e360 digest
North America


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

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Marine protection plan area

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.
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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.
Stewart Elgie
Stewart Elgie
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.
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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

California Governor Jerry Brown
executive order 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.
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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

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Keeling Curve

The Keeling Curve
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.
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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

View Animation
earthquake map

Earthquake occurrences in Oklahoma since 2008.
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.
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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.
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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

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.
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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

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transportation spending trends

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.
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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.
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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

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on-road vehicle CO2 emissions

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.
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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 for biofuel

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.
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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

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metal criticality

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.
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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.
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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
Eastern elliptio 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.
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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

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.
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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
Debbie Dooley

Debbie Dooley
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.
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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
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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

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.
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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.
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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,

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sea stars

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.
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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

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generating capacity additions

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.
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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

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."
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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
lionfish

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.
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24 Feb 2015: New Map Shows Background
Noise Levels Across the United States

A new map by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) shows America's quietest and noisiest places. The park service

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U.S. background noise levels

Background noise levels
mapped background noise levels across the country on an average summer day using 1.5 million hours of acoustical data. The quietest areas of the country, such as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, are shown in deep blue on this map and are likely as quiet now as they were before European colonization, NPS researchers say. They are collecting the data as part of an effort to determine whether and how wild animals are affected by anthropogenic noise pollution. Owls and bats, for example, rely on hearing faint rustles from insects and rodents, and scientists think human-driven noise could be drowning out those subtle signals in many areas of the country.
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20 Feb 2015: Wind Produced 10 Percent of
Texas Electricity in 2014, Grid Operator Says

More than 10 percent of the electricity used in Texas last year came from wind turbines, according to the Electric
wind plant locations in Texas

General locations of wind plants in Texas.
Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's electric grid. Wind's share of the Texas electric mix grew from just over 6 percent in 2009 to 10.6 percent in 2014. During that period, wind power generation actually doubled — rising from 18.8 million megawatt-hours to 36.1 million — while total electricity generation in Texas also rose by 11 percent. The share of electricity generated by wind power in Texas is more than double the U.S. figure of 4.4 percent. The growth in wind generation in Texas is a result of new wind plants coming online and grid expansions that have allowed more wind power to flow through the system to consumers, the council said.
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19 Feb 2015: New York City Set for Major
Sea Level Rise By 2050, Report Concludes

The waters surrounding New York City are on track to rise 11 to 21 inches by the 2050s, according to an analysis based on

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New York sea level rise

Future NYC flood zones
NASA climate change models. The city's average temperature, which has increased by 3.4 degrees F since 1900, is set to rise another 5 degrees F by the 2050s, the report says, and annual precipitation is also likely to rise significantly over that period. New York City has already seen sea levels rise by over 1 foot since 1900 — nearly twice the average global rate, according to the report, which was published by the New York City Panel on Climate Change. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the report highlights the urgency of mitigating climate change and adapting to its risks, and he announced a commitment to cut the city's emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
PERMALINK

 

18 Feb 2015: Disease-Carrying Ticks Expand
Range and Emerge Earlier in Warmer Climate

Warmer spring temperatures in the northeastern U.S. are leading to shifts in the emergence of ticks that carry Lyme
blacklegged tick

Adult blacklegged tick
disease, and milder weather is allowing ticks to spread into new geographic regions, according to findings published this week. The data — which span 19 years and include observations of more than 447,000 ticks — show that the insects emerged nearly three weeks earlier in warmer years. And when fall temperatures were mild, a smaller percentage of larval ticks entered dormancy and waited until spring to feed, the study found. "Here in the Northeast, warming is already having an effect, and people need to be tick-vigilant before May, as potentially infected nymphal ticks are searching for their blood meals earlier and earlier," said co-author Richard S. Ostfeld, an ecologist at the Cary Institute.
PERMALINK

 

13 Feb 2015: Study Says U.S. Southwest Set
To Face Unprecedented Drying This Century

The U.S. Southwest and Great Plains are on track to face persistent drought during the second half of this century,

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risk of future drought

Risk of future prolonged drought in the Southwest
a new study forecasts, and the drought will be worse than anything seen in modern history or even during ancient so-called "megadroughts." Many studies have predicted that the Southwest could dry due to human-induced climate change, but this is the first to say that such drying could exceed the worst conditions of the distant past. The impacts of such a future drought would be devastating, the researchers say, given the region’s much larger population and heavy reliance on water and other natural resources. “The surprising thing to us was really how consistent the response was over these regions, nearly regardless of what model we used or what soil moisture metric we looked at,” said lead author Benjamin I. Cook, a researcher with Columbia University and NASA.
PERMALINK

 

12 Feb 2015: Mange in Yellowstone Wolves
Documented Through Thermal Images

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey are using thermal video cameras to study how mange is affecting
wolf with mange

Thermal image of a wolf with mange on its legs.
wolves in Yellowstone National Park, as shown in this video. Mange is a highly contagious skin disease caused by mites that burrow into the skin of dogs and wolves, causing infections, hair loss, irritation, and intense itching. The urge to scratch can be so overwhelming that the wolves neglect resting and hunting, researchers say, leaving them vulnerable to hypothermia, malnutrition, and dehydration, which can eventually lead to death. Thermal imagery allows scientists to document the extent of hair loss and the actual loss of heat associated with different stages of infection. Red patches on a wolf's legs, as shown in this image, indicate rapid heat loss caused by mange.
PERMALINK

 

10 Feb 2015: Flooding in U.S. Midwest Is
Becoming More Frequent, Research Shows

Flooding in the U.S. Midwest has become more frequent over the last half-century, a new study in Nature Climate Change has
furniture displaced in flooding

Furniture displaced by flooding in Iowa in 2008.
found, confirming what many residents of the region had already suspected. Of the nearly 800 stream sites analyzed, more than one-third had an increase in flood event frequency, while only 9 percent showed a decrease in flooding. Although the study did not attempt to link the increase in flooding with climate change, the findings do fit well with current thinking among scientists about how the hydrologic cycle is being affected by climate change, the researchers say. In general, as the atmosphere becomes warmer, it holds more moisture, and one consequence of higher water vapor concentrations is more frequent, intense precipitation.
PERMALINK

 

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