26 Jan 2015:
Oil Spills Can Lead to Toxic
Arsenic Water Contamination, Study Says
When petroleum breaks down in underground aquifers, toxic arsenic — up to 23 times the current drinking water
Water sampling at the Minnesota oil-spill test site.
standard — can be released into groundwater, according to
a study by U.S. Geological Survey and Virginia Tech researchers, who analyzed samples collected over 32 years from a petroleum-spill research site in Minnesota. Arsenic, a toxin and carcinogen linked to numerous forms of cancer, is naturally present in most soils and sediments, but is not typically a health concern because its chemical properties keep it bound within soil and minerals. However, certain chemical reactions associated with petroleum contamination and microbial activity in low-oxygen environments, such as in aquifers, change the chemical state of the arsenic so that it can enter the groundwater, researchers say.
23 Jan 2015:
South Africa Relocates Rhinos
After Record Number Were Poached in 2014
Unable to curb poaching of rhinos within its borders, the South African government has relocated 100 rhinos
A white rhino in Kruger National Park.
in an effort to stem the illegal slaughter of the animals, Reuters reports. For security reasons, officials did not reveal to which countries the rhinos had been relocated. An additional 56 rhinos were moved from poaching hotspots within South Africa's Kruger National Park — where two-thirds of the killings happen — to an "intensive protection zone" within Kruger, officials said. Poachers killed a record number of the animals in South Africa last year — 1,215 rhinos, up 20 percent from the 2013 total — and 49 have been killed so far this year. The animals are hunted intensely because their horns, which some Asian cultures incorrectly believe contain medicinal properties, are worth an estimated $65,000 per kilogram on the black market.
22 Jan 2015:
Draining of Greenland Lakes
Signals Massive Melting, Researchers Say
Researchers have discovered
craters left behind when two lakes under the Greenland ice sheet rapidly drained recently — an indication
Crater left after a Greenland lake drained.
that a massive amount of meltwater has started overflowing the ice sheet's natural plumbing and is causing "blowouts" that drain lakes away, they say. One of the two lakes once held billions of gallons of water and emptied to form a mile-wide crater in just a few weeks, researchers report in the journal The Cryosphere
. The other lake, described this week in the journal Nature
, was two miles wide and has filled and emptied twice in the last two years. The researchers suspect that as more meltwater reaches the base of the ice sheet, natural drainage tunnels along the Greenland coast are cutting further inland. The tunnels carry heat and water to areas that were once frozen to the bedrock, potentially causing the ice to melt even faster.
21 Jan 2015:
Filtering Polluted Stormwater
Through Soil Can Protect Salmon, Study Says
Filtering polluted runoff from urban areas through a simple soil mixture dramatically reduced the water's toxic metal and
A pair of coho salmon.
hydrocarbon content and made it safe for coho salmon and the insects they eat, according to new research
. Scientists collected polluted runoff from a four-lane highway in Seattle, then filtered part of the water through a mixture of sand, compost, and shredded bark. Coho salmon and aquatic insects thrived in the filtered stormwater, but they quickly died in the unfiltered water, researchers reported in the journal Chemosphere
. Chemical analyses showed that filtering the water through the soil mixture reduced toxic metals by 30 to 99 percent, polyaromatic hydrocarbons to levels at or below detection, and organic matter by more than 40 percent. The research supports the use of rain gardens and other natural stormwater filtration systems, the authors say.
20 Jan 2015:
Genetic Diversity Is Key To
Food Stability in Changing Climate, UN Says
As climate change advances, much more should be done to study, preserve, and take advantage of the biological diversity
Wild red rice is hardier than cultivated varieties.
underpinning world food production, according to
a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Between 16 and 22 percent of current crop species — including 61 percent of peanut and 12 percent of potato species — could become extinct in the next 50 years, the report notes. Wild strains, which are often better at adapting to environmental changes, will become increasingly important
for feeding the global population, which is expected to grow by 3 billion people by 2050, the report says. Strengthening gene and seed banks, improving breeding practices, increasing genetic diversity on farms and in fields, and preserving soil microbiomes
will be key to boosting crops' climate resilience, the FAO said.
Interview: How Chinese Tiger Farms
Threaten Wild Tigers Worldwide
The number of tigers living in the wild has dropped to the shockingly low figure of 3,200, down from 100,000 a century ago.
But nearly as shocking is this statistic: An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 tigers are being legally farmed today in China, their bones steeped in alcohol to make tiger bone wine, their meat sold, and their skins turned into rugs for members of China’s wealthy elite. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, wildlife activist Judith Mills makes a passionate case against tiger farming, explaining how these magnificent creatures are bred like cattle for their body parts, how some conservation groups have chosen not to confront the Chinese government about the farms, and how tiger farming poses a direct threat to the world’s remaining wild tigers because increased availability of these bones and pelts fuels demand that strengthens the incentive to poach wild tigers.
Read the interview.
16 Jan 2015:
Solar a Better Investment Than
Stocks in Most Large U.S. Cities, Study Says
For homeowners in 46 of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., investing in a residential solar power system would yield better returns than putting money in the
stock market, according to an analysis
by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University. For 21 million owners of single-family homes in the U.S., solar energy already costs less than current local utility rates, the report says, as long as the system can be purchased with low-cost financing of 5 percent interest over 25 years. Residents of New York City, Boston, and Albuquerque would likely see the largest benefits from investing in residential solar, the report says. The findings assume
, however, that government incentives encouraging solar investments — such as tax exemptions and policies allowing homeowners to sell excess solar power to utility companies — will continue, which is highly dependent on federal, state, and local politics.
Underwater Kelp Forests Mapped
In New Citizen Science Project
grow along roughly 25 percent of the world’s coastlines and provide valuable habitat and nutrients for many types of aquatic life. Now, research by the “Floating Forests
” project is shedding light on how these underwater kelp forests are affected by climate change. The project is using NASA satellite data to observe changes in kelp forests over a period of more than four decades. The catch: No accurate way to automate the process exists, so the researchers rely on an international team of nearly 3,500 citizen scientists to mark the bright green kelp forests, which contrast with the deep blues of the ocean in the images.
14 Jan 2015:
Offshore Wind More Profitable
Than Drilling on U.S. East Coast, Report Says
Offshore wind would produce twice the number of jobs and twice the amount of energy as offshore drilling
Offshore wind turbines in the Irish Sea
near the U.S. East Coast
, according to
a new report from the advocacy group Oceana. The report contends that recent claims by the oil and gas industry about the economic potential of offshore drilling in the region are exaggerated because many of those oil and gas reserves are not economically viable to drill. Plans to build the nation's first offshore wind farm off Cape Cod have repeatedly failed to move forward
. But Oceana calculates that over the course of 20 years, offshore wind in the Atlantic could produce nearly twice as much energy as all of the economically recoverable oil and gas. Offshore wind installations also would likely create an additional 91,000 jobs — twice as many as offshore drilling would create, Oceana says.
13 Jan 2015:
California Still in Widespread
Drought, Despite Heavy Precipitation
The heavy rains and snow that fell across much of California in the first half of December did little to recharge the state's
California precipitation deficits
dry reservoirs or ease long-term drought conditions, an analysis
by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms. By the middle of December, 98 percent of the state remained under drought conditions, which is the same portion as before the storms, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Dry conditions over the last three years have left the Sierra Nevada mountain range with a 30- to 50-inch precipitation deficit, NOAA reports, and the agriculture-heavy San Joaquin Valley has fared even worse. To bring the state's four-year precipitation total out of the bottom 20 percent historically — a benchmark used to declare drought conditions — every part of the state would need to exceed its average rainfall between now and September.
12 Jan 2015:
Maasai Group Plans to Sell
Biogas Made From Slaughterhouse Waste
A group of Maasai farmers in southwestern Kenya has developed a profitable way to convert animal waste and
A Keeko Biogas cylinder prototype
blood from a local slaughterhouse into biogas that can power the facility as well as other local businesses, Reuters reports
. The Keeko Biogas project plans to start bottling the fuel and selling cylinders of it in March, once safety testing has been completed, project leaders say. At roughly $8 per 6-kilogram cylinder, the biogas is about half the price of liquefied petroleum gas, and it can be up to 40 percent more energy efficient than propane or butane, says the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute, which is providing technical support for the project. The facility will be able to produce 100 to 300 cylinders of biogas per week, organizers say. The project will not only offset the costs of waste management for the slaughterhouse, it will also likely help prevent deforestation in the region. "We cut down a lot of trees for charcoal and we hope to reduce that,” the chairman of the slaughterhouse told Reuters.
Interview: Giving Local Women
A Voice in Grass-Roots Conservation
The roles of women in traditional societies can be quite different from men’s, and their knowledge of the
natural world and the way in which conservation projects affect them may also be different. But these variables aren’t necessarily taken into account when developing such projects. The results can range from missed opportunities to project failure. Earlier this year, Conservation International began piloting guidelines to help integrate gender considerations into its community projects — an initiative that Kame Westerman, the "gender advisor" for that organization, helped develop. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Westerman discusses these guidelines, as well as the perils of ignoring gender when planning conservation initiatives.
09 Jan 2015:
Most Physicians Already Seeing
Health Effects of Climate Change in Patients
In a survey
of physicians in the American Thoracic Society (ATS), the majority of doctors said their patients
Results of survey on climate change and patient health
were already experiencing medical conditions associated with climate change and that physicians should be educating their patients and policy makers about climate-related health effects. Seventy-seven percent of ATS physicians — a group of doctors specializing in respiratory health and critical care — said air pollution associated with climate change is exacerbating chronic conditions such as asthma in their patients. Nearly 60 percent reported increases in allergies from plants or mold and injuries from severe weather related to climate change. Many of the physicians who responded to the survey said exposure to smoke from wildfires had caused or worsened lung conditions in their patients, and changes in precipitation and weather patterns seemed to be affecting patients as well, the Huffington Post
08 Jan 2015:
Land Disturbances Darken Snow
And Increase Melt Rate, Researchers Say
Land disturbances, such as agricultural practices and development, may have a big impact on snow purity and
Sampling snowpack in Montana
melt rates, according to
a large-scale survey of impurities in North American snow by researchers at the University of Washington. The researchers were particularly interested in the Bakken oil fields of northwest North Dakota. Before undertaking the study, they predicted that diesel emissions and air pollution associated with oil exploration would darken the snowpack, decreasing the amount of sunlight it reflects and increasing its melt rate. They found, however, that while these activities do add soot to the snow, the dirt they stir up adds an equal amount of impurities to the snowpack. Disturbances from clearing oil pads, new housing sites, agricultural activities, and extra truck traffic on unpaved roads add a significant amount of dirt to snowfields, they found.
07 Jan 2015:
Federal Judge Halts Hunting
And Trapping of Great Lakes Gray Wolves
A federal judge has stopped
the hunting and trapping of gray wolves in the Upper Midwest,
following their removal from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2012 by the Obama administration. In the ruling, which affects gray wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan — the so-called Great Lakes wolf population — the judge called the delisting of the wolves “arbitrary and capricious” and said it violated the Endangered Species Act
. The order came roughly three years after federal protections for the wolves were dropped by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since then, the states have each held hunting seasons, resulting in 923 gray wolves killed in Minnesota, 654 in Wisconsin, and 22 in Michigan for a total of 1,599 killed. Researchers estimate that roughly 3,700 gray wolves live in the Great Lakes region.
06 Jan 2015:
Penguin Watch Projects Asks
Citizen Scientists to Monitor Birds' Habits
, a citizen science project launched by researchers from the University of Oxford in the U.K., is enlisting the
Group of Gentoo penguins
public's help in counting penguins in some 175,000 photos from locations across the Southern Hemisphere. Researchers are monitoring five penguin species — Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie, Rockhopper, and King penguins — and recording information on the number of adults, chicks, and eggs, as well as their winter behavior, breeding success, and travel habits. The project is especially useful for monitoring penguins' winter behavior, for example, because it's logistically difficult for the researchers to visit these locations in winter, they say
, and the images are far too numerous for researchers to view on their own. Understanding how the penguins live day-to-day should help shed light on how the penguins will respond to an increasingly volatile climate, the team says.
05 Jan 2015:
U.S. Cities Are Significantly
Brighter than German Cities, Scientists Say
German cities emit several times less light per capita than similarly sized American cities, according to new research
published in the journal Remote Sensing
Berlin, Germany, at night
Moreover, the differences in light emission become more dramatic as city size increases: Light per capita increases with city size in the U.S. but decreases in Germany. Factors such as the type of lamps used and architectural elements like the width of the streets and the amount of trees are likely behind the differences, the researchers say. Energy-efficient LED street lighting
is currently being installed in many cities worldwide, and the researchers expect this to change the nighttime environment in many ways — for example, by reducing the amount of light that shines upward. The study also found that, in major cities in developing countries, the brightest light sources were typically airports or harbors, whereas the brightest areas in large European cities are often stadiums and city centers.
02 Jan 2015:
Historical Photos Help
Document Changes in Greenland Glaciers
Historical photographs from the early and mid-1900s have helped researchers from Denmark map the retreat
Photo of a Greenland glacier from 1935
of Greenland's glaciers, according to
findings presented recently at the American Geophysical Union meeting. This glacier near the Sukkertoppen ice cap in southwest Greenland, for example, retreated roughly two miles between 1935 and 2013, as shown in photographs from the Danish Geodata Agency and the Natural History Museum of Denmark. Older photographs, from 1900 to 1930, show even more remarkable changes. During that time, following the end of the Little Ice Age in the late-19th century, glaciers retreated more rapidly than they have been in recent years, the researchers say. They believe the findings will shed light on how quickly these glaciers might react to future temperature changes.
29 Dec 2014:
The Arctic Is Absorbing
More and More Sunlight, NASA Images Show
The Arctic has been absorbing significantly more sunlight since the year 2000, according to NASA satellite data
Changes in absorption of sunlight in the Arctic
a trend that mirrors the steady decrease in Arctic sea ice during that same period. These maps show changes in the amount of solar radiation absorbed over the Arctic from 2000 to 2014, as well as changes in sea ice cover during the same period. As sea ice cover declines and more dark ocean is exposed to the sun's rays, that decreases the reflectivity, or albedo, of the ocean's surface, meaning more heat is absorbed. Shades of red depict areas absorbing more sunlight and areas with less ice cover. The Arctic's rate of absorption has increased by 5 percent every June, July, and August since 2000. No other region on the planet has shown significant changes in albedo during that time, researchers say.
23 Dec 2014:
Madrid Announces Largest
Energy-Efficient Street Lighting Project
The city of Madrid has announced plans
to renew its entire street lighting system with 225,000 new energy-efficient
New energy-efficient street lighting in Madrid, Spain.
bulbs, the world’s largest street-lighting upgrade to date. The new lights, which will afford the city a 44-percent reduction in energy costs, will pay for themselves, according to Philips
, the company supplying the new system. In addition to drawing less overall power, the bulbs’ intensity will be controlled from a central command panel, resulting in less wasted energy. Of the 225,000 new lights, 84,000 will be locally manufactured LEDs, and the city is taking measures to ensure the safe recycling of heavy metals found in the old lamps. Similar, though smaller, projects have been undertaken in Argentina, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
A Green Dilemma for the Holidays:
Better to Shop Online or In-Store?
Various studies in recent years have suggested that online shopping typically packs a lower carbon punch than shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. But new research suggests the story is more complicated than that. The key, according to a report in the Journal of Cleaner Production
, is to minimize the number of miles driven per item — whether by the shopper, a local delivery van, or a FedEx truck.
19 Dec 2014:
'Nuisance Flooding' Will Affect
Most of U.S. Coastline by 2050, Report Finds
By 2050, most U.S. coastal areas are likely to be threatened by 30 or more days of flooding each year due sea level
Nuisance flooding projections for U.S. cities
rise, according to
a new report the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The researchers looked at the frequency of so-called "nuisance flooding," which occurs when the water level reaches one to two feet above local high tide, and found that several cities along the East Coast are already seeing more than 30 days of nuisance flooding each year. Additional major cities — including Baltimore, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco — will reach or exceed that benchmark by 2030, the report says. Although nuisance flooding is not typically catastrophic or dangerous, it is often costly. The report drives home the point, researchers say, that such floods will become commonplace far earlier than 2100, which is generally cited as the date when sea level rise is likely to become damaging.
18 Dec 2014:
Clearing Rainforests Distorts
Global Rainfall and Agriculture, Study Says
Clearing forests not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, it also triggers worldwide shifts in rainfall and temperatures
Global effects of forest loss
that are just as potent as those caused by current carbon pollution and that pose great risk to future agricultural productivity, researchers report
. Deforestation in South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa may alter growing conditions in agricultural areas as far away as the U.S. Midwest, Europe, and China, the study in Nature Climate Change
finds. The researchers calculate that complete tropical deforestation could trigger atmospheric changes leading to an increase of 0.7 degrees Celsius in global temperatures, in addition to warming caused by greenhouse gases released from the deforestation itself. That would double the observed global warming since 1850, the researchers note. They say their findings indicate that many of the predicted changes associated with widespread deforestation are already occurring — from Thailand, which is receiving less rainfall at the beginning of the dry season, to parts of the Amazon, where once-predictable rainfall has shifted notably.
17 Dec 2014:
Obama Protects Alaska's
Bristol Bay From Oil and Gas Development
President Obama yesterday announced protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska
A grizzly bear catches a salmon in Bristol Bay.
of the most productive fishing grounds in the nation, from future oil and gas development. The president's action is expected to benefit commercial fishermen and Native Alaskans and boost conservation efforts in the region, which is roughly the size of Florida. Noting that Bristol Bay is the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery and the source of 40 percent of U.S. wild-caught seafood — a catch worth $2 billion annually — Obama vowed to ensure long-term safeguards for the bay. The region has been under protection intermittently since 1989, when the Exxon Valdez spill prompted a federal moratorium on offshore drilling. "It is a natural wonder, and it’s something that’s just too precious to be putting out to the highest bidder," Obama said in a video message
. The federal government is still considering whether to allow development of what would be North America's largest open-pit mine
in the bay's watershed.
16 Dec 2014:
Falling Gasoline Prices Have
Little Effect on Car Travel, Analysis Shows
Although the average retail price of gasoline in the U.S. has fallen 28 percent from its peak in June 2014,
Gas prices vs. miles driven
the decline may not have much effect on automobile travel and gasoline consumption, according to an analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration
(E.I.A.). Typically, an increase in the price of a product leads to lower demand, and vice versa — a concept known as price elasticity. Air travel, for example, tends to be highly elastic: A 10-percent increase in the price of air fares leads to an even greater decrease in air travel. Automobile travel tends to be much less elastic, however. According to E.I.A. data, it takes a 25- to 50-percent decrease in the price of gasoline to increase automobile travel by just 1 percent. One reason for this is that the distance people drive to work and for daily errands is relatively fixed, analysts say. Increased vehicle fuel economy also balances out increases in miles traveled, leading to more stability in gasoline consumption.
Beyond Lima: Major Investors
Must Fund Global Green Initiatives
Much of the discussion at the recent U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru, was about the financing that
Climate talks in Lima stretched into Sunday.
will be needed to decarbonize the world’s energy supply, improve efficiency, and redesign cities and transportation systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As journalist Isabel Hilton reports for e360
from Lima, moving the broader financial markets toward green investments is critically important in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The key, Hilton writes, is to get major institutions to invest in sustainable growth, particularly renewable energy, and to get major companies and the industrial sector to understand that they must revise their strategies to address the risks of climate change.
Read Hilton's analysis.
15 Dec 2014:
Draft Climate Accord Reached
In Lima Leaves Many Doubts in Its Wake
While lead negotiators at the Lima climate talks hailed a hard-fought climate agreement forged over the weekend, many critics say the accord does not go nearly far enough in forcing meaningful reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions. The accord marks the first time that all nations, rich and poor, have agreed to submit plans outlining how they will reduce carbon emissions.
But the Lima Accord, intended to lay the groundwork for crucial climate talks next December in Paris, does not include legally binding requirements that countries cut their emissions by a specific amount. As the negotiations dragged on for an additional two days, an agreement was reached on Sunday only after China and other nations killed a provision
that would have required all countries to submit readily comparable emissions data. Still, many climate officials praised the plan because it marked the first time that nearly 200 nations agreed to submit blueprints on how they plan to reduce greenhouse gases.
12 Dec 2014:
Majority of Americans Support
Climate Actions and Negotiations, Poll Says
Most Americans want the United States to be a world leader in combating global warming and to be participating in international climate negotiations, according to
a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Sixty-one percent of Americans think the U.S. should lead other nations on climate change, even if it means taking action when other countries do not. A majority of both Democrats and Republicans support some specific policies intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., the poll found, such as funding research for clean energy and regulating CO2 emissions. Less than 20 percent of people polled think such protections would harm the economy long-term, while 60 percent say they would improve economic growth and provide jobs.
11 Dec 2014:
India and Australia Are
Focus of Attention in Lima Climate Talks
As United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru, near an end, negotiators and observers are looking at India and Australia to see whether they will support a draft agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With China and the U.S. having agreed last month to reduce carbon emissions, India — the world’s third largest emitter of CO2 — has said its emissions will continue to rise as it pulls its people out of poverty. But India’s environment minister said in Lima yesterday that the country would spend $100 billion
on clean energy and climate adaptation projects and would play its part in cutting CO2 emissions. Australia — whose Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has weakened the country’s climate laws — is playing a constructive role at the talks and may support a draft emissions-reduction agreement that could be ratified next December in Paris, observers said. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Abbott said that any climate agreement “must [move] past the developed-developing country divide
that puts a brake on real action.”
10 Dec 2014:
Draft Agreement in Lima Talks
Calls for Emissions Cuts by All Nations
A draft agreement calling for all nations to commit to greenhouse gas emissions cuts is circulating among climate negotiators in Lima, Peru, The New York Times
reports. The proposed text calls for each of the 196 countries involved in negotiations to publicly commit to its own plan for reducing emissions. Those individual plans, however, will be driven by national politics and economic concerns, rather than by what scientists say is needed to curb the worst effects of climate change, critics say. Historic pledges by the U.S. and China last month to cut emissions catalyzed the new draft text, negotiators say, because the two nations — the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters — had been spoilers in previous climate talks. “It’s a breakthrough, because it gives meaning to the idea that every country will make cuts,” said Yvo de Boer, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. The goal for the Lima talks is to settle on a draft text, which could become the basis for a deal signed by world leaders in Paris next December.