e360 digest
Oceans


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.
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23 Jul 2015: Synthetic Coral Could Remove
Mercury Pollution From Ocean, Study Finds

Chinese researchers have constructed a type of synthetic coral that could help remove toxic heavy metals like mercury from
synthetic coral mercury

Microscope image of the coral-like structure
the ocean, according to a report in the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science. Mercury can be especially toxic to corals because they very efficiently adsorb heavy metals, the scientists note. They took advantage of that ability to create a synthetic coral that can bind and remove mercury pollution in water. The coral-like structure is covered with self-curling nanoplates made of aluminum oxide — a chemical compound that can collect heavy metals. The scientists found that the synthetic coral structure could bind mercury 2.5 times more efficiently than aluminum oxide particles alone. According to the World Health Organization, up to 17 in every thousand children living in areas relying on subsistence fishing showed cognitive declines caused by eating mercury-contaminated fish.
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17 Jul 2015: 2014 Set Multiple Global
Climate Records, NOAA Analysis Concludes

Several climate measures indicate that 2014 was the warmest year on record, according to a new report compiled by the

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Global surface temperatures 2014

2014 surface temperatures
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Based on data collected from 413 scientists and 58 countries, the analysis found that sea surface temperatures, upper ocean heat content, and global sea level all achieved record levels in 2014. Four independent global data sets also indicated that 2014 global surface temperatures were the warmest on record. Earlier this year, NASA and NOAA released a similar study stating that 2014 was the warmest year on record based on 135 years of weather reports, and President Obama cited that finding in his 2015 State of the Union address. The new analysis confirms and extends these findings to multiple indicators of global climate change.
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10 Jul 2015: Deeper Ocean Waters Have
Absorbed Much of Excess Atmospheric Heat

The waters of the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean warmed significantly from 2003 to 2012, but most of the heat is being

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western pacific ocean warming

Warming trends at depth in the Western Pacific
stored at depth rather than near the surface, NASA researchers explained this week in the journal Science. The findings shed light on mechanisms behind the so-called global warming "hiatus," in which air temperatures appeared to rise more slowly from 2003 to 2012. Warming in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean during that period started to appear at roughly 32 feet below the surface, the researchers say, and most of the heat was retained at depths of 300 to 1,000 feet. Their findings are based on two decades of ocean temperature records. “Overall, the ocean is still absorbing extra heat,” said Josh Willis, an oceanographer who coauthored the study. “But the top couple of layers of the ocean exchange heat easily and can keep it away from the surface for ten years or so. ... In the long run, the planet is still warming.”
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06 Jul 2015: Researchers Discover
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
L. annosa coral

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.
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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

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deep sea coral canyon

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.
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19 May 2015: Maps Depict China's Coasts
Under Scenario of Dramatic Sea Level Rise

Roughly 43 percent of China's population lives near the coast — a region that is expected to experience dramatically

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Shandong sea level rise

Shandong province after dramatic sea level rise
rising sea levels if global warming continues along its current trajectory. What will China's coast look like far in the future if polar ice sheets and glaciers undergo extensive melting? Cartographer Jeffrey Linn has used projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to depict the impact of a 200-foot rise in global sea level. In this map, he shows the potential inundation of a portion of Shandong province near the town of Qingdao, home to 3.5 million people and the brewery that makes the widely distributed beer Tsingtao. Earlier, Linn drew up similar maps showing the inundation western North America's coastline under scenarios of extreme sea level rise.
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A Remarkable Recovery for
The Oysters of Chesapeake Bay

In the past century, more than 90 percent of the world’s oyster beds have been lost to pollution, overharvesting, disease, and
Chesapeake Bay oysters

Wild oysters harvested from the Chesapeake Bay
coastal development. The renowned oysters of the Chesapeake Bay experienced a similar decline, with production nearly disappearing a decade ago. Now, however, Chesapeake Bay oysters are undergoing a remarkable recovery thanks to a brilliant oyster geneticist, improved state and federal management, the expansion of private hatchery operations, the cleanup of the bay, and some help in the form of average rain years and excellent reproductive oyster classes.
Read more.
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12 May 2015: Unique Stretch Marks Show
Greenland Ice Accelerating Toward Sea

The Greenland ice sheet is accelerating as it flows toward the ocean, and the unique markings visible in this photograph

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Greenland stretch marks

Crevassing in Greenland ice
are one piece of evidence demonstrating its rapid movement. Captured as part of NASA's Operation IceBridge, which is wrapping up its seventh season of Arctic observations, this image details heavy crevassing near the coast of Melville Bay in northwestern Greenland. These fissures are essentially stretch marks on the ice, NASA researchers say. Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at an unprecedented rate of 500 cubic kilometers per year — enough ice to cover the Chicago metropolitan area with a layer of ice 600 meters thick — according to one recent report.
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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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27 Apr 2015: Oceans Are the World's
Seventh Largest Economy, New Report Says

The world's oceans are worth an estimated $24 trillion and produce $2.5 trillion annually in goods and services, according to
coral reef

Coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification.
a report by WWF, Boston Consulting Group, and the Global Change Institute. If the global ocean ecosystem were a single nation, it would represent the world's seventh largest economy, the report says, providing goods such as fish catches and aquaculture and services such as coastal storm protection, shipping, and tourism. The oceans' assets are dwindling, though, due to threats such as ocean acidification, over-exploitation of fish stocks, and degradation of coral reefs, which could disappear completely by 2050, according to research cited in the report. The trends could be reversed, the report says, if global governments take strong action to curb climate change and if coastal countries make swift efforts to protect nearby marine ecosystems.
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16 Apr 2015: Researchers Discover New
Source of Methane in the Arctic Ocean

A large reservoir of methane — a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide — was recently discovered on

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Knipovich Ridge in Arctic Ocean

Knipovich Ridge in the Arctic Ocean
Knipovich Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean, according to research published in the journal Geology. The methane in this deposit is locked up in icy crystals of water and gas called hydrates, and it was produced by abiotic geological processes rather than by microbes breaking down organic matter, as most methane is, the authors explain. Until now, scientists had not known that hydrates could contain this type of methane. "Up to 15,000 gigatons of carbon may be stored in the form of hydrates in the ocean floor, but this estimate is not accounting for abiotic methane," said co-author Jürgen Mienert. "So there is probably much more."
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15 Apr 2015: Entries Invited for e360
Contest For Best Environmental Videos

The second annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the best environmental videos. Entries must be videos that focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and are a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, two runners-up will each receive $500, and all winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360 editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker writer and e360 contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. The deadline for entries is June 15, 2015.
Read more.
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02 Apr 2015: Complexity of Ocean Heating and
Circulation Shown in Vibrant Simulation

This swirling, vibrant visualization of global water-surface temperatures from Los Alamos National Laboratory depicts

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metal criticality

Global ocean surface temperatures
the complexity of ocean circulation and heat absorption. Cool temperatures appear as blues and greens while warmer waters are red and yellow. A clear temperature divide exists between waters in the Northern Hemisphere and those in the Southern Hemisphere. Researchers say that oceans south of the equator have absorbed substantially more heat over the past decade. Vortices near the surface, which play key roles in ocean circulation, appear as swirls on this map.
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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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26 Mar 2015: Pollution May Trigger Heath
Problems in Deep-Water Fish, Study Says

Fish living in deep waters near continental slopes have tumors, liver pathologies, and other health problems that may be
scabbardfish liver cells

Microscopic abnormality in a black scabbardfish liver.
linked to human-generated pollution, researchers report in the journal Marine Environmental Research. They also describe the first case of a deep-water fish species with an “intersex” condition — a blend of male and female sex organs. In the study, which looked at fish in the Bay of Biscay west of France, researchers found a wide range of degenerative and inflammatory lesions in fish living along the continental slope, which can act as a sink for heavy metal contaminants and organic pollutants such as PCBs and pesticides. The fish that live in these deep waters are often extremely long-lived — some can be 100 years old — which allows them to bioaccumulate such contaminants. However, linking the fishes' physiological changes to pollution is preliminary at this time, the researchers said.
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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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16 Mar 2015: El Niño and La Niña Can Predict
Severity of Tornado Season, Study Says

El Niño and La Niña conditions can help predict the frequency of tornadoes and hail storms in some of the most
tornado

Tornado near El Reno, Okla., in May 2013.
susceptible regions of the U.S., new research published in the journal Nature Geoscience shows. Scientists have been using El Niño and La Niña conditions, which can be identified months before the climate cycles actually develop, to make more accurate forecasts of droughts, flooding, and hurricane activity. Now, a team of researchers says they can also forecast how active the spring tornado season will be based on the state of El Niño or La Niña in December, and sometimes even earlier. Moderately strong La Niña events lead to more tornadoes and hail storms over portions of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and other parts of the southern U.S., the study shows, whereas El Niño patterns suppress the storms. Scientists have detected El Niño conditions over the past few weeks, which indicates that this spring will be a relatively quiet one for severe storms in the southern U.S., the authors say.
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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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12 Mar 2015: Bubbling From Melting Glaciers
Makes Fjords Noisiest Places in Oceans

Bubbles gushing from melting glaciers and their icebergs make fjords the noisiest places in the oceans, according to research published in Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers used underwater microphones to record noise levels in three bays where glaciers flow into ocean fjords and icebergs calve from glaciers. They found that average noise levels from bubbles in these fjords exceeded those generated by all other sources, including weather, wildlife, and machines such as ships and sonar devices. Glacial calving contributed some of the noise, but the constant melting and bubbling was the real culprit, the researchers said. Their findings raise questions about how the underwater noise in the fjords — which are foraging hotspots for seabirds and marine mammals and important breeding habitat for harbor seals — will affect animals as climate change further increases melting rates.
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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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04 Mar 2015: Hurricanes Help Spread
Invasive Marine Species, Researchers Find

Hurricanes can accelerate the spread of invasive marine species — in particular the lionfish, a hardy invader that
lionfish

An adult lionfish
can overrun ecosystems and devastate native biodiversity — according to research published in the journal Global Change Biology. Researchers found that hurricanes, by forcing changes in strong ocean currents, have helped lionfish spread from the Florida Straits to the Bahamas since 1992, increasing the spread of the species by 45 percent and their population size by 15 percent. Normally the currents pose a barrier to the transport of lionfish eggs and larvae, the researchers say, but as a hurricane passes, the current shifts and carries lionfish larvae and eggs from Florida to the Bahamas. Scientists say climate change may increase the frequency or intensity of future storms, which could further accelerate the spread of marine invasives.
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02 Mar 2015: Emperor Penguins Had Few
Refuges During Last Ice Age, Study Finds

The Ross Sea and certain other Antarctic waters likely served as refuges for the three emperor penguin populations that
emperor penguins

Emperor penguins
survived during the last ice age, when large amounts of ice made much of the rest of Antarctica uninhabitable, according to a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology. The findings suggest that extreme climatic conditions on the continent during the past 30,000 years created an evolutionary "bottleneck" that is evident in the genetic material of modern-day emperor penguins, a species known for its ability to thrive in icy habitats. But during the last ice age, the Antarctic likely had twice as much sea ice, the researchers say, leaving only a few locations for the penguins to breed — distances from the open ocean (where the penguins feed) to the stable sea ice (where they breed) were too great. The three populations that did manage to survive may have done so by breeding near areas of ocean that are kept free of sea ice by wind and currents, the researchers suggest.
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23 Feb 2015: Large-scale Pumping Can
Return Oxygen To Deep Waters, Study Finds

A team of Danish and Swedish scientists reports that they have restored oxygen to the waters
wind plant locations in Texas

Deploying instruments in Byfjord, Sweden.
of a deep fjord that had suffered from a long-term lack of oxygen. The researchers used large pumps to mix oxygen-rich surface water into the deeper parts of the fjord's water column — which had long been anoxic due to its depth and geological setting — and after only two months higher oxygen concentrations became detectable in the bottom waters. "In the later phase of the experiment the entire water column began to look healthy," the researchers said, noting that bacterial species that live in well-oxygenated waters had begun to appear. Low oxygen levels make waters uninhabitable to most forms of life, and anoxic waters often harbor only a few types of bacteria, some of which produce significant levels of greenhouse gases.
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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.
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Interview: Why Ocean Health Is
Better, and Worse, Than You Think

In a recent groundbreaking study in Science, a group of marine experts — including lead author Douglas
Douglas McCauley
Douglas McCauley
McCauley — delivered a sobering message: The world’s oceans are on the verge of major change that could cause irreparable damage to marine life. While ocean ecosystems are still largely intact, the marine world is facing unprecedented disturbances, including ocean acidification and habitat destruction from deep-sea mining, oil and gas drilling, development, and aquaculture. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, McCauley discusses the parallels of the loss of wildlife on land and at sea and explains why creating marine reserves and establishing international ocean zoning regulations would help blunt the damage from a looming “marine industrial revolution.”
Read the interview.
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16 Feb 2015: Space-Based Measurments Can
Track Global Ocean Acidity, Researchers Say

An international team of scientists has developed new methods for studying the acidity of the oceans from space,

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ocean acidification map

Global ocean alkalinity measured from space.
according to research published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Currently, scientists must rely on measurements taken from research vessels and sampling equipment deployed in oceans to determine acidity — which rises as the oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere — but this approach is expensive and geographically limited. The new techniques use satellite-mounted thermal cameras to measure ocean temperature and microwave sensors to measure salinity. Together these measurements can be used to assess ocean acidification more quickly and over much larger areas than has been possible before.
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As Arctic Ocean Ice Vanishes,
Questions About Future Fishing

With the steady retreat of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean opening up vast areas of this long-frozen marine basin, a key resource

A Russian fishing vessel trawls the Arctic Ocean.
issue is now emerging: the future of fisheries, especially in central Arctic waters. What species are migrating into the region as sea ice disappears? And could the heart of the Arctic Ocean sustain a commercial fishery in the coming decades? These issues were central to a discussion at a recent conference on the fisheries of the central Arctic Ocean. With more southerly fish species migrating into warmer and increasingly ice-free regions of the Arctic Ocean, officials from the U.S. and Canada say it’s important to negotiate an international agreement on fishing before allowing fisheries to open.
Read the article.
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06 Feb 2015: Maine’s Iconic Lobsters
Face Threats From Ocean Acidification

Maine’s lobster fishery, worth $1.7 billion to the state and a vital source of employment, could be

A Maine lobster
threatened by acidifying ocean waters and rising sea temperatures, according to a new report. The report, issued by a state commission, called increasingly acidic ocean waters — caused by the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere — an “urgent matter” that needs to be addressed by state and local governments and the fishing infustry. Facing the prospect that increasing acidity could interfere with the ability of lobsters to make their shells, the commission set forth a handful of goals, including a stepped-up research effort on the acidification of the coast’s waters and its impact on crustaceans. Maine lawmakers have already introduced legislation for limits on industrial and agricultural runoff, which contribute to coastal water acidification.
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15 Jan 2015: Underwater Kelp Forests Mapped
In New Citizen Science Project

Kelp forests grow along roughly 25 percent of the world’s coastlines and provide valuable habitat and nutrients for many types of aquatic life. Now, research by the “Floating Forests” project is shedding light on how these underwater kelp forests are affected by climate change. The project is using NASA satellite data to observe changes in kelp forests over a period of more than four decades. The catch: No accurate way to automate the process exists, so the researchers rely on an international team of nearly 3,500 citizen scientists to mark the bright green kelp forests, which contrast with the deep blues of the ocean in the images.
Read more.
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e360 PHOTO GALLERY

“Peter
Photographer Robert Wintner documents the exquisite beauty and biodiversity of Cuba’s coral reefs, which are largely intact thanks to stifled coastal development in the communist nation.
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Warriors of Qiugang
The Warriors of Qiugang, a Yale Environment 360 video, chronicles a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant. It was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
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e360 SPECIAL REPORT

“Tainted
A three-part series Tainted Harvest looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup.
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