23 Mar 2016:
Microbes Are Likely Speeding
Up the Melting of the Glaciers
As if soaring global temperatures weren’t bad enough, scientists reported this week that microbes are also speeding up the melting of Arctic ice.
National Parks Service
A pool of meltwater on the Root Glacier in Alaska.
The problem lies in cryoconite, the soil-like composite of dust, industrial soot and photosynthetic bacteria that darkens the surface of ice and causes it to melt, scientists from Aberystwyth University in Wales said. As it melts, ice leaves behind small water-filled holes full of bacteria. The sun-loving microbes then shape the pockmarks’ depth and size to get more light exposure, in turn melting the ice even more—a process previously unaccounted for in global climate change models. "It's only recently that we've begun to understand that these cryoconite holes are dynamic, changing in size and shape,” said
biologist Arwyn Edwards, who led the study. "In the long term, this contributes to the loss of glacier habitats, and the unique microbial biodiversity living on them."
22 Mar 2016:
Old Photos Used to Study
The Fate of a Swedish Seabird Colony
Nearly 100 years of old tourist photos got a second life recently when researchers used them to reconstruct the rise and fall
of a colony of seabirds on the Swedish island of Stora Karlsö. The island, designated a nature preserve in 1880 and a popular tourist destination since the 1920s, hosts a large population of common guillemots, one of the biggest species of auks. Ecologists Jonas Hentati-Sundberg and Olof Olsson of Stockholm University spent five years collecting images of the island from archives, museums, and island visitors in order to count guillemot numbers decade-to-decade. They found that the colony declined in the 1960s and 70s, when contaminants like DDT and PCB were prevalent, but has since rebounded to historically high numbers today, possibly because of an increase in the numbers of forage fish consumed by guillemots. “The population is currently increasing at an unprecedented rate
of about 5 percent annually," said Hentati-Sundberg. "This is interesting in that many common guillemot populations are decreasing worldwide."
21 Mar 2016:
Newly Discovered Butterfly
Could Be Climate Bellwether in the Arctic
Scientists have discovered the first new butterfly species in Alaska in nearly 28 years, according to new research
published in the Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera
The dorsal side of new species Oeneis tanana.
Named the Tanana Arctic, or Oeneis tanana
, the species is thought to be a hybrid and the only butterfly endemic to the state. Because butterflies are so sensitive to environmental change, the Tanana Arctic could serve as an early warning signal to the impacts of climate change in the region, the scientists said. “This butterfly has apparently lived in the Tanana River valley for so long that if it ever moves out, we’ll be able to say ‘Wow, there are some changes happening,’” said
Andrew Warren, the senior collections manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History who discovered the species. “This is a region where the permafrost is already melting and the climate is changing.”
18 Mar 2016:
Could Bread Mold Help
Improve Rechargeable Batteries?
A type of bread mold might just be a key to creating better rechargeable batteries, scientists reported in the journal Current Biology
Researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland discovered that the fungus Neurospora crassa
—known commonly as red bread mold—can transform manganese into a mineral composite with “excellent electrochemical properties” ideal for use in supercapacitors or lithium-ion batteries, said
Geoffrey Gadd, a microbiologist and lead author of the study. Those types of batteries are used to power everything from laptops to railways to solar energy systems. Scientists have long studied how to make batteries more powerful and sustainable and in an environmentally safer way, but this is the first time researchers have looked to mold as a possible solution.
17 Mar 2016:
The World’s Economy Grew,
But Greenhouse Gas Emissions Didn't
Despite a 3.1 percent growth in global GDP in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions remained flat for the second year in a row, according to the International Energy Agency.
A man installs new solar panels in Oregon.
The decoupling of emissions from economic growth is “welcome news,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in the press statement. “Coming just a few months after the landmark COP21 agreement in Paris, this is yet another boost to the global fight against climate change.” The world’s nations released 32.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases last year, equal to—or perhaps even a slight downtick from—2014, the agency said. The stabilization is likely due to the booming renewable energy industry and global cutbacks on the use of coal, particularly in the U.S. and China, the two largest emitters of carbon dioxide. Chinese emissions, for example, declined 1.5 percent last year.
16 Mar 2016:
Storks Stop Migrating South
In Favor of Food Waste From Landfills
White storks are no longer migrating to Africa every winter, choosing instead to stay near landfills and other garage heaps in southern Europe that provide scavenged food year round, according to new research published Wednesday in the journal Movement Ecology
University of East Anglia
Storks feeding in a landfill.
Sticking close to uncovered trash piles in Europe means the birds no longer have to expend energy flying all the way south to Africa, and can arrive at the best northern nesting sites and breed earlier in the year. As a result, storks have been having bigger broods and higher fledging survival rates. “Portugal’s stork population has grown 10-fold over the last 20 years,” Aldina Franco, a conservation ecologist at the University of East Anglia in Britain who led the study, said
in a statement. “The country is now home to around 14,000 wintering birds, and numbers continue to grow.” Franco and her colleagues’ findings build on the growing scientific understanding
of how our waste is altering the world’s wildlife.
Interview: How to Talk About
Young Conservatives for Energy Reform
Clean Energy With Conservatives
promotes a green energy agenda for Republicans. But the phrase “climate change” isn’t one you’ll find on the organization’s website.
Angel Garcia, the group’s national outreach coordinator, admits that pushing renewables in conservative circles is an uphill battle. “We have an ideology that seems like it’s ‘Drill, baby drill,’ with nothing else. So we have to fight against stereotypes that if you’re for clean energy, then you are not really a Republican.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Garcia says the Republican Party has a vested interest in embracing clean energy since the issue resonates with young conservatives. “As demographics shift, this is becoming a more important issue. So it’s better to get in front of the issue now and embrace it.”
Read the interview.
15 Mar 2016:
Obama Administration Pulls
Proposal to Drill in the Atlantic Ocean
The Obama administration withdrew its proposal to open up offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday.
Offshore drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
The decision blocks drilling in the region until 2022 and comes after an outpouring of opposition
to the plan from environmental groups and mid-Atlantic coastal communities and businesses concerned about a possible spill like Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago. “Public pressure forced the administration to reverse course on Atlantic drilling," May Boeve, executive director of the environmental group 350.org, said in a statement. “We will continue to make the case that any new drilling is a stain on the president’s climate legacy and incompatible with the goals he committed to at the climate talks in Paris.”
14 Mar 2016:
Sea Level Rise Could Put
13.1 Million Americans At Risk of Flooding
Climate change and sea level rise could put 13.1 million Americans at risk of flooding by 2100, according to a new study
in the journal Nature Climate Change
Flooding in Davie, Florida
Nearly half of the at-risk population resides in Florida, and 70 percent in the southeastern United States. Unlike previous assessments that looked only at sea level rise, the study examines both climate and population projections for all 319 coastal U.S. counties over the next century. Three feet of sea level rise puts 4.2 million Americans at risk. Six feet—the high end of estimates by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—puts 13.1 million at risk. “The impact projections are up to three times larger than current estimates, which significantly underestimate the effect of sea level rise in the United States,” said
Mathew Hauer, lead author of the study and a demographer at the University of Georgia.
11 Mar 2016:
Five Years After Nuclear Disaster
Fukushima Remains Highly Contaminated
It has been five years since a powerful earthquake and resulting tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.
Regulators visit the Fukushima site in 2014.
While a few towns closed after the disaster have reopened and some locals have returned, groundwater en route to the ocean, as well as nearby soils, remains highly contaminated with radioactive waste. Toxic water and soil that has been removed by the cleanup project’s 8,000 workers sits in a growing number of storage tanks on the property, several of which have leaked. Radiation levels are so high that robots sent to clean up the power plant itself are reportedly malfunctioning
, their circuits fried. "Fukushima Dai-ichi is a complicated cleanup site," said
Dale Klein, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who now consults for the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns the plant. "This will be a several-decades process of cleanup.”
10 Mar 2016:
China Aims to Pass Soil Pollution
Law, Addressing Widespread Contamination
China is aiming to pass its first soil pollution law next year to address what Chinese officials are calling a “serious” problem of widespread contamination of the nation’s agricultural land.
Li Feng/Yale E360
Wastewater from a chemical plant in China.
The pollution is the result of three decades of rapid economic and industrial development that left landscapes ridden with toxins and heavy metals
, contaminated staple crops like rice, and jeopardized public health. “Looking at the results of soil pollution surveys from relevant departments of the State Council … it's not easy to be optimistic. Some areas are seriously polluted," Yuan Si, deputy head of parliament's Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee, told
reporters. The soil pollution law has gone through 10 drafts already and will likely be put on the legislative agenda for 2017, Yuan said.
In Flint Crisis, A New Model
For Environmental Journalism
Last summer, investigative journalist Curt Guyette found himself knocking on doors of families in Flint, Michigan, carrying not only a pen and notebook, but water-testing kits. Residents had realized there was something wrong with their drinking water but Michigan officials insisted it was safe.
Guyette, the first investigative reporter in the nation hired by an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter, broke the story on possible widespread lead contamination in July. He then helped organize door-to-door testing for lead and filed Freedom of Information Act requests in search of the truth. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Guyette explains how he chased the story, his unique position as a Ford Foundation-funded journalist employed by ACLU Michigan, and whether this approach to journalism could be a model for rescuing in-depth, local reporting on complex environmental and public health issues.
Read the interview.
09 Mar 2016:
U.S., Canada to Announce Series
Of New Climate and Environment Initiatives
President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are expected to announce a series of environment and climate initiatives during Trudeau’s first visit to the White House later this week.
The measures include a 45-percent cut in methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and a partnership to protect the rapidly melting Arctic from climate change. Trudeau’s focus on global warming since winning office four months ago marks a significant shift in Canada’s environmental policy. Its previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, cut funding for climate research
and backtracked on international climate pledges. “The commitment of both leaders to addressing this global challenge is clear,” Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, said
. “I suspect under their leadership, North America will make significant progress this year and next.”
08 Mar 2016:
JP Morgan Will No Longer Invest
In New Coal Mines, Citing Climate Change
JP Morgan will no longer finance new coal mines or support new coal-fired power plants in “high income” countries, the banking giant said
in a policy statement on its website.
Coal mine in Jharia, India
Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo have made similar pledges in recent months, all part of a larger divestment movement aimed at transitioning the world’s economies off fossil fuels. The anti-coal campaign has dealt a blow to an already struggling industry. The price of coal has dropped from $140 per ton in 2009 to $42 in 2016 as cheap, abundant natural gas and renewables have flooded the U.S. energy market. At the same time, support for climate action has grown, with the signing of an international climate agreement in Paris last December. “We believe the financial services sector has an important role to play as governments implement policies to combat climate change,” JPMorgan said
in the document.
07 Mar 2016:
Climate Change Will Threaten Key Crops Across Sub-Saharan Africa
Climate change’s rising temperatures and more frequent and intense droughts could leave parts of sub-Saharan Africa unable to grow staple crops such as maize, bananas, and beans by the end of the century,
A woman holds maize, a staple crop, in Ghana.
according to new research
published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. Up to 60 percent of bean-producing areas and 30 percent of maize and banana farms could become unviable by 2100, and farmers should start growing more climate change-resistant crops, improve irrigation systems, or switch to raising livestock, the scientists said. “Agriculture and farming are critical not only for the livelihoods of farmers but also more broadly for the diets of the region’s population,” said
Julián Ramírez-Villegas, a scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and lead author of the study. “Unless timely adaptation actions are taken, we’re looking at a bleak picture in terms of food security and poverty throughout many areas of sub-Saharan Africa.”
04 Mar 2016:
Leading Brands Unsure If Palm
Despite well-intentioned pledges
Oil Purchases Linked to Rainforests
, some of the world’s largest consumer companies admitted that
Rainforest in Borneo cleared for palm oil
they have no idea whether the palm oil they purchase from Indonesia is linked to rainforest destruction, according to a new report from Greenpeace
, which surveyed 14 companies, including PepsiCo, Mars, Unilever, and Johnson & Johnson. “Palm oil is found in so many products, which is why brands have a responsibility to their customers to act,” said Greenpeace’s Annissa Rahmawati
. “But our survey shows that brands are not doing enough to stop the palm oil industry ransacking Indonesia’s rainforests.” Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, a vegetable oil used in a wide range of household products, from lipstick to soap to instant noodles, and environmentalists have long argued the industry is a leading cause of deforestation. Since 1990, Indonesia has lost 76 million acres of forest, an area almost equal to the size of Germany.
03 Mar 2016:
Oregon To Eliminate Coal
From Its State Energy Mix by 2030
Oregon has become the first U.S. state to eliminate the use of coal by legislative action. Lawmakers at the statehouse
Oregon's only remaining coal plant, in Boardman
voted Wednesday to eliminate coal from the state’s energy supply by 2030, and to provide half of all customers’ power with renewable sources by 2040. The legislation was hammered out between the state’s two largest utilities and environmental groups. Clean energy groups praised the legislation as one of the strongest pieces of pro-climate legislation in the U.S. in years. “In terms of the coal phase-out, this really is precedent setting,” said Jeff Deyette
, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. There is only one coal plant currency operating in Oregon, and it is the state's largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Rethinking Urban Landscapes To Adapt to Rising Sea Levels
Sea levels are rising faster than they have in at least 28 centuries, according to recent research, and by 2100, they are expected to rise by one to four feet — possibly even higher.
Landscape architect Kristina Hill argues that cities throughout the world need to start planning now for impacts that will happen 50 or 100 years in the future. “It takes decades for us to get our act together and build things,” says Hill, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “Future generations won’t have the luxury of decades.” Hill advocates blending natural ecosystems and human-made infrastructure to help cities adjust to rising tides. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she talks about her vision for modifying coastal communities, the limits to adaptation, and the promise of “cyborg landscapes.”
Read the interview.
01 Mar 2016:
Despite El Nino, California Has Dry February As Drought Continues
El Nino failed to deliver much needed rain to California in February, dashing hopes that the climatic phenomenon could help end the state’s crippling four-year, multi-billion-dollar drought.
Ninety-four percent of California is in drought.
Downtown Los Angeles received only .79 inches of rain last month, when it typically gets 3.8 inches. The Bay Area got similarly low totals. "From past six strong El Ninos, we have generally seen above normal rainfall,” said
Robbie Munroe, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “But since October 1 we've only seen five inches of rain so far (across Southern California). We were certainly expecting a lot more." Meteorologists say a series of forecasted storms in early March could help, but with El Nino reportedly weakening and about 94 percent of California still in some form of drought, things aren’t looking good for the region.
29 Feb 2016:
China's CO2 Emissions Fell in 2015 Due to Decline in Coal, Boost in Renewables
China's greenhouse gas emissions fell for the second year in a row in 2015, down 1 to 2 percent, according to a Greenpeace analysis
of new data released by China's National Bureau Statistics.
The Tangshanpeng Wind Farm in northern China.
China reduced its coal consumption 3.7 percent
in 2015, and installed 32.5 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 18.3 GW of solar power. The country's recent economic slowdown also helped reduce emissions. China is currently the world's largest emitter of CO2, responsible for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. At a UN climate conference in Paris in December, China pledged to peak its emissions by 2030 and boost renewables. "These statistics show that China is on track to far surpass its Paris climate targets," said Lauri Myllyvirta, a senior campaigner on coal for Greenpeace. "However, the trend is not moving as fast as it could."
26 Feb 2016:
California Natural Gas Leak Officially Largest Leak in U.S. History
The four-month natural gas leak that sickened hundreds of Los Angeles residents and forced the evacuations of 1,800 homes this winter has officially been deemed the largest methane leak in U.S. history, according to a study
in the journal Science
A natural gas facility in California's Aliso Canyon.
The California leak spewed a total 97,100 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, up to 60 tons per hour—the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 572,000 cars. Methane is a greenhouse gas dramatically more potent than carbon dioxide over a short time span. The researchers collected the data during 13 different flights through the leaking gas plume. The measurements were so high the scientists said they double-checked their recording devices. "It became obvious that there wasn't anything wrong with the instruments," said
Stephen Conley, an atmospheric scientists at the University of California-Davis who led the study. "This was just a huge event."
25 Feb 2016:
Scientists find new large lizard species on remote Papua New Guinea island
Scientists have discovered the first new large lizard species in Papua New Guinea in over 20 years. The lizard was found on Mussau Island, one of the northernmost islands in country, by a team of Finnish and Australian researchers.
The new Varanus semotus.
The scientists have dubbed the new species, Varanus semotus
, a “biogeographical oddity” because it is separated by several hundred miles from its next of kin. Islands in the Pacific Ocean lack predatory mammals, so large lizards, commonly known as monitor lizards, the most famous of which is the Komodo dragon, fill that role. The new lizard measures 3 feet 3 inches, has a black body covered with yellow and orange markings, and a pale yellow tongue. "Isolation is the keyword here," said
Valter Weijola, a graduate student from the University of Turku in Finland who led the trip. "It is what has driven speciation and made the South-Pacific region one of the world's biodiversity hotspots."
24 Feb 2016:
Extended Bleaching Events
Are Killing Corals As Oceans Warm
Rising ocean temperatures are intensifying the die-off of corals around the planet, according to U.S. government scientists. “We are currently experiencing
Bleached coral at the Great Barrier Reef
the longest global coral-bleaching event ever observed,” said Mark Eakin
, head of Coral Reef Watch at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Bleaching occurs when corals respond to environmental hazards, such as high ocean temperatures, by expelling the symbiotic algae they need to provide them with sustenance. Eakin predicted that the latest extended bleaching event, which started in 2014, will likely last well into next year, at which time about 60 percent of corals worldwide may be affected. Eakin compares the continuous pressure that reefs have been under in recent years to a boxing bout. “What used to be a one-round fight is turning into a two- and three-round fight,” he says.
23 Feb 2016:
With Lower Gas Prices,
Americans Are Driving Farther Than Ever
Fueled by plummeting gas prices, Americans drove a record-breaking 3.15 trillion miles in 2015, according to new data by the U.S. Department of Transportation—enough to make 337 round trips to Pluto.
Traffic in New York City
The new data represents a 4.5 percent increase over 2014, and poses a challenge for the United States, which pledged in Paris last December to cut CO2 emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025 to fight climate change. The U.S. transportation sector, made up mostly of vehicles, accounts for nearly one-third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. "This makes our work on efficiency and alternative fuels all the more pressing," said
Dave Cooke, a senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
22 Feb 2016:
Reaching Emission Targets Could
Save 295,000 U.S. Lives by 2030, Study Says
The greenhouse emission cuts that America agreed to at the Paris climate conference may come with a significant public health benefit —the prevention of 295,000 premature deaths— according to a Duke University study
. At the December summit, 196 nations, including the U.S., agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In order to achieve that goal, the U.S. will need to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030, which would lead to a significant reduction in deadly air pollution, according to the study. “People should realize that emissions are having a big impact already… more than 100,000 deaths a year,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke and lead author of the study
. “Air pollution is a very big health challenge, it’s having a major public health impact in the U.S.” According to the World Health Organization
, about seven million people died in 2012 as a result of air pollution.
19 Feb 2016:
Growing Marijuana Consumes
Huge Amount of Energy, New Report Finds
The booming legal marijuana industry in the U.S. uses enough electricity to power 1.7 million homes with a staggering price tag of $6 billion every year, according to a new report
by the data analysis firm New Frontier.
Cannabis Training University
Growing cannabis requires huge amounts of energy
“Marijuana is the most energy-intensive agricultural commodity that we produce,” said John Kagia
, director of industry analytics for New Frontier, which specializes in cannabis industry research. “That’s largely because of the very high energy costs associated with its cultivation and production indoors.” The report adds to mounting concerns over marijuana’s massive ecological footprint
. Authors of the report said simple steps like switching to outdoor or greenhouse cultivation, installing more efficient lighting and monitoring energy use could significantly reduce the industry’s energy footprint.
18 Feb 2016:
Scientists Map Which Ecosystems
are the Most Vulnerable to Climate Change
Forests, tundras, and alpine areas are some of the world’s most at-risk ecosystems to climate change, according to a new map
published in the journal Nature.
Map of at-risk ecosystems
The study, led by scientists at the University of Bergen in Norway, used satellite data collected from 2000 to 2013 to examine how sensitive plants were to changes in air temperature, water availability, and cloud cover, down to a two-square-mile scale. The scientists used the results to create the Vegetation Sensitivity Index—a visual guide to plants’ climate responses. The Arctic tundra, parts of Europe and Canada’s boreal forest, tropical rainforests in South America, and eastern Australia all registered as some of the most ecologically sensitive regions in the world to climatic changes.
17 Feb 2016:
Reintroduction of Beavers Can Be
Beneficial to the Environment, Study Finds
The reintroduction of beavers to Scotland has proven beneficial to the environment, according to a new study
by researchers at the
Beavers have been reintroduced to Scotland
University of Stirling. Beaver dams increased the retention of organic matter by as much as seven times, and the level of aquatic plant life by 20-fold, researchers said. They also found that the levels of pollutants from agricultural runoff were reduced, with concentrations of phosphorus halved, and nitrate levels lowered by more than 40 percent. “Their dam building skills help restore degraded streams and increase the complexity of the surrounding habitat, increasing the number of species by 28 percent,” lead researcher Nigel Willby said. “The beavers’ engineering is transforming low-quality habitats in regions where the animals have long been absent
Misuse of Mosquito Nets Stressing
Lake Malawi’s Fish Populations
Mosquito nets handed out by international aid organizations to fight malaria are being used by some who live along the banks of Lake Malawi to indiscriminately harvest fish, aggravating the lake’s
Women fishing with mosquito net.
already rapidly diminishing fish stock. Over the last 15 years, UNICEF and the government of Malawi have rolled out nine million free mosquito nets to guard the health of pregnant mothers, their offspring, and refugees against the ravages of malaria. This has been a public health triumph. But the mosquito nets are also being used by villagers for netting fish in Lake Malawi, contributing to the rapid decline of the lake’s fish stocks, which dropped 93 percent between 1990 and 2010, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Overpopulation and deforestation also contribute to the problem, but misuse of mosquito netting is playing a significant role.
15 Feb 2016:
Global Water Shortages Affect
At Least Four Billion People, Study Says
Global water shortages are far worse than previously thought, with at least two-thirds of the world’s population — four billion people — living with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year, according to new research published in the journal Science Advances
. “If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra
of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, who led the study. The new research also revealed that 500 million people live in places where water consumption was twice the amount replenished by rain. Hoekstra said that many areas are living on borrowed time, such as Yemen, Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Other areas of particular concern include large swaths of Australia and the American Great Plains, which are dependent on the diminishing Ogallala aquifer. These water problems are exacerbated by population growth and raising meat for consumption, which is highly water-intensive, according to the study.