31 Jan 2014:
U.S. State Department Report
Boosts Prospects of Keystone XL Pipeline
In a long-awaited report, the U.S. State Department has concluded that the carbon-heavy oil from Alberta's tar sands will be extracted whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline is built, improving the prospects
that the highly controversial project will be built. In an environmental impact statement
that was six years in the making, the State Department concludes that the process of extracting and burning tar sands oil creates 17 percent more greenhouse gases than traditional oil, but that the heavily polluting oil will be brought to market with or without the pipeline. "It's unlikely for one pipeline to change the overall development of the oil sands," said a State Department official. If completed, the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama will make the final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and he vowed last year that he would approve the pipeline only if it would not "significantly exacerbate" the problem of carbon emissions. Environmental activists such as Bill McKibben of 350.org have said it would be "game over" for the climate if Keystone XL is built.
30 Jan 2014:
NASA Animation Shows
Relentless Pace of Warming Since 1950
A 15-second NASA animation
shows the steady and rapid warming of the planet since the middle of the 20th century, with regions in the Arctic and Siberia warming as much as 2 to 4 degrees C (3.6 to 7. 2 degrees
F) above a long-term average. The animation begins in 1950, but the intensity of the yellow, orange, and red colors shows how much temperatures have increased compared to baseline temperature data collected from 1880 to the present. NASA said that nine of the planet's 10 warmest years have occurred since 2000, and worldwide surface temperatures continued to rise in 2013
, according to satellite and meteorological data. Since 1880, when atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were 285 parts per million (ppm), the average global temperature has risen 1.4 degrees F; atmospheric CO2 concentrations crossed a milestone of 400 ppm last year. "Long-term trends in surface temperatures are unusual and 2013 adds to the evidence for ongoing climate change," NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt said.
29 Jan 2014:
Driven by State Incentives
Electric Cars Top Vehicle Sales in Norway
Norwegians have been snapping up electric cars: In the last three months of 2013, the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf outsold all other cars, including conventionally fueled models. But rather than environmental concerns,
An EV charges up in Oslo
a host of government incentives — totaling an estimated $8,300 per vehicle — are largely driving the boom, the Guardian reports
. Norway, a country of only 5 million people, currently has around 21,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads, compared to 70,000 EVs among 313 million Americans and 5,000 EVs among 63 million people in the UK. More than 1,200 EVs are being sold in Norway per month thanks to incentives that include free electricity for recharging, lower sales tax rates, waived tolls, free parking, insurance discounts, and permission to drive in bus lanes, which are less crowded. The EV rush is expected to slow, however, as bus lanes become more crowded, and the government plans to end financial incentives once 50,000 EVs are registered, which could occur by 2016.
28 Jan 2014:
Peru Park Holds Record
Reptile and Amphibian Diversity, Study Finds
A new study crowns Peru's Manu National Park
as the place with the world's most diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians — 287 species in all. The park's 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species outnumber those in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park
, which, with 271 reptile
A glass frog from Manu's cloud forests
and amphibian species, was previously believed to contain the world's most diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians. Although Manu National Park represents only 0.01 percent of the world's land area, it houses 2.2 percent of all amphibian species and 1.5 percent of all reptile species, the researchers note. They attribute the rich diversity to the park's elevation gradient, which spans the Western Amazon's tropical rainforest up through high Andean cloud forests, providing a wide range of habitats. Manu also has record bird diversity — with 1,000 species, or 10 percent of the world's total species — and tremendous butterfly diversity, with 1,200 species. Scientists say the inventory of the national park's richness is far from complete. DNA analyses, frog call studies, and other techniques will likely reveal even more diversity, the authors note in the journal Biota Neotropica
Interview: How Citizen Science Is
Aiding and Democratizing Research
When biologist Caren Cooper
carries out her avian studies, she’s aided by thousands of assistants, none of whom are paid for their work. That’s because Cooper, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
, relies on the help of so-called citizen scientists, volunteers from across the country who contribute data
to her research projects. These lay people provide information that enables her and other scientists to study bird life in ways that would otherwise be impossible. But, as Cooper notes in an interview with Yale Environment 360
, the uses of citizen science go well beyond bird research. Bushmen in the Kalahari are using apps to document wildlife and natural resources that need to be protected. Environmental activists also are employing open-source technology to measure and monitor pollution, including the deployment of kites and balloons to document such events as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “A lot of the ways for us to move forward in certain fields require massive collaboration,” says Cooper. “And so we’re building all the infrastructure for these collaborations, all of the web tools — whatever we need to make that happen.”
Read the interview.
27 Jan 2014:
Changes in Humidity
Are Used to Generate Electricity
Researchers have created a new kind of generator that uses bacterial spores to harness the untapped power of evaporating water
. Scientists from Harvard and Columbia universities have created small, prototype generators by coating a sheet of rubber with a soil
Bacillus subtilis bacterial spores
bacterium, Bacillus subtilis
, that greatly expands and contracts with changes in humidity. Building a generator out of Legos, a miniature fan, a magnet, and the spore-covered sheet of latex, the researchers used the humidity-driven flexing of the rubber sheet to drive the movement of the magnet, which generated electricity. The developers of the potential renewable energy technology said that large electrical generators could one day be powered by changes in humidity from sun-warmed ponds and harbors. The scientists said that moistening and then drying a pound of the spores produces enough force to lift a car one meter. “If this technology is developed fully, it has a very promising endgame,” said Columbia University researcher Ozgur Sahin.
24 Jan 2014:
Future Olympic Winter Games
At Risk as Climate Warms, Researchers Warn
As few as six of the world's previous 19 Olympic Winter Games sites will likely still be wintry enough to host snow sports at the end of the century, according to a report
by Canadian and Austrian researchers. Iconic locales such as Squaw Valley, Utah, and Vancouver,
Vancouver, 2010 winter games host, is warming.
Canada, will likely be too warm by the middle of this century. Even under conservative climate change scenarios, only 11 of the 19 sites would remain climatically stable enough to reliably host the games, the study found
. Olympic organizing committees consistently cite poor weather as a major challenge for the winter games, and it's likely to get more challenging: The average February daytime temperature of winter games locations has steadily increased — from 0.4 degrees C at games held in the 1920s to 1950s, to 3.1 degrees C in the 1960s to 1990s, to 7.8 degrees C so far in the 21st century. These sites will likely warm by an additional 2.7 to 4.4 degrees C by the end of the century, according to the report.
23 Jan 2014:
NASA Images Show Severity
Of California's Record-Setting Drought
A pair of NASA images, taken a year apart, show the profound impacts
of California's current drought, which Gov. Jerry Brown said yesterday poses a major threat to California's environment
and economy. A satellite image taken last Saturday shows virtually no snow cover
in the Coast Range and Cascade Mountains, and only a modest amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada. Officials say the snowpack is only 10 to 30 percent of normal levels. In addition, California's vital agricultural areas in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, which lie west of the Sierra Nevada, are a parched brown. By contrast, a satellite image taken in January 2013 shows significant snowpack in the mountains and a swath of green in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. Half of California's yearly precipitation falls between December and February, so January's record dry conditions threaten water supplies for the entire year.
22 Jan 2014:
New Virus Associated With
Massive Bee Die-Offs, Researchers Report
A rapidly mutating virus may be partially responsible for the massive bee die-offs known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), which has wiped out a third of commercial bee colonies annually for the past seven years, a group of U.S. and Chinese researchers reports
. Most scientists, including the study's authors, believe CCD is triggered when colonies are weakened by a combination of factors
, such as viruses, parasites, and perhaps pesticides. The study, published
in the journal mBio
, found in bees a variant of the tobacco ringspot virus, an RNA virus that likely jumped from tobacco plants, to soy plants, to bees. Weak bee colonies began succumbing to massive die-offs in autumn, and the researchers found those bees were heavily infected with tobacco ringspot — which is believed to affect honeybees' nervous systems — and other viruses. Strong colonies that made it through the winter showed no evidence of infection by tobacco ringspot. The researchers believe the virus jumped from plants to bees through "bee bread," a concoction of pollen, nectar, and saliva they feed their larvae. Bee infection by tobacco ringspot is the first known instance of a virus from pollen jumping to bees.
21 Jan 2014:
More Crude Oil Spilled by
U.S. Trains in 2013 Than Previous 40 Years
U.S. trains spilled 1.15 million gallons of crude oil in 2013 — more than was spilled in the nearly 40 years since officials began tracking such accidents, federal data show
. The majority of that volume came from two major derailments: a November incident in Alabama that spilled 750,000 gallons and a December incident in North Dakota that officials estimate spilled 400,000 gallons. Those incidents, as well as smaller spills, have added to growing concerns over the safety of using railways
to transport crude as U.S. oil production surges in the upper Midwest. From 1975 to 2012, a total of 800,000 gallons of crude were spilled during rail transport. Excluding the two major derailments from the 2013 total, 11,000 gallons of crude were spilled last year — more than the previous two years combined. The data do not include a 1.5 million-gallon spill that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July.
20 Jan 2014:
Soil Microbes Can Alter DNA
In Response to Climate Change, Study Says
A 10-year study of soil ecosystems
has determined that microbes alter their genetic code in response to a warming climate so they can process excess carbon being absorbed by plants from the atmosphere, a team of U.S. researchers reports in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology
. A 2-degree Celsius temperature increase spurred microbes in soil ecosystems to, over many generations, tweak their DNA, amping up their respiratory systems and converting extra organic carbon in the soil to CO2. The soil contained extra carbon because the 2-degree temperature increase made plants grow faster and higher; when those plants began to die, the carbon in their leaves, stems, and roots was added to the soil and taken up by the microbial community. Understanding the "black box" of carbon's fate in soil ecosystems holds important clues for better forecasting an ecosystem's response to climate change, says Georgia Institute of Technology researcher Kostas Konstantinidis, an author of the study. "One reason that models of climate change have such big room for variation is because we don’t understand the microbial activities that control carbon in the soil," he said.
17 Jan 2014:
More Than 1,000 Rhinos
Poached in 2013, South African Officials Say
More than 1,000 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa last year, a record total and an increase of more than 50 percent from 2012, South African officials say
. South Africa is home to nearly all of the
world's 20,000 rhinos, which are targeted by poachers
because their horns are highly valued and believed to contain medicinal properties. Although those claims are scientifically unfounded, demand from increasingly wealthy consumers in China and Vietnam has driven the price of rhino horns to over $65,000 per kilogram — more valuable than gold, platinum, or cocaine. South Africa has tried to stem the crisis by training park rangers to use arms, drones, and helicopters
, but those anti-poaching efforts have shown limited success. Rhino poachings in 2012 also increased by 50 percent over 2011 totals, and 37 have been poached so far in 2014, officials report. Most of the killings are taking place in South Africa's Kruger National Park, where 606 rhinos were killed last year and 425 in 2012.
16 Jan 2014:
Pebble Mine Would Endanger
Alaska's Bristol Bay, Major EPA Study Finds
A three-year study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that mining in Alaska's Bristol Bay area would pose significant dangers to the environment
, a potentially fatal setback for plans
Mulchatna River, part of Bristol Bay watershed
to develop Pebble Mine, a major open-pit mining project that aimed to exploit one of the largest and richest mineral deposits in the world. The EPA study cited concerns for the region's thriving sockeye salmon population
and its native people, saying the mine would destroy 24 to 94 miles of salmon streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds, and lakes. Pebble Mine proponents, including Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, criticize the study as flawed and rushed, since the development company wasn't allowed to submit its mining plan before the EPA study. Native groups, fishermen, and environmental organizations are applauding the study. The proposed mine — which seeks to exploit gold, copper, and other metals — was already in trouble, with one of two major partners withdrawing from the project last year.
15 Jan 2014:
West African Lions Are
Critically Close to Extinction, Study Says
West African lions are close to extinction, and vulnerable populations could be wiped out in the next five to 10 years, according to new research
led by the wild cat conservation group Panthera. West African lions, which are genetically distinct from other African lions, once numbered in the tens of thousands. Now the
Male West African lion
population has been reduced to around 400 individuals spread across 17 countries, largely due to habitat loss, a shortage of prey, and poaching, according to the study published in PLOS ONE
. Of the remaining lions, only about 250 are mature enough to reproduce, but in many cases those individuals are spread too far apart to breed. West African lions are now present in only 1.1 percent of their original habitat and should be considered "critically endangered," according to the study. Running low on habitat and prey, the lions sometimes kill livestock. Villagers then kill the lions in revenge. "It's become very complicated for this carnivore at the top of the food chain to find enough space and food to survive," one scientist told Reuters.
14 Jan 2014:
Google's Acquisition of Nest
Expected to Boost Smart Grid Expansion
Google's purchase of Nest, a leading manufacturer of smart thermostats, further deepens the Internet search giant's involvement in the green energy sector and is likely to help accelerate development of a more efficient
smart grid, experts say
. Google has already invested $300 million in distributed solar companies, which have been helping homeowners install photovoltaic panels to offset their conventional grid-based power consumption. The success of distributed solar hinges on effective smart-metering, and acquiring Nest — whose thermostats can be controlled remotely and can track and reduce energy consumption — could help Google gain valuable insight into millions of individuals' daily power consumption patterns, Quartz reports. As power grids and meters get "smarter," demand for technology like Nest's thermostats will likely grow; incorporating distributed solar energy sources should become easier for households, as well. The $3.2 billion deal will also give Google access to Nest Energy Services, a branch of the company that manages partnerships between Nest and U.S. power companies.
Interview: Activist Kumi Naidoo
On Russia and the Climate Struggle
Kumi Naidoo, the international executive director of Greenpeace, is intimately familiar with the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform in the Russian Arctic. In 2012, he and five other Greenpeace activists were hosed down with frigid water and pelted with pieces of metal as they attempted to climb aboard the platform.
Greenpeace and Prirazlomnaya were back in the news recently when 28 Greenpeace members were arrested and held for several months for storming the rig before being released in December. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Naidoo talks about what’s needed to get global climate talks off the ground and launch a green energy revolution, and the reason his activist organization has decided to take such a strong stand against oil drilling in the rapidly melting Arctic Ocean. "We went back [to Prirazlomnaya]," says Naidoo, "because we’re trying to draw a line in the ice, because once this starts it will have breached another threshold of meeting our rapacious appetite for oil and gas in the most fragile of environments." Read the interview.
13 Jan 2014:
Pine Island Glacier Has
Melted Beyond Tipping Point, Study Says
A major Antarctic ice mass, the Pine Island Glacier, is melting irreversibly and could add as much as a centimeter to global sea level rise over the next 20 years alone, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change
. Calculations show that the Pine Island Glacier's "grounding line" — where land-based ice meets a floating ice shelf that is an extension of the
glacier — has retreated roughly 10 kilometers in the past decade. Scientists say that the grounding line is in the process of a 40-kilometer retreat that could push it beyond an important tipping point. Pine Island Glacier is a major contributor to global sea level rise
and has been losing massive amounts of ice for decades, accounting for 20 percent of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet's total ice loss
. An international research team says that the Pine Island Glacier has been losing 20 billion tons of ice annually for the past two decades and could lose 100 billion tons annually over the next 20 years. The glacier "has started a phase of self-sustained retreat and will irreversibly continue its decline," says Gael Durand, a glaciologist with France's Grenoble Alps University.
10 Jan 2014:
Natural Gas Has Sharply
Reduced Emissions from Power Plants
The dramatic increase in using natural gas to produce electricity in the United States has led to an equally dramatic decline
in the amount of pollutants and carbon dioxide emitted from the nation’s power plants, according to a new study. The study, conducted by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, showed that the switch from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power plants has reduced CO2 emissions by 23 percent and emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by 40 and 44 percent, respectively. Examining power plant emissions from 1997 to 2012, the scientists found that new combined-cycle natural gas-fired power plants — which use two heat engines in tandem to convert a higher fraction of heat into electrical energy — emit less than half the amount of CO2 as coal-fired power plants. The study, to be published in the journal Earth’s Future
, said that the fraction of electricity produced in the U.S. from coal fell from 83 percent in 1997 to 59 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, the fraction of electricity generated by combined-cycle natural gas plants rose from zero to 34 percent.
09 Jan 2014:
Faced With Sea Ice Loss,
Emperor Penguins Alter Breeding Tactics
Confronted with the loss of sea ice in some parts of Antarctica, four colonies of emperor penguins have come up with an innovative breeding strategy
to adapt to their changing environment. Using satellite images,
an international team of scientists tracked the four colonies from 2008 to 2012. In the first three years, the emperor penguins hatched and incubated eggs in their customary fashion — atop the sea ice that freezes during the Antarctic winter and spring. But in 2011 and 2012, sea ice did not form until a month after the breeding season began. As a result, the emperor penguins, which are the largest penguin species on earth, did something never before witnessed by scientists: They climbed the nearly sheer walls of large, floating ice shelves — huge structures, often hundreds of square miles in extent, that flow from land-based glaciers into the sea. In the region of the four colonies, the ice shelf walls reach as high as 100 feet. The scientists say the altered breeding behavior could demonstrate how ice-dependent emperor penguins may adapt to a warming world.
08 Jan 2014:
China Approves Major
Increase in Huge Coal Mining Projects
In 2013, the Chinese government approved 15 large coal mining projects
that will produce more than 100 million new tons of coal a year. The expansion will lead to a 2 to 3 percent growth in coal production over the next several years, even as the country announced moves to reduce the severe air pollution
choking major cities such as Beijing. Chinese officials will increase coal production while reducing pollution in population centers by closing outdated coal plants and creating huge “coal bases” that will mine and burn coal in remote regions of northwestern China, such as Inner Mongolia. Those bases, which will cost $8.9 billion to build, will generate electricity that will be transferred over an improved electricity grid to cities in China’s central and eastern regions. Deng Ping, an environmental campaigner with Greenpeace, said the scale of the new coal bases is unprecedented for China, adding, “Despite the climate change pressure, water resource scarcity, and other environmental problems, the coal industry is still expanding fast in northwest China.”
07 Jan 2014:
Suburbs Offset Low Carbon
Footprints of Major U.S. Cities, Study Finds
City-dwellers in the U.S. have significantly smaller per-capita carbon footprints than their rural counterparts, according to new research
from the University of California, Berkeley. But the carbon-intense suburbs surrounding major cities essentially cancel out the small carbon footprints of city residents,
the study found. Vehicle emissions accounted for the majority of carbon dioxide produced in the suburbs, reflecting suburbanites' longer commutes to work, school, and stores. The study looked at 37 factors — including weather, income, home size, and transportation data — to estimate household carbon footprints. The average carbon footprint of households living in the center of large, densely populated cities is about 50 percent below the national average, while households in distant suburbs have carbon footprints up to twice the national average, according to the study published in Environmental Science & Technology
06 Jan 2014:
China Crushes Six Tons
Of Ivory to Stem Elephant Poaching
In an effort to stem elephant poaching, Chinese authorities have crushed six tons of confiscated ivory
, the first such effort in the country's history. Coordinated by the State Forestry Administration and the General Administration of Customs, the event was widely publicized and aimed at spreading awareness in China of the scale of the global poaching crisis. Conservation
groups consistently name China as a major driver of elephant poaching, as the country's growing middle class has increasingly sought to buy ivory ornaments and ivory-based medicinal therapies, which have no scientific or medical basis. The six tons of ornaments and tusks that were crushed represent only a fraction of China's ivory stockpile, which is probably more than 45 tons, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) estimates. Still, many conservation groups are applauding China's efforts. "This destruction of ivory by China is a symbol of the government's growing responsiveness to the ivory crisis," the WCS said.
03 Jan 2014:
North Dakota Bakken Crude
More Explosive Than Expected, Officials Say
Crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken field may be more flammable and explosive than previously thought
, officials now say after a series of fiery railroad accidents. The crude may contain more flammable gasses, be highly corrosive, or more sulfurous than crude from other oil fields, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The agency is warning Bakken oil producers to "sufficiently degasify" the crude oil before loading it into rail cars. On Monday, several tank cars carrying Bakken crude exploded after a collision on a remote stretch of track in North Dakota, and last July a runaway train carrying the crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. U.S. railroads have asked manufacturers for safety upgrades to tank cars
that carry Bakken crude, which could cost the industry roughly $3 billion, Reuters estimates. Trains carried nearly 700,000 barrels of Bakken crude each day in October, a 67 percent increase over the previous year.
02 Jan 2014:
Stranded Antarctic Expedition
Rescued After Being Icebound for Nine Days
Passengers trapped on an icebound Russian research ship off the coast of Antarctica were rescued today after being stranded
for more than a week. A helicopter from China shuttled the 52 scientists, journalists, and tourists to an Australian icebreaker. The chartered ship was attempting to recreate the century-old travels and scientific work carried out by the East Antarctic research expedition led by Douglas Mawson in 1911. The Russian ship, which set out from New Zealand on December 8, became trapped in thick pack ice that even icebreakers could not penetrate. Because it was a privately chartered expedition, the voyage was not subjected to the same rigorous safety requirements that a research trip funded by government agencies would have been, scientists said. Some scientists contended that the lack of preparation sparked a rescue effort that diverted ships, crew, and other important resources
from other research efforts elsewhere in Antarctica.
Interview: A Legal Call to Arms to
Fix Environmental and Climate Ills
University of Oregon law professor Mary Wood has an unsparing view of the state of environmental protection in the United States today: On a host of fronts — from climate change to the nationwide fracking boom —
the federal and state governments are failing to protect ecosystems and resources vital to current and future generations. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Wood discusses why she believes the judiciary needs to step in to force the executive and legislative branches to protect natural resources that are part of the “public trust.” She also explains why she supports ongoing litigation to reduce carbon emissions under a related doctrine to safeguard the "atmospheric trust." Says Wood, "The political branches of government are doing next to nothing to address this crisis ... Across the board, agencies are not using the statutes to protect nature — they’re using statutes to permit damage to the environment."
Read the interview.
31 Dec 2013:
Atlantic Ocean Zooplankton
Are Now Reproducing in Arctic Waters
For the first time, scientists have discovered species of Atlantic Ocean zooplankton reproducing in Arctic waters
. German researchers say the discovery indicates a possible shift in the Arctic zooplankton community as
The amphipod Themisto compressa
the region warms, one that could be detrimental to Arctic birds, fish, and marine mammals. Studying traps that have been suspended for 13 years in the Fram Strait, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute found that small species of crustaceans common to the Atlantic are increasingly moving into Arctic waters. The researchers found fertile females as well as individuals at all stages of development, showing that the Atlantic species is reproducing in the frigid waters. The one-centimeter amphipods are smaller than respective Arctic species, meaning that the spread of the Atlantic crustaceans northward could reduce the volume of food available to Arctic predators. The research was published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series
30 Dec 2013:
Hydropower "Battery" Could
Even Out Wind Energy Supply, Scientists Say
Norwegian hydropower stations could be linked to wind farms
and serve as giant "batteries" to even out power supply fluctuations, a Scandinavian research organization says. A major hurdle for renewable energy suppliers is intermittent power production — sometimes too much power is generated, other times too little, and periods of peak demand often don't coincide with periods of peak supply. By using excess electricity from windy periods to pump water uphill into reservoirs, hydroelectric power stations could smooth out the intermittent power supplied by large wind farms, Scandinavian researchers from the firm SINTEF say. At times of low wind energy supply, the stored water could be released through dam turbines and hydroelectricity would fill the gap. The plan requires updating and refurbishing existing Norwegian hydropower plants, which could increase their output potential by 11 to 18 gigawatts, enough to provide an adequate backup power supply.
26 Dec 2013:
Solar Activity Not a Major
Factor in Climate Change, Study Finds
Solar activity has had minimal impact on climate over the past millennium, new research
from the United Kingdom indicates. The findings counter the long-held view that periodic fluctuations in the sun's energy output have led to lengthy periods of warm or cold weather in the past. Looking at climate records from the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,000 years, the scientists found that greenhouse gases have been the primary drivers of climate change since about 1900. Volcanic activity, which adds particles to the atmosphere that block sunlight, dominated climate patterns until roughly 1800, the study found. "Until now, the influence of the sun on past climate has been poorly understood," said Andrew Schurer of the University of Edinburgh and lead author of the study, which was published in Nature Geoscience
. "We hope that our new discoveries will help improve our understanding of how temperatures have changed over the past few centuries, and improve predictions for how they might develop in future."
23 Dec 2013:
Russian Oil Giant Becomes
First in World to Pump Oil From Arctic
The Russian national oil company Gazprom has begun drilling for oil at a highly contested site in the Arctic
. The oil field, an offshore site in the Russian Arctic known as Prirazlomnoye, drew international attention in September when a contingent of Greenpeace members boarded the platform in protest and were jailed in Russia for two months before being granted amnesty last week. The project, which is several years behind schedule, is the first in Russian history aimed at "developing the resources of the Arctic shelf," Gazprom said. Environmental groups say that no company has the technology or resources to deal with a massive oil spill in the harsh conditions of the Arctic Ocean. The oil giant Shell had planned exploratory drilling in the Arctic off the coast of Alaska, but temporarily shelved those plans last year after a series of mishaps. Gazprom says it has taken all necessary precautions to deal with a spill, Mongabay reports.
20 Dec 2013:
Renewable Energy Comprised
Total U.S. November Power Generation Gains
All of the additional electricity-generating capacity added by the U.S. last month came from renewable energy sources, according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
. Solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, and hydropower projects provided 394 megawatts — 100 percent — of all new electricity generation that went on line in November. No new capacity was added from fossil fuels or nuclear power, FERC reported. Renewable energy sources also provided 99 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity in October. Although natural gas has been the biggest player in added capacity so far this year (52 percent), solar also made gains. It alone has made up roughly 21 percent of new power capacity so far in 2013, two-thirds more than its year-to-date total in 2012. Renewable sources now account for 15.9 percent of total U.S. generating capacity, which is more than nuclear (9.2 percent) and oil (4.05 percent) combined.