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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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' 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.
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,
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
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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 plants
under the Clean Air Act, EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy announced. Speaking in Washington, McCarthy said, “Climate change is real, human activities are fueling that change,
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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
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
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.
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.
Yale Environment 360 Articles Are
Yale Environment 360
Now Available in Spanish and Portuguese
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 elevations
as the climate gets warmer and drier, according to a new
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.