of exploiting tidal energy — construction of barrages across tidal estuaries that generate power from the ebb and flow of the water, and adding underwater turbines in fast-flowing currents — can be implemented in the near future. “From tidal barrages you can reasonably expect you can get 15 percent of UK electricity needs,” Nicholas Yates, a researcher at the National Oceanography Centre and co-author of the report, told BBC News.
PERMALINK

 

11 Jan 2013: California Solar Rebate
Program Reaches 1-Gigawatt Milestone

California homeowners and businesses, taking advantage of a state rebate program that encourages the installation of solar panels, are now generating 1 gigawatt — or 1,000 megawatts — of electricity, roughly the equivalent of a nuclear power plant, state regulators say. Launched in 2007, the $2.4 billion California Solar Initiative has offered rebates as high as $2.50 per watt to businesses and homeowners who installed solar panels, with a target of generating 1,940 megawatts by the end of 2016. According to state data, the program so far has encouraged the installation of 1,066 megawatts, more solar capacity than any other state and more than most countries. While the state incentive has fallen by as much 92 percent since the program was introduced, the number of applications continues to increase as the price of solar power installations falls, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. When the program started six years ago, residential solar systems cost about $9.76 per watt; they now cost about $6.19 per watt.
PERMALINK

 

10 Jan 2013: Up to 50 Percent of Food
Is Wasted Worldwide, Report Says

As much as half of the food produced globally is wasted each year as a result of inefficient agricultural practices, inadequate storage facilities and transportation systems, and wasteful consumer habits, a new report says. While the world community produces about 4 billion metric tons of food annually, roughly 1.2 to 2 billion metric tons of that food — or 30 to 50 percent — is never consumed, according to the UK-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The causes of waste vary from region to region, the report says. In developing nations, much of the waste occurs at the local level as a result of inefficient harvesting, lack of transportation, and poor infrastructure and storage. In richer nations, the waste is often triggered by customer and retail behavior. For example, as much as 30 percent of UK vegetables are never harvested because their appearance doesn’t meet consumer standards. “This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands,” the report says.
PERMALINK

 

09 Jan 2013: U.S. Heat Record Was
Shattered in 2012, NOAA Reports

Last year was by far the warmest year in U.S. history, with the average temperature in the contiguous states climbing a full degree higher than the previous high and

Click to enlarge
Record Heat in U.S. 2012

NOAA
Annual climate records, 2012
every state recording above-average annual temperatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In its annual State of the Climate Report, NOAA said the average temperature during the year was 55.3 degrees F, about 3.2 degrees warmer than the 20th century average and 1 degree warmer than the previous high, recorded in 1998. While the record annual numbers were driven largely by a historically warm spring, the U.S. also experienced its second-warmest summer on record, its fourth-warmest winter, and a fall that was also warmer than average, according to NOAA.
PERMALINK

 

08 Jan 2013: Using Fireflies As a Model,
Scientists Boost Efficiency of LED Lights

Drawing inspiration from the structure of a firefly, scientists say they have improved the efficiency of a light-emitting diode (LED) by 55 percent. While studying the insects, the researchers noticed that
Firefly inspired LED
Nicolas André
LED inspired by fireflies
a pattern of sharp, jagged scales on the fireflies’ bodies enhanced the amount of light emitted by the fireflies’ lantern, an abdominal organ that creates the flashes of light to attract mates. After mimicking that structure in the production of a LED design, the researchers found that the amount of light extracted was significantly increased. Light-emitting diodes are made from semi-conductors and represent a major advance in lighting efficiency over traditional incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs. “The most important aspect of this work is that it shows how much we can learn by carefully observing nature,” said Annick Bay, a Ph. D. student at the University of Namur in Belgium and one of the authors of a paper published in the journal Optics Express.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Perils and Rewards
Of Protecting Congo’s Gorillas

It is difficult to imagine a more dangerous place to be a conservationist than the Democratic Republic of Congo, which for decades has been ravaged by war and civil
Emmanuel de Merode
Virunga National Park/gorillacd.org
Emmanuel de Merode
strife that has left several million people dead. But it is against this backdrop that Emmanuel de Merode has waged a five-year struggle to protect Congo’s Virunga National Park, the oldest national park in Africa and home to one of the last sizeable populations of mountain gorillas. De Merode is the chief warden of Virunga, a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses nearly 2 million acres of forests, mountains, savannahs, and iconic wildlife. Since 1996, more than 150 Virunga park rangers have been killed in the line of duty, with two murdered last October. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, de Merode discusses the challenges of protecting the mountain gorillas in a war-torn nation, the remarkable survival of the gorillas amid this strife, and how restoring order inside Virunga National Park could play a role in bringing peace to Congo.
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

07 Jan 2013: New Arctic Experiments Yield
Insights Into State of Permafrost Carbon

A team of U.S. researchers recently deployed a suite of technologies in the Arctic tundra that they say will provide a better understanding of the carbon contained in permafrost soils and how much is likely to be released as the planet warms. At an experimental plot near Barrow, Alaska, scientists are using several techniques, from ground-penetrating radar systems dragged on sleds to airborne instruments that measure micro-topography, to better understand how different layers of permafrost are interrelated and react as the soil warms. Ultimately, the scientists say, the research will provide critical information on how these permafrost systems change over time, and how much of their vast stores of carbon might be released. “This approach allows us to sample over large spatial regions with minimal disturbance to the ecosystem — two important criteria when it comes to studying the vast and delicate Arctic landscape,” said Susan Hubbard, a geophysicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
PERMALINK

 

04 Jan 2013: Starbucks Targets Reduction
In Paper Waste with $1 Reusable Cups

Starbucks, the world’s largest chain of coffee shops, this week started selling $1 reusable plastic cups at its stores
Starbucks reusable plastic cup
Starbucks
A reusable plastic cup
in the U.S. and Canada, an initiative the company hopes will drastically reduce the amount of paper waste that ends up in landfills. The company, which has more than 11,000 stores in the U.S., tested the reusable cups at 600 stores in the Pacific Northwest in October, and within a month found that the use of reusable cups increased 26 percent compared with a year earlier. While Starbucks says nearly 2 percent of drinks sold in 2011 were served in personal tumblers brought in by customers — a 55-percent increase in three years — the company is now targeting 5 percent use of reusable cups by 2015. Five years ago, the company had set a goal of serving 25 percent of its coffee drinks in reusable cups. Starbucks uses about 4 billion disposable cups annually.
PERMALINK

 

03 Jan 2013: Methane Leak Data Highlights
Concerns About Natural Gas Drilling

A pair of ongoing studies show unexpectedly high methane leakage from some oil and gas fields in the U.S., findings that underscore concerns that the climate benefits of the natural gas boom may be overstated. Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder say new data indicates that as much as 4 percent of methane from a production area in Denver is leaking into the atmosphere, echoing findings first reported in a much-disputed study published last year in the Journal of Geophysical Research. A separate field study in Utah suggested even higher methane leakage rates of 9 percent. The calculations were made based on aerial and ground-based measurements and atmospheric models that estimated the level of emissions required to produce the recorded concentrations. “We were expecting to see high methane levels, but I don’t think anybody really comprehended the true magnitude of what we would see,” said Colm Sweeney, of the federal Earth System Research Lab Aircraft Program.
PERMALINK

 

02 Jan 2013: U.S. Wind Tax Credit
Extended in ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Compromise

The last-minute tax deal brokered by U.S. lawmakers to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” included a one-year extension of the wind energy tax credit, a subsidy that industry officials say is critical for the growth of the wind energy sector. The bill, which now awaits President Obama’s signature, preserves the 2.2-cents-per-kilowatt-hour credit for all wind energy projects that begin construction in 2013, allowing projects that are not completed until 2014 to qualify, as well. While the wind energy sector achieved record growth in 2012 — accounting for 44 percent of all new electricity generating capacity in the U.S. — industry leaders say the possible expiration of the tax credit forced some turbine manufacturers to idle factories and lay off workers during the latter half of 2012. The lack of a long-term federal policy has created “a ‘boom-bust’ cycle” in the wind energy sector for more than a decade, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a trade organization.
PERMALINK

 

31 Dec 2012: Network of Smartphone-Based
Sensors Track Air Pollution Levels

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a network of smartphone-based air pollution monitors that allow individuals to track
UCSD Citisense smartphone
UCSD
CitiSense device
pollution levels in real time and feed a central database of air quality trends citywide throughout the day. The so-called CitySense devices are equipped with sensors that measure ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide, and a digital app that illustrates the color-coded results based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality ratings. During a four-week test, in which the phones were distributed to 30 volunteers, the system showed hotspots of elevated pollution that shifted over the course of the day. Ultimately, the developers hope to deploy hundreds of devices in order to generate a public database on air quality levels. “We want more data and better data, which we can provide to the public,” said William Griswold, a computer science professor at UC San Diego. “We are making the invisible visible.”
PERMALINK

 

27 Dec 2012: Group Collecting DNA Codes
Of Endangered Species Gets Google Boost

The Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL), a global initiative assembling the “DNA barcodes” of the world’s endangered species, received $3 million from Google this month to create an online database organizers hope will emerge as a critical tool in the enforcement of international wildlife protection laws. Since it was formed in 2004, the consortium’s 200 participating organizations have collected genetic information for more than 100,000 species. With tens of thousands of species currently in danger of extinction, project organizers hope the database will provide a quick and inexpensive way to identify species, including many that are regularly smuggled through airports. In some cases, law enforcement officials would be able to send a small tissue sample to a laboratory for identification rather than requiring an expert to identify the species.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: What’s Damaging U.S.
Salt Marshes and Why It Matters

For centuries, salt marshes along the U.S. coast have been disappearing, with some experts estimating that 70 percent have been lost to development, rising seas,
Linda Deegan MBL
MBL
Linda Deegan
and other threats. One factor scientists always thought marshes could withstand was nutrient enrichment, such as the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and septic systems. But a nine-year study led by Marine Biological Laboratory scientist Linda Deegan shows that an over abundance of nutrients may be contributing to the demise of these salt marshes. In a Yale Environment 360 interview, Deegan describes the study's implications and the vital services that would be lost if marshes disappear, from nourishing marine species to providing a barrier for coastal communities during storms such as Hurricane Sandy.
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

21 Dec 2012: Changing Oceans May Be Adding
To U.S. Fisheries Decline, Scientists Say

As U.S. fishing regulators weigh stricter catch quotas to allow time for critical species to recover in the waters of New England, scientists say that changing ocean conditions may be a factor in historic fish declines, not just decades of overfishing. Warmer ocean temperatures and changing ecosystems are contributing to declining populations of cod and flounder in the northeastern U.S., government officials say. In the Gulf of Maine this year, water temperatures were the highest ever recorded, according to the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal and Ocean Observing Systems. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists say that about half of 36 fish stocks — including cod and flounder — have been shifting northward into deeper, cooler waters for four decades. And while some regulators say the only chance of restoring populations is for tougher quotas on bottom-dwelling “groundfish” species, the New England Fishery Management Council this week delayed a vote on such cuts after fishermen said the reductions would devastate their industry.
PERMALINK

 

20 Dec 2012: ‘Peel-and-Stick’ Solar Cells
Expand Potential for Photovoltaic Systems

Stanford University researchers say they have developed a “peel-and-stick” solar cell that can be attached to a variety of hard surfaces, an innovation they say could vastly expand the potential for solar

Click to enlarge
Peel and Stick Solar CElls

Chi Hwan Lee/Stanford School of Engineering
“Peel-and-stick” solar cells
energy technology. Normally, thin-film solar cells are attached to rigid, often heavy, silicon and glass substrates because most unconventional surfaces aren’t compatible with the thermal and chemical processes involved in producing the cells. The new process gets around that challenge, the scientists say, because it does not require any fabrication to occur on the final substrate surface. Instead, it involves pressing an ultra-thin film of nickel, a silicon/silicon dioxide wafer, and a protective polymer into a “sandwich,” and then attaching a layer of thermal release tape. When dipped in water, the thin-film solar cell can be peeled from the original wafer and attached to a wide range of surfaces, from window glass to cellphones, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
PERMALINK

 

19 Dec 2012: Climate Already Altering
Ecosystems and Biodiversity, Report Says

Climate change is causing plant and animal species across the U.S. to shift their geographic ranges and life events — from flowering to migration — are being transformed at a faster rate than observed even a few years ago, a new analysis by 60 scientists says. According to the report, “Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services,” some terrestrial species are moving up in elevation at rates 2 to 3 times greater than previously believed, while the range shifts for some marine species have been even greater. These rapid changes in ranges, distributions, and life cycles are forcing species to interact in ways that they never have before and could alter the timing and availability of natural resources critical to biodiversity and ecosystem health. “These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems... creating mismatches between animals and their food sources,” said Nancy Grimm, a scientist at Arizona State University and lead author of the report.
PERMALINK

 

18 Dec 2012: Coal May Rival Oil As
World’s Top Energy Source by 2017, IEA Says

Coal could rival oil as the world’s largest energy source within five years as consumption continues to climb in most regions of the world, a trend that could have profound effects on the climate, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. While coal consumption is expected to decline in the U.S., where it increasingly has been displaced by ample supplies of natural gas, that reduction in U.S. coal burning has helped drive down coal costs globally. According to the IEA’s annual Medium-Term Coal Market Report, the world will burn about 1.2 billion more tons of coal annually by 2017 than it does today. The surge in coal consumption will be driven largely by China and India, with China projected to pass the rest of the world in coal demand within five years, and India predicted to pass the U.S. as the world’s second-biggest coal consumer. Without a high carbon tax, the report says, only competition from cleaner natural gas will reduce coal demand.
PERMALINK

 

17 Dec 2012: ‘Peak Farmland’ Reached, as
Yields Rise and Growth Slows, Report Says

The amount of agricultural land needed to feed the world’s population has reached its peak as a result of improved crop yields and slower population growth, and as much as 10 percent of the land currently used for farming could be “restored to Nature” within 50 years, a team of experts says. In an analysis published in the journal Population and Development Review, three researchers from Rockefeller University’s Program for the Human Environment (PHE) predict that the 1.53 billion hectares (3.78 billion) acres of arable land and farming areas that existed in 2009 could drop to 1.38 billion hectares (3.41 billion acres) by 2060. “Happily, the cause is not exhaustion of arable land, as many have feared, but rather moderation of population and tastes and ingenuity of farmers,” said Jesse Ausubel, director of the PHE and lead author of the report. The PHE study stands in stark contrast to a recent UN report, which predicted that by 2050 another 70 million hectares of land would have to be cultivated to feed a growing population.
PERMALINK

 

14 Dec 2012: Car-Mounted Sensor Able to
Pinpoint Sources of Natural Gas Leaks

A U.S.-based company has developed a sophisticated sensing technology capable of detecting and pinpointing the source of even minor natural gas leaks from great distances, an innovation that could provide critical insights into the still largely unknown climate impacts of natural gas drilling. Using a car-mounted system — which combines an advanced methane detector, wind-direction sensors, isotope detectors, and specially developed algorithms — technicians from California-based Picarro are able to collect data on concentrations of methane, a major component of natural gas, at regular driving speeds. The so-called Picarro Surveyor technology logs the data and, in real time, plots the source of natural gas leaks using Google Maps. In a recent survey, the system identified more than 3,350 specific locations in Boston where methane levels were 15 times higher than normal, according to MIT’s Technology Review.
PERMALINK

 

13 Dec 2012: U.S. Awards $28 Million
To Offshore Wind Farm Projects

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced plans to provide $28 million in grants to seven proposed offshore wind projects, a financial commitment the Obama administration hopes will provide a boost to a green energy sector that has yet to gain a foothold in American waters. Each of the seven projects — located in Maine, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, Ohio, and Oregon — will receive $4 million during the engineering, design, and permitting phases. Eventually, if Congress approves, three of the projects could each receive up to $47 million over four years for later phases, including siting, construction, and installation. In contrast to Europe, where offshore wind projects are growing, no offshore wind projects are currently being built in the U.S., although two projects have been approved in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is urging lawmakers to extend the Production Tax Credit, a 2.2-cent per kilowatt-hour incentive that has helped the land-based wind sector to surge past 50,000 megawatts but is set to expire at the end of the year.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Creating Clouds in a Lab
To Better Forecast Climate Change

At the CERN research laboratory in Switzerland, scientists are conducting experiments to help solve a key riddle: the role of clouds in future
Jasper Kirkby
CERN
Jasper Kirkby
climate change. Leading that study is British physicist Jasper Kirkby, who oversees complex experiments in a large steel chamber that are designed to help resolve one of the biggest uncertainties of climate change — how clouds form and what role they play in regulating Earth’s temperature. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Kirkby talks about the role that cosmic rays — charged particles that hit the Earth from outer space — may play in cloud formation, the pitfalls of geoengineering the planet by trying to mimic the formation of clouds, and why his experiments could help clear up uncertainties about climate change. “We’ve got to reduce that uncertainty if we’re to really sharpen our understanding for future climate projections,” says Kirkby.
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

12 Dec 2012: Large Cellulosic Biorefinery
Will Convert Corn Stalks into Biofuel

Chemical giant DuPont has started construction of a large-scale cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Iowa capable of converting corn stalks and leaves into
Corn stover in bales
USDA
Corn stover in bales
a biofuel that could be used in place of fossil fuels at some power plants. The $200 million facility, which will be among the first and largest of its kind in the world, will produce more than 30 million gallons of ethanol annually using so-called corn stover, the remains of corn plants after the harvest, DuPont says. The company plans to collect the stover from more than 500 local farmers within a 30-mile radius, and the plant could be operational as soon as mid-2014. DuPont plans to license the production system internationally and work on designs that will expand this aspect of the biofuel industry.
PERMALINK

 

11 Dec 2012: NASA Visualization Captures
Record Year for Wildfires in the U.S.

This year has been an unusually severe one for wildfires in the U.S., with more than 9.1 million acres of land burned through the end of November, federal officials say. The total affected area, which is depicted in a new NASA map, is already the third-largest since records were first kept in 1960, and will likely break previous

Click to enlarge
Wildfires in the U.S., 2012

NASA
Wildfires in the U.S., 2012
records by year’s end. The most intense fires occurred in the western U.S., where several major fires during the early summer — sparked by a combination of drought, light winter snow pack, and the long-term effects of climate change — forced evacuations in some areas. In the visualization, which shows all fires that occurred between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, areas of yellow and orange indicate larger and more intense fires, while many of the less intense fires, shown in red, represent prescribed burns started for brush clearing or agriculture and ecosystem management. The visualization was based on data collected by NASA satellites.
PERMALINK

 

10 Dec 2012: Doha Talks Preserve Kyoto,
But Achieve Few Meaningful Commitments

As the latest round of global climate talks ended over the weekend in Doha, Qatar, delegates approved a weakened extension of the Kyoto Protocol, as expected, but obtained no commitments from major emitting nations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While nearly 200 nations agreed to extend through 2020 the emissions-limiting Kyoto accord, which would have expired at the end of this month, three previous signatory nations — Canada, Russia, and Japan — all abandoned the agreement. The U.S. had never ratified the accord. So while the continuation of Kyoto preserves a framework for emissions reductions, with the next critical round of negotiations scheduled for 2015, the Doha deal left many increasingly pessimistic about whether the UN process can achieve meaningful results. “Much much more is needed if we are to save this process from being simply a process for the sake of process, a process that simply provides for talk and no action,” said Kieren Keke, foreign minister for the Pacific island state of Nauru. The Doha talks did yield, for the first time, assurances of financial aid for poor nations that incur “loss and damage” — including from extreme weather events — as a result of climate change.
PERMALINK

 

07 Dec 2012: Populations of Large, Old Trees
Are Dying Off Worldwide, Report Says

Populations of large, old trees, which provide critical ecosystem services, are declining across the planet and could eventually disappear altogether in some regions, according to a report by three leading ecologists. Writing in the journal Science, the scientists say the loss of large trees is occurring in all kinds of forests and at all altitudes, from Yosemite National Park in the U.S., to African savannahs, to Amazon rainforests and northern boreal forests. The losses are being driven by numerous factors, including land clearing, agricultural expansion, human-designed fire regimes, logging, invasive species, and climate change. “We are talking about the loss of the biggest living organisms on the planet, of the largest flowering plants on the planet, of organisms that play a key role in regulating and enriching our world,” said Bill Laurance, a scientist at James Cook University in Australia, who coauthored the report.
PERMALINK

 

06 Dec 2012: Google Images Document
Devastation of 2011 Tsunami in Japan

As part of an ongoing project to digitally archive the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami in northeastern Japan, Google has published several new panoramic images that provide a sobering glimpse of the widespread devastation in communities across the region. The images, taken with the company’s Street View technology in four cities in the Tōhoku region, allows users to take a virtual tour of seriously damaged buildings before they are demolished. One panoramic view of a public housing project illustrates the height of the tsunami wave, which ruined everything up to the fourth floor of the building. Another image, of the condemned Ukedo Elementary School, shows the collapsed auditorium floor beneath the banner of a graduation ceremony that was never held. The images were added to Google’s “Memories for the Future” website, which is chronicling the affected areas from before and after the tsunami.
PERMALINK

 

05 Dec 2012: African Lion Populations
Plummet as Habitat Disappears, Study Says

More than two-thirds of Africa’s lions have disappeared over the last 50 years as the continent’s once-vast savannah regions have been lost to human
Lion in South Africa
Getty Images
A lion in South Africa
development, a new study has found. Using high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth and human population data, Duke University researchers calculated that about 75 percent of the original savannah has been lost since 1960, driven by land-use changes and deforestation. On the entire continent, they found, there are now just 67 remaining pockets of savannah suitable for lion habitat; only 10 of those areas would be considered lion “strongholds.” Overall, lion populations have dropped from 100,000 to roughly 32,000 in just five decades, according to the study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. Continued habitat loss projected over the coming decades could put these populations at increased risk, the study said.
PERMALINK

 

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
Martha Schwartz Partners
Martha Schwartz
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
PERMALINK

 

04 Dec 2012: Air Quality Improvements
Continue to Yield Health Benefits

While the rate of improvement of U.S. air quality has slowed during the last decade, even those small improvements have had a beneficial effect on life expectancy, according to new research. In a study of 545 counties across the U.S., researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that a slight decrease of fine particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter — known as PM2.5 — from 2000 to 2007 was associated with an average increase in life expectancy of 0.35 years. During that period, researchers say, concentrations of PM2.5 decreased by 10 micrograms per cubic meter. While that improvement in air quality was far less significant than the pollution reductions observed between 1980 and 2000, the new findings suggest that continued improvements have additional health benefits. “It appears that further reductions in air pollution levels would continue to benefit public health,” said Harvard researcher Andrew Correia, lead author of the study published in Epidemiology.
PERMALINK

 

03 Dec 2012: An Advocate's Novel Campaign
To Call Attention to Rhino Slaughter

A South African artist has launched an unorthodox campaign to call attention to the mounting slaughter of rhinoceroses — by sending toenail clippings to the Chinese embassy. Frustrated that petitions and other protests have done little to curb the poaching of rhinos for their horns, Mark Wilby decided to target the illegal markt in Asia, where the horns are believed to have healing properties. Rhino horns are composed largely of keratin, a protein also found in human nails and hair. Wilby, who is encouraging others to also send nails to the embassy address in Pretoria, concedes  the protest is “disrespectful,” but says he wants to put pressure on the Chinese government in hopes that it can help stop the killing of Africa’s rhinos. According to reports, nearly 600 rhinos have been killed illegally so far this year in South Africa alone. “I’m sending this to the Chinese Embassy in South Africa not because I’m blaming the Chinese government or the Chinese people,” he said in a video posted on YouTube. “I just don’t know who else to appeal to.”
PERMALINK

 

30 Nov 2012: Accelerated Ice Sheet Melt
At Both Poles Documented in Study

The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are losing three to five times as much ice annually as they did two decades ago, a rate of ice loss equivalent to sea level rise of 0.04 inches per year, according to a new study supported by NASA and the European Space Agency. In an analysis of data from 10 different satellite missions, the international team of 47 experts calculated that the rate of melt in Greenland is five times greater than during the mid-1990s. While the new findings on total ice loss fall within the range produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007, the new study provides a more definitive assessment that Antarctica’s ice sheets, like Greenland’s, are shrinking. Combined, these ice sheets have added .44 inches (11.1 millimeters) to sea levels worldwide since 1992, accounting for about 20 percent of total sea-level rise during that period. “This will give the wider climate science community greater confidence in ice losses and lead to improved predictions of future sea-level rise,” said Andrew Shepherd, a scientist at the University of Leeds and co-leader of the study, which is published in the journal Science.
PERMALINK

 

29 Nov 2012: China is Largest Importer
Of Illegally Harvested Timber, Report Says

China has become the world’s leading importer of illegally harvested timber, even as the growing economic giant has made strides in protecting its own forests, according to a new report. Drawing on its own investigative research and the work of Interpol, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) estimates that China now imports about $4 billion in illegal timber annually to meet rising demand for construction materials and furniture. According to the report, more than half of China’s raw timber imports are now coming from nations with “a high risk of illegal logging and poor forest governance,” including Cambodia, Laos, and Madagascar. Meanwhile, the report said, the Chinese government has taken critical steps in preserving and re-growing its own forests. “China is now effectively exporting deforestation around the world,” said EIA's Faith Doherty.
PERMALINK

 

28 Nov 2012: Scientists Develop Standardized
Analysis of City Pollution Emissions

A team of Israeli researchers has developed a method to track pollution over the world’s mega-cities, a satellite-based process they say could help hold nations accountable for their pollution and promote cleaner
Smog over Beijing China
NASA
Smog over Beijing
industrial practices. Using data collected by three NASA satellite systems, the researchers from Tel Aviv University (TAU) collected pollution trends for 189 cities with populations exceeding 2 million. According to Pinhas Alpert, head of TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Study, the research represents the first standardized global analysis of the smog levels in the atmosphere over the world’s largest cities. Based on the data, collected from 2002 to 2010, cities in Northeast China, India, the Middle East, and Central Africa saw the steepest rise in aerosol concentrations, with an average increase of 34 percent. The greatest improvements occurred in Houston, with a 31 percent decrease in aerosol concentrations; Curitiba, Brazil, a 26 percent decrease; and Stockholm, a 23 percent decrease.
PERMALINK

 

27 Nov 2012: Pine Beetle Attacks Cause
Temperature Rise in Canadian Forests

The decimation of trees by mountain pine beetles in British Columbia has caused air temperatures in affected areas to climb by an average of 1 degree Celsius during the summer months, according to a new study.
Mountain Pine Beetle
iStock
A mountain pine beetle
In an analysis of satellite and forest data collected between 1999 and 2010, scientists from the University of Toronto and University of California, Berkeley calculated that areas hit hardest by widespread pine beetle infestations have experienced even sharper temperature increases of several degrees Celsius, as regions are increasingly deprived of the natural cooling effect of trees. Since water evaporation through leaves prevents some of the sun’s radiation from heating the ground surface, the widespread loss of trees causes the temperature increases, said Holly Maness, a UC Berkeley researcher and co-author of the study, published in Nature Geoscience.
PERMALINK

 

26 Nov 2012: Snails in Southern Ocean
Showing Effects of Ocean Acidification

The shells of some sea snails in the Southern Ocean are already dissolving as a result of ocean acidification, according to a new study. In an analysis of free-swimming pteperods collected from Antarctic waters in 2008, scientists found that the outer layers of the animals’ shells showed signs of unusual corrosion, potential evidence that ocean acidification caused by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may already be disturbing vulnerable marine species. Laboratory tests have shown that acidic water threatens many invertebrate marine species, such as clams and corals, since it hinders their ability to grow shells and exoskeletons. The most vulnerable species are those, like pteropods, that build their shells from aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate that is sensitive to increased acidity, according to the study, published in Nature Geoscience.
PERMALINK

 

26 Nov 2012: Giant Galapagos Tortoise
May Not Be Extinct After All, Tests Reveal

The death of an iconic, century-old giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands earlier this year may not have meant the end of his species, an upcoming study suggests. In
Giant tortoise Lonesome George
Galapagos National Park
‘Lonesome George’
an analysis of more than 1,600 DNA samples, scientists from Galapagos National Park (GNP) and Yale University determined that at least 17 tortoises found on a volcano on Isabella Island have similar genetic traits to a tortoise known as “Lonesome George,” a Pinta Island giant tortoise discovered in 1972 and thought to be the last surviving member of his species, Chelonoidis abingdonii, until his death in June. According to the GNP website, the discovery suggests the possible existence of additional hybrid tortoises, or even “possibly-pure Pinta” giant tortoises, in the Galapagos. The results of the study will be published in the journal Biological Conservation.
PERMALINK

 

21 Nov 2012: Solar-Equipped ‘iShacks’ Offer
Cheap, Sustainable Housing in South Africa

South African researchers say they have developed a low-cost and sustainable housing alternative to the flimsy corrugated iron shacks found in the country’s growing settlements. Developed by an interdisciplinary

Click to enlarge
iShack

Hope Project/iShack
An iShack
team at Stellenbosch University’s TsamaHUB center, the so-called iShack is insulated with inexpensive, natural materials such as mud and cardboard boxes and has a sloped roof for harvesting rainwater. A photovoltaic cell on the roof provides the energy for motion-sensitive exterior lighting, interior lighting, and a cellphone charger. So far, a mother and her three children are living in a prototype iShack in Ekanini, an informal settlement of 8,000 residents in Cape Town that lacks access to electricity and an adequate water supply. Project developers also taught six residents in the community how to install and maintain the solar power system in hopes they can use the skills for future entrepreneurial ventures. Researchers look to apply the iShack’s design to upgrade settlements in other regions.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: UN Climate Chief Says
Talks are Steadily Making Progress

Few jobs on the international stage are more daunting than that held by Christiana Figueres, the woman in
Christiana Figueres
UNFCCC
Christiana Figueres
charge of the UN talks aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Figueres is executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has been widely criticized for failing to secure a treaty imposing binding limits on emissions. With new talks now underway in Qatar, Figueres says in an interview with Yale Environment 360 that contrary to public perception, negotiations have actually been moving forward in a “slow but steady” manner. In the interview, she discusses the need for the U.S to finally sign on to a global climate treaty and for politicians to feel the same urgency as scientists about the threats posed by global warming. “There’s a huge gap between the two,” says Figueres, “and it is our very challenging task to encourage the closing of that gap.”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

19 Nov 2012: Breeding Birds in UK
Have Declined 20 Percent Since 1960s

The population of breeding birds in the UK has plummeted by 21 percent since 1966, losing more than 44 million birds in less than a half-century, according to the newly released State of the UK’s Birds 2012report. According to experts, the number of house sparrows has
Yellow wagtail
State of the UK's Birds 2012
The yellow wagtail
dropped from 30 million in 1966, when the first reliable bird-monitoring surveys were conducted, to about 10 million today — a loss of about 50 sparrows every hour. Once-abundant populations of the willow tit have all but disappeared in most regions of the UK, while numbers of the lesser spotted woodpecker and Arctic skua are now too few to number. Populations of farmland bird species are now half of what they were in 1970, according to the report, which draws on information from numerous bird surveys and databases. Land use changes and coastal water management have likely been key factors in these declines, as some species have had increasing difficulty finding suitable places to nest or forage, experts say.
PERMALINK

 

Five Questions for Bill McKibben:
On the Road for ‘Do the Math’ Tour


Bill McKibben — author, climate activist, and founder of 350.org — is in the midst of a 21-city “Do the Math” tour to build grassroots support for combating climate change. The target of the campaign is the fossil fuel industry, and McKibben and 350.org are calling for universities, colleges, and governments to divest themselves of oil and coal company assets. Yale Environment 360 caught up with McKibben by email in Boston recently and asked him five questions about his tour.
Read more
PERMALINK

 

16 Nov 2012: Majority of Marine Species
Still Remain Unknown to Scientists

While more new marine species were identified over the last 10 years than during any previous decade, as many as two-thirds of the plant and animal species living in the oceans may still be unknown to scientists, a new study says. Writing in the journal Current Biology, a team of international scientists estimates that there are
Marbled swimming crab
Hans Hillewaert/Flickr
The marbled swimming crab
likely 700,000 to 1 million species in the oceans, of which only 226,000 species have so far been identified. Another 65,000 are sitting in scientific collections awaiting identification, according to the study. The study, which was produced by 270 experts from 32 countries, represents the most comprehensive inventory of marine life, and notes that the majority of unknown species are composed of crustaceans, mollusks, worms, and sponges. “For the first time, we can provide a very detailed overview of species richness, partitioned among all the marine groups,” said Ward Appeltans, a biologist at UNESCO's International Oceanographic Commission and one of the study’s authors. The complete inventory can be viewed online at www.marinespecies.org.
PERMALINK

 

15 Nov 2012: GM to Make 500,000 Vehicles
With Electric Technology Within 5 Years

General Motors aims to build as many as 500,000 vehicles that utilize some sort of electric technology by 2017. Speaking to reporters this week, GM’s product development chief, Mary Barra, said the company’s fleet of cleaner vehicles will include the plug-in Chevrolet Volt; the all-electric Spark EV, which will go on sale in some markets next year; and cars that utilize the eAssist technologies, which can improve efficiency in some vehicles by as much as 25 percent. A half-million vehicles would represent about 5 percent of the company’s global sales last year; GM expects to sell 50,000 vehicles equipped with electric technologies this year. While the market for electric cars is sluggish, Barra said plug-in vehicles remain central to the company’s strategy. “We have every intention of maintaining our leadership position in plug-in vehicles,” she said. Like all automakers, GM will need to offer more fuel-efficient vehicles to meet stricter U.S. auto emissions standards that will be in place in 2025.
PERMALINK

 

14 Nov 2012: Brazilian Scientists Investigate
Cloning of Eight Endangered Species

Scientists in Brazil are taking steps toward cloning the jaguar and seven other endangered species, a program they hope will ease pressure on wild populations of the animals. Embrapa, the country’s agricultural research
Maned wolf
Wikimedia Commons
The maned wolf
agency, working with the Brasilia Zoological Garden, has already collected 420 tissue samples from animals — including maned wolves, black lion tamarins, bush dogs, coatis, collared anteaters, gray broket deer, and bison — that live in the Cerrado, Brazil’s tropical savanna. They are now seeking government permission to conduct cloning experiments. According to Embrapa’s Carlos Frederico Martins, the group is not looking at the cloning as a conservation strategy and does not intend to release the animals into the wild.
PERMALINK

 

14 Nov 2012: Algal Biofuel Blend
Reaches Market at California Gas Stations

A U.S. company this week began pumping a mix of an algae-based biofuel and gasoline at gas stations in California, a pilot project the company hopes will be a first step in providing a large-scale alternative to fossil fuels. The fuel, known as Biodiesel B20, contains 80 percent petroleum and 20 percent algae grown by San Francisco-based Solazyme. The fuel is produced in a fermentation process at Solazyme’s Illinois plant that combines sugar with an organism company officials will not identify. According to the company, the new fuel blend produces 30 percent fewer particulates, 20 percent less carbon monoxide, and 10 percent fewer hydrocarbons than other biodiesel fuels. So far, the fuel is being sold for diesel vehicles at four gas stations in the Bay Area for $4.25 per gallon, which is also the average price right now for diesel fuel in California. But Propel Fuels, which is providing the infrastructure for the fuel delivery, hopes to make the fuel available at hundreds of California stations, said Matt Horton, Propel’s CEO.
PERMALINK

 

13 Nov 2012: Gains in Antarctic Sea Ice Cover
Triggered by Wind Shifts, Study Says

Scientists say they have the first direct evidence that changes in Antarctic sea ice drift caused by changing winds have produced an increase in Antarctic sea ice

Click to enlarge
NASA BAS Study Shows Shifting Winds in Antarctica

NASA/BAS
Shifting winds in Antarctica
cover over the last two decades even as historic declines have been observed in the Arctic. Using more than 5 million measurements of daily sea ice movement collected over 19 years, researchers from NASA and the British Antarctic Survey detected long-term changes in sea ice drift, a phenomenon that has caused overall increases in sea ice cover. While sea ice around Antarctica is constantly being blown away from the continent by northerly winds, the rate of ice movement in some areas has doubled since 1992, causing total sea ice, which reflects heat from the sun, to expand out from Antarctica, according to their findings, which were published in Nature Geoscience. “The Antarctic sea ice cover interacts with the global climate system very differently than that of the Arctic, and these results highlight the sensitivity of the Antarctic ice coverage to changes in the strength of the winds around the continent,” said Ron Kwok of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
PERMALINK

 

12 Nov 2012: U.S. Could Be World’s Largest
Oil Producer Within a Decade, Report Says

Advances in drilling for unconventional fossil fuels could make the U.S. the world’s biggest oil producer within a decade, a shift that could transform the global flow of energy for all regions of the world, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). According to the organization’s World Energy Outlook, the U.S. could become a net exporter of natural gas by 2020 as a result of advances in drilling, including for shale gas, and “almost self-sufficient” in energy by 2035. In addition, once North America becomes a net oil exporter and no longer reliant on countries such as Saudi Arabia, nearly 90 percent of Middle Eastern oil will be exported to China and other Asian nations. While the report projects that energy demand worldwide will increase by one-third by 2035, it also suggests that the global market can achieve energy savings equivalent to nearly 20 percent of total current demand during that period. “In other words, energy efficiency is just as important as unconstrained energy supply,” said Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the IEA. “And increased action on efficiency can serve as a unifying energy policy that brings multiple benefits.”
PERMALINK

 

09 Nov 2012: U.S. Pledges Stronger Role
in Stemming Global Trade in Wildlife

The Obama Administration has vowed renewed commitments to help stem the international trade in wildlife, including the use of U.S. intelligence agencies to track poaching of elephants, rhinos, and other
African savanna elephant bulls at a water hole in Sub-Saharan Africa

TRAFFIC/Martin Harvey/WWF-Canon
African savanna elephant bull.
animals in Africa and Asia. Speaking to a group of conservationists and diplomatic leaders on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said an expanding middle class worldwide has spawned a booming demand for rare species and animal parts that is being supplied by increasingly violent organized gangs and corrupt officials who terrorize communities and overwhelm local law enforcement. In addition to decimating the natural world, Clinton said, this booming trade has dire economic impacts and poses a growing threat to the security of nations worldwide, including U.S. interests. In a series of initiatives, the U.S. will bolster intelligence efforts to track poaching and assess its security impacts and work with other nations to expand and strengthen law enforcement.
PERMALINK

 

08 Nov 2012: Molecular ‘Trap Door’ Method
May Reduce Costs of Carbon Capture

Australian scientists have developed a method for trapping carbon dioxide that they say could ultimately reduce the costs of separating and storing carbon from fossil fuel emissions. Writing in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers from the University of Melbourne say they have produced an ultra-fine sieve that separates only carbon dioxide from a gas stream, acting as a sort of “molecular trapdoor.” According to the study, the new method — which can be used in power plants or during natural gas extraction — uses a chemical called a chabazite that allows carbon dioxide to pass through but blocks other chemicals. While many such existing carbon capture technologies use similar “sieves,” they often require additional stages of refining and extraction before yielding a pure form of CO2. “Because [the new process] allows only carbon dioxide molecules to be captured, it will reduce the cost and energy required for separating carbon dioxide,” said Paul Webley, a professor at the University of Melbourne and one of the study’s authors.
PERMALINK

 

07 Nov 2012: Green Ballot Initiatives
Rejected by Voters in California, Michigan

Two closely watched state ballot initiatives endorsed by environmental groups went down to defeat on Tuesday, as voters in California rejected a proposal that would have required the labeling of all genetically modified crops and Michigan voters soundly defeated a measure that would have required stricter renewable standards on electric utilities. In California, Prop. 37 was backed by the organic food industry and consumer groups but faced rising opposition in recent weeks in the form of a $44 million advertising campaign funded largely by the biotechnology sector, including agribusiness giant Monsanto. While advocates said they have the right to know what’s in the their food, opponents warned voters that the initiative would cost families hundreds of dollars annually in higher grocery costs. According to the Los Angeles Times, the measure was losing, 57 percent to 42 percent, with most precincts reporting. In Michigan, a ballot initiative that would have required utilities to generate 25 percent of their power from green sources by 2025 also triggered a major ad blitz by opponents, including the state’s utilities.
PERMALINK

 

06 Nov 2012: World’s Rarest Whale Species
Identified After New Zealand Beaching

Scientists have confirmed that two whales that washed onto the New Zealand coast two years ago were spade-toothed beaked whales, an enigmatic species so rare that no human is known to have ever seen one alive. Writing in the journal Current Biology, New Zealand and U.S. researchers provide the first full description of the species, which previously was known only from three skull fragments recovered over a 140-year span, the most recent of which was found 26 years ago. When conservation workers initially found the adult whale and her 11-foot male calf on a New Zealand beach in December 2010, they thought they were Gray’s beaked whales, a far more common species. But DNA tests of tissue samples collected from the animals revealed that they were actually spade-toothed beaked whales (Mesoplodon traversii), a species whose males have blade-like tusk teeth, and researchers later exhumed the whales to conduct additional tests.
PERMALINK

 

05 Nov 2012: China and Russia Block
Proposal to Protect Antarctic Waters

International talks to protect large areas of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica collapsed last week after several nations, including China, blocked the proposal over concerns about fishing access, according to reports. Representatives from 25 member states — including China, Russia, the U.S., the European Union — gathered in Australia to negotiate plans that would have protected approximately 4 million square kilometers in the Southern Ocean, including provisions that would have banned industrial fishing operations. Some regions would have also been set aside for scientific research into the effects of climate change on polar ecosystems. According to The Australian newspaper, China and Russia were among the nations that rejected the plans. Alex Rogers, a conservation biologist at the University of Oxford, told Nature that the stalled talks reflect a wider “global dichotomy” about how to manage marine resources, with some states looking to impose greater conservation and management policies and others targeting increased exploitation. “Time really is running out on these issues,” he said. “If we don’t get protection in place now, exploitation of these systems will increase.”
PERMALINK

 

05 Nov 2012: Reduced Snowpacks Allowing
Trees to Invade U.S. Mountain Meadows

Some mountain meadows in the U.S. Northwest are steadily disappearing as the effects of climate change have allowed trees to invade the ecosystemsin recent decades, a new study says. In an analysis of Jefferson

Click to enlarge
Mount Jefferson Mountain Meadow

Oregon State University
A meadow at the base of Mount Jefferson.
Park, a 330-acre subalpine meadow complex in the Oregon Cascades once covered with grasses, shrubs and wildflowers, researchers found that tree occupation increased from 8 percent in 1950 to 35 percent in 2007, a rapid shift they say reflects a wider trend in many areas of the U.S. West. According to scientists, rising temperatures and a reduction in snowpack duration were critical factors in the invasion of mountain hemlocks, saying the extended growing season significantly increased chances of the trees’ survival. “Once trees become fully established, they tend to persist, and seed banks of native grass species disappear fairly quickly,” said Harold Zald, of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, the lead author of the study published in Landscape Ecology. “The meadows form an important part of forest biodiversity, and when they are gone, they may be gone forever.”
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

01 Nov 2012: Family Tree for Birds Reveals
Steady Diversification of Avian Species

A team of scientists has compiled what it calls the most comprehensive “family tree” of birds ever assembled, an evolutionary history that reveals that the world’s avian species have become increasingly biologically diverse in recent geological epochs, challenging the conventional wisdom of biodiversity experts. Using fossil evidence, DNA data, and geographical information collected from across the globe, the researchers categorized each of the 9,993 known bird species into a comprehensive lineage, creating a “full global picture of diversification” in space and time. While other types of species have seen declines in biodiversity as available “niches” become filled, the researchers found that the speciation of birds has actually accelerated over the last 50 million years. “Many parts of the globe have seen a variety of species groups diversify rapidly and recently,” said Walter Jetz, a Yale University biologist and lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature. The authors suggest this accelerated rate of diversification may be the result of group-specific adaptations, the opening of new habitats, and the inherent mobility of many bird species that has allowed them migrate to new regions and exploit ecological opportunities.
PERMALINK

 

01 Nov 2012: Timelapse of Hurricane Sandy
Shows Birth and Death of Historic Storm

As the storm that was Hurricane Sandy weakened over Pennsylvania, NASA released a timelapse animation of the lifespan of the massive storm, tracking its path from the Caribbean, where it developed, to its violent landfall on the mid-Atlantic coast of the U.S. The collection of images, taken by the NASA GOES-13 satellite from Oct. 23 to Oct. 31, illustrates the storm gaining intensity as it traveled north, at times reaching nearly 1,000 miles in width. When the storm reached the mid-Atlantic on Oct. 29, it became wedged between a cold front over the Appalachian Mountains and a high-pressure air mass over maritime Canada, preventing it from moving north or east and instead driving it ashore. At that point Sandy became a Nor’easter, triggering historic storm surges in coastal areas of New York and New Jersey and blizzard conditions in the mountain regions. Meteorologists say the swath of high winds produced by Sandy while it was a hurricane covered nearly 2 million square miles.
PERMALINK

 

Photo Gallery: A Quest to Document
The Earth’s Disappearing Glaciers


Since 2007, photographer James Balog has deployed dozens of time-lapse cameras on four continents to chronicle one of the starkest examples of global warming — the rapid melting of the world’s glaciers. That project, known as the Extreme Ice Survey and carried out in collaboration with leading glaciologists, is captured in an e360 gallery of his photos selected from his new book, Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers. In an accompanying interview with Yale Environment 360, Balog discusses what has driven him to devote so much of his life to “preserving the visual memory” of a vanishing landscape. “We’re telling a story about what’s happening right here, right now, as a consequence of human action,” he says. “I think it’s vital to keep telling that story.”
View a photo gallery
PERMALINK

 

31 Oct 2012: U.S. Honeybees Have Developed
Resistance to Antibiotic, Study Says

Honeybees in the U.S. have developed widespread resistance to the antibiotic tetracycline, likely as a result of decades of exposure to preventive antibiotics in domesticated hives, a new study has found. In tests conducted on bees in several countries, scientists from Yale University say they identified eight tetracycline resistance genes in U.S. honeybees that were largely absent in bees found in places where the antibiotics are banned. In the U.S., the use of oxytetracycline — a compound similar to tetracycline — has been common since the 1950s to help prevent outbreaks of “foulbrood,” a bacterial disease that can devastate honeybee hives. “There’s a pattern here, where the U.S. has these genes and the other [countries] don’t,” said Nancy Moran, a lead author of the study published in the journal mBio. The authors warn that the treatment meant to prevent disease and strengthen honeybee hives in the U.S. may have actually weakened the bees’ ability to fight off other pathogens.
PERMALINK

 

In New York, The Rising Threat Of
Flooding Was Predicted for Years

While climate experts hesitate to say Hurricane Sandy was caused by climate change, scientists for years have predicted that such devastating events would become increasingly common as sea levels rise and ocean

View Gallery
MOMA

MOMA
Rising Currents: A 2010 exhibit showed visions of New York adapting to climate change.
temperatures become warmer. For more than a decade, reports have warned that climate change will likely trigger more intense hurricanes and more frequent and severe flooding in low-lying areas, such as occurred in New York and New Jersey. And with sea levels projected to rise by as much as six inches per decade by mid-century and as much as several feet by 2100, experts say New York City’s flood zone will continue to expand. In Sandy's wake, New York officials are starting to discuss projects that might withstand such surges, including building a levee system or barriers.
PERMALINK

 

30 Oct 2012: Vulnerability of Infrastructure
Revealed During Hurricane Sandy

The storm that crippled the New York City region has revealed the extreme vulnerability of its transportation and electricity infrastructure and highlights the need to better protect subways, tunnels, low-lying roads, and power substations as sea levels rise

View gallery
New York City flooding Sandy

Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Flooding in New York City’s Financial District
and storms produce higher seawater surges in the future. New York City and the surrounding area experienced unprecedented damage to its transportation infrastructure, with the subway system knocked out for an estimated four to five days, several major tunnels flooded, regional rail lines crippled, and highways and roads underwater. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday morning that the city and the state may have to consider building a levee to protect lower Manhattan, where waters rose 10 feet above flood stage. Other experts suggested that other significant steps will have to be taken to protect New York City, including building sea gates that would keep surging storm waters out of New York Harbor. Climate scientists said that the impact of hurricanes can be expected to become more severe as temperatures increase and sea levels rise by an estimated three to six feet this century.
PERMALINK

 

29 Oct 2012: Photos Reveal Finch Species
Long Thought Vanished on Tibetan Plateau

Photos taken in a remote region of the Tibetan Plateau have revealed the existence of a rare species of finch long thought to have vanished. During a trip to Xinjiang, China in June, a French photographer

Click to enlarge
Sillem’s mountain finch

Photo by Yann Muzika
The Sillem’s mountain finch
snapped images of what ornithologists believe is a Sillem’s mountain finch (Leucosticte sillemi), a species that previously was known only by two specimens collected from the same region of China, located about 16,400 feet above sea level, in 1929. When the photographer, Yann Muzika, was unable to identify the bird, he sent the photographs to the UK-based Oriental Bird Club (OBC), where editor Krys Kazmierczak immediately thought of the mysterious finch. “The words ‘Sillem’s Mountain Finch’ simply popped into my head, and I sat there for a little while somewhat awestruck,” Kazmierczak wrote to OBC supporters. It wasn’t until 1992 that, based on the two specimens collected in 1929, a Dutch ornithologist determined that the finch represented a distinct species. Ornithologists say additional field research, perhaps including the collection of blood samples for DNA testing, will be required to confirm the bird’s identity.
PERMALINK

 

26 Oct 2012: Digital Atlas App Documents
Human Effects on the Natural World

A team of UK-based developers has created an interactive app that enables users to explore a trove of global data on several critical issues, including how human populations are impacting the natural world and

View images
Atlas by Collins

Collins
Mapping world trends: Carbon emissions
the production and consumption of energy resources. Released this month, Atlas by Collins uses a series of 3D globes to illustrate seven topics, including energy, the environment, politics, and population. The digital atlas contains data from every nation and more than 200,000 geographical sites, including cities, landmarks, and natural features. Users can compare trends in population, pollution, and forest loss, and trace the shifting dynamics of the distribution of energy resources. The app allows viewers to swipe across the planet’s surface and click key points to zoom to street-level detail using Apple Maps and Google Maps. 
PERMALINK

 

25 Oct 2012: Rapid Thinning of Glaciers
Seen After Collapse of Antarctic Ice Shelf

NASA has released satellite photos that vividly depict the precipitous thinning and retreat of two Antarctic glaciers following the disintegration of the Larsen B Ice Shelf. That ice shelf — which floated on top of the

Click to enlarge
Green Glacier Changes 2002 2012

NASA
Thinning of Hektoria and Green glaciers, 2002-2012.
Weddell Sea and once was the size of Connecticut — collapsed in 2002 after several years of warm summer temperatures. The Larsen B had acted as a buttress slowing the flow of numerous glaciers into the sea. The NASA satellite images, taken in 2002 and in 2012, demonsrate how swiftly the Green and Hektoria glaciers behind the ice shelf surged into the ocean. The 2002 photo shows the glaciers covering much of nearby mountain ridges and the termini, or end points, of the glaciers are not visible. The 2012 photo shows that the thinning glaciers now cover considerably less of surrounding mountain ridges and the termini of both glaciers are visible. The 2012 image also shows the numerous crevasses that have formed as the glaciers have thinned.
PERMALINK

 

24 Oct 2012: Plastic Waste Increasing
On Remote Arctic Seabed, Cameras Reveal

Deep-sea cameras deployed to monitor biodiversity on the Arctic seabed have documented a significant rise in the amount of plastic waste and other litter on the remote sea floors of the Far North, according to a new study. While looking at many thousands of seabed photos taken in 2011 between Greenland and the Norwegian island of Spitzbergen, deep-sea expert Melanie Bergmann of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research was struck by the number showing plastic waste. In a detailed analysis of the photographs — which are taken every 30 seconds by a deep-sea observatory reaching depths of 2,500 meters — Bergmann and her colleagues found that while plastic waste was seen in only one percent of photographs taken in 2002, that number had jumped to 2 percent in 2011. Two percent may not seem like a high occurrence, Bergmann said, but the quantities observed in this remote Arctic region were greater than recorded in a deep-sea canyon near Lisbon, Portugal. According to the study, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, about 70 percent of the plastic litter had come in contact with deep-sea organisms.
PERMALINK

 

23 Oct 2012: French Panel Rejects Study
That Linked GM Corn to Cancer in Rats

An independent state panel in France has rejected the findings of a recent controversial study that linked genetically modified corn to cancer in rats, but the panel did recommend long-term research into the risks of genetically engineered food. In the report, requested by the French government, the Higher Biotechnologies Council (HCB) found “no causal relationship” between an increase in tumors in rodents and the consumption of GM corn or the widely used herbicide, Roundup, both of which are produced by the biotech giant Monsanto. The study, published in September in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, had claimed that the consumption of Roundup-tolerant GM corn increased the incidence of cancer in rats. On the contrary, the HCB researchers said, “the data are insufficient to establish scientifically a causal link... or to support the conclusions or pathways suggested by the authors.” To address public concerns, however, the panel did recommend that a “long-term, independent, transparent study, with adversarial views, be undertaken under government auspices.”
PERMALINK

 

22 Oct 2012: Shifting Arctic Wind Patterns
May Cause Increased Melt, Study Says

U.S. scientists say unusual air pressure patterns over the Arctic during the month of June in recent years have altered wind patterns in the region, funneling warmer air into the Arctic and contributing to record low Arctic

View images
NOAA Arctic Wind Patterns

NOAA
Air pressure over the Arctic, 2007-2012.
summer sea ice extent from 2007 to 2012. Writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a team of researchers illustrated how the formation of two unusual high pressure areas over the North American Arctic and Greenland disrupted the normal westerly flow of winds, creating “blocking highs” that led to an unusually strong flow of warm southerly air. That sent more warm air into the central Arctic and Greenland, which may have been a factor in unusually dramatic summer thaws beginning in 2007. While it is unclear why these unusual patterns of high pressure have occurred in each of the last six Junes, NOAA researcher James Overland believes it may be related to declining snow cover in the Canadian Arctic in recent years. “We don’t know that part of the story yet,” he said.
PERMALINK

 

Solar Geoengineering Projects
Could Be More Effective on Regional Scale

A new modeling study by several geoengineering experts suggests that injecting aerosols into the atmosphere to block more of the sun’s energy and reduce temperatures could be most effective when done on a region-by-region basis. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, said that injecting aerosols over the Arctic Ocean in summer, for example, might be an effective way to not only slow the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice but possibly even restore it to pre-industrial levels. The researchers — led by David Keith of Harvard University, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, and Douglas McMartin of the California Institute of Technology — cautioned that their models were rough and that bringing about changes in regional climate patterns can have global effects. But they said the study shows the need for more detailed research into how solar geoengineering techniques could be used to slow or reverse the effects of climate change on rapidly warming areas. “Our research goes a step beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to explore how careful tailoring of solar geoengineering can reduce possible inequalities and risks,” said Keith.
PERMALINK

 

19 Oct 2012: Increased Ocean Acidification
May Alter The Acoustics of Seawater

Increased ocean acidification over the next century could alter the acoustic properties of seawater, giving the planet’s oceans the same hi-fi sound they had during the age of the dinosaurs. In an analysis of ocean acidity over 300 million years, U.S. researchers David G. Browning and Peter M. Scheifele calculated that increased ocean acidity as a result of global warming will have a negative effect on the absorption of low-frequency sounds. By 2100, they predict, sounds near the oceans surface, such as whale songs or sounds created by ships, will travel perhaps twice as far as they do today. The scientists based their calculations on historic levels of boron in seafloor sediments and an analysis of its sound-absorption traits and impacts on low-frequency transmission. “[This knowledge] impacts the design and performance prediction of sonar systems,” said Browning, who will present the findings at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. “It affects estimation of low frequency ambient noise levels in the ocean. And it's something we have to consider to improve our understanding of the sound environment of marine mammals and the effects of human activity on that environment."
PERMALINK

 

18 Oct 2012: Increased Nutrient Levels
May Drive Collapse of Salt Marsh, Study Says

Increasing levels of nutrients seeping from septic systems and lawn fertilizers may be driving the steady decline of salt marshes that has occurred along the U.S. East coast in recent decades, a new study has found.
Salt Marsh
David S. Johnson/MBL
While scientists had long believed that salt marshes have an unlimited capacity for removing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, a long-term experiment by researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Mass. found that nutrient enrichment can drive salt-marsh loss. Over nine years, the researchers added amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus to tidal waters flushing through salt marsh in an undeveloped coastal area consistent with the nutrient levels present in developed areas such as Cape Cod, Mass. and Long Island, N.Y. Within a few years, they observed wide cracks in the grassy banks of tidal creeks; eventually, the researchers say, the banks would collapse altogether into the creek. “The long-term effect is conversion of a vegetated marsh into a mudflat, which is a much less productive ecosystem,” said Linda Deegan, an MBL scientist and an author of the study published in Nature.
PERMALINK

 

17 Oct 2012: Chinese Report Acknowledges
Nuclear Safety Concerns at Reactors

In a new report, the Chinese government has laid out a plan to upgrade the security at its nuclear power reactors over the next decade, suggesting that the country may be ready to resume a planned expansion of
Nuclear Power Reactor China
Feng Li/Getty Images
Inspector at a Zhejiang construction site
its nuclear sector halted in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. The Ministry of Environmental Protection report indicates that roughly 80 billion yuan ($12.75 billion) will be required by 2015 to upgrade radioactive-contamination controls at the nation’s plants to international standards. Making the challenge more complicated, the report said, is the variety of reactors in place across China and “multiple standards of safety.” “The current [nuclear] safety situation isn’t optimistic,” the report said. The report recommended the phasing out of older nuclear reactors and an increased emphasis on research and development into nuclear safety and radioactive waste handling. While not specifying any timeline, the report suggested the nation is getting closer to restarting the approval process for new plants, which was suspended in 2011 following the nuclear crisis in Japan.
PERMALINK

 

17 Oct 2012: Elevated Levels of CO2
May Impair Cognitive Abilities, Study Says

Elevated levels of carbon dioxide in indoor settings can have a detrimental effect on decision-making abilities and work performance, according to a new study. In a series of tests, U.S. researchers exposed 22 healthy adults to different levels of carbon dioxide concentrations (600 parts-per-million, 1,000 ppm, and 2,500 ppm) in an office-like room. Under each condition, the participants were asked to take a computer-based test that measured their decision-making abilities. According to the findings, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives , the participants’ performance declined notably on six of nine tests when CO2 levels were increased to 1,000 ppm; performance declined substantially on seven of the tests when levels were bumped to 2,500 ppm. Earlier research has associated increased student absences and poorer performance with higher CO2 levels, said William Fisk, a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of the study. “But we never thought CO2 was actually responsible,” he said. “We assumed it was a proxy for other [pollutants].”
PERMALINK

 

16 Oct 2012: Increasingly Severe Droughts
Could Transform U.S. Forests, Study Says

Severe drought conditions in the southwestern U.S. in recent years could become normal in the years to come, a shift that could trigger increased tree mortality and ultimately transform the region’s forests, a new study says. In an analysis of tree-ring data from conifer trees dating back to A.D. 1000, a team of scientists concluded that while the region endured several “mega-droughts” over the last 1,000 years, the long-term drought that began in the late-1990s could end up being the worst yet and may portend even drier periods in the future. After modeling the level of stress caused by droughts on forests — and considering other factors caused by these changes, including bark-beetle outbreaks and wildfires — the researchers calculated that tree mortality over the next four decades will be worse than at any time over the last 1,000 years. “With increasing drought stress, our forests of tomorrow will hardly resemble our forests of yesterday,” said Henri Grissino-Mayer, a geography professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and one of the authors of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
PERMALINK

 

16 Oct 2012: Online Atlas Illustrates
Critical Areas for World’s Seabirds

A new online atlas provides the first global inventory of ocean sites critical to the world’s seabirds, a free digital resource that its creators hope will help guide protective policies and the creation of conservation areas globally. The site (www.birdlife.org/datazone/marine), which

Click to enlarge
BirdLife International Seabird Atlas

BirdLife International
Atlas of critical seabird areas
was created by the group BirdLife International, identifies 3,000 important sites that are critical to seabirds, from penguins to sandpipers, including breeding grounds, foraging areas, and migration routes. These so-called “important bird areas” (IBAs) comprise about 6.2 percent of the world’s oceans, according to BirdLife International. While seabirds are particularly vulnerable to threats because of the great distances they travel across international waters, many conservation groups have cited a lack of data as a reason for inaction in protecting these areas, Ben Lascelles of BirdLife International told Reuters.
PERMALINK

 

15 Oct 2012: ‘Rogue’ Geoengineering Scheme
In Pacific Violated UN Rules, Groups Say

A project sponsored by a controversial U.S. businessman dumped about 100 tons of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean this summer, an experiment in geoengineering that environmental groups say violated international agreements, The Guardian has reported. According to the report, satellite images appear to confirm that the iron dumped from a fishing boat sponsored by Russ George, the former CEO of Plankton Inc., triggered a nearly 10,000-squre-kilometer plankton bloom off Canada’s west coast. Some researchers believe this technique could emerge as a critical strategy in reducing the effects of climate change since such blooms are capable of sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and ultimately trapping it deep in the ocean. The experiment took place west of the islands of Haida Gwaii, where George convinced the council of an indigenous village to approve the project. Critics say it should not have taken place without proper scientific assessment and violated existing UN resolutions. Scientists say it is unclear whether such iron fertilization damages ocean ecosystems, triggers toxic tides, or worsens the effects of ocean acidification.
PERMALINK

 

12 Oct 2012: New Disney Paper Policy
Promises Responsible Use and Sourcing

The Walt Disney Co., the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, has announced a dramatic shift in how the company will use and source paper, vowing to minimize the amount of paper it uses overall and eliminate its purchase of irresponsibly harvested timber products. In an announcement, the multinational media company, which had been under pressure from forest activists, said it would increase its use of recycled paper and paper products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and will avoid products coming from what it called “high conservation-value” and “high carbon-value” forests. In addition, executives say they will work with the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and other groups to identify "regions with poor forest management and high rates of deforestation,” including Indonesia, where rampant deforestation for pulp and paper products is decimating rainforests. The policy shift comes two years after RAN launched a campaign against Disney, citing evidence that its publishing arm, which produces 50 million books and 30 million magazines annually, was using hardwood pulp likely sourced in Indonesia rainforests.
PERMALINK

 

11 Oct 2012: Norway Proposes CO2 Tax Hike
To Increase Climate Mitigation Funds

Norway has announced plans to nearly double its carbon tax on the nation’s offshore petroleum sector to create a £1 billion fund to help combat the effects of climate change, including in developing nations. In a draft budget released this week, government officials proposed a climate program that would increase the tax on oil companies from about £24 per ton of carbon dioxide to £45 (Nkr410) per ton. The plan would allocate about £1 billion (Nkr10 billion) to promote green energy initiatives, reduce carbon emissions, and improve food security in developing countries. In addition, Norway would pledge about £44 million to help developing nations preserve tropical forests, which play a critical role in storing carbon. Norway has previously helped fund efforts to reduce deforestation in Brazil, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. These new plans come as the oil-rich nation looks to expand its oil exploration into the Barents Sea between Norway and Russia.
PERMALINK

 

11 Oct 2012: Group Calls for Swift Growth
Of Carbon Capture-and-Storage Facilities

An industrial group says that to avoid “dangerous climate change” an additional 55 facilities that capture carbon from power plants and store it underground must be built by 2020. The group, the Global CCS Institute, said that only one new carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) plant was built in the past year, bringing the current number to 75. The institute acknowledged that the goal of building 130 CCS plants by 2020 was unlikely, but argued that the technology is a proven method of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and vital to future strategies to slow global warming. The institute said that just eight of the 75 plants now in operation have achieved a greater reduction in CO2 emissions that all other greenhouse gas reduction efforts instituted in the UK and Australia. CCS Institute President Brad Page said that governments should treat CCS technology as they do other low-carbon initiatives, like solar and wind power, which often receive subsidies and other government aid designed to encourage the growth of renewable energy.
PERMALINK

 

10 Oct 2012: Software Maps CO2 Emissions
Down to Building and Street Levels

A team of U.S. researchers has developed a software system that they say documents carbon dioxide emissions in urban areas down to the level of individual buildings or street segments. Using publicly available

Click to enlarge
Map Carbon Emissions at Street Level Indianapolis

Bedrich Benes and Michel Abdul-Massih
Annual carbon emissions, Indianapolis
data on local pollution, traffic counts, and building uses — as well as models of building-by-building energy consumption — the researchers from Arizona State and Purdue universities were able to create three-dimensional maps detailing carbon emissions. The researchers hope the software will provide insights into urban CO2 sources and help guide public policy on climate change and sustainable energy use. “Cities have had little information with which to guide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — and you can’t reduce what you can’t measure,” said Kevin Gurney, an assistant professor at Arizona State University. So far, the so-called Hestia software has been used to produce visualizations for the city of Indianapolis, but the group is also developing maps for Los Angeles and Phoenix.
PERMALINK

 

10 Oct 2012: U.S. Supreme Court Refuses
Chevron Challenge of Ecuador Damages

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Chevron Corp.’s challenge of an $18.2 billion judgment issued by an Ecuadorian court over large-scale damages caused by oil drilling in the Amazon. The Supreme Court decision is the latest development in a long legal battle that led to a ruling last year by an Ecuadorean court that Chevron had to pay the damages for massive oil dumping by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001. Chevron was challenging a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that would have effectively opened the way for worldwide enforcement of the judgment against Chevron. An Ecuadorean court found that an oil consortium run by Texaco dumped billions of gallons of oil and toxic sludge in the Amazon rainforest from 1964 through 1992, badly polluting water supplies and causing health problems among some of the 30,000 plaintiffs in the Lago Ario region. Chevron vowed to continue to fight the Ecuadorean court’s decision, which it called “fraudulent” and tainted by judicial misconduct. Chevron contends that the decision is not enforceable under New York law.
PERMALINK

 

09 Oct 2012: Facing Opposition at Home,
UK Looks to Build Wind Project in Ireland

Faced with growing opposition to land-based wind turbines in England, UK officials are looking to build hundreds of wind farms in Ireland that would generate electricity exclusively for the UK. Government officials say the £8 billion proposal, which includes the construction of more than 700 turbines in a rural area west of Dublin, would provide more than 3 gigawatts of electricity to the UK and help the nation meet its green energy goals. Officials say the project already has the approval of the government of Ireland, where there is less public resistance to wind turbines. More than 1,100 turbines are now operating in Ireland, most of which are located at 176 land-based wind farms. Costs for the proposed project are estimated at about €8 billion, about two-thirds of which would be for construction of the wind farms, with the other third used to install two large underwater cables beneath the Irish Sea. Officials say the project could be operational by 2018.
PERMALINK

 

08 Oct 2012: Indonesian Palm Oil Is
Growing Source of CO2 Emissions

The rapid expansion of palm oil plantations in the world’s tropical regions, particularly Indonesian Borneo, is becoming an increasingly significant source of global carbon emissions, a new study says. Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from Stanford and Yale universities project that the continued expansion of plantations will add more than 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2020 — an amount greater than all of Canada’s current fossil fuel emissions. Much of the expansion in recent decades has occurred in Indonesia, particularly on the island of Borneo, also known as Kalimantan. According to researchers, the loss of forest for palm oil plantations in Kalimantan led to the emission of more than 140 million metric tons of CO2 in 2010 alone, or the equivalent of the annual emissions of 28 million vehicles. About 80 percent of planting leases remained undeveloped in 2010, the study says. If all these leases are developed, more than one-third of Kalimantan’s lowlands outside of protected areas would be covered with palm oil plantations.
PERMALINK

 

05 Oct 2012: Northern Conifers Are Younger
As a Result of Extreme Climate Shifts

Extreme climate cycles in the Northern Hemisphere over millions of years altered the evolutionary history of the hemisphere’s conifer trees, encouraging the formation of new species that are millions of years younger than their counterparts in the Southern
Conifer trees
Wikimedia Commons
Hemisphere, according to a new study. In an analysis of the fossil remains and genetic makeup of 489 of the world’s roughly 600 living conifer species, scientists found that while the majority of conifers belong to ancient lineages, most of those found in the Northern Hemisphere emerged in just the last 5 million years. Scientists suggest that the migration of trees species and changes to range sizes in response to glacial cycles resulted in isolated populations and the introduction of new species. “Extreme climatic shifts through time may have favored the replacement of older lineages with those better adapted to cooler and drier conditions,” said Andrew Leslie, a Yale researcher and co-author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the Southern Hemisphere, meanwhile, fragmented habitats and mild, wetter habitats likely helped the older conifers survive with greater diversity.
PERMALINK

 

04 Oct 2012: Blue and Green Honey
Is Linked to an M&M’S Factory in France

Beekeepers in northeastern France say they have produced batches of unusually colored honey in recent months as a result of bees carrying unknown substances from a nearby plant processing waste from an M&M’S candy factory. Since August, beekeepers in the region of Alsace say they have noticed bees returning to their apiaries with colorful substances that have altered the color of their honey, turning it blue and green. After conducting some research, they discovered that a nearby biogas plant has been processing waste from a Mars candy factory that produces colorful M&M’S. The beekeepers, who are already dealing with declining bee populations, are not amused by the batches of colorful honey. “For me, it’s not honey,” Alain Frieh, president of the apiculturists’ union, told Reuters. “It’s not sellable.” While Mars did not respond with a comment, a co-manager for the biogas plant said the company has cleaned its containers and will begin storing incoming waste in a covered facility.
PERMALINK

 

04 Oct 2012: New Cleanup Method Offers
Major Solution to Oil Spills, Study Claims

Scientists have developed a superabsorbent material they say offers a cost-effective way to remove, recover and clean up large oil spills. Writing in the journal Energy & Fuels, Pennsylvania State University

Click to enlarge
Oil Spill Cleanup Method

NASA
The oil-SAP technology
researchers Xuepei Yuan and T. C. Mike Chung describe a polymer material that they say can absorb 40 times its own weight in oil, transforming spilled material into a solid, oil-containing gel that is strong enough to be collected and transported to oil refineries for reprocessing. While many of the methods typically used to clean up oil spills — including booms, skimmers, burning, and the use of dispersants — waste most of the spilled oil and leave behind significant levels of environmental pollution, the scientists say their so-called polyolefin oil-SAP technology offers a potentially “complete solution” to dealing with oil spills. They say the material does not absorb water, is buoyant, and is relatively inexpensive.
PERMALINK

 

03 Oct 2012: Major Policy Shifts Needed
To Maintain Decline in U.S. CO2 Emissions

A decline in U.S. carbon emissions in recent years is unlikely to continue over the long term unless there is a significant shift in how the nation produces and uses its energy, according to a new analysis. While several factors have triggered a 9 percent decline in annual carbon emissions in the U.S. since 2005 — including a decrease in the use of coal-fired electricity as a result of the natural gas boom — the most significant factor has been the economic recession, according to the group Climate Central. As the economy recovers, any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will likely be offset by increased incomes that drive an greater demand for vehicles, electrical appliances, and other consumer products. The report calculates that U.S. carbon emissions can be reduced 38 percent below 2005 levels by 2035 if several hypothetical changes occur. These include the number of miles driven remaining at today’s level and average vehicles achieving fuel efficiency of 55 miles-per-gallon; significant gains being made in the efficiency of energy-consuming equipment; and natural gas continuing to reduce the share of coal-burning technologies.
PERMALINK

 

03 Oct 2012: NASA Map Illustrates
Effects of Drought on U.S. Vegetation

A new NASA map shows the major effects of this summer’s record droughts on vegetation across much of the U.S., leaving a swath of parched earth that caused a shortage of food for wild and domesticated animals alike. In the map, which shows the contrast between

Click to enlarge
Summer Drought Vegetation Map NASA

NASA
Plant health during August, 2012
plant health during August and the average conditions for the month from 2002 to 2012, a vast brown area from the Rocky Mountains to the Ohio River valley illustrates regions where plant growth was below normal. The map is based on satellite data fed into the so-called Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, which measures the extent to which plant leaves absorb visible light and reflect infrared light. Drought-impacted vegetation reflects more light than healthy vegetation. “I am struck by the extraordinary depth and spatial scale of this drought,” said Molly Brown, a vegetation and food security researcher with NASA. “There is very little fodder out there for animals to eat.” Almost two-thirds of the contiguous U.S. experienced some level of drought by the end of August, with 39 percent of the nation enduring severe to extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
PERMALINK

 

02 Oct 2012: Genetically Modified Cow
Reportedly Lacks Allergy-Causing Protein

Scientists in New Zealand have produced a genetically modified cow whose milk lacks a protein that causes allergic reactions in people, particularly children. Researchers at the government-owned AgResearch
Genetically modified cow Daisy
AgResearch
Genetically modified Daisy
lab used a cloning procedure — the same one used to create Dolly the Sheep in 1996 — to produce a cow named Daisy that lacks a whey protein known as BLG, or beta-lactoglobulin protein, which provokes an allergic reaction in two to three percent of infants. Stefan Wagner, a scientist on the cloning team, said he and his colleagues now plan to investigate whether the BLG-free milk causes allergic reactions and whether the BLG-free cows will produce less milk than normal cows. Meanwhile, some scientists say that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving too slowly to decide whether to allow the production and sale of food from genetically engineered animals. These include a genetically altered salmon that grows much faster than regular salmon, and so-called enviropigs engineered to digest plant phosphorous more efficiently, which could cut feed costs and reduce levels of polluting phosphorous in manure.
PERMALINK

 

02 Oct 2012: Great Barrier Reef Lost
Half of Coral Cover Since 1985, Study Says

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral cover in just 27 years, with most of that decline coming as a result of heavy storms, predation by crown-of-thorn starfish, and coral bleaching caused by warming ocean temperatures. In a comprehensive survey of 214 reefs, researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) found that coral cover declined from 28 percent in 1985 to 13.8 percent this year. Intense tropical storms, particularly in the central and southern parts of the reef, have caused about 48 percent of the coral loss, researchers say. An explosion in populations of starfish along the reef caused about 42 percent of the decline; about 10 percent was caused by major bleaching events. Reefs are typically able to regain their coral cover after such disturbances, said Hugh Sweatman, a lead author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But recovery takes 10-20 years, he noted. The study found efforts to reduce starfish populations could help increase coral cover at a rate of 0.89 percent per year.
PERMALINK

 

01 Oct 2012: Organized Crime Groups Drive
Increase in Illegal Logging, Report Says

Illegal logging accounts for 15 to 30 percent of the global logging trade, with an increasing number of illegal operations in the world’s tropical regions being driven by organized crime, a new report says. According to the report, released by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and INTERPOL, the illegal logging trade is now worth between $30 billion and $100 billion each year and is undermining global efforts to protect forests in the world’s most important tropical regions, including the Amazon, central Africa, and Southeast Asia. “Illegal logging is not on the decline, rather it is becoming more advanced as cartels become better organized, including shifting their illegal activities in order to avoid national and local police efforts,” wrote Achim Steiner and Ronald Noble, the heads of UNEP and INTERPOL, respectively. In the Brazilian state of Pará, for example, illegally obtained permits allowed logging cartels to steal an estimated 1.7 million cubic meters of forest in 2008. A year later, Brazilian investigators uncovered a scam involving 3,000 companies illegally exporting logged timber as allegedly “eco-certified” wood.
PERMALINK

 

28 Sep 2012: Biodegradable Electronics Could
Lessen Environmental Impact of Devices

A team of U.S. scientists says it has developed a class of biodegradable electronics technology that could be utilized for a wide range of products — from consumer devices to medical implants — and that ultimately would dissolve completely, leaving no environmental
Transient Electronics
University of Illinois and Tufts University
An integrated circuit dissolves in water.
impacts. Drawing on techniques that enable the production of systems using ultrathin sheets of silicon that dissolve in liquids, the so-called “transient electronics” technology has been used experimentally to make transistors, diodes, temperature sensors, and solar cells that degrade completely in even tiny amounts of water, the researchers say. The devices are encapsulated in silk, enabling manufacturers to alter the rate of dissolution based on the structure of the silk used. According to John Rogers, a professor at the University of Illinois and leader of the research team, the technology could be used for a myriad of electronic devices that end up in landfills; for environmental monitoring equipment, such as sensors used in oil spills; and for medical implants needed for short-term diagnostic or therapeutic functions.
PERMALINK

 

28 Sep 2012: Decline in Fisheries
Can Still be Reversed, Study Says

Although the majority of global fisheries remain in decline, they can still rebound if managed sustainably, according to a new study. In a comprehensive statistical analysis of the world’s 10,000 fish stocks, nearly 80 percent of which are not regulated, a team of U.S. scientists found that the world’s smaller, managed fisheries are in far worse shape than larger, regulated ones. But while those smaller fisheries, such as those for snapper, are in steep decline, “they’re not yet collapsed,” said Christopher Costello, an economist at the University of California at Santa Barbara and lead author of the study, published in the journal Science. According to the analysis, effective management of unregulated fisheries could boost global fish abundance by 56 percent. “If we turn things around now, we can recover them in a matter of years, not decades, and that has big implications for conservation and food security,” Costello said. According to the study, major gains have been made in large fisheries, such as skipjack and albacore tuna, where strong science-based management policies have been enacted, including the closing of some areas to let stocks recover.
PERMALINK

 

27 Sep 2012: High-Arctic Summers
Are Warmer than Any Time in 1,800 years

Summer temperatures on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the High Arctic are now higher than during any time over the last 1,800 years, including a period of higher temperatures in the northern hemisphere known as the Medieval Warm Period, according to a new study. In an analysis of algae buried in deep lake sediments, a team of scientists calculated that summer temperatures in Svalbard since 1987 have been 2 to 2.5 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 4.5 degrees F) warmer than during the Medieval Warm Period, which lasted from roughly 950 to 1250 AD. The Medieval Warm Period is often cited by climate change skeptics as proof that the planet has experienced periods of high temperatures in recent centuries unrelated to the burning of fossil fuels. The algae, which make more unsaturated fats in colder periods and more saturated fats in warmer periods, reveal critical clues about past climates. Scientists were able to date the lake specimens by analyzing grains of glass emitted by a series of well-known Icelandic volcanoes that left unique chemical time markers. The study is published in the journal Geology.
PERMALINK

 

27 Sep 2012: Unusual Series of Quakes
Indicate Tectonic Breakup in Indian Ocean

Two massive earthquakes in April in the Indian Ocean and an unusual series of aftershocks may signal the formation of a new tectonic plate boundary within Earth’s surface. Reporting in the journal Nature, French

Click to enlarge
Fault Activity in the Indo-Australian plate

Keith Koper/University of Utah
Fault activity in the Indian Ocean.
scientists say that an analysis of the two April 11 earthquakes — one of magnitude 8.6 and the other of magnitude 8.2 — shows that they were not typical quakes that occur when one plate slides under another or two plates slip horizontally along a fault line. Instead, the earthquakes, caused by breaks along four faults in the Indian Ocean and accompanied by an unusually large number of aftershocks, indicate that the Indo-Australian tectonic plate may be breaking up. “It’s the clearest example of newly formed plate boundaries,” said Matthias Delescluse, a geophysicist at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. The researchers said that the massive and deadly 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, as well as another earthquake in 2005, may also have been related to the April quakes and the breakup of the Indo-Australian plate.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Using the Internet
To Identify Millions of New Species

Each year, about 18,000 new species of plants and animals are discovered and described by science — a number considered woefully inadequate by entomologist and taxonomist Quentin Wheeler. Along
Snub Nosed Monkey
Thomas Geissmann/Fauna & Flora International
Snub-nosed monkey, identified in 2010
with a group of high-profile colleagues, Wheeler, the founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University, is calling for an intensive international effort to discover the estimated 8 to 10 million species that remain unknown. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Wheeler says the time has never been more critical to carry out such a project, considering the rapid rate of biodiversity loss. But he notes that the tools now available to identify all the world’s species are impressive, most importantly the advent of what he calls “cybertaxonomy,” which harnesses the power of the Internet to take three-dimensional pictures of specimens and place millions of pages of taxonomic information online. “Unless we know what species exist,” says Wheeler, “we are at a huge disadvantage to monitor changes in biodiversity.”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

26 Sep 2012: European Solar Capacity
Grew in 2011 Despite Subsidy Cuts

Installed solar capacity continued to grow across Europe in 2011 despite a decline in subsidies for green energy continent-wide, according to a new report. Roughly 18.5 gigawatts of new solar photovoltaic energy capacity were installed in the European Union during 2011, about two-thirds of the world’s increase in PV capacity, according to the Joint Research Center of the European Commission. The EU’s overall PV capacity increased to 52 gigawatts, supplying about 2 percent of the continent's electricity needs, according to the report. Although European companies remain world leaders in the development and production of photovoltaic technology, the report projects that they will suffer in future years in the face of increased competition, particularly from Chinese companies. And while Europe remained the leading region worldwide in terms of renewable energy investment last year, the rate of investment grew faster in Asia, particularly in India, Japan, and Indonesia, the report said.
PERMALINK

 

26 Sep 2012: Self-Driving Vehicles
Approved for California Roadways

California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a law that will allow self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roadways by next year. While fully automated vehicle technology may be years away, the California law establishes safety and performance regulations for testing these cars next year — provided that the driver is ready to take control of the vehicle if needed. Several companies, including Google, are developing self-driving cars that utilize a series of sensors — including GPS, cameras, lasers, and radar — as well as data from other vehicles to learn what is around the vehicle and guide its navigation. Developers say the innovative technology has the potential to improve safety, reduce congestion, and improve fuel efficiency. “We’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality,” said Brown, who drove to the signing ceremony at Google’s Mountain View headquarters in the passenger seat of a vehicle that steered itself.
PERMALINK

 

25 Sep 2012: Sluggish Electric Car Market
Forces Discounts and Cuts by GM, Toyota

With electric vehicles still struggling to find a foothold in the mainstream market, General Motors has offered major discounts on its Chevrolet Volt to move cars off sales lots, and Toyota has scrapped plans for widespread sales of its new all-electric minicar. While
Chevrolet Volt Charging
Courtesy of GM
A Chevrolet Volt charges
GM reported a record-setting month for Volt sales in August, selling 2,800 cars, an Associated Press report found the increase was due largely to discounts of nearly $10,000, or about 25 percent off the $40,000 sticker price, including low-interest financing and cash discounts. While those sales indicate consumers will buy electric vehicles if prices are low enough, the fact that dealerships had to offer such steep discounts suggests the technology still has a long way to go before entering the consumer mainstream and becoming profitable for carmakers. Two years after Toyota announced plans to sell several thousand of its all-electric iQ minicar, the company this week said it will scale back those goals. “The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota's vice chairman, told reporters.
PERMALINK

 

25 Sep 2012: Coral Biodiversity Hotspot
Is Found in Western Indian Ocean

The western Indian Ocean, especially the waters between Madagascar and Africa, contain one of the highest levels of coral diversity worldwide, with 369 coral species identified in a recent study and more still to be identified. Scientists say the western Indian Ocean may contain as much coral biodiversity as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, though not as much as the world’s richest region for corals, the so-called coral triangle in Southeast Asia. Reporting in the journal PLoS ONE, David Obura, a scientist with the Group Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean, said that 10 percent of the species are found only in the western Indian Ocean. He said the northern end of the Mozambique Channel, between Madagascar and mainland Africa, contains roughly 250 to 300 coral species. Meanwhile, Australian scientists report that water temperatures around the Great Barrier Reef have increased steadily in the last 25 years, in some places rising as much as .5 degrees C. Such increases can contribute to coral bleaching, which can lead to mass coral die-offs.
PERMALINK

 

24 Sep 2012: Air Pollution in Europe
Shortening Lives of Urban Dwellers

Air pollution in Europe is shortening lifespans by an average of eight months and by as much as two years in the most polluted cities and regions, according to a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA). While the European Union has cut emissions of many harmful pollutants over the last decade, the report finds that nearly a third of urban dwellers are still exposed to harmful levels of airborne particulate matter, tiny pollutants small enough to penetrate the respiratory system and cause serious health ailments. About 21 percent of city dwellers are exposed to particulate matter above EU health standards. And 17 percent were exposed to higher levels of ozone, which can cause respiratory problems. “In many countries, air pollutant concentrations are still above the legal and recommended limits that are set to protect the health of European citizens,” said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA. According to the report, humans living in industrial regions of Eastern Europe face the highest exposure to harmful pollutants.
PERMALINK

 

24 Sep 2012: Majority of Undecideds Say
Global Warming Important in U.S. Election

The majority of undecided voters in the U.S. presidential race say that the candidates’ views on global warming will be an important factor in determining how they vote, according to a new poll. While very few participants called global warming their single-most important issue, about 61 percent of undecided voters say it will be one of several important issues that influence their decision. Probable voters for President Obama were far more likely to consider global warming important (75 percent) than likely Mitt Romney voters (32 percent), according to the poll, which was conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. From two-thirds to three-quarters of undecided and likely Obama voters also said they believe the president and Congress should be “doing more” about global warming. Only about a third of likely Romney voters said the president or Congress should be doing more.
PERMALINK

 

21 Sep 2012: U.S. Fishing Catch Reached
17-Year High in 2011, NOAA Says

U.S. commercial fishermen landed more than 10.1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2011, a 17-year high attributed in part to policies aimed at rebuilding fisheries nationwide, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The annual catch was 22.6 percent greater than 2010 and, with a value of $5.3 billion, a 17-percent increase in value compared with a year earlier. Officials say catch increases are evidence that fish populations are increasing due to better fisheries management. While all nine of NOAA’s fishing regions saw an increase in catch volume and value, much of the overall increase was a result of increased catches of Gulf of Mexico menhaden, Alaskan pollock, and Pacific hake. NOAA said key fisheries remain at risk, with disasters declared for the cod fishery in New England, oyster and blue crab fisheries in Mississippi, and Chinook salmon in Alaska’s Yukon and Kukokwin rivers.
PERMALINK

 

20 Sep 2012: Arctic Sea Ice Extent
Reaches a Dramatic New Low

As the summer melt season ends, Arctic sea ice extent has now fallen to an exceptionally low level, covering an area only half the size of the 1979 to 2000 average. The

Click to enlarge
Arctic Sea Ice Extent September 2012

NSIDC
Arctic sea ice extent, Sept. 16
Colorado-based National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported that as of September 16, Arctic sea ice extent was only 1.32 million square miles, which is 18 percent below the previous record low of 1.61 million square miles, set in September 2007. “We are now in uncharted territory,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze. “While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.” A key reason for the precipitous decline of sea ice extent is that Arctic Ocean ice has become so thin after years of rapidly rising temperatures in the region, with thick, multi-year ice being replaced by thin, year-old ice that swiftly melts in summer.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Shining a Light
On Africa’s Elephant Slaughter

With the mass killing of African elephants sharply escalating recently as global prices for ivory have risen, few articles have conveyed the scope and brutality of
Jeffrey Gettleman
Jeffrey Gettleman
that trade as vividly as the one written earlier this month by Jeffrey Gettleman, East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Gettleman describes how weeks in the field helped him piece together a picture of an elaborate ivory trade that is fueled largely by Chinese demand and involves elements of the military from the Congo, South Sudan, and Uganda — all of which receive some funding or training from the U.S. government. As Gettleman, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, explains, the decimation of elephant herds is emblematic of a larger problem that plagues Africa’s people and its once-rich natural heritage: state failure. “That’s why so many elephants are getting killed in central Africa because it’s probably the most unstable part of Africa and has huge areas that are just completely lawless,” says Gettleman.
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

19 Sep 2012: Fuel Consumption in New Cars
Can Be Halved by 2030, Report Says

With advanced technologies and innovative government policies, fuel consumption in new vehicles can be cut in half by 2030, saving billions of dollars in fuel costs worldwide and significantly reducing CO2 emissions, a new report by the Paris-based International Energy Agency says. According to the report, many of the technologies that could significantly improve fuel efficiency over the next two decades are already commercially available but are not widely used. For these technologies to penetrate markets globally, the report says, governments will have to introduce stronger policies, including tougher fuel economy standards and financial incentives. The report notes that strong fuel efficiency standards have been adopted in some major markets, including the U.S., the European Union, and China, but that most of the world’s emerging markets lag far behind. The report also recommends increased research, development, and demonstration of emerging technologies, including waste heat recovery devices.
PERMALINK

 

Video: Debating the Complex
Impacts of Natural Gas Fracking


At a recent panel discussion at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, a group of experts tackled the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and questions about its impacts on the environment, human health, and the U.S.’s energy future. During the discussion, which can be viewed here, former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister said the gas made accessible by fracking is more than a “bridge fuel.” Natural gas, he said, is “a highway to the future, and yes, a highway to a clean, more sustainable future.” But environmental activist Bill McKibben countered that the fracking boom is stunting the U.S.’s emerging green energy sector and does nothing to stem climate change. “Fracked gas is not a bridge into the future,” he said, “but a rickety pier out further into the lake of hydrocarbons.”
Watch the video
PERMALINK

 

18 Sep 2012: San Francisco Plan Would Give
Consumers Option of 100% Green Power

City officials in San Francisco, Calif. are considering a $19.5 million program that would give consumers the option of buying 100-percent renewable power at a higher cost. The so-called CleanPowerSF plan, which would be done in partnership with Shell Energy North America, would also invest about $2 million into the exploration of local green energy generation possibilities. If approved, city officials say, the program would slash carbon emissions during the first year by nearly 10 times the amount already achieved by the city’s green energy initiatives. According to the proposal, which is subject to a vote by the city’s Board of Supervisors, the program would increase utility bills for average customers by about $9 per month. About half of the city’s residents would automatically be enrolled in the program, but would have the chance to opt out at no charge within five months, city officials say. Neighboring Marin County has already initiated a similar program with Shell that allows customers the option of choosing renewable power.
PERMALINK

 

18 Sep 2012: Explosive Urban Growth
To Put Major Strain on Biodiversity

The world’s urban areas will expand by more than 1.2 million square kilometers by 2030, nearly tripling the area of urban development that existed worldwide in 2000, according to a new study. That development surge, researchers say, will coincide with construction of new roads, buildings, and energy and water systems, causing considerable habitat loss in critical biodiversity hotspots — including many regions that were relatively undisturbed by development only a decade ago. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Yale, Texas A&M, and Boston University predicted that nearly half of that urban expansion will occur in Asia, particularly in China and India. Urban growth will occur fastest in Africa, they say, with a projected six-fold increase in land development compared with 2000. “Given the long life and near irreversibility of infrastructure investments, it will be critical for current urbanization-related policies to consider their lasting impacts,” said Karen Seto, an associate professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and lead author of the study.
PERMALINK

 

17 Sep 2012: Most Coral Reefs At Risk
Even if Warming Limited to 2 Degrees C

Most of the world’s coral reefs will likely be subject to long-term degradation even if global warming is limited to 2 degrees Celsius, and as much as one-third of coral reef systems will likely be vulnerable to threats even under the most optimistic climate projections, a new study says. In an analysis of the potential effects of heat stress on coral reef systems under different climate change scenarios, a team of researchers found that most potential outcomes will likely trigger more frequent and intense mass-bleaching events. If global mean temperature increases exceed 2 degrees C, coral reefs “might no longer be prominent coastal ecosystems,” said Katja Frieler, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and lead author of the study, published in Nature Climate Change. Under the most optimistic scenarios — including aggressive climate mitigation and assumptions that coral systems can adapt to warming conditions — one third of the world’s coral systems would still be subject to severe degradation, the study said.
PERMALINK

 

17 Sep 2012: Forest Mortality in U.S. Declines
As Beetles Run Out of Food, Report Says

Tree deaths caused by insect infestation and disease in the western U.S. declined significantly last year, largely because mountain pine beetles have devoured so many
Mountain Pine Beetle
iStock
A mountain pine beetle
forests that they are running out of food, according to a report by the U.S. Forest Service. Researchers reported that about 6.4 million acres of forest died nationally in 2011, compared with 9.2 million acres in 2010 and a peak mortality of 11.8 million acres in 2009. Scientists say about 60 percent of the mortality was caused by one pest, the mountain pine beetle, a native insect that has decimated lodgepole and ponderosa pine forests across western North America because warmer winters are not killing off beetle larvae. While the researchers say a critical factor in the decline has been a reduced number of available lodgepoles, they say ponderosa pine and high-elevation white bark pine remain at risk. The greatest forest mortality was reported in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. “Native insects and diseases run in cycles, and right now we are grateful the trend is downward,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. He added, however, that forests still face significant threats, including from climate change and new invasive species.
PERMALINK

 

14 Sep 2012: Japanese Set Goal
To Phase Out Nuclear Power by 2040

The Japanese government says it will seek to phase out all nuclear power plants by 2040, although officials suggested that the target remains flexible. The new energy strategy, which places a 40-year lifespan on nuclear reactors and limits construction of new plants, would continue a national shift away from nuclear power following last year’s disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power station. Earlier this year Japan suspended operations at the last of its 50 nuclear power stations over public safety concerns. Most of the plants remain off-line. In announcing the new plan, Motohisa Furukawa, Japan’s minister of state for national policy, left open the possibility that five reactors that will be younger than 40 at the end of the 2030s will be allowed to remain in operation. In addition, Furukawa indicated that the central government would ultimately bow to a newly formed nuclear panel over such policy questions, the New York Times reported. Nuclear power provided nearly 30 percent of the nation’s electricity before the 2011 disaster, and many have questioned whether the country can meet its power needs without a nuclear sector.
PERMALINK

 

14 Sep 2012: New Monkey Species
Identified in Remote Region of Congo

A team of scientists has identified a new species of monkey in a remote area in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a discovery that researchers say confirms the remote African region as a biodiversity hotbed. After

Click to enlarge
Congo monkey lasula

Photo by Maurice Emetshu
The lesula
encountering one of the monkeys in captivity in a village, the researchers observed the animal, known locally as the “lesula,” in the wild and, after conducting DNA tests, confirmed that it is a unique species. Scientists say the new species has a naked face and muzzle, a blond chin, a reddish lower back and tail, and a “brilliant blue” patch of skin in the buttocks and scrotum area. The monkey, which researchers named Cercopithecus lomamiensis, is just the second new species of African monkey identified in the past 28 years. Researchers believe it was likely not identified by scientists earlier because of the remoteness of its 6,500-square-mile range. “If we’re finding new species of primates, then who knows how many new species of small mammals or lizards or insects, just to name a few, might be out there,” said Eric Sargis, a professor at Yale University and one of the co-authors of the study. The findings are published in the journal PLoS ONE.
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

12 Sep 2012: U.S. Big-Box Retail Stores
Lead Surge in Solar Power Installations

A growing number of major U.S. companies, led by the nation’s largest big-box retailers, are installing rooftop solar power systems to help cut energy costs and increase profits, a new report says. According to the report, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Vote Solar Initiative, more than 3,600 non-residential systems were activated in the U.S. during the first half of 2012, led by retail giants such as Walmart, Costco, and Kohl’s department stores, all of which have sharply increased their solar power installations in recent months. Among the top 20 U.S. companies by solar capacity, almost half are big-box retailers, according to the report. “Five or six years ago, you probably would have read about a pledge in an annual report about what they’re doing for the environment,” Rhone Resch, SEIA’s chief executive, told the New York Times. “Now what you’re seeing is it’s a smart investment that they’re making for their shareholders, and this is a standard business practice.”
PERMALINK

 

Interview: On the Trail of
South Florida’s Python Invaders

Just three decades after the invasive Burmese python became established in southern Florida, scientists believe there may now be tens of thousands of these
Burmese python
Robert Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images
Burmese python
giant snakes living across an 8,000-square-kilometer area. And python expert Michael Dorcas says they have decimated once-common native species across the region, including deer, bobcats, and raccoons. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Dorcas explains how these pythons became such a problem in South Florida, why their range could expand significantly, and why it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of them. “You can go out and you can find pythons, but you can’t go out and find all the pythons — in any area,” says Dorcas. “They’re very secretive animals. And when you have a landscape that is very vast and inaccessible, it makes it very difficult to find these snakes.”
Read the interview
PERMALINK

 

11 Sep 2012: Small Forage Fish Species
Worth 20 Percent of Global Fisheries

The world’s forage fish species — small, schooling fish such as herring and sardines that play a key role in the food web in marine ecosystems — represent about 20 percent of the global values of all marine fisheries, according to a new study. In a comprehensive analysis of dozens of food web models from around the planet, scientists from the State University of New York at Stony Brook calculated that these small fish contribute $16.9 billion to global fisheries each year, either as direct catch or as food for larger fish. According to their findings, the direct catch value for forage fish worldwide is $5.6 billion — with the largest market being the Peruvian anchoveta fishery — while the value of fisheries depending on these small fish is about $11.3 billion. “In addition to their value to commercial fishing and other industries that depend on them for their products, forage fish play valuable roles in global ecosystems while they are still in the water,” said Ellen K. Pikitch, co-lead author of the study, published in the journal Fish and Fisheries.
PERMALINK

 

10 Sep 2012: Wind Resources Could Meet
Global Energy Demands, Study Says

The earth contains enough wind energy to meet all of humanity’s power needs if future technologies are able to tap into high-altitude winds, a new study says. Using models to quantify wind energy potential, researchers at
Offshore wind turbines
Wikimedia
the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory calculated that more than 400 terrawatts of power could be extracted from the planet’s surface winds — which could be accessed with land- and ocean-based turbines — and more than 1,800 terrawatts could be generated by high-altitude winds using technologies that combine turbines and kites. Currently human civilization uses about 18 terrawatts of power. The researchers’ calculations, described in the journal Nature Climate Change, are based on geophysical limits, and do not take into account technical or economic limitations. The study said the effects of extracting enough wind power to meet current global demand would be minimal as long as turbines are scattered worldwide.
PERMALINK

 

07 Sep 2012: LED Bulbs Widening Gap
In Energy Efficiency, Report Says

While today’s light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are slightly better for the environment than compact fluorescent lamps, the energy efficiency gap will widen over the next five years as the technology and manufacturing methods of LEDs improve, according to a new report. In an analysis of the impacts of the light technologies in 15 categories — including the energy and resources required to manufacture, operate, and dispose of the bulbs — researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that CFLs caused slightly more environmental harm than existing LED technologies in all but one of the areas studied. The one exception, they said, was hazardous waste generation because existing LEDs utilize a component, called a heat sink, which requires mining, refining, and processing of the aluminum. Improved efficiencies in emerging LED technologies, however, will reduce the amount of heat produced and, in turn, the size of heat sink required. As a result, they say, LED bulbs are expected by 2017 to have 50 percent less environmental impact than today’s bulbs and 70 percent less than existing CFLs.
PERMALINK

 

07 Sep 2012: Key Asian Species Need
Urgent Recovery Plans, Group Says

The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has called on Asian nations to work together to save a handful of critically endangered species, including tigers, Asian rhinos, orangutans, Asian vultures,

View gallery
WCS Asian Species

WCS
A Mekong giant catfish.
Batagur turtles, and the Mekong giant catfish. Speaking at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress in South Korea, WCS President Christian Samper called on delegates to intensify recovery plans or face the possible extinction of some of these iconic species. The WCS painted a stark portrait of the situation: Only 3,200 Asian tigers remain in the wild, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans are experiencing steep declines, only about 40 Javan rhinos survive, Asian vultures have declined by more than 90 percent across the Indian subcontinent, populations of Mekong giant catfish have declined by more than 80 percent since 1990, and numerous species of Bagatur turtles across Asia are on the brink of extinction because of hunting and harvesting of eggs.
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

05 Sep 2012: Major Chinese City
Restricts the Number of New Cars

Government officials in Guangzhou, China’s third-largest city, have enacted measures to limit the number of new cars on city streets, a policy some analysts say reflects a broader effort by Chinese cities to protect public health and well-being in the face of worsening highway congestion. In Guangzhou, a city of 15 million people and a center for auto manufacturing, officials last week introduced license plate auctions and lotteries, a strategy that is expected to cut the number of cars by half, according to The New York Times. While the restrictions will have short-term economic impacts, government officials say they could also help reduce air and water pollution, cut long-term healthcare costs, and alleviate the city’s notorious traffic jams. “From the government’s point of view, we give up some growth, but to achieve better health for all citizens, it is definitely worth it,” said Chen Haotian, the vice director of Guangzhou’s top planning agency. Guangzhou’s efforts come as other major Chinese cities are requiring cleaner gasoline and diesel fuels, closing dirty factories, and removing older, more polluting cars from roads.
PERMALINK

 

04 Sep 2012: High Levels of DDT Found
In Breast Milk of Women in South Africa

A new study has found record levels of DDT in the breast milk of nursing women living in South African villages where the toxic pesticide has been used for decades. In samples taken from women in three malaria-stricken villages where spraying occurs inside homes, researchers found that DDT levels in their breast milk were more than 100 times greater than the highest daily dose recommended by the World Health Organization. In one sample, DDT levels were more than 300 times greater than allowed for cow’s milk, according to the study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution. “Based on the argument that ‘malaria is worse than DDT,’ people accept this spray treatment program,” said Henrik Kylin, a professor at Linköping University and one of the study’s authors. “The purpose of our project is to study the side effects, thereby creating a better basis for decisions.” Though officially banned by the UN in 2001, DDT is still used in Africa and elsewhere to eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes that kill nearly 900,000 people a year.
PERMALINK

 

04 Sep 2012: A Quarter of Liberian Land
Ceded to Logging Companies in Two Years

One quarter of Liberia’s total land area has been sold to logging companies over the last two years, a development that threatens widespread devastation in West Africa’s most heavily forested nation, a new investigation has found. According to a report by Global Witness, Save My Future Foundation and the Sustainable Development Institute, logging companies have used what the investigators call a legal loophole in the nation’s forest laws to secretly parcel out dozens of logging contracts covering 26,000 square kilometers. Created to allow landowners to cut trees on their land, these so-called Private Use Permits contain no sustainability requirements and have left 40 percent of the nation’s forests, including nearly half of Liberia’s most pristine forests, open to clearing, the report says. Under the terms of the contracts, the companies are required to pay only 1 percent of the timber’s value to the Liberian government. In response, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has suspended the head of the nation’s Forestry Development Authority and opened an investigation.
PERMALINK

 

31 Aug 2012: Method Uses DNA Technology
To Track Marine Life From Water Samples

Danish scientists say they have developed a process to detect the presence of fish and whales in local waters through the DNA analysis of water samples, an innovation that will help researchers more safely monitor biodiversity in the world’s oceans. Using sophisticated DNA sequencing technology, researchers from the University of Copenhagen say they were able to detect DNA from 15 different fish species from a half-liter sample of seawater. According to Philip Francis Thomsen, one of the authors of the study published in the journal PLoS ONE, tests of the water revealed the presence of small and large fish — including common species and species rarely or never recorded by conventional monitoring — in the waters off Denmark. “Cod, herring, eel, plaice, pilchard and many more have all left a DNA trace in the seawater,” he said. The researchers say the use of DNA technology may offer a less invasive way of monitoring marine populations than traditional methods, such as the use of trawls and pots. In addition, such DNA tests could be conducted almost anywhere and on any species, unlike typical monitoring methods that focus mostly on commercial fish species.
PERMALINK

 

31 Aug 2012: EU Ban on Incandescent
Bulbs Goes into Effect on September 1

The incandescent light bulb, in use for more than a century, will be officially banned across the European Union on September 1. Over the past three years, the
Incandescent Bulb
Wikimedia Commons
EU has been phasing out 60-watt and 100-watt incandescent bulbs, and on Saturday retailers will no longer be allowed to sell 40-watt and 25-watt bulbs. Incandescent bulbs will be replaced with compact fluorescent lights, halogen bulbs, and LED, or light-emitting diode, lights. The move is expected to save 39 terawatt-hours of electricity across the EU annually by 2020. Some consumers have complained about the quality and expense of the new light bulbs, but lighting industry executives say that prices are coming down steadily and the quality of light from the new bulbs is good. “The phase-out has ben very smooth,” said Peter Hunt, joint chief executive of the UK’s Lighting Industry association. “Concerns about poor performance of replacement bulbs have been proved wrong.”
PERMALINK

 

30 Aug 2012: Better Use of Fertilizer, Water
Can Feed Growing Population, Study Says

A new study suggests that the the world can meet the surging demand for food in the coming decades without rampant deforestation if farmers make better use of fertilizer and water resources. In an analysis of management practices and yield data for 17 major crops worldwide, researchers from McGill University in Montreal and the University of Minnesota estimated that yields for most crops can be increased 45 to 70 percent on lands already used for agriculture through more efficient fertilizer application and irrigation. Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists found that the deployment of best-practice farming could boost global yields of corn, wheat, and rice by 64 percent, 71 percent, and 47 percent, respectively. In some parts of the world, including the U.S., China, and Western Europe, the study found that far more fertilizer is used than necessary, with much of it ultimately washing into waterways. Through more efficient use of that fertilizer, nutrients could be made available for use in Eastern Europe and Western Africa without adversely affecting communities in the U.S. and China.
PERMALINK

 

30 Aug 2012: Brazilian Deforestation
Falls Sharply in Past Eight Years

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 77 percent from 2004 to 2011, but carbon emissions did not drop as steeply because of complex processes revealed during on-the-ground studies, scientists say. While analysis of satellite images showed the three-quarters drop in deforestation, researchers said that several factors — including the slow decay of roots and the later burning of wood biomass — meant that carbon emissions from deforestation fell by 57 percent during the same period, according to a study published in the journal Global Change Biology. Another reason for the 20-percent lag in carbon emissions reductions is that logging in recent years has been moving into denser Amazon forests, so even the reduced amount of deforestation is leading to higher carbon emissions, researchers said. U.S. scientists praised their Brazilian colleagues for the sophisticated new techniques used to tease out the differences between reduced deforestation and lagging emissions reductions. “That’s where you’d like the rest of the world to be, where Brazil is,” said Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Center.
PERMALINK

 

29 Aug 2012: India Approves $4 Billion Plan
To Add 6 Million Green Vehicles by 2020

The government of India has approved a 230-billion rupee strategy ($4.13 billion) to spur increased production of electric and hybrid vehicles over the next eight years, setting a target of 6 million green vehicles by 2020. The new plan, designed to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions, would attempt to close the gap between the costs of producing green vehicles in India and what consumers can afford to pay. The country’s nascent electric and hybrid car sector slowed dramatically earlier this year when the government removed subsidies of up to 100,000 rupees per vehicle, Reuters reports. According to sources, the new plan would likely include cash subsidies for consumers, increased funding for research and development, and the creation of a charging network, sources said. While specific plans remain to be worked out, S. Sundareshan, the secretary of India’s Heavy Industries ministry, said the government would provide 130 to 140 billion rupees, while private corporations would cover the rest.
PERMALINK

 

28 Aug 2012: Germany May Need to Slow
Shift to Green Energy, Official Says

Germany’s environment minister said Tuesday that the country might have to slow its shift to renewable energy to quell concerns about rising consumer costs. A year after the government decided to phase out nuclear power following Japan’s Fukushima disaster, Germany has indeed been able to increase renewable energy generation, with solar and wind incentives helping the country produce more than 25 percent of its power from cleaner sources. But that rapid growth is causing higher costs for consumers and placing an increased strain on the energy grid, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier told the Financial Times Deutschland. “These are costs that can be avoided with good planning,” Altmaier said. While a senior Social Democrat called a slower shift to renewable energy “unacceptable,” members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration are seeking legislation that would reduce the burden on consumers. On Monday, the energy group Vattenfall reported that Germany’s current green energy targets would likely require an investment of 150 billion euros by 2020, causing a 30-percent increase in electricity costs.
PERMALINK

 

28 Aug 2012: Arctic Ice Reaches Record Low

The extent of ice covering the Arctic Ocean has reached a new record low and will likely continue to retreat until mid-September, when re-freezing begins to occur, according to satellite observations. NASA and the

Click to enlarge
Arctic Sea Ice Extent, Aug. 27

NSIDC
Arctic sea ice extent, Aug. 27
U.S.-funded National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported that sea ice extent fell in the past few days to 1.58 million square miles (4.1 million square kilometers), breaking by 27,000 square miles the previous record low extent, set in September 2007. Summer sea ice extent has declined by more than 40 percent since satellites began tracking it in 1979, and sea ice now covers less than 30 percent of the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice experts say that both the extent and thickness of Arctic summer sea ice has declined so precipitously in the face of rapidly rising temperatures that the Arctic basin appears to be heading for largely ice-free summers within a decade or two. “Parts of the Arctic have become like a giant slushy,” said Walt Meier, a research scientist at the NSIDC. The disappearing sea ice is creating ever-larger areas of dark, heat-absorbing waters, which is further increasing temperatures in the Arctic and hastening the melting of Greenland’s massive ice sheets.
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

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
Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone
NASA.
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.
PERMALINK

 

23 Aug 2012: U.S. Solar Panel Maker to
Build Solar Farms in Energy-Hungry India

First Solar Inc., the U.S.-based solar panel manufacturer, plans to expand its role in the global energy industry by developing solar power farms in India, where an emerging industrial sector is looking to
First Solar Panels
First Solar Inc.
shore up energy security in the aftermath of record blackouts. The company aims to secure 20 percent of India’s photovoltaic sales by expanding beyond its role as a solar panel supplier and building large solar arrays, Sujoy Ghosh, First Solar’s new India head, told Bloomberg News. According to Ghosh, First Solar will sell electricity at below-market prices directly to private businessess looking to lock in their own power supplies in the event of electricity shortfalls. India, which last month endured blackouts that left half the nation’s 1.2 billion people without power, has a 30-gigawatt backup power market comprised of factories and businesses that currently switch to diesel generators when power fails.
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

22 Aug 2012: Solar Shingles Made from
Common Metals Offer Cheaper Energy Option

U.S. scientists say that emerging photovoltaic technologies will enable the production of solar shingles made from abundantly available elementsrather than rare-earth metals, an innovation that would make solar
Dow Solar Shingles
Dow Chemical
Solar shingles
energy cheaper and more sustainable. Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, a team of researchers described advances in solar cells made with abundant metals, such as copper and zinc. While the market already offers solar shingles that convert the sun’s energy into electricity, producers typically must use elements that are scarce and expensive, such as indium and gallium. According to Harry A. Atwater, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, recent tests suggest that materials like zinc phosphide and copper oxide could be capable of producing electricity at prices competitive with coal-fired power plants within two decades. With China accounting for more than 90 percent of the world’s rare-earth supplies, companies and nations are racing to find new sources of rare earth minerals, which are used in everything from solar panels to smart phones.
PERMALINK

 

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

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

Click to enlarge
Drought Mississippi River

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

 

21 Aug 2012: Cloud Brightening Scheme
Should Be Tested Over Oceans, Scientists Say

An international group of scientists has urged a small-scale experiment to test the viability of creating human-made clouds as a way to counter the effects of global warming. Writing in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the scientists say
Geoengineering conceptualization
John McNeill
there should at least be a scientific debate over the possibilities of so-called cloud brightening, a process that involves sending particles, in this case sea water, into the atmosphere to create clouds that would, theoretically, reflect a greater amount of sunlight back into space. While ethical and political questions remain about such geoengineering schemes, that is no reason to not test the technology, said Rob Wood, a University of Washington physicist and one of the paper’s authors. In the paper, the scientists suggest a small-scale test in which salt water is sprayed from a ship or barge followed by airborne measurements of the physical and chemical characteristics of the resulting clouds.
PERMALINK

 

20 Aug 2012: Process Turns Starbucks’ Waste
Into Ingredients for Consumer Products

A team of scientists is working with the Starbucks coffee chain to develop a bio-refinery process that would convert the company’s discarded coffee grounds and day-old bakery goods into a key ingredient for making plastics and other products. The process, which will be described at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, builds on existing technology that converts corn, sugar cane, and other plant-based products into the ingredients for biofuels and other consumer products. According to researchers, the process involves blending the bakery waste with a mixture of fungi that breaks down carbohydrates in the food into simple sugars. They are ultimately converted into succinic acid, a material that can be used to make a range of products, including plastics, detergents, and medicines. While most experts say using crops for such purposes would not be sustainable, targeting food waste is an attractive alternative, said Carol S. K. Lin, of the City University of Hong Kong, who was leader of the research team.
PERMALINK

 

20 Aug 2012: German Shift from Nuclear
Triggers an Increase in Coal Burning

The German government’s decision to phase out all of the nation’s nuclear power plants following the 2011 Fukushima disaster has led to an increase in coal-burning within Europe’s largest economy. Coal consumption in Germany has grown by 4.9 percent since Chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans to shift away from nuclear power over the next decade, according to a Bloomberg News report. While German leaders intended the new policy to strengthen the nation’s reliance on renewable energy, Germany’s largest utilities have built coal plants instead of cleaner-burning natural gas projects because coal plants are cheaper. The collapse of the European Union's carbon permit costs also means that there is little penalty for burning coal. “Angela Merkel’s policy has created an incentive structure which has the effect of partially replacing nuclear with coal, the dirtiest fuel that’s responsible for much of the growth in the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions since 1990,” Dieter Helm, an energy policy professor at the University of Oxford told Bloomberg News.
PERMALINK

 

17 Aug 2012: Triage System for Plant Species
Devised Based on Geographic Range

With an increasing number of plant species worldwide facing growing threats, from climate change to invasive species, a team of U.S. scientists has developed a process to more rapidly evaluate those plants facing the greatest risks of extinction. Writing in the journal
persicaria-hispida NYBG
Bill Carr/NYBG
Biodiversity and Conservation, the scientists from the New York Botanical Garden describe a triage method to identify at-risk species based on data from plant research collections and geographic information systems (GIS) technology. According to the scientists, the standard conservation assessment process, developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — which uses a rigorous process to classify species as “extinct,” “least concern,” “endangered,” and “critically endangered” — is limited because it requires large amounts of data that simply do not exist for most species. While there are 300,000 known plant species, they say, only 15,000 species have been evaluated under the IUCN process. As an alternative, they propose a simpler process that classifies species as either “at risk” or “not at risk” based on the key criterion of the size of its geographical range.
PERMALINK

 

17 Aug 2012: TransCanada Begins Building
Southern Leg of Keystone Pipeline in Texas

The Canadian company, TransCanada, has begun construction on the U.S. leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, installing segments in east Texas even as the fate of the pipeline’s northern leg remains in question. Company officials confirmed that work began Aug. 9 on the section of the pipeline that will run from Oklahoma to Texas, just weeks after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the final construction permit. TransCanada, which ultimately hopes to build a pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in Texas, has agreed to relocate the northern section of the pipeline after the Obama administration, citing possible threats to Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region, rejected a permit for the entire project. If U.S. officials approve the revised northern section of the pipeline, construction could begin in early 2013, a company spokesman said. Pipeline opponents have already launched protests at construction sites in Texas, and say they will stage future demonstrations in an effort to block the pipeline.
PERMALINK

 

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.”
PERMALINK

 

16 Aug 2012: Ocean Health Index Evaluates
State of Waters Around the Globe

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

Click to enlarge
Ocean Health Index

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

 

15 Aug 2012: Belo Monte Dam Halted By
Brazilian Judge Over Lack of Consultation

A Brazilian judge has ordered a suspension of the controversial Belo Monte dam project, saying that local indigenous people who will be affected by the massive hydroelectric project were not sufficiently consulted
Belo Monte Dam
Divulgação/Norte Energia
Illustration of the Belo Monte proposal
during the environmental assessment process. In a ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Souza Prudente of the Federal Tribunal of Brazil’s Amazon region found that no consultations were held with local communities before Congress approved what would be the world’s third-largest dam project. The $16 billion project, which is expected to produce 11,000 megawatts of energy, would flood 260 square miles of rainforest in Brazil’s Para state and displace more than 20,000 people who depend on free-flowing rivers for their livelihoods. “Legislators can only give the go-ahead if the indigenous communities agree with the project,” Prudente wrote. The developer of the project, Norte Energia, will be fined $250,000 per day if construction on the project continues. The company says it will appeal the decision.
Watch an e360 video report
PERMALINK

 

15 Aug 2012: Wildlife Vanishing in Brazil’s
Fragmented Atlantic Forest, Study Says

The fragmentation of tropical forests in eastern Brazil as a result of agricultural expansion and other human activities has decimated biodiversity even within the pockets of forest that still remain, a new study has found. Using wildlife surveys and interviews conducted at 196 forest fragments across a 253,000-square-kilometer region inside Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, a team of researchers estimated that only about 22 percent of the animals that once inhabited the region are still there — far lower than earlier estimates. According to their findings, published in the journal PLoS ONE, white-lipped peccaries have been “completely wiped out,” while jaguars, lowland tapirs, woolly spider-monkeys and giant anteaters are essentially extinct. The loss of wildlife has even extended to areas where forest canopies are still relatively intact, said Carlos Peres, an ecologist at the University of East Anglia and lead author of the study. While the Atlantic Forest once covered more than 1.5 million square kilometers, about 90 percent has been cleared for agriculture, pasture, or urban expansion. Most remaining patches of forest, researchers say, are about the size of a football field.
PERMALINK

 

14 Aug 2012: Radiation from Fukushima
Caused Butterfly Mutations, Study Says

Radioactive materials emitted during the Fukushima disaster caused physical mutations and genetic damage to butterfly populations living near the nuclear plant, a
Mutated butterfly
University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa
Mutated butterfly
new study says. In a series of tests, Japanese scientists found that butterflies collected from the Fukushima area about two months after the 2011 accident were more likely to have leg, antennae, and wing shape mutations than those found elsewhere. According to their findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, butterflies found in areas with higher levels of radiation developed much smaller wings and eye irregularities. After breeding these butterflies in a laboratory, researchers found the next generation had numerous abnormalities not seen in the previous generation, including malformed antennae. And adult butterflies collected near Fukushima six months after the initial tests were more than twice as likely to have mutations than those found soon after the accident.
PERMALINK

 

14 Aug 2012: Interior Department Unveils
Drilling Plan for Alaska Petroleum Reserve

A proposed management plan for the U.S.’s National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) would allow new drilling on half of the 23 million-acre reserve while placing the rest of it off-limits to oil and gas exploration. The plan, unveiled by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, also would not preclude construction of a pipeline on the reserve. Salazar said the plan, which was praised by environmental groups but criticized by oil industry officials, would strike a balance between the nation’s energy needs and the protection of wildlife and native Alaskan subsistence culture. “This will provide a road map to help facilitate the transition from leasing and cautious exploration to production and smart development,” he told reporters in Anchorage, Alaska. The reserve, located west of oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope, is the home to a some of the largest caribou populations on the planet and millions of migratory birds from around the world. The region is also estimated to contain 549 million barrels of recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Oil companies have been exploring the the reserve in recent years, but full production was suspended pending the Interior Department’s plan.
PERMALINK

 

13 Aug 2012: Shifting Climate Makes Frogs
More Vulnerable to Disease, Study Says

Increasingly unpredictable swings in the weather are making frogs more vulnerable to the deadly chytrid fungus, according to a new study. In a series of tests, scientists at Oakland University in Michigan exposed Cuban treefrogs living under a variety of conditions in laboratory incubators to chytridiomycosis, a highly infectious fungal disease that has decimated amphibian species globally. The scientists found that frogs that were exposed to unpredictable temperature changes were more susceptible to the disease. For example, frogs that were shifted to incubators at a temperature of 15 degrees C (59 degrees F) after spending four weeks at a temperature of 25 C (77 F) were far more likely to suffer infections than those frogs already accustomed to living at 15 C. According to Thomas Rafell, an Oakland University researcher and lead author of the study, the fungus was likely able to adapt faster to the temperature shift because it is smaller and has a shorter generation time than its host. The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
PERMALINK

 

13 Aug 2012: Auto-Related Pollution in L.A.
Declined 98 Percent Over 50 Years

Levels of some automobile-related pollutants in Los Angeles have plummeted by 98 percent since the 1960s, even as gasoline consumption nearly tripled during the same period, a new study says. Levels of volatile organic
Los Angeles traffic
Spensatron 5000/Flickr
compounds (VOCs), which are emitted from the tailpipes of cars and are a key ingredient in ground-level smog, have dropped steadily and fell by about half between 2002 and 2010, researchers found. “The reason is simple: Cars are getting cleaner,” said Carsten Warneke, a researcher at the University of Colorado and lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and California air quality measurements, the scientists calculated that VOC levels declined by an average of 7.5 percent per year. Researchers attributed the steep decline to the required use of catalytic converters, introduction of fuels less prone to evaporate, and improved engine efficiency.