27 Aug 2015:
NASA Study Quantifies Plants'
Role in Mitigating Urban Heat Island Effect
The presence or scarcity of vegetation is an essential factor in determining how much urban areas heat up, according to a NASA study
Using data from multiple satellites, the researchers found that areas covered in part by impervious surfaces such as asphalt, concrete, and steel had an average summer temperature 3.4 degrees F higher than nearby rural areas. The highest U.S. urban temperatures compared to surrounding areas were along the Interstate-95 corridor from Boston to Washington and around Atlanta and the I-85 corridor in the Southeast. In desert cities such as Phoenix, the urban area was actually cooler because irrigated lawns and trees provide cooling that dry, rocky areas do not, the researchers explain. The urban heat island effect, as the phenomenon is known, occurs primarily during the day, when impervious surfaces in cities absorb more sunlight than surrounding vegetated areas.
In Northern Canada Peaks, Scientists
Are Tracking Impact of Vanishing Ice
Earlier this month, a team of Canadian scientists braved a cold-weather thunderstorm, snow, rain, and high winds to spend a week working on the last extensive icefield in the interior of the Northwest Territories. Accompanying them was Yale Environment 360
contributor Ed Struzik, who reports on the trip and the importance of the research team’s investigations. The group worked on the Brintnell/Bologna icefield, which has shrunk by more than a third over the last three decades and continues to melt at a rapid clip. The scientists hope to determine how the melting of these glaciers and the loss of snowpack in the surrounding mountains might affect the region’s ecology and rivers, including the huge Mackenzie River, Canada’s largest.
26 Aug 2015:
U.S. Shale Gas Production
Expected to Fall for First Time, Report Says
Natural gas production from all seven major shale formations in the U.S. is projected to drop next month for the first time since
Monthly change in shale gas production
the shale gas boom began in earnest roughly a decade ago, according to an analysis
from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Major shale regions produced gas at a record-high rate of 45.6 billion cubic feet per day in May, but that rate is expected to drop to 44.9 billion cubic feet per day in September, the report says. It attributes the decline to existing, legacy wells becoming significantly less productive and a substantial drop in the number of drilling rigs in each of the seven major shale regions since September 2014. New wells are being established, the EIA notes, but they are not producing enough natural gas to offset expected declines from legacy wells.
24 Aug 2015:
Research Links Amazon
Fires and North American Hurricanes
After studying decades of data on hurricanes, sea surface temperatures, and Amazon fire frequency, researchers have concluded
North Atlantic surface temperatures
that years in which warm North Atlantic waters create powerful hurricanes are followed by periods of drought and fire in the Amazon
rainforest. University of California, Irvine scientists say their research has shown that frequent and powerful North Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes tend to pull a large belt of tropical rainfall to the north, drawing moisture away from the Amazon. The resulting dry spells lead to an increase in severity and duration of fires, which tend to be set in the Amazon by humans clearing land for agriculture. The research is expected to enable meteorologists to better understand seasonal outlooks for drought and fire risk in the Amazon, which could help reduce the extensive rainforest fires that emit large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.
21 Aug 2015:
Retiring Nuclear Power Plants
Undermines Clean Power Plan, Report Says
If U.S. nuclear power plants are retired early or phased out completely, greenhouse gas emissions could revert back
Salem Nuclear Power Plant in southern New Jersey
to 2005 levels and undermine nearly all progress the power sector has made over the last decade in lowering carbon emissions, according to an analysis
by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Third Way. The group found that retired nuclear plants would predominantly be replaced with natural gas power plants, not renewable energy sources, because renewables would not be able to keep pace with lost nuclear capacity. In fact, retiring any of the nation's 99 nuclear power plants would make it extremely difficult to meet the EPA Clean Power Plan's emissions reductions targets of a 32 percent cut below 2005 levels, the group found. Nuclear power currently provides 20 percent of U.S. electricity and 63 percent of its emissions-free power.
20 Aug 2015:
Global Warming Has Worsened
California Drought By Roughly 25 Percent
Rising temperatures driven by climate change have measurably worsened the California drought by increasing evaporation rates and
A Central Valley orchard stricken by the drought.
exacerbating the state's lack of rainfall by up to 27 percent, according to a study
from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. While natural weather variations are largely thought to have caused the state's precipitation deficit, rising temperatures appear to be intensifying the situation by driving moisture from plants and soil into the air. The new study is the first to estimate how much worse increasing evaporation rates are making the drought: potentially as much as 27 percent, and most likely 15 to 20 percent worse. Scientists expect higher rainfall levels to resume as soon as this winter, but evaporation will more than overpower any increase in precipitation. This means that by around the 2060s, a drought that is essentially permanent will set in, interrupted only by sporadic rainy years.
Solar Decathlon: The Search for
The Best Carbon-Neutral House
What’s the latest in well-designed, energy-efficient solar homes? The U.S. Department of Energy has invited 15 teams from colleges across the country to design and build affordable, energy-efficient, and attractive solar-powered houses for the 2015 Solar Decathlon. In addition to functioning as comfortable homes, the houses in the competition must produce at least as much energy as they consume. Here, e360
takes a look at some of this year's entries, which will be on display in Irvine, California, this October. These houses have been engineered to not only embrace energy efficiency and sustainable design, but also to meet the diverse needs of their future inhabitants, from food production to storm protection and disaster relief.
View the houses.
17 Aug 2015:
Cost of Distributed Solar Power
Fell for Fifth Straight Year, Report Says
Prices for both residential and non-residential solar energy systems fell in 2014, marking the fifth consecutive year of declining
costs for solar photovoltaic systems, according to
an analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Residential rooftop solar panels in the U.S. cost 40 cents per watt less than the same systems in 2013, and prices for non-residential systems fell by 70 cents per watt. In the first half of this year, costs in a number of large markets fell by an additional 20 to 50 cents per watt, the report says. Photovoltaic equipment costs have remained relatively stable since 2012, so the lower prices are primarily due to reductions in "soft" costs such as marketing, labor, permits, and inspections, analysts say.
14 Aug 2015:
Climate Impact of Wasted Meat
Much Larger Than Other Foods, Study Finds
Researchers analyzing food waste
at university cafeterias found that, although discarded meats accounted for less waste
than fruits and vegetables, they made up the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions associated with food waste. After monitoring four all-you-care-to-eat dining facilities at the University of Missouri, the researchers found
that grain products were thrown away most often, followed by fruits, vegetables, beef, and poultry. Diners wasted roughly twice as much bread and cereal by weight than they did meat and eggs; but because protein production is very carbon-intensive, the carbon footprint of wasted meat and eggs was about three times larger than that of all other wasted foods combined. Overall, 16 percent of the cafeterias' food was wasted, leading to roughly 67 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Of those emissions, discarded beef alone accounted for slightly more than half, the analysis found.
13 Aug 2015:
Dangerously Hot and Humid
Days Soon Will Become Regular Occurrences
Climate change will make "danger days" — periods when temperature and humidity push the heat index to 105 degrees F or
higher — much more common over the next 15 years, according to a Climate Central
analysis. Looking at 144 U.S. cities, the team determined that only 12 cities have averaged more than one dangerously hot and humid day per year since 1950. By 2030, though, 85 cities — home to nearly one-third of the U.S. population — will likely experience at least 20 danger days each year. That's a dramatic and fast-approaching change from current conditions, the analysts note. Houston, for example, saw only three danger days between 2000 and 2010, but it should expect 102 danger days each year by 2050. The most dramatic increases will be seen in the South, the analysis found. Charleston, West Virginia, is expected to become the most dangerously hot and humid city in the country, experiencing 168 danger days per year by mid-century.
11 Aug 2015:
Cost of Producing Wind Power
Reached a New Low in the U.S. Last Year
The cost of generating wind power in the U.S. fell to its lowest level ever last year, according to a report
from the Department of Energy. Utility companies purchased wind power for 2.35 cents per kilowatt-hour on average last year, making the price of wind energy competitive with conventional power sources in many parts of the country. Wind power now meets on average 4.9 percent of the nation's electricity demand, the DOE analysis found, and nine states used wind to produce more than 12 percent of their electricity. Iowa and South Dakota produced more than a quarter of their electricity from wind, Kansas generated roughly 22 percent from wind, and Texas remained the leading state for wind installations
in 2014. With a total installed capacity of 66 gigawatts, the U.S. now ranks second only to China in wind power capacity.
10 Aug 2015:
Major Algal Blooms Visible Off
Both Coasts of U.S., Satellite Images Show
Major algal blooms have appeared off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the U.S. this month, as shown in these NASA
. Algae and other forms of phytoplankton are microscopic, plant-like organisms that form the basis of the oceans' food webs. When conditions are right, phytoplankton can reproduce rapidly and bloom to scales that are visible from space. Some blooms are benign — such as the one off the East Coast — and serve as rich feeding grounds for fish and whales. Other blooms, however, can be harmful because they deplete ocean waters of oxygen and sometimes release toxic compounds that poison birds and fish. The West Coast algal bloom contains toxin-producing phytoplankton, and it may be linked to deaths of whales, sea birds, and forage fish, scientists say
05 Aug 2015:
Emissions From U.S. Power
Plants Reached 27-Year Low, Report Says
Electric power plants in the U.S. emitted less carbon dioxide in April than they have in any month since April 1988 — a 27-year low — according to an analysis by the Energy Information Administration
. The report said the electric power sector has made major strides in improving efficiency and lowering its carbon footprint, producing significantly more electricity while lowering CO2 emissions. Renewable energy production has more than doubled since 1988, the use of natural gas to produce electricity has more than tripled, and coal consumption has decreased by 17 percent, the EIA report says. Natural gas plants are now about 25 to 30 percent more efficient than coal plants in terms of power generation, and they emit 71 to 79 percent less carbon dioxide than coal plants.
03 Aug 2015:
California Has Missed Equivalent
Of Full Year of Rain in Ongoing Drought
Over the past three years of severe drought, California has accumulated a rain "debt" equal to a year's worth of precipitation, NASA
Drought conditions in the U.S. West
in the Journal of Geophysical Research — Atmospheres
. The state is roughly 20 inches behind in total precipitation, the scientists calculate, which is the average amount expected to fall in the state in a single year. The deficit has been driven primarily by a lack of extreme precipitation events known as atmospheric rivers — water vapor-rich air currents that move inland from the Pacific Ocean — which, in an average year, provide 20 to 50 percent of California's precipitation. The researchers found that California also had a 27.5-inch precipitation deficit between 1986 and 1994. However, the state's population, industries, agriculture, and water demand have grown significantly since that time.
Gallery: The Wild Lands at Stake
If Alaska’s Pebble Mine Proceeds
The proposed Pebble Mine in southwestern Alaska is a project of almost unfathomable scale. If the copper- and gold-mining project proceeds, the mine would cover 28 square miles and require the construction of the world’s largest earthen dam — 700 feet high and several miles long — to hold back a 10-square-mile containment pond filled with up to 2.5 billion tons of sulfide-laden mine waste. All this would be built not only in an active seismic region, but also in one of the most unspoiled and breathtaking places on the planet — the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s most productive salmon fishery. In a photo essay, landscape photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum documents the lands and waters at risk from the project, whose fate is currently wending its way through the courts.
Read more | View gallery
27 Jul 2015:
President Obama Announces
Major New Limits on Interstate Ivory Trade
President Obama has announced strict new limits
aimed at stemming the global ivory trade which, when implemented,
FWS crushed illegal ivory trinkets in Times Square.
would nearly ban all ivory trade within the United States. The measures also include new restrictions on when ivory can be exported to other countries. “We’re proposing a new rule that bans the sale of virtually all ivory across state lines,” Obama said at a press conference in Kenya on Saturday. Current laws in the U.S. are aimed at controlling the import and export of ivory, while allowing some legal trade among states — a loophole that many illegal ivory dealers have used to their advantage. The new regulation, expected to be finalized later this year, would restrict ivory trade between states to items that are over 100 years old or contain only very small amounts of ivory. The U.S. is estimated to be the world's second largest ivory market, with sales outpacing all nations except China.
With Camera Drones, New Tool
For Viewing and Saving Nature
In a career spanning four decades, award-winning filmmaker Thomas Lennon has tackled topics as diverse as the Irish in America and a polluting chemical plant in China
. But it was his current project — a short film about the Delaware River — that opened his eyes to what he sees as a revolutionary new tool for viewing the natural world: the camera drone. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Lennon — who produced a video of drone images from the Delaware
— describes how drones are a major innovation that allows filmmakers to capture images from vantage points never before possible. “There’s an opportunity for visual excitement, but combined — and this is the key — with intimacy,” Lennon says. “And I think that can become a tool for artists as well as for environmentalists.”
Watch video | Read interview
22 Jul 2015:
Algae Could Be Environmentally
Friendly Livestock Feed, Research Finds
Algae could replace corn as feed for cattle and other livestock, according to findings
published in the Journal of Animal Science
. Algae — hardy
Algae-based cattle feed
microorganisms that can grow in a variety of environments and laboratory settings — require less fertilizer, water, land, and herbicides than corn, and thus could prove to be an environmentally friendly alternative for livestock feed, researchers say. The materials used in the new study were remnants of algae grown and processed for other applications, such as cosmetics, cooking oil, and biofuels, and would otherwise have been burned as waste. The researchers found that even these pre-processed leftovers were able to provide the same amount of protein as corn, along with slightly more fat. Cattle in the study readily ate the algae at a variety of concentrations and maintained their body weight as well as corn-fed cattle. Researchers say the algal meal could be priced to compete with corn and could be on the market by 2016.
21 Jul 2015:
California Almonds Have
Smaller Climate Impact Than Many Foods
California almonds could become carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative if growers were to make full use of practices such
Almonds growing in an orchard
as shell, hull, and biomass recycling, according to new research in the Journal of Industrial Ecology
. Eighty percent of the world's almonds come from the drought-stricken state, and production operations there have drawn much ire since studies showed
that almonds are a particularly water-intensive crop. However, the new research shows that the energy and greenhouse gas footprints of almonds can be lessened by, for example, using shells, hulls, and orchard biomass to generate electricity or feed dairy cows. "Our research shows 1 kilogram of California almonds typically results in less than 1 kilogram of CO2 emissions," said author Alissa Kendall, which is "a lower carbon footprint than many other nutrient- and energy-dense foods."
16 Jul 2015:
Most States Have Curbed
Power Plant Emissions Ahead of EPA Rule
A large majority of U.S. states — 42 of 50 — have already cut power plant carbon emissions ahead of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, whose rules will be finalized next month, according to
an analysis published this week. The plan requires each state to limit emissions from its power plants; to do this, many states have closed coal-fired plants and replaced them with natural gas power plants, which release less carbon dioxide. In fact, the report found, the 42 states that have already lowered power plant carbon emissions did so by an average of 19 percent between 2008 and 2013. The report was conducted by the sustainability advocacy group Ceres, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Bank of America, and four large utilities. “Most parts of the country are firmly on the path toward a clean energy future, but some states and utilities have a longer way to go, and overall the carbon emissions curve is not bending fast enough,” Ceres’ president, Mindy Lubber, said.
Interview: The High Environmental
Cost of Illicit Marijuana Cultivation
As some U.S. states move to legalize marijuana, one issue has been largely ignored in the policy debates: the serious
environmental effects of the marijuana industry. A new paper co-authored by ecologist Mary Power details many of those impacts by focusing on marijuana cultivation in California, where most of the marijuana consumed in the U.S. is grown. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Power describes how California growers siphon off scarce water resources, poison wildlife, and erode fragile soils. What’s needed, she contends, is legalization of marijuana at the federal level, which would likely drive down marijuana prices. “As long as there is a market that will pay enough to compensate for the brutally hard work they do to grow this stuff in forested mountains,” she says, “then it will keep growing.”
Read the interview.
08 Jul 2015:
Mountaintop Removal Coal
Mining Has Slowed Significantly, Data Show
Coal production from mountaintop removal mines
in the U.S. has declined 62 percent since 2008 — a much steeper drop than the downward
trend in overall coal production, the U.S. Energy Information Administration
reports. Mountaintop removal (MTR) mines have recently been subjected to additional stringent regulations. For example, MTR operations planning to discard excess rock and soil in streams must now secure extra permits from the Environmental Protection Agency. Tennessee is considering banning some types of MTR mining altogether, and a federal stream protection rule expected to be proposed this summer could place additional limits on the practice. Lower demand for U.S. coal in general can be attributed to competitive natural gas prices, renewable energy growth, flat electricity demand, and environmental regulations, the EIA says.
07 Jul 2015:
Self-Driving Taxis Could Spur
Major Cuts in Carbon Emissions, Study Says
By 2030, self-driving electric taxis could cut greenhouse gas emissions from car travel in the U.S. by up to 94 percent, if they were
Prototype of a small, self-driving electric taxi
to replace conventional personal vehicles, according to
an analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Autonomous taxis are projected to cut carbon emissions primarily through a process known as "right-sizing," or deploying a car that is specifically tailored to match occupancy needs of each particular trip. Right-sizing is cost-effective for both the fleet owner and for passengers, the researchers say, and companies and research groups are currently exploring how to efficiently manufacture small one- and two-seat vehicles. Optimal routing, smoother acceleration and braking, and a cleaner electric grid in 2030 would also contribute to lower carbon emissions. Autonomous taxis are projected to reduce emissions by 63 to 82 percent compared to hybrid cars likely to be on the road in 2030, and by 94 percent over a 2014 gasoline-powered model, the study found.
06 Jul 2015:
4,000-Year-Old Coral Species Near Hawaii
A newly discovered
species of coral found in deep ocean waters near Hawaii can live to be more than
Leiopathes annosa, a new coral species
4,000 years old, making it the longest-living marine species ever known, scientists report in the journal Zootaxa
. The new species, known as Leiopathes annosa
, is a type of black coral found at depths of 1,000 to 1,600 feet throughout waters off the Hawaiian Islands, including the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Although it was previously misidentified as a species from the Mediterranean Sea, L. annosa
has substantial physical differences from the Mediterranean species, say scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Smithsonian Institute. High-resolution radiocarbon dating of growth rings in the coral, much like those found in trees, showed that some L. annosa
individuals can live for more than four millennia.
02 Jul 2015:
Water Usage for Fracking
Has Increased Dramatically, Study Shows
Oil and natural gas fracking requires 28 times more water now than it did 15 years ago, according to a study
by the U.S.
Water use in fracking operations in the U.S.
Geological Survey. The increased water demand is attributed to the development of new, water-intensive technologies that target fossil fuels in complicated geological formations, the researchers say. The amount of water used varies greatly
with location, the study found. A fracking operation in southern Illinois, for example, can use as little as 2,600 gallons of water each time an oil or gas well is fracked. That figure jumps to more than 9 million gallons in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and south and eastern Texas. Fracking is often concentrated in arid regions and could exacerbate existing water shortages, especially as water requirements for fracking continue to increase. Most of the water used for fracking is disposed deep underground, removing it from the water cycle.
30 Jun 2015:
Residential Solar Panels Are
Net Win for Utility Companies, Analysis Says
Households and businesses with solar panels deliver greater benefits to utility companies than they receive through programs
Installing rooftop solar panels
like net metering, according to an analysis
of 11 case studies from across the U.S. by the advocacy group Environment New York. Net metering programs credit solar panel owners at a fixed rate — equal to or less than the retail price of electricity — for providing the excess power they generate to the grid. Utility companies have been fighting those credits in recent years, saying that solar panel owners don't pay a fair share of grid maintenance and other overhead costs. However, all 11 studies showed that solar panel owners provide net benefits to their respective utility systems, Environment New York says, including reduced capital investment costs, lower energy costs, and reduced environmental compliance costs. The median value of solar power across all 11 studies was roughly 17 cents per unit, compared to the nation’s average retail electricity rate of about 12 cents.
26 Jun 2015:
Fuels from Canadian Oil Sands
Have Larger Carbon Footprint, Analysis Says
Gasoline and diesel refined from Canadian oil sands have a significantly larger carbon footprint and climate impact than
Oil sands extraction in Alberta, Canada
fuels from conventional crude sources, according to an analysis
by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. Oil sands-derived fuels will release on average 20 percent more carbon into the atmosphere over their lifetime — and possibly up to 24 percent more — depending on how they are extracted and refined, the study says. Methane emissions from tailing ponds and carbon emissions from land disturbance and field operations also contribute to the higher carbon footprint. "This is important information about the greenhouse gas impact of this oil source, and this is the first time it has been made available at this level of fidelity," said Hao Cai, the Argonne researcher who led the study. Roughly 9 percent of the total crude processed in U.S. refineries in 2013 came from the Canadian oil sands, and that percentage is projected to rise to 14 percent by 2020.
11 Jun 2015:
Deep Sea Coral Canyons off
Atlantic Coast to Gain Fishing Protections
A stretch of ocean that includes more than two dozen undersea coral canyons will become the largest protected area ever
A Paragorgia coral from one of the canyons.
established in U.S. Atlantic waters, after a vote
yesterday by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. The 38,000-square-mile zone encompasses waters at the edge of the continental shelf, from Virginia to Massachusetts, and includes 27 deep sea canyons, some of which are nearly 100 miles long and are as deep as the Grand Canyon. Their steep walls are excellent habitat for a rich array of coral species that thrive in cold Atlantic waters. The new protections will shield rare, vulnerable, and ecologically important coral communities from bottom fishing and trawling — a highly destructive practice that involves dragging nets along the ocean floor, often destroying thousand-year-old coral communities in the process.
09 Jun 2015:
Record Level of Residential Solar
Installed in U.S. in First Quarter of 2015
U.S. homeowners installed more solar power systems in the first three months of this year than in any other previous quarter,
Rooftop solar panels
according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association
(SEIA), a trade group for the U.S. solar sector. The first quarter of any given year typically sees the fewest solar installations because of winter weather, the group notes, but the period from January through March of this year saw a solid increase over last quarter — 11 percent — and a 76 percent increase over the same period last year. The average cost for a residential solar system is now $3.48 per watt, or 10 percent lower than this time last year, the SEIA report says. It also notes that, cumulatively through the first quarter of 2015, nearly one-fourth of all residential solar installations have now come on-line without any state incentives.
Interview: At Sierra Club, New Face
At Helm of Oldest U.S. Green Group
The Sierra Club made history last month when it elected Aaron Mair as its president, the first African-American to lead
the largest and oldest U.S. environmental organization. Mair rose through the group’s volunteer ranks after leading a 10-year battle to close a solid-waste incinerator that was polluting his predominately black neighborhood in Albany, New York. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Mair discusses why it’s time to end a “Victorian-era model of environmentalism” that is “only worthy of the white and the privileged” and talks about why he believes increasing minority participation in green groups is more critical than ever. “If we want to save the planet, if we want to deal with climate change,” says Mair, “we have to engage all of America.”
Read the interview.