04 Feb 2015:
Plant-Like Sea Slug Can Steal
Genes From its Food, Researchers Report
The emerald green, leaf-shaped sea slug known as Elysia chlorotica
can live for months at a time by
photosynthesizing its own food, like a plant does, but until recently scientists did not understand how the slug acquired and maintained this rare ability. A recent report in the journal The Biological Bulletin
shows that the slug steals genes and chloroplasts
— the cellular machinery that converts sunlight into food — from algae that the slug eats. Genes lifted from the algae can maintain cholorplasts in the slug for up to nine months, the researchers say — much longer than the chloroplasts would last in the algae themselves. Moreover, the slug can pass on those stolen genes to its offspring. The process is a mechanism of rapid evolution, says one of the study's authors.
03 Feb 2015:
Nine of 10 Cities in China Failed
Air Quality Standards, Government Says
Roughly 90 percent of China's large cities did not meet national air quality standards last year, according to the country's
Smog over the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.
environment ministry. Only eight of the 74 cities monitored by the ministry met standards for pollution metrics such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and fine particle concentrations, according to a report published on the ministry's website. The poor results actually represent an improvement over 2013, when only three of the 74 cities met air quality standards, Reuters reports
. Last year, after residents grew increasingly alarmed about air quality in metropolitan areas, China promised to "declare war on pollution" by slashing coal use and closing heavily polluting factories. Still, the government does not expect the national average for fine particle pollution to reach official standards until 2030 or later.
02 Feb 2015:
Many California Farms and
Orchards Idled By Drought, NASA Maps Show
In 2014 — the driest year ever recorded in California — farms and orchards in the state's Central Valley took a major hit
Status of CA farms in 2011 (left) and 2014 (right).
and many agricultural plots were left fallow, as shown in these maps based on NASA satellite data
. The maps depict the status of crop cultivation in California in August 2011 and August 2014. Brown pixels show farms and orchards that have been left fallow, or “idled,” since January 1 in each year. Green pixels show plots where at least one crop was grown during the year. The most recent year with average or above average precipitation across the state was 2011, and, as the map shows, relatively little agricultural land was left fallow that year. In 2014, a much higher proportion of farms and orchards were idle.
30 Jan 2015:
Thunderstorms Move Ozone
Toward Surface of Earth, Research Shows
Thunderstorms move a significant amount of ozone from the stratosphere down toward the earth's surface — a process
Thunderstorms transport ozone toward earth.
that could have important impacts on climate, according to
a recent study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
. Ozone shields the planet from the sun's ultraviolet rays when it's in the stratosphere, the second-lowest layer of the atmosphere, but ozone acts as a powerful greenhouse gas and pollutant when it's nearer to the earth's surface, in the troposphere. The study found that massive thunderheads, which can rise 50,000 feet above the ground, disturb the atmosphere and allow ozone to pour into the troposphere. Scientists had not previously known that storms play a key role in transporting ozone. The new findings could impact climate models, researchers say, especially since storms are expected to become more frequent and intense as the earth warms.
29 Jan 2015:
Iceland Rising as Climate Change
Causes Glaciers to Melt, Researchers Say
The crust under Iceland is rebounding as climate change melts the island's great ice caps, researchers report
GPS stations measure Iceland crust movement
journal Geophysical Research Letters
. The current rapid rising, or uplift, of the Icelandic crust is a result of accelerated melting of the island's glaciers and coincides with a regional warming trend that began roughly 30 years ago, the scientists said. Some areas in south-central Iceland are moving upward as much as 1.4 inches per year — a surprisingly high speed, the researchers say. Whether the rebound is related to past deglaciation or modern glacial thinning and global warming had been an open question until now, said co-author Richard Bennett, a geoscientist at the University of Arizona. "What we're observing is a climatically induced change in the earth's surface," Bennett said.
28 Jan 2015:
Camera Trap Records Rare
Glimpse of African Golden Cat Hunting
An African golden cat, one of the least known and most elusive wild cats on the planet, has been filmed hunting in
African golden cat
Kibale National Park, Uganda, for the first time, scientists say. In the video
, which was recorded by a camera trap, an African golden cat darts toward a group of red colobus monkeys feeding on a tree stump. The cat's attack is nearly too fast to be seen in real-time, but viewing the footage in slow-motion highlights the cat's swiftness and accuracy — even though its ambush failed to land a meal. The African golden cat is found only in the forests of central and West Africa, and it is threatened across its range by intensive bushmeat hunting and habitat loss. Researchers say the video provides important details about the African golden cats' hunting behavior that have never before been directly observed.
27 Jan 2015:
Pollinator Loss Could Put
Poor Nations at Risk for Malnutrition
Declining pollinator populations could leave as many as half of the people in developing countries facing nutritional deficiencies, according to
researchers from the University of Vermont and the Harvard School of Public Health. In the study — the first to link pollinator declines directly to human nutrition — researchers collected detailed data about people's daily diets in parts of Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda, and Bangladesh. They found that in Mozambique, for example, many children and mothers are barely able to meet their needs for micronutrients, especially vitamin A, which is important for preventing blindness and infectious diseases. Fruits and vegetables were an important source of that nutrient for many people in the study, and those crops are highly dependent on pollinators, researchers say — for example, yields of mangoes, which are high in vitamin A, would likely be cut by 65 percent without them. Pollinator losses might also lead to folate deficiency, they say, which is associated with neural tube defects.
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.
15 Jan 2015:
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.