22 May 2015:
Many Trees in Southeast U.S.
Closely Related to Tree Species in Asia
DNA studies show that more than half the trees and shrubs in southern Appalachia can trace their ancestry to eastern Asia.
A flowering dogwood tree
Based on molecular studies of more than 250 species of trees and shrubs from Georgia to Virginia, researchers at Duke University found close ties between East Asian species, such as dogwoods, and species in the southeastern U.S. Forests throughout the northern hemisphere were joined together by the supercontinent Laurasia as recently as 180 million years ago. Then, as the great northern land mass broke into continents, eras of glaciation wiped out various tree species. Forest remnants hung on in China, Japan, small parts of Europe, and Appalachia, which explains the similarity in tree species. The research was published in the American Journal of Botany.
20 May 2015:
Many Wind Turbines Installed
In Critical Bird Habitat, Group Says
More than 30,000 wind turbines in the U.S. have been installed in areas critical to the survival of federally protected birds and
an additional 50,000 turbines are planned for similar areas, according to
the advocacy group American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Those figures include 24,000 turbines in the migration corridor of the rare whooping crane and nearly 3,000 turbines in breeding strongholds for greater sage grouse
, a species that has already declined by up to 80 percent in recent decades due to habitat loss, ABC says. The group is asking the federal government to regulate the wind industry with regard to its impacts on birds. Areas of "critical importance," where federally protected birds face the highest levels of risk, comprise just 9 percent of the land area of the U.S. and should be avoided in wind development, ABC says.
18 May 2015:
Low Snowpack Raising Drought
Concerns in Oregon and Washington
While drought conditions in California and the southwestern U.S. have been dominating news headlines, Oregon and
Washington could also soon be facing dangerously dry conditions due to low snowpack
levels, as these photos show. Although the region has seen several months with average or just-below average precipitation, unusually warm temperatures on land and offshore led to most of that moisture arriving in the form of rain rather than snow. Like many parts of the western U.S. and Canada, the Pacific Northwest depends on mountain snowpack to melt and fill streams and rivers through warmer, drier summer months. According to state officials, snowpack in Washington was just 16 percent of normal as of May 15, and yearly runoff is predicted to be at its lowest in 64 years. Average snowpack in Oregon stood at just 11 percent of normal, its lowest level since 1992.
A Remarkable Recovery for
The Oysters of Chesapeake Bay
In the past century, more than 90 percent of the world’s oyster beds have been lost to pollution, overharvesting, disease, and
Wild oysters harvested from the Chesapeake Bay
coastal development. The renowned oysters of the Chesapeake Bay experienced a similar decline, with production nearly disappearing a decade ago. Now, however, Chesapeake Bay oysters are undergoing a remarkable recovery thanks to a brilliant oyster geneticist, improved state and federal management, the expansion of private hatchery operations, the cleanup of the bay, and some help in the form of average rain years and excellent reproductive oyster classes.
11 May 2015:
Research Charts Increase
In Algal Blooms in the Chesapeake Bay
Algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay became increasingly frequent from 1991 to 2008, according to new research
An algal bloom in the Chesapeake Bay in 2007
the University of Maryland. Driven by runoff containing excess nitrogen and other nutrients, algal blooms can severely deplete oxygen levels and release significant amounts of toxins in the water, killing fish and altering food webs. Harmful algal blooms have long been plaguing the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, but water quality data from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources show that the events roughly doubled in the 1991-2008 period. Major blooms of one type of microscopic algae, Kalrodinium veneficum
, increased from fewer than five per year in 2003 to more than 30 per year in 2008. That type of bloom produces a toxin implicated in fish kills in the Chesapeake Bay and with oyster spawning and development problems.
08 May 2015:
Idle Electronics and Appliances
Waste $19 Billion Annually, Study Says
Roughly $19 billion worth of electricity — an amount equal to the output of 50 large power plants — is devoured annually in
the U.S. by household electronics and appliances when their owners are not actively using them, according to a study
by the Natural Resources Defense Council. These always-on but inactive devices account for nearly 23 percent of home electricity use in California, the researchers found after analyzing data from 70,000 residential smart meters. The cost of this so-called "vampire" energy drain, which provides little benefit to consumers, averages $165 per household per year, but it can be as high as $440 in areas with high electricity prices, the study says. Appliances that consume a lot of power when in use, such as heating and cooling systems and refrigerators, accounted for just 15 percent of the vampire consumption. The majority — 51 percent — is drawn by consumer electronics such as televisions, computers, printers, and game consoles.
07 May 2015:
Ethanol Refineries May Emit More
Smog-Forming Compounds Than Expected
Refineries that produce ethanol fuel may be releasing much larger amounts of smog-forming compounds than researchers and government agencies had suspected, according to a new study
in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.
Airborne measurements downwind from an ethanol refinery in Illinois show that, compared to government estimates, ethanol emissions are 30 times higher and emissions of all volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include ethanol, are five times higher. Producing one kilogram of the fuel at the Illinois refinery emits 170 times more ethanol than what comes out of a vehicle burning the same amount, the study says. Along with nitrogen oxides, VOCs can react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, the main component of smog. Renewable fuel standards mandate that gasoline burned in the U.S. contains 10 percent ethanol — an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum imports while boosting the renewable fuels sector.
04 May 2015:
First Nations and B.C. Set
North America's Largest Ocean Protections
The Canadian province of British Columbia and 18 coastal First Nations have released marine plans
to bring the northern
Area encompassed by protection plans.
Pacific Coast of British Columbia under ecosystem-based management, completing the largest ocean plan to date anywhere in North America. The ecosystem-based approach was designed to protect the marine environment while sustaining coastal communities whose culture and commerce depend on a healthy ocean, officials say. The area under the protection plans lies between Haida Gwaii archipelago on the north coast of B.C. to Campbell River on Vancouver Island — a span of nearly 40,000 square miles, equivalent to a 200-mile-wide swath from San Francisco to San Diego. The plans were based on input from a variety of stakeholders — renewable energy developers, conservationists, aquaculture companies, small-boat fishermen, and traditional and local community members — and the best available science, officials say.
Interview: How British Columbia
Gained by Putting Price on Carbon
Earlier this month, Ontario announced it will join the carbon cap-and trade-program that Quebec and California participate in.
British Columbia, in 2008, became the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt an economy-wide carbon tax. Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at University of Ottawa, has analyzed the results of that tax and describes them as “remarkable.” In a Yale Environment 360
interview, Elgie says the tax has significantly reduced British Columbia’s fossil fuel use without harming its economy. Citing the lack of support for a carbon tax at the federal level in Canada as well as in the U.S., Elgie warns that “we’re moving toward a global economy that will reward low-carbon, innovative, resource-efficient production. And if we don’t prepare ourselves for that, other countries are going to eat our lunch.”
Read the interview.
29 Apr 2015:
California Governor Orders
Tough New Greenhouse Gas Emissions Target
California will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels over the next 15 years, according to an
California Governor Jerry Brown
issued today by Governor Jerry Brown. The state already has an ambitious climate law on the books, requiring emissions cuts of 80 percent from the 1990 benchmark by 2050. Brown says the new order sets a tough interim target that will be important for ensuring the state meets its 2050 goal. The state's 2030 and 2050 emissions goals build on a law enacted under former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that requires the state to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. California is on track to meet, and possibly exceed, that mark, officials say. Governor Brown has been positioning California as a world leader in efforts to curb climate change ahead of the United Nations climate talks in Paris at the end of this year.
24 Apr 2015:
Long-Term CO2 Record by Keeling
Named National Historic Chemical Landmark
The Keeling Curve — a long-term record of rising carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere — will be named a National Historic
Chemical Landmark, the American Chemical Society announced
yesterday. The late geochemist Charles David Keeling began collecting precise, systematic data on atmospheric CO2 concentrations at Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory in 1958. Since then, the rigorous and continuous measurements have become the most widely recognized record of humans' impact on the planet, helping to illustrate the link between rising CO2 levels from burning fossil fuels and global warming. Other works highlighted by National Historic Chemical Landmark program include the discovery of penicillin, deciphering of the genetic code, and the works of Rachel Carson, Thomas Edison, and George Washington Carver.
Interview: Oklahoma’s Clear Link
Between Earthquakes and Energy
In recent years, Oklahoma has experienced a stunning increase in the number of earthquakes. Yet despite numerous
studies to the contrary, state officials have remained skeptical of the link between this seismic boom and oil and gas activity. That ended last month with the announcement by the Oklahoma Geological Survey that oil and gas wastewater injection wells were, indeed, the “likely” cause of “the majority” of that state’s earthquakes. Oklahoma geologist Todd Halihan, who has examined this issue, welcomed the announcement. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Halihan outlines some ways that the abnormal seismic activity in Oklahoma might be tamped down. But he also explains why he believes the problem has no quick or easy fixes.
Read the interview.
22 Apr 2015:
Yale Plans to Charge University
Departments for Their Carbon Emissions
Yale University has announced
that it will enact a novel carbon-pricing mechanism in the next academic year in hopes of curbing its greenhouse gas emissions. Devised by a committee led by economist William Nordhaus — an expert on the intersection of climate change and economic policy — the program will operate in a pilot phase for three years before possibly going into full effect, the university said. According to the committee's report, departments within the university would be charged based on how much their carbon emissions deviated from average levels in the past. The report recommends a price of $40 per ton of carbon dioxide, which is based on current federal legislation and the government's estimates for the social cost of carbon. "We didn't see anything like this" when reviewing other institutions' carbon-pricing schemes, Nordhaus told E&E News
, saying he believes Yale's program is the first and most comprehensive of its kind.
14 Apr 2015:
Canada Could Lose 70 Percent
Of Glaciers by End of Century, Study Finds
British Columbia and Alberta could lose 70 percent of their glaciers by the end of the 21st century, creating major problems
Berg Glacier in British Columbia
for local ecosystems, power supplies, and water quality, according to a study in Nature Geoscience
. Wetter coastal mountain regions in northwestern British Columbia are expected to lose about half of their glacial volume, the researchers found, but the Rocky Mountains, in the drier interior portion of Canada, could lose 90 percent of their glaciers. “Soon our mountains could look like those in Colorado or California and you don’t see much ice in those landscapes,” said Garry Clarke, lead author of the study. Alberta and British Columbia have more than 17,000 glaciers and they play an important role in hydroelectric power production. The glaciers also contribute to the water supply, agriculture, and tourism, but the greatest impact of their loss could be on freshwater ecosystems, the researchers say.
13 Apr 2015:
Public Transportation Spending
Varies With Income and Geography in the U.S.
Households in different regions of the United States spend similar amounts on transportation, but how those costs break down
Transportation spending trends in the U.S.
between gasoline and public transportation varies widely, according to
data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the South, where the average household owns 2.1 vehicles, spending on gasoline is higher and public transportation spending is lower than in any other region. In contrast, households in the Northeast — which own an average of 1.6 vehicles per household — spend the least on gasoline and the most on public transportation of any region in the U.S. The spending breakdown also varies with income. Households in the highest income bracket spend more than $1,400 annually on public transportation — nearly three times the national average of $537 and eight times the $163 spent by lowest-income households.
10 Apr 2015:
Coal Power Plant Closings
To Spur Large CO2 Cut in U.S. in 2015
Thanks to the closing of a record number of coal-fired power plants, emissions from the U.S. power sector in 2015 are expected to fall 15 percent below 2005 levels
, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report said that seven percent of the U.S.’s coal-fired power capacity will be shut down this year, and that on the basis of emissions per-unit-of-power-generated, 2015 will be the cleanest year in more than 60 years. The loss of coal-fired power is being made up by cleaner natural gas-fired plants and by rapid growth of renewable energy, Bloomberg noted. U.S. solar power installations are expected to hit a record 9.1 gigawatts, led by California, and wind power installations should hit 8.7 gigawatts, led by Texas. “In 2015 we’ll take a giant, permanent step towards decarbonizing our entire fleet of power plants,” said analyst William Nelson.
07 Apr 2015:
Nationwide Vehicle Emissions
Database Could Help Cities Curb CO2
Researchers at Boston University have created a nationwide database
for determining how much carbon dioxide
Nationwide CO2 emissions from vehicle travel
is produced by vehicle travel in U.S. cities and suburbs — an essential part of greenhouse gas reduction efforts, they say. Encompassing 33 years of data, the system provides kilometer-by-kilometer views of vehicle emission trends from roads across the country. Those emissions account for 28 percent of all fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the U.S., the researchers note. The data highlight the ongoing shift in the U.S. toward urban traffic and emissions. For example, cities have been responsible for 80 percent of the growth in vehicle CO2 emissions since 1980 and for 63 percent of total vehicle CO2 in 2012. Emission levels and trends can vary dramatically across different cities, however. Population density hasn't changed much in Salt Lake City since the 1980s, but the per-capita emissions have soared because the suburb and exurb populations are growing, the data indicate.
06 Apr 2015:
Millions of Acres of Grasslands
Cleared For Biofuel Crops, Study Finds
Biofuel crops expanded onto 7 million acres of new land in the U.S. over a recent four-year period, replacing millions of
Soybeans are a source of biodiesel fuel.
acres of grasslands, according to
new research from the University of Wisconsin. Using high-resolution satellite imagery, the researchers calculated that converting grasslands to croplands for corn and soy biofuels could have emitted as much carbon dioxide as 34 coal-fired power plants operating for one year, or the equivalent of an additional 28 million cars on the road. Nearly 80 percent of cropland expansion replaced grasslands, which store large amounts of carbon in their soils, according to the report published in Environmental Research Letters
. The study is the first comprehensive analysis of land-use change across the U.S. between 2008 and 2012, following the passage of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.
01 Apr 2015:
Curbing Global Warming Aligns
With U.S. Christians' Beliefs, Survey Finds
A majority of American Christians think global warming is happening and that the government should support research and
Majorities of U.S. Christians say global warming is real.
tax policies that promote renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency, according to a new report
from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Among Catholics, 69 percent think global warming is happening, which is a higher percentage than Americans overall (63 percent). A majority of non-evangelical Protestants — 62 percent — also think global warming is occurring, as do 51 percent of evangelicals. The survey also found that majorities of Catholics, Protestants, and evangelicals say it is important to them personally to care for future generations, the natural environment, and the world’s poor. Of the three groups, evangelical Christians were the most likely to say that God expects people to be responsible stewards of nature.
31 Mar 2015:
Major Wildlife Impacts
Still Felt 5 Years After Gulf Oil Spill
Nearly five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico continue to die at unprecedented rates
, endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are experiencing diminished nesting success, and many species of fish are suffering from abnormal development among some juveniles after exposure to oil. Those are the conclusions of a new study
from the National Wildlife Federation, released three weeks before the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill, which began on April 20, 2010. The study also said that populations of brown pelicans and laughing gulls have declined by 12 and 32 percent respectively, and that oil and dispersant compounds have been found in the eggs of white pelicans nesting in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. The National Wildlife Federation said that the oil giant, BP, must be held fully accountable for the environmental damage and that fines and penalties should be used to restore habitats in the Gulf. Meanwhile, in advance of the spill’s fifth anniversary, BP is stepping up its public relations efforts
to assure consumers that life is returning to normal in the Gulf.
Natural Filters: Mussels Deployed
To Clean Up Polluted Waterways
Conservationists and scientists in the U.S. and Europe are working to re-establish declining or endangered freshwater mussel
An Eastern elliptio mussel
populations so these mollusks can use their natural filtration abilities to clean up pollution in waterways. One such program has been established on the U.S.’s Delaware River, where environmentalists and biologists are reseeding mussel populations in the more polluted sections of the river and in tributary streams. Water companies have expressed interest in these programs in the hope that large populations of freshwater mussels might eventually relieve the companies of some of the burden and expense of mechanical water filtration.
Read the article.
30 Mar 2015:
Warming Winters Not Main
Cause of Pine Beetle Outbreaks, Study Says
Milder winters can't be blamed for the full extent of recent mountain pine beetle outbreaks in the western United States, according
Pine forest affected by mountain pine beetles
to a new study
by Dartmouth and U.S. Forest Service researchers. Winters have been warming across the western U.S. states for decades, as overall the coldest winter night has warmed by 4 degrees C since 1960. But that warming trend could only be the primary driver of increasing pine beetle outbreaks in regions where winter temperatures have historically killed most of the beetles, such as in the Middle Rockies, eastern Oregon, and northern Colorado, the study says. Warming is unlikely to have played a major role in other regions since winters were rarely cold enough to kill the beetles, according to the study published in the journal Landscape Ecology
. Other factors — including changes in the pine beetles' seasonal development patterns and forestry practices that have influenced pine density and age — were likely more important, the authors say.
Interview: Why This Tea Partyer
Is Seeing Green on Solar Energy
Debbie Dooley’s conservative credentials are impeccable. She was one of the founding members of the Tea Party movement and
continues to sit on the board of the Tea Party Patriots. But on the issue of solar power, Dooley breaks the mold. To the consternation of some of her fellow conservatives, she has teamed up with the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, first in Georgia and now in Florida, to form the Green Tea Coalition. The group is working to get an initiative on the Florida ballot that would allow individuals and businesses to sell power directly to consumers. In an interview with e360
, Dooley explains why she supports solar energy campaigns and why she’s willing to go up against conservative organizations when it comes to this issue.
Read the interview.
Back from the Brink: Success Stories
Of the U.S. Endangered Species Act
A small minnow known as the Oregon chub
recently became the 29th species to recover after being listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the first fish to ever join those ranks. The Endangered Species Act
, signed into law in 1973, is widely considered one of the most important pieces of U.S. environmental legislation ever enacted. This e360
photo gallery highlights the 21 species
native to the United States, including the bald eagle (above), that have made recoveries strong enough to be removed from the endangered list.
Read more | View gallery of recovered species
20 Mar 2015:
Glacial Melt and Precipitation
Create Massive Runoff in Gulf of Alaska
Rapidly melting glaciers, rain, and snow are combining to dump a massive amount of freshwater
into the Gulf of Alaska,
Gulf of Alaska
with important implications for ocean chemistry and marine biology, according to a new study. So much meltwater is now flowing into the Gulf of Alaska that if all the streams and other runoff sources were combined it would create the world’s sixth-largest coastal river, according to research in The Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.
The collective discharge into the Gulf of Alaska is more than four times greater than the Yukon River and 50 percent greater than the Mississippi River. They found that glaciers surrounding the Gulf of Alaska are melting and retreating at a swift pace, creating an important source of meltwater. Researchers said this flood of freshwater affects ocean temperature, salinity, currents, marine biology, and sea level.
17 Mar 2015:
California Could Install Ample
Solar Power Without Damaging Habitats
California could generate enough electricity from solar power to exceed the state's energy demand five times over, even if solar equipment were only to be installed on and near existing infrastructure, a report in Nature Climate Change
says. The report shows it is possible to substantially boost California's solar energy production without converting natural habitat, harming the environment, or moving solar installations to remote areas far from consumers. Roughly eight percent California's land area has been developed by humans, the study says, and residential and commercial rooftops provide ample opportunity for generating electricity through small- and utility-scale solar power installations. Additional solar facilities could be constructed in undeveloped areas that are not ecologically sensitive, such as degraded lands, the report notes. "Integrating solar facilities into the urban and suburban environment causes the least amount of land-cover change and the lowest environmental impact," says lead researcher Rebecca R. Hernandez.
13 Mar 2015:
Obama Administration Doubles
Size of Key California Marine Sanctuaries
The Obama administration yesterday expanded protections for two major marine sanctuaries off the coast of San Francisco,
Sea stars on the shores of Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
California — the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries — doubling their extent
to create a protected area the size of Connecticut. The sanctuaries encompass a wide array of habitats, including estuarine wetlands, rocky intertidal habitat, open ocean, and shallow marine banks, as well as areas of major upwelling where nutrients come to the surface and support a vast array of marine life, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. The expansion comes after more than a decade of of community action, scientific research, and political effort. Although it was nearly unanimously supported by San Francisco Bay Area residents, the expansion faced strong opposition
from the oil and gas industry, which will now be barred from drilling in the region.
10 Mar 2015:
Solar and Wind on Track to
Dominate New U.S. Power Capacity in 2015
U.S. electric companies expect to install more than 20 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale generating capacity this year and
Power generating capacity set to come online in 2015.
60 percent of that will be wind and solar power, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration analysis
. Energy companies plan to retire 16 GW of generating capacity this year, EIA numbers show, and 81 percent of that will be coal-fired power plants. The large number of coal plant retirements can be attributed to the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which are slated to go into effect this year. Many companies decided that shuttering coal generators would be more cost effective than retrofitting them to meet the new standards, the EIA said. Natural gas power plants — which, although they burn fossil fuels, emit significantly less carbon than coal-fired plants — will make up roughly 32 percent of the additional capacity.
09 Mar 2015:
Blue Crabs Are Moving Into
Gulf of Maine's Warming Waters, Study Says
Blue crabs have become the first documented commercially important species to move into the Gulf of Maine
Blue crab caught 80 miles north of its historic range.
a migration that may be driven by climate change, according to ecologist David Johnson of the Marine Biological Laboratory. Although the historic northern limit of the blue crab is Cape Cod, Massachusetts, scientists and resource managers have observed blue crabs as far north as northern Maine and Nova Scotia, Canada. Johnson says that warmer ocean temperatures in 2012 and 2013, which were 1.3 degrees C higher than the previous decade's average, allowed the crabs to move north. In the 1950s, blue crabs were observed in the gulf during a time of warmer waters, Johnson notes in the Journal of Crustacean Biology
, but once the gulf returned to average temperatures, the crabs disappeared. He added that "recent observations of blue crabs may be a crystal ball into the future ecology of the Gulf of Maine."
06 Mar 2015:
Los Angeles City Council Says
Vegetables Can Be Grown Along Sidewalks
The Los Angeles, California, City Council voted
this week to allow residents to grow fruits
Planting in a parkway in Los Angeles, Calif.
and vegetables in the small strips of city-owned land between the sidewalk and street. Doing so used to require a $400 permit, essentially preventing lower-income residents from using the green spaces, which are also known as parkways. Community groups have been pushing for many years to do away with the permit fee in hopes of improving low-income communities' access to healthy foods, and the council has been working on the ordinance change for almost two years. The mayor is expected to approve the change next week, and if he does, the ordinance will go into effect in 30 days.